Is South Africa safe for a woman travelling on her own? – the $10 million question. And one that has as many different answers as there are people with opinions.
Let me add my two cents worth: yes, you can safely travel in South Africa as a woman. You just need to take a few extra precautions.
South Africa is not that different from anywhere else in the world. Behave as you would in any unknown city in the developing world and you should be just fine. It doesn’t help that South Africa has something of a reputation when it comes to crime, taxi wars and strikes.
It is true. They happen. But that does not mean you are constantly exposed to danger. Most violent crime in South Africa tends to happen in low-income areas, and between people who know each other and live in the same neighbourhood. Tourists are usually only subject to petty crime.
Here are a series of tips especially for women travelling alone in South Africa. You’ll like it so much, you might find yourself extending your stay…
13 vital tips for women travelling alone in South Africa…
1. Look up friends of friends
Your friends back home are very likely to know someone living in South Africa. At very worst this will provide you with a quick chat and a cup of coffee. But chances are (if they are South African) that you will be welcomed into their home and granted family friend status almost immediately. South Africans are BIG on hospitality.
2. Eat at restaurants with table d’hotes
More and more restaurants are adding communal tables to facilitate those on their own. It’s a great way to eat out without feeling like a spare part, and it promotes conversation with someone next to you – great way to meet locals or other travellers.
3. Attend a local activity that you enjoy
A local yoga class, tai chi at the local library, an exercise class at the church hall down the road from your accommodation, join the local gym for a week or, better still, attend a book club (South African women LOVE their book clubs) with your friend-of-a-friend.
4. Shamelessly abuse Facebook
Advertising the fact that you are in South Africa and need a couch on which to crash, or a spare bedroom, to ALL your FB friends is a sure-fire way of finding yourself staying with a local. Even if it’s only for a night or two – you are more likely to understand how South Africa works in this way, than by asking the tourist information office.
5. Be sensible
As the word implies, use your senses (something women are particularly good at) to stay out of trouble. As the word implies, use your senses (something women are particularly good at) to stay out of trouble. Going it alone in isolated places or heading off in the very direction in which your tour guide has specifically suggested you shouldn’t, are not sensible.
6. Don’t stop for red lights, after dark
A general rule of thumb amongst drivers in South Africa is that, after dark, red lights are treated as yield signs to prevent any possible carjacking or smash and grab incident.
7. Use the Baz bus or inter-city buses like InterCape, Translux and Greyhound
Public transport connecting South Africa’s cities and towns is not bad at all. The Baz bus (a hop-on-hop-off minibus that covers the distance between Jozi, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban) is specifically geared at backpackers and good value for money, whilst other inter-city buses are a comfortable alternative for longer trips.
8. Be aware that tourists are targets
Advertising that you are a tourist – SLR around your neck, pack on your back, and socks with sandals (we don’t do socks and sandals in South Africa!) – is going to get you a fair amount of attention. Rather use a taxi to get from A to B, and walk the streets without your backpack.
9. Avoid crime hotspots
Find out from locals (friends or your accommodation) where you can and shouldn’t go in the city. Be careful not to feed on others’ fear – some people really do present a worse case scenario than the reality. And if you want to go somewhere dodgy, do so as part of a tour group.
10. Know how to say ‘no’
Know how to say ‘no’ very firmly in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu (the four major languages – there are also another seven, but these four should easily serve you). Also know how to say it and mean it. Women generally struggle with saying ‘no’, but travelling solo can mean quite a bit more attention. A firm ‘no, thank you’ or ‘absolutely not’ (Hayi khona) should do it. If not, have a local help number programmed into your phone (ask your accommodation for suggestions).
11. Make use of free WiFi areas to connect with friends and family
Going it alone can get lonely. A lot of coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and local bed and breakfasts now provide free internet access for travellers to connect easily with home.
12. Saffies are friendly – don’t be scared to ask
If you are even slightly concerned, or are not sure where to turn, stop a South African and ask them. We don’t bite. Actually, we’re rated as one of the friendliest people on the planet.
13. Embrace uncomfortable
You didn’t come half way across the world to sit in your hotel room. Get out there and experience. Sometimes a little discomfort is all you need to have the experience of a lifetime.