One of the many things that inspired me to start Talking Drums was the lack of support I would get when I would say I wanted to travel to a country in Africa for a holiday. It was even worse if I said I was going by myself! Some people would be very negative, others would relay messages of concern for things they had seen on the news or read in the papers. Whilst I knew this was coming from a place of love, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. I never ventured to a country – in Africa or elsewhere – without doing my due diligence first. So any concern was largely unfounded, and after while I learnt to share my travel plans with only a few people, and fill the rest in upon my return!
Frequent travels to Ghana with my family over the years, added to travelling to Senegal and Ethiopia with a former employer, and volunteering in Tanzania gave me all the courage I could possibly need to take the plunge to travel by myself. Adding frequent disappointment from friends, and I had the makings of a solo traveller!
Once I took the plunge, there was no turning back. I absolutely love solo travelling. It is one of the best things I have ever done and has enabled me to visit so many places I might not have been able if I had waited on someone to go with me.
When I first started solo travelling, I felt I was one of a few, but as time went on, I became surprised by the number of fellow solo travellers. In addition, I also made friends along the way. Based on these experiences, I have compiled the 14 tips for solo travelling, particularly around Africa, although many of these tips can be applied to solo travel in general.
BEFORE YOU SET OFF:
1. Do not listen to the nay-sayers: They may lack the courage you have to do something they could only wish to do. Do not let the negativity put you off – you have adventures to embark on!
2. Make sure you get all your inoculations and medications: I know some people are adverse to this, but I would rather be safe than sorry. In particular, if you are going to a region where for example, you have limited access to medical services, or where malaria is rife, you should ensure you take your medication as required because malaria is NOT a joke. I also recommend buying a small, personal first aid kit which are usually available in all good pharmacies/drug stores.
3. Search the web, buy travel guides, explore instagram (and others) for inspiration: I usually search far and wide to get inspiration on how to shape my itinerary.
4. Research your destination: Having a background knowledge on the country you are going to, its culture and customs, recent news and so forth, is imperative to learning about the place, being immersed in the culture, and ultimately having a better experience. It is also a great conversation starter with local people, as I have found they are usually impressed my knowledge of their country, or that I took the time to read up on it. Researching your intended destination also enables you to determine whether it is best place to go at that time e.g. because of current affairs or the weather and so forth.
5. Have an itinerary but be flexible: It is great to have a rough idea of what you want to do or where you want to go, but retain flexibility. Do not let your itinerary be so rigid that you get lost in it and forget to enjoy yourself. Allow yourself the flexibility to get off of the beaten track.
6. Accommodation: I personally like to book my accommodation in advance, but others prefer the option to haggle and therefore to show up and book. I think this comes down to preference, but if you do book in advance, print copies of your booking confirmation and bring them with you.
7. Get travel insurance: This is a must. Do not just go with the cheap option, be sure to read the policy beforehand, so you know where you stand should you ever need to make a claim.
8. Print two copies of all your documents: Keep one set with you and leave one with someone at home and let them know your plans. This is so someone is aware of your whereabouts and and planned movements.
9. Arrange airport pick up through the hotel/accommodation/tour operator: This saves so much hassle of trying to get a taxi and haggle, especially if you have just come of a long flight. Most hotels are happy to arrange a pick up for a small fee or included in the cost of your room.
10. Change some money at the airport and don’t carry too much cash: Most airports in Africa have a bureau d’change on arrival and I usually like to change some money there as it is helpful to have some local currency to pay for a taxi and to settle-in quicker. Depending on my location and where my intended plans will take me, I may not change all my money at once for two reasons: 1. I may get a better rate outside of the airport, and 2. I do not want to carry too much cash. However, ATM availability will vary depending where your plans will take you, so it is important to factor this in also.
11. Get a SIM card at the airport once you land: Most airports in Africa have shops in the arrival lounge where you can purchase a local SIM and get some credit (or ‘unit’). I prefer to do this at the airport as it saves time and effort. I also like to call home as soon as I can to let them know I have arrived safely.
12. Immerse yourself in the experience: Meet local people, talk to them, find out about themselves, their families, their culture and their country through their eyes, find out about things you can do in the area, get off the beaten track!
13. Ask people before you take their picture! Be polite and respectful of the local people and of your surroundings. Ask people before you take their picture and think before you post certain images on social media.
14. Be respectful, patient and open-minded: Be respectful of the country’s culture, traditions, people, religion and so forth. It may not be what you are used to, but that’s exactly what travelling is about, experiencing new things. Also be open-minded – things may not work as smoothly or efficiently as you are used to. People hardly rush in Africa, they take their time or go by ‘Africa time’ as it is sometimes known. I think if you are coming from somewhere in the world where the opposite is the case, this may be a culture shock at first, but it can eventually be a welcomed relief. This. Is. Africa.
If you have any other tips for solo travel, especially around Africa, I would love to hear them. Please leave them in the comment box below.