People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I solo traveled through Africa. The truth is, I probably would have thought the same before this trip. I didn’t mean to do this Africa trip alone (read here why). But due to an unforeseen series of events, there I was, entering my first hostel-homestay in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe wide-eyed, alone and nervous while gripping onto a bulky Lonely Planet book that would prove to be totally useless for solo backpacking through Africa. After Zimbabwe, I’d also flap my wings into Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
Africa Solo Travel Safety
Is it Safe to Travel Alone in Southern Africa: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia?
To my surprise, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia were incredibly safe. Surprisingly safe. Shockingly safe. It’s hard to briefly explain it into words, but for instance, the way of getting around in Botswana and Zimbabwe is to hitchhike. And no one bats an eye about it. Everyone, foreigner and local gather together in popular pickup spots and go into the cars of strangers who are going towards the same direction. In Botswana, I “hitchhiked” with three other women, none of whom knew each other. No one ever tried to hustle or harass me. Passengers/drivers rarely cared to ask where I was from. In and out, see ya later.
It wasn’t at all like the movies portrayed “Africa” to be. It’s so safe in these countries, that people (local families/locals from neighboring countries, and solo travelers) go camping in the African wilderness all alone and no one thinks that’s insane (I did!). I was so scared but the locals confidently told me “you will be safe here, don’t worry.” That’s never happened to me before. Locals are usually the first people to warn me the most about any risks.
The most dangerous thing about these countries were the families of hungry baboons that will snatch your food and run off… Some can get aggressive, so don’t carry food around them. A baboon at Victoria Falls took my freshly brewed mochaccino; I stepped away and let him have it. (It was too hot to drink anyway, sucker!) Then the restaurant apologized and made me a new one. That was the only “dangerous” thing that happened to me in Africa.
Also, much of this African region speaks English! So it’s very easy to communicate with almost everyone you’ll meet. So YES, this part of Africa is SO safe. It melts my heart just thinking about how respectful, generous, kind, and helpful the people were towards me.
Is it Safe to Travel Alone in South Africa (the country)?
Now, the country of South Africa is a different story. Unfortunately, everyone in this African region, both foreigner and local adamantly emphasized how dangerous South Africa can be. Especially its biggest cities. I even met foreigners who told me they had been mugged in busy city streets in broad daylight. Be extra cautious in Cape Town and Johannesburg. But know that it’s very easy to take Ubers around both cities. Beyond these bigger South African cities, it seems much safer.
Cost Summary of Solo Backpacking Africa on a Budget
The least I spent in one day was about $20 including transportation, food, excursions, and accomodation. The average was between $30 and $50 daily. But please note that I’m a frugal traveler. You don’t have to travel like this if you don’t want to. You can stay at REALLY nice and fancier places. It’s up to you, your wallet, and your preferences.
My accommodation through this African trip consisted of tents when camping in/exploring nature (which you can buy there or rent while camping with others), hostels*, guest houses, and Airbnb. The most I ever paid for accomodation was $35/night for an entire fancy room to myself. The least was $12 for a bed in a dorm in a mansion.
Check the following websites for budget accommodation:
*Hostels aren’t just for backpackers, all types of travelers stay in hostels because they’re a GREAT way of linking up with other travelers and they often serve as the perfect hub for everything travel-related in the region. Hostel employees often know the best answers to whatever you’re looking for and they can give you great recommendations for solo travel through your destination. Hostels are also almost always in a more centralized and safer location.
Eating out was relatively inexpensive. Plates range from $1 to $10 (if you want to really treat yourself). A Michelin star quality/type of restaurant in South Africa serves you plates for about $10.00 USD. That’s incredible when you compare it to the U.S. and Western Europe.
I also ate at local spots in each country and never once got sick. The supermarket buffets (SPAR, Pick N Pay, etc.) are also a great way of trying a little bit of everything at a really affordable price. I also bought food and cooked at home or while camping a lot.
PS: South Africa also has INCREDIBLE restaurants and bars! Fancy, delicious, and affordable: the budget traveler’s dream!
Flights are about $50-$100 between neighboring countries.
For the best flights check:
- Google flights (you can check general calendar dates)
- Expedia (can’t beat 24 hour cancellation!)
- Skyscanner (you can check general calendar dates but is the least updated)
- Kiwi (check this for general flight prices/open ended location searches and then book directly with the airline to avoid Kiwi’s added commission)
Train rides (available between certain locations) are about $10 for 12 hours, car rentals range between $20/day to $100/day depending on the type of car (and if you can drive automatic or manual), commercial buses (Intercape and Baz) cost about $10-$80+ and can take you between cities and countries.
Ridesharing/hitchhiking ranges between free to a couple bucks. Hitchhiking and shared rides in Botswana and Zimbabwe are VERY common and done at the last minute. Wait at the popular spots and carry small bills to pay for the shared rides. I was super nervous but it all worked out amazingly. You can and will get around just fine. When in doubt, ALWAYS ask your host to give you the local transportation tips specific to the region you are in. They will know the best local solution for your situation. And always start the day VERY early if you want to ensure a shared ride. If you can’t estimate to arrive at your destination by 5 PM, then break it up into two days travel. Always avoid traveling at night.
Sharing a car rental/ride shares with other tourists can be arranged via the following Facebook Travel Groups:
- SOUTH AFRICA 🇿🇦 Backpacker / Traveler
- South Africa 🇿🇦 Backpackers – Travel Buddies
- Backpacking Africa
- East and South Africa Backpacking
- AFRICA Backpacker / Traveler
- Girls LOVE Travel®
- Women Who Travel
Thanks to the above groups I met 3 other travelers with whom I shared an SUV rental and camped with all around Namibia.
One Month in Southern Africa Itinerary
Start in Johannesburg, South Africa from here you can take a bus (~$40 on Intercape) to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (Choice Guesthouse Backpackers for about $15/night). From Bulawayo take the sleeper train ($12) to the famous Victoria Falls town on the Zimbabwe side (Victoria Falls Backpackers for $20/night) or fly to Harare for $60 and then take a bus to Victoria Falls.
From Victoria Falls you can pay a taxi $5 to take you to the Zambia border. After crossing into Zambia pay another $5 to take you into the wonderful town of Livingstone (JollyBoys Hostel $15/night).
From Livingstone, Zambia you can take a shared ride for like $3 to the border of Botswana or a private taxi for ~$20. From the Botswana border, walk to the taxi area and take a private or shared taxi for less than $5 to your hostel (Bananayana $15/night) in the town of Kasane.
After enjoying Kasane, Botswana head to Maun, Botswana to see the Delta Okavango. You can ask the hostel owner to help you find a shared ride or bus towards Nata. From Nata you take a bus or another shared ride to Maun (Maun Backpackers – $30/night for a glamping experience with a proper bed and insulation).
From Maun wait for a ride at the popular spot for shared car rides either to Namibia directly, Ghanzi, Charles Hill, or Mamuno (all towards or at the Namibian border). Have faith, you will get there. If hitchhiking scares you (even though it’s common and safe in Botswana/Zimbabwe), you can always hire a taxi ANYWHERE for about $100 per 3 hours of driving.
From Mamuno you can hitchhike/join a car share to Windhoek. From here you can take private buses around the country or join in a car rental with other travelers. You can choose northern Namibia or Southern Namibia.
Finally, take a flight from Windhoek to Cape Town (for $70) and finish your trip in Cape Town (also where the international flights out are the cheapest).
How to Meet People While Traveling Solo in Africa
- The FB groups I mentioned above
- Hostels for the reasons I mentioned above
- Leaving a note looking for a travel buddy in the hostel/hotel reception
- Asking the hostel employees to let you know if anyone is headed your way and looking to share costs/travel routes
- Guided group tours
- Talking – Don’t be shy! Talk to other travelers and share knowledge with each other. It’s a beautiful thing to connect with strangers in passing who have paved a path for you with their first-hand experiences and knowledge.
More reports on my solo trip through Africa:
- Why I Traveled Through Africa Alone
- Top 10 Things to Do in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe | A Travel Guide
- Crossing the Zimbabwe Border into Beitbridge by Car in 10 Steps
For a detailed guide on each destination, look out for the next blog posts:
- Why You Should Visit Livingstone, Zambia
- Top Best Things to Do & See in Zimbabwe
- Road Trip Stops Through Southern Namibia
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If you have any questions about traveling through these destinations, feel free to ask them in the comment section below!