A Travel Guide to Solo Backpacking Africa on a Budget (Southern Countries)

People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I female 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 on my own, 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 backpacking Africa. After Zimbabwe, I’d also flap my wings to Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. Solo backpacking through Africa was one of the best experiences of my life and I miss it every day. Here’s how I did it and how much it cost.

I. Africa Solo Travel Safety

Is Solo Backpacking Africa Safe? 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, both 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 feels 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 was the families of hungry baboons that will snatch your food and run… 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. He probably burned his mouth, 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 toward 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 foreign and local) adamantly emphasized how dangerous South Africa can be. Especially its biggest cities (Cape Town and Johannesburg). I even met foreigners who told me they had been mugged in busy city streets in broad daylight. Be extra cautious in these big cities. 

Due to these warnings and stories, it honestly felt like one of the most dangerous places I’ve traveled in my 50+ countries. Don’t walk around. It’s very easy to take Ubers in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Beyond these bigger cities, I heard it was much safer. And South Africa offers a bucket list of things to do and is an incredible travel destination. Such as the Cradle of Humankind and Kruger National Park. So don’t let some extra precautions deter you from going! 

II. Cost Summary of Solo Backpacking Africa on a Budget

 Hitchhiking from Botswana to Namibia with a wonderful Zimbabwean family of doctors!

The least I spent in one day was about $20 including transportation, food, excursions, and accommodation. The average was between $30 and $50 daily. But please note that I traveled on a budget. You don’t have to travel like this if you don’t want to. You can stay in REALLY nice and fancier places like the Royal Livingstone Hotel, which blew my socks off! Or you can mix it up with both luxury and budget. It’s up to you, your wallet, and your preferences.

HOTELS: Travel Accommodation in Africa (Southern Countries)

My accommodation through this African trip consisted of:

  • Tents: You can rent tents and go camping in/exploring nature (which you can buy there or rent while camping with others). I found other travelers on Facebook and we split a car + tent rental together.
  • Hostels: Hostels aren’t just for backpackers or dorming. You can also book private rooms in hostels. And 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. Best of all, hostels are also almost always in a more centralized and safer location. Check hostelworld.com
  • Guest houses on Booking.com
  • Glamping: Luxury camping in Botswana

The most I ever paid for accommodation was $35/night for an entire comfortable room to myself in Capetown. The least was $12 for a bed in a dorm in a mansion in Bulawayo where I met some of the coolest solo travelers and we linked up for several adventures. 

Food: Costs & Budgeting

Eating out was relatively inexpensive. Plates range from $1 to $10 (if you want to really treat yourself).

  • Nice Restaurants: 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. 
  • Local Restaurants: I also ate at local spots in each country and never once got sick. Make sure local places have a high turnover of food. The more people go, the fresher the food should be.
  • Supermarket Buffets: Also, the supermarket buffets (SPAR, Pick N Pay, etc.) were a great way of trying a little bit of everything at a really affordable price.
  • Cooking: I also bought groceries and cooked at home or while camping a lot.

PS: South Africa also has INCREDIBLE restaurants and bars! Fancy, delicious, and affordable: a budget foodie traveler’s dream!

Solo Travel Africa: Transportation

  • Flights are about $50-$100 between neighboring countries. For the best flights check:
    • Google flights (you can check general calendar dates)
      • Expedia (love their 24-hour cancellation!)
      • Skyscanner (you can check general calendar dates but is the least updated)
  • 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 from free to a couple of 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:

Thanks to the above groups I met 3 other travelers with whom I shared an SUV rental and camped with all around Namibia.

III. 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 LivingstoneZambia 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 + they also provide guided tours). From Maun wait for a ride at the popular spot for shared car rides either to Namibia directly, GhanziCharles 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 share 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).

IV. 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.

For Later…

More reports on my solo trip through Africa:

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11 thoughts on “A Travel Guide to Solo Backpacking Africa on a Budget (Southern Countries)

  1. Ana Katrina Lopez says:

    Oh wow! I’m so impressed by your guts to travel solo. I would love to do so one day! I’ve been wanting to try backpacking but never got around to it. I end up inviting some of my friends to accompany me on my travels. It just makes me feel more comfortable I guess. But I do would like to experience travelling solo and just experiencing things for myself. Perhaps I’ll do it in Africa, like you!

    • G. Isabelle says:

      Thank you! 🙂 Start in Asia or Europe. Places like Thailand are a little more trotted which is great for beginners. For instance, I began my solo travelings in Europe, then Cuba (I was terrified but it ended up being one of the best trips of my life) and then went balls to the walls solo traveling after that LOL. Some destinations are better than others for it, remember that! Cheers. 😀

  2. André Kenji says:

    Amazing journey, i´m planning to make this trip, i´m in europe and i want come back to Brasil througth Africa, i´m planning a budget of 40 U$ per day with transportation between this African countries and your post really helped.
    is it esay/ cheap to travel between countries?

    Thank you

    • Isabelle says:

      Great! Happy to hear that. It’s cheap if you are patient and have time flexibility. There are buses and rideshares. And in certain countries hitchhiking is the norm, which I almost had a heart attack when I hear this from other tourists. But then I saw for myself and it was truly amazing. Bon voyage and enjoy!

    • G. Isabelle says:

      I did! Southern Africa is a really special place. If you have time to spare you can definitely stick to the budget. If not, you might have to spend more. Def use the groups to link up with people to share costs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Greetings and one of the most enjoyable and informative reads on here. I am planning my 60 birthday…solo trip. While I would love to be in a very small group..say 2or 3 people.. none of my friends can afford to travel or want to go away for a month. I plan to use your tips to do this on my own..unless I am able to connect with someone my age peer. I don’t plan to backpack or stay in hostels. Thanks for all the wonderful information.

    • Louise says:

      Hi there. Travelled like this in the late 80’s and thrilled to hear that it’s still as achievable. Hopefully to return to this normality soon

      • Isabelle says:

        Yes! I’ve read about travel during that time ..it sounds truly incredible! Same here- I’m hoping we can do it again soon

  4. Lucy says:

    Hello Dominican Abroad, I was scrolling through the internet to find inspiration to start my travel blog on solo travel across East and southern Africa. Your work is truly what I needed. Reading your posts while stuck on my office desk has boosted my morale for travel and your angle, aimed at positive experiences, has put a smile on my face and warmed my heart. Thank You so much! Keep at it, some internet strangers are cheering you on.

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