How to Deal With Unwanted Sexual AttentionWomen traveling alone in Africa will likely experience some harassment from men but it's usually more annoying than dangerous. The basic problem lies in the fact that local women will rarely travel alone, it's just not culturally acceptable. So along with Hollywood movies and scantily clad western female tourists on the beaches, the idea that western women are "loose" is quite pervasive.
- Ignore cat calls, tsskkss's, whistles and anything else thrown at you verbally by bored men.
- Wear sunglasses to avoid direct eye contact with men.
- Respect the culture you are in.
- Dress conservatively. This is very important in Muslim countries if you want to avoid extra hassle. No mini skirts, shorts, tank tops or tight shirts.
- Don't go out on your own at night.
- Say you are married and carry a photo of your 'husband' with you.
- If you feel you are being harrassed or followed, walk into a shop or hotel and ask for help.
- If you are lost ask directions from a woman or family.
- Make a scene if you are groped or pinched and shame the person publicly. A shout will usually do the trick.
- Stay in a hotel where you can lock your door at night. Family hotels are often the most comfortable for women traveling on their own.
Female Health Issues
- Bring your own feminine hygiene products with you. Sanitary towels with belt loops were still the only product on the shelf in Malawi during the 1990's, so even if it's available it may be very old fashioned. Most major towns will have supplies but you probably won't have a lot of choice and they'll be very expensive.
- Other medical supplies you should pack include a couple of treatments for UTI's and yeast infections. If you are on the pill, bring enough to last your whole trip. Remember that a bout of diarrhea or vomiting will render the pill ineffective, so be careful.
- If you are pregnant and traveling, or find out you are pregnant while traveling, head to the capital to find the best hospital for regular check ups. Your embassy staff or the local expatriate network will help you find one.
Find a Traveling CompanionIf you find yourself in a situation where you aren't comfortable traveling on your own then it's quite easy to find yourself some travel companions. If you are traveling in a Muslim country try and find a female companion. You'll be able to meet local women a lot easier that way.
- Buy a Lonely Planet Guide or a Rough Guide, and stay in a recommended hotel. The hotel will be filled with independent travelers who usually don't mind at all if you tag along for the day or a week or even a month. I've backpacked all over Africa, Asia and Central America with my husband and we've always collected solo travelers along the way. Hostel Bookers also has lists of female friendly hostels. If you don't like the budget options, mid-range and luxury hotels are always going to be quite safe for a lone female traveler since they'll have locks on the doors. Just avoid the bar at night if you don't like unwanted attention. In some African capitals, luxury hotels are the stomping grounds for "ladies of the night".
- Join local tours and ask for a female guide when you first arrive so you can get your bearings and acclimatize to the culture.
- Book your trip with a travel company that specializes in travel adventures for women, there are several excellent companies, check out Venus Adventures, Wonderful Tours and Ecocta Tours (for a slower paced trip).
Best Countries in Africa for Women Traveling Alone
This advice can change depending on general safety in the countries listed below, so check on the latest travel warnings for more. In general, countries used to seeing a lot of tourism will not think it odd to see women travel alone including Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa. But these aren't always the most comfortable to visit. I have experience traveling alone in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda and found them all to be very stress free. Burkina Faso also has a very friendly reputation (it's on my "to go" list). Information about travel to all these destinations can be found on this site.
Tips for Women Traveling in Egypt and Morocco
- Egypt: Women traveling alone in Egypt should always dress conservatively. Use buses and the metro to get around. There are women only compartments and it's a good way to meet local women and their children. For more tips see this article from Journeywoman.com.
- Morocco: Female travelers in Morocco will get their fair share of comments and whistles but it's not an unsafe country to travel in. Ignore the comments and you'll be left alone within minutes, as long as you're not wearing a tanktop and/or mini skirt. Ask a local woman to take you to a Hammam, it's a wonderful place to meet women and chat (although less women speak French than men). Don't wander around cities alone after 10pm or so, unless it's still crowded with regular families.
Women Who are Traveling in Africa NowFinally, I find Women's Travel Blogs and other Africa specific travel blogs to be a very useful source of information on current conditions. There are lots of women writing blogs from all over Africa who are either volunteering or traveling there right now and would have excellent advice for you.