- You’re destination is hardly ever as dangerous as family, friends, and the media portray it to be.
Earlier this year, when I first told my family and friends that I was going to travel through Africa, solo, they had a fit. This was probably the most absurd decision I’ve ever made in their eyes. I was going to get killed, raped, kidnapped, or contract H.I.V (I can’t make this stuff up). Outside of family and friends, there’s also the media. Now we know all know that the media portrays Africa as one, if not the most dangerous place on earth. So according to “them,” I was doomed before I even set foot on African soil.
During my 2 months of traveling through Africa, I didn’t personally get killed, robbed, or raped. And no, I didn’t contract H.I.V (people, please do your research on how H.I.V is contracted. Just being in the presence of an individual who is positive, doesn’t mean you’re going to become positive, smh.) But, I did face a few scary situations that made my heart beat fast, and had me questioning my decision to travel this massive content solo. There was a time in Botswana, while waiting on the next bus to Zimbabwe, where I witnessed purse and bag snatchings. Being alone with all of my livelihood in a backpack, I knew I was a prime target for the group of gang members standing right outside my bus window. This was probably the scariest 6-hour wait I had while in Africa. I came across many Caucasian travelers who told me their stories of be robbed during their Africa travels. Thank God I never experienced that.
Africa is a huge continent consisting of 54 countries. Some countries are safer than others. While there, I stayed on the alert, but I didn’t allow this to ruin a good time. If in doubt, just ask the locals how safe the city is, especially at night, and they will be able to tell you whether or not it’s safe in certain areas, and whether or not you should walk around at night.
- Time is not on your side. You’ll become familiar with “hurry and wait,” a phrase I became way too familiar with while serving in the military, and again while traveling solo.
Unlike the United States and other western countries, most African countries have their own time system. They call it “African Time.” In other words, if you’re traveling via bus from country to country, don’t expect for the bus to leave or arrive on time. The public transportation system in Africa has no sense of time. They leave and arrive whenever they leave and arrive. After experiencing this, you learn to expect to wait 3-6 hours after departure time. You’ll also learn that a 5 hour bus ride is usually 8+ hours.
- If you’re a female traveling solo, you’ll get a lot of help. Some welcoming, and some not so welcoming.
Traveling solo as a female has it’s advantages and disadvantages. As a woman, it’s easier to get help. Men and women will go out of their way to help you, even when there’s a language barrier. Men can come off as intimidating and may or may not get as much help as the “helpless” woman. On the other hand, traveling solo as a woman will often get you the type of “help” you’re not necessarily looking for. Once in Tanazania, a taxi cab driver offered me some unwelcoming help. As soon as he found out that I was American, he took it amongst himself to tell me how deeply inlove he was with me and offered me his bed, and himself, to sleep with. I politely declined his offer. This was the most uncomfortable taxi ride I had been on. being 3am in the morning didn’t help at all.
Most men will flirt, as questions, and ask you for you number. Just smile, remain friendly, and give them a fake number if they insists. Most mean no harm. Being nice, and going with the flow becomes very helpful when you find yourself arriving at your next destination well after nightfall. The locals are always willing to help ensure that you make it to your accommodation safe a sound. Everyone isn’t out to harm you.
- The whole myth that blacks are loved in Europe, isn’t necessarily true depending on where you go.
Living in Germany for two years, and doing a little traveling through Europe, I quickly debunked this myth. As a Black woman, I was not treated any differently in Europe (Germany, Amsterdam, France) than I was treated back in the States. As a matter or fact, many Black men who I worked with were targeted due to being Black in Germany. In France, an ex-coworker told me, that he was a victim of discrimination because he was a Black man.
I personally was never a victim of discrimination because of my skin color, but I was not treated as royalty either. Don’t believe the hype that moving to Europe would grant you special treatment. You will be highly disappointed.
- You’ll learn that the word “struggle” doesn’t have a universal meaning.
Simply being an American has it perks. Most of us take these perks for granted without realizing it. Sometimes it takes visiting a country without these perks to understand just how much of a blessing being an American really is. What I learned is that other countries, who don’t have as much as we do, isn’t necessarily struggling, but are making due with what they have.
Soweto, a popular township in Johannesburg, South Africa is a prime example of what it means to thrive with limited resources. It’s so easy to look at the people of Soweto and see poverty. In reality, these people are quite happy and thriving just like any other person. They may not have the name brand clothing, huge homes, and luxury cars…but what they do have is family, friends, schools, homes, and small businesses they run from within their community. Sometimes you actually have to immerse yourself within a different culture to understand that nothing is what it seems.
- Patience is a virtue while traveling.
Traveling for a long period of time will cause you to lose patience. Things that were once so exciting will become a pain. Little things that never bothered you will soon begin to irritate you. Being impatient may be the reason you miss out on a life changing experience.
Durban, South Africa was one place that I was told I needed to travel to. I did, but not with an open heart. By the time I arrived I was already homesick and had seen enough of South Africa (I’ll tell you why in another post). At my hostel I ran into a local who immediately took an interest in me and my american accent. He invited myself and some others to his home for a braai (South African bbq). I declined. I was ready to head to my next destination and wasn’t interested in Durban whatsoever. After begging, I gave in. I gave in and it became the best experience I had in South Africa! I met some new friends, ate some home cooked braai, and drank alcohol. This was the booster that I needed, and I was so happy to have had the opportunity to experience a traditional south Africa braai.
There will be times when you’re turned off about everything travel, and that’s ok. Just be sure not to stay in that mindframe for too long. Remember your reasons for travel and let those be the reasons to push through the rest of your journey with an open mind and heart. You don’t want to miss out on a good thing.
- If you’re from an English speaking country, you’ll learn how beneficial it is to speak more than one language.
English is spoken in so many places around the world. While traveling, depending on where you are, it’s very seldom that you will find absolutely no one that at least speak a few words in English. While on a safari in Tanzania, I felt like quite the odd ball not knowing any languages outside of English. It actually made me feel less than. Let me explain. 7 out of 8 people on the safari spoke two or more languages to include English. Me, well, I was that 8th person who only spoke one language. It was a little embarrassing to say the least.
What I took away from this experience is the fact that it’s beneficial knowing more than one language. You never know where you may end up in the world. Being bilingual/trilingual can also be benefcial when it comes to careers, and developing new friendships, not just travel. I challenge you and myself to learn a new language.
- You’ll find out just how bold and adaptive you are.
Traveling, especially traveling solo will bring out a boldness in you that you never knew existed. Traveling alone can be quite scary, especially traveling through continents like Africa and South America. You’ll find yourself being hit on by scary looking men, all the dangers of traveling through these continents will play over and over in your head, you’ll get lost in a country where there’s a language barrier, your bank card may get hacked, you may get robbed, and at one point you may even get deathly sick …but through it all, you’ll make it through. You’ll look back on all the bad and think to yourself that you’re a real badass. You’ll develop a real sense of pride with the realization that you can do and make it through anything if you have the guts to take the first steps.
- Traveling and vacationing are two different things.
These two things often get mistaken for being the same thing. No…they are not. In fact, they are the complete opposite. Let me explain….
While traveling through Africa there were days where I couldn’t believe I had gotten myself in this situation, there were times where I absolutely hated the entire continent of Africa, there were 8-16 hour uncomfortable bus rides, travelers diarrhea, bed bugs, and bad internet signal. Yes, bad internet signal was stressful. You cook and buy your own food, decide whether to take a $1 taxi ride or save your money and walk 3 miles back to your hostel, etc. Although the good highly outweighed the bad, these are factors that vacationers don’t experience.
When you’re on vacation, you fly into your destination, take a cab to your nice hotel room, relax on the beach, shop, gamble, and sight see, and sometimes catered to. You experience all the touristy, beautiful parts of the country without realizing that what you see is as fake as a movie set. But hey, I’m not knocking the vacationers; we all need a little vacation every now and then.
- Travel isn’t as expensive as you thought.
If you’re open to cheap accommodation like living in hostels, cooking your own food or eating locally, and using public transportation in the country you’re in, then traveling can be very inexpensive. Many younger people, between the ages of 18-24 use this method of travel. It’s called backpacking. At 28, this was the method I used to travel through 8 countries in Africa. I also plan on using this method next year to travel though South America.
If you’re open to an adventure, and on a budget, then I recommend this way to travel. You can still do and see all things on your bucket list, without the 5 star hotels and dinners. Many people have actually stated that traveling long-term has been less expensive then living montly in the United States and other westernized countries.
What are some lesson you learned while traveling solo?
Live happy and inspired!