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9 Things You Need to Know Before You Travel to South Africa Solo!
South Africa is a beautiful place to travel.
The incredible landscapes, people and animals, it makes for a broad and unforgettable experience.
Truth be told, it was one of my favourite destinations in Africa, however there are several things you MUST consider before you travel to South Africa as a female or solo traveller.
1) Many of the Locals Speak English
South Africa is one of the greatest cultural melting pots in Africa, therefore there are many different languages spoken, especially in cities like Cape Town.
Given a lot of the population speak good English it makes it easier to get around and communicate with the locals which is awesome!
2) How to Stay Safe in South Africa
The high murder rates and negative media have caused many to perceive South Africa as a dangerous travel destination. And sure, crime definitely continues to be an issue.
In most cases however, the really bad incidents often occur in areas that aren’t frequently visited by tourists.
That’s not to say tourists aren’t targets of petty crime, but from my experience if you keep to the touristy spots in the city, stay away from the “burbs” or city outskirts and take the right precautions, you should be ok.
If you’re planning to travel to South Africa, you should be on your guard most of the time. There are some places in Johannesburg for example, that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.
In those areas you MUST be really careful, cautious or avoid entirely, especially as a female or when travelling solo.
- Is Cape Town Safe for Solo Travellers?
- The 5 Best Wine Regions in South Africa for Wine Lovers!
- Is Solo Travel Safe? Our Top Safety Tips for Solo Travellers
3) Don’t Be Careless with Your Belongings in South Africa
My third tip that you need to know before you travel to South Africa, is to be careful with your belongings.
Please remember that you are not in your home country. Stolen handbags, cameras and phones are a regular thing in South Africa.
When I was in Cape Town, I met some locals who were warning me of the importance of not being on my phone in public. Initially I thought it sounded paranoid, but she soon told me about her personal experience.
One time, she had her phone snatched FROM HER HAND whilst on a phone call in the street. A man literally came up from behind her, grabbed her phone, jumped straight into a taxi and took off.
She didn’t see it coming and never saw her phone again.
I also met a traveller in my hostel who was freaking out because she’d had all her stuff stolen on New Year’s Eve.
Her passport. Her bank cards. Her Cash. EVERYTHING!
At the time, I was thankful that it wasn’t me and felt absolutely terrible for her. But, we later found out that her negligence and naivety were partly the reason for her things being stolen.
Firstly, she had been drinking, dancing and partying all night on the beach. Second, she left her hand bag (with all of those critical items inside it) unattended on the sand.
An absolute NO GO in South Africa.
Anti-Theft Travelling Tips 101:
- NEVER EVER leave your passport and other critical documents in your handbag unattended.
- ALWAYS have backups of cash, credit cards and even a photocopy of your passport in your luggage.
That way, if something gets stolen you’re not completely F**CKED.
The “snip and run” tactic is also very common when it comes to over-the-shoulder handbags. That’s why I like to make it a habit to hold my hand on my bag or position it at the front of my body whilst walking through the city / in public places.
4) Pick Your Accommodation Wisely Before You Arrive in South Africa
When booking your accommodation, I highly suggest that you do some research on the safest areas of the city before you go.
You DO NOT want to get stuck in a position where you think you’re staying in a safe hostel or neighbourhood, but upon arriving realise that you’re in a super shady or dodgy area of the city.
This can be one of the scariest experiences you have when travelling. Trust me, I know!
5) Public Transport in South Africa
Public transport in South Africa is not like that of other developed countries.
It’s practically non-existent.
To my surprise, Uber was actually a really common and safer form of cheap transport in South Africa. Just ensure that the person you book with has a good number of positive reviews.
When you have met a couple of other travellers and want to explore the city together, Uber can be a great option.
It’s cheap, trackable, the money transaction happens over an app, and drivers are given reviews so you know who you’re jumping a car with.
If you’re not keen on ordering an Uber, you can always use a taxi.
You can also walk around parts of the city where there are lots of tourists. Based on my experience, I spent a lot of my time walking between the main tourist sites and didn’t have any problems.
6) Driving in South Africa
One of the best ways to travel around South Africa is to hire a car and road trip.
But in certain parts of South Africa, a lot of crime and car hijacking happens when people are stopped at traffic lights (robots), intersections or stop signs. Especially at night.
Driving at Night
Car theft in general, is a big problem in some South African cities, such as Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg as an example, it is very uncommon for locals to actually stop their car at a red traffic light or stop sign when driving at night.
Doing so put you at risk of becoming prey to a carjacker.
My friend in Johannesburg told me that the government even started removing vegetation and bushes from the side of road intersections because car-jackers were using them to hide behind.
Leave significant space between other cars
It is also recommended that you leave significant space between yourself and the driver in front, especially at the traffic lights.
That way if a car tries to block you from behind or from the side, there’s always enough gap between you and the front car to escape.
Please be cautious and wary of this if you hire a care to drive around in South Africa.
Keep an eye on your rear-view mirror
Always keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.
If you think that someone is following you, avoid driving back to your accommodation as they could use that as an opportunity to box you in.
Drive around in circles as needed until they get bored or realise that they’ve been noticed.
Other Driving Tips:
- Like Australia, South Africans drive on the left.
- Don’t get out of your car or leave your car on the side of the road to take photos
- Leave enough space to the car in front so you can escape if needed
- Don’t stop at traffic lights, top signs or intersections at night
- In an intersection without street lights, the first vehicle that arrives has the priority.
7) You’ll Need to Venture out to see Wildlife
If one of your biggest reasons for travelling to Africa is because you want to see the BIG 5 (eg. Lions, Elephants, Rhino, Leopard & Buffalo), you’re going to need to venture outside of the cities to do so.
Lions, giraffes and elephants don’t just roam through the city.
In most cases, you’ll need to book a proper tour or safari to one of the many National Parks in South Africa to get a good look at the animals in their natural habitats.
8) South Africa Cities vs. Western Cities
When I was travelling to Cape Town, I was really surprised by how similar Cape Town felt to cities in Australia.
It was the perfect place for me to start my backpacking journey through Africa, because I experienced less of a culture shock compared to if I flew straight into Tanzania, for example.
Cape town particularly, created a nice transition for me as you generally have access to western comforts, lots of safe activities and an African vibe and culture.
9) Living Costs in South Africa are Relatively Affordable
In South Africa, most tourists find that the cost of food and alcohol is really well-priced compared to a lot of Western countries.
I personally found that food options were diverse and cheap, which made for a very delicious trip.
Accommodation is also very affordable, whether you opt for a hotel-stay, a guest house or self-catering unit.
But I did find that some tourist activities were SUPER expensive.
When I was in Cape Town, I was actually surprised at how expensive some of the tourist activities were, such as shark cage diving, safaris etc.
Therefore, if planning on doing a lot of touristy activities and tours in Cape Town, you may want to take this into account in your travel budget.
In general, South Africa is a fantastic place for solo travellers, and is one of my favourite travel destinations in Africa.
As mentioned in this article there are however, numerous things you must know and consider before you travel to South Africa solo.
Particularly when it comes to crime and safety.
If you need help organising your first trip to South Africa, here are some great resources to check out to help you get started.
- How to Create a Travel Budget That Actually Works!
- Solo Travel: How to meet people & make friends while travelling
- Travel Gear for Solo Travellers
If you’re interested in travelling to South Africa, here are some great tours and activities you can check out for some trip inspiration.
9 things you need to know before you travel to South Africa solo.
- Many of the locals speak English
- Staying safe is the #1 Priority in South Africa
- Don’t be careless with your belongings
- Pick your accommodation wisely before you travel
- Be aware of how local transport works
- Be aware of key driving tips when in South Africa
- You’ll need to venture out of the main cities to see wildlife
- South African cities often have a similar feel to some Western Cities
- The living costs in South Africa are relatively affordable