Experiences Female Travel Solo Female Travel

Solo Female Travel Guide: Traveling Alone in West Africa as a Woman

solo female travel guide to West Africa

The following solo journey guide for West Africa is delivered to you by Alissa of Exploring Wild.

I spent two and a half months in West Africa, traveling solo and on a decent price range by way of one of many least developed regions on the earth. By way of dozens of dilapidated bush taxis, I worked my method from Senegal to Côte d’Ivoire via the coastal nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Along the best way I collected loads of the anticipated stories: dangerous roads, corrupt officials, malaria, and awkward digestive issues all made appearances. But there have been also some sudden discoveries, some sluggish realizations, plenty of lingering confusion, and finally a brand new sense of perspective alone tradition.

It was probably the most intense journey I’ve ever skilled, and I predict it can maintain onto that title for fairly some time!

My Determination to Travel Solo in West Africa

Why West Africa? Go huge or keep residence, I figured. If I used to be going to give up my job to journey, I needed to go someplace guaranteed to show me lots, somewhere a bit of loopy and uncomfortable in methods I won’t be up for later in life.

I had visited East Africa a yr earlier than and knew I needed to experience more of sub-Saharan Africa, and West Africa appeared like the right approach to take issues up a notch. It’s a very fascinating region as a result of there are such a lot of cultures and ethnic groups overlapping in a comparatively small space. I was also attracted by the pure beauty and the novelty of being so removed from the crushed path of tourism.

There was also – I’ve to admit – a tinge of excitement in going somewhere most people thought was too troublesome and harmful. I needed to show them flawed. I knew sufficient about Africa to know that the majority People, if we all know something at all about West Africa, solely know the damaging tales. I hoped to convey again a extra constructive one.

Why alone? The brief reply: as a result of my husband was busy. I still hope he and I will do some long run journey collectively when the time is true, but within the meantime I’ve discovered my love of solo journey. I have the perfect husband ever; he understands how much this means to me, and we’re working collectively to seek out artistic methods of creating it attainable.

All About Solo Journey in West Africa

A Typical Travel Day in West Africa

Loading the automotive in Sierra Leone

Lots of my days revolved across the ritual of bush taxi transportation: show up within the morning, wait a number of hours for a automotive to fill, cram right into a 7-seater with 10 locals and spend hours bumping alongside dusty roads.

This will likely sound like wasted time, however actually transportation was typically where I had the perfect conversations. Ready for the automotive, waiting in the automotive, waiting for the automotive’s flat tire to be fastened… Typically we chatted, typically we just sat in companionable silence. It made me understand what a misplaced art waiting is in America, where we’ve got to fill each second of our time.

On days once I didn’t have to get somewhere I walked around dusty little towns, exploring markets and stopping for meals and conversations. Typically I went mountaineering, both a brief jaunt up a close-by hill or sometimes a multi-day trek in a stunning distant area. A pair days passed lazily on palm-lined seashores, lovely and almost empty.

It was a simple rhythm centered across the locations I was shifting by way of, not particular sites to see, yet it was never boring. Nothing is boring in West Africa!

Challenges of Solo Female Travel in West Africa

flat tire in Ivory Coast

Changing a flat tire in Ivory Coast. Transportation points are an enormous problem for travelers.

Traveling in West Africa has some pretty substantial challenges for any sort of traveler: the infinite hours in cramped transportation, energy-sapping humid warmth, wildly unpredictable timing, weeks of bathing with a bucket of cold water and problem finding reliable electrical energy.

On prime of all that there are some perplexing cultural variations, plus the fixed mental fatigue of sticking out like, nicely, like a white individual in West Africa. (Enjoyable reality: pretty much anyone who isn’t black is taken into account white by locals there – we ALL stick out!).

The most important challenge of traveling solo there’s just dealing with all this alone. You go weeks with out seeing anybody who understands how unfamiliar and ridiculous and uncomfortable it all feels. You’re surrounded by individuals for whom it’s just normal life! This could feel isolating and draining, and in addition complicated and guilt-inducing. I never forgot for a minute that I used to be there by selection, with a cushty residence ready for me each time I used to be ready.

Guinea bush taxi taken by a solo female traveler

Taking a bush taxi in Guinea

Then there’s the solo feminine issue. In this a part of the world, they appear to assume western ladies are all nymphomaniacs – thanks western TV and films. It helped a bit that I used to be married but even nonetheless, the obtrusive geographical distance between myself and my husband was cause for optimism. About as soon as a day on average I used to be proposed to, provided sex or requested for sex, often by very earnest men simply asking what they thought was an inexpensive query.

Once I declined, often they might transfer on to different subjects of dialog and we’d take pleasure in some enlightening cultural change. I not often felt threatened or harassed in the familiar sense, though the constant “polite” propositioning did get previous.

Benefits of Solo Female Travel in West Africa

The most important benefit was the best way solo journey opened the door for interaction with locals. Of their tradition, ladies are seen as a lot lower standing and less succesful than men, and the thought of a lady traveling alone is actually weird for them. Individuals have been so stunned that they only couldn’t help themselves; they had to speak to me! I’m an introverted individual and fairly dangerous at hanging up conversations with strangers, so this actually helped me get more out of my journey.

I observed an enormous difference when, a few occasions, I frolicked with with a male foreigner for a couple of hours. In the event that they talked to us at all, they principally addressed him, and I felt annoyed and overlooked. Solo feminine vacationers get “honorary man” standing, which makes it a lot simpler to have significant interactions.

On the plus aspect, I received fewer propositions once I had a male companion, however general it wasn’t value the price. Life received far more fascinating and random – greater highs and decrease lows – the minute I returned to touring solo.

One other benefit for me was the arrogance I gained throughout and after the trip. I’m not saying everybody’s journey ought to be judged by how a lot they endured – we all travel for different causes – nevertheless it was what I wanted on the time. I felt full of delight after navigating West Africa alone, and this sense of with the ability to handle myself has expanded what I now see as potential in other areas of my life.

Prevalence of Tourists in West Africa

Tourism office in Maliville Guinea

Tourism office in Maliville Guinea

I hardly met any travelers at all in West Africa. The beachy elements of Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire had a number of vacationers, but within the interior of Sierra Leone and Liberia the occasional foreigners have been often expatriate improvement staff or Peace Corps volunteers. They might greet me by asking “So which NGO do you work for?” and the reply “I’m just touring” all the time elicited a perplexed “Why here?”

Whereas they weren’t solo feminine travelers in the typical sense, lots of these volunteers and expats have been ladies, they usually actually impressed me. They do have a help network of types, but they typically stay alone in local communities and navigate all the identical points I did, however for years and while making an attempt to get useful work completed. I’ve little question they might handle themselves traveling solo almost anyplace on the earth after that.

One cool thing about visiting a spot with so few foreigners: once I did meet one each week or two it was like an immediate good friend! I bonded instantly with individuals from nations that normally wouldn’t have felt notably familiar – the Netherlands and China for instance – but in West Africa we felt like nextdoor neighbors. Typically they too have been craving some cultural familiarity and our conversations flowed on for hours.

Safety for Solo Ladies Travelers in West Africa

Sierra Leone dirt road

A mud street in Sierra Leone. Transportation accidents is usually a security concern in West Africa.

With regard to security, it’s difficult! Safety isn’t assured, and I don’t wish to make broad statements based mostly on my restricted expertise. I will say I felt safer than I expected, and much safer than my frightened friends and family expected.

Violent crime rates are comparatively low in West Africa. Petty theft is a concern, especially in the cities, however most individuals in West Africa are just regular people going about their day by day lives identical to anyplace. They might contemplate it mistaken and dishonorable to harm a visitor or steal from them, although all overseas visitors appear extremely rich to them (and comparatively talking we’re, even those of us touring on a small price range).

Most people have been so variety that ultimately I did get too complacent. I arrived late at night time (it’s an extended story) in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, and the taxi driver was having a tough time finding my lodge. A young man provided to walk me to it. So many variety individuals had finished the same that I trusted him within the one state of affairs I ought to have been most suspicious of: an enormous city late at night time. Positive sufficient, he pushed me down and wrestled my small bag of electronics and valuables out of my palms.

After that I felt much less protected, and I needed to work exhausting to confide in individuals once more by way of the rest of my trip. In the long run I feel it was an excellent lesson in stability. Now once I journey I hope to satisfy one of the best in everybody, however I’m all the time aware that my first precedence is to guard myself in case I occur to satisfy the flawed individual on the incorrect day. Apart from that one incident, nobody else tried to hurt or steal from me in West Africa (until you rely that one bribe try from a border official, however that’s a special story).

Typically we get so targeted on crime, particularly when enthusiastic about solo feminine journey, that we overlook greater however less sensational dangers. In West Africa these greater dangers are transportation accidents and illness.

I fortuitously skilled no transportation accidents, and was type of lucky in the well being department: my malaria case was delicate (sure I took preventative treatment – it’s not 100% efficient). Fortuitously I was ready with a check package and remedy, since I was traveling alone in remote areas with questionable access to well being care. This can be a good example of how necessary it is to think about risks rationally and put together for those which might be truly most certainly, not just probably the most sensational.

Precautions I Took to Really feel Safer

As a white woman in West Africa I stood out from virtually actually a mile away. Although most individuals have been well-meaning, that feeling of constant consideration was enough to keep me a bit on edge. These are the precautions I took:

  • Stored cash and passport hidden in my hidden pocket underwear
  • Stayed conscious of my surroundings; no strolling round with headphones or consuming too much
  • Prevented strolling alone in empty locations close to cities, for instance seashores or industrial areas
  • Didn’t wear jewellery, and stored my smartphone hidden in crowded areas
  • Packed mild so I might move simply and maintain management of my baggage
  • Portrayed confidence when interacting with men
  • Tried to assess danger based mostly on current environment (metropolis versus village, day versus night time) as an alternative of relying on basic beliefs about being protected or unsafe
  • Interacted with as many locals as attainable, creating my very own little community of people that have been watching out for me wherever I went
  • Obtained off the roads by darkish every time attainable (because of danger of transportation accidents)

Greatest Experiences Touring Alone in West Africa

The amount and depth of interaction with the individuals of West Africa actually made my journey particular. Our conversations coated all of it.

In Freetown I shared the entrance seat of a taxi with a young city-dwelling lady in trendy western clothes. She confided that she was engaged to an indignant man she didn’t love, however felt marrying him was the proper factor to do as a result of she was a single mom and wanted stability for her daughter.

In Liberia an immigrant from Guinea advised me how his household had survived the civil struggle by fleeing again residence. He had returned to open his food stall and send money house because the financial system was higher in Liberia. I heard him converse three languages whereas I sipped coffee in his shop.

In Guinea I discovered to play the djembe drum from an excellent younger musician with probably the most shameless selfie-taking habit I’ve ever seen. On the best way from Guinea to Sierra Leone I met a civil engineer making an attempt to rebuild healthcare facilities still ravaged from Ebola, and later helped him write his funding proposals.

By means of these individuals and lots of others I glimpsed the fabric of a really totally different tradition, one where family, relationships, generosity and sharing are paramount and sometimes important for survival. Typically this lesson nonetheless pops up in the type of late-night WhatsApp messages full of formal and affectionate language, inquiring after my household’s wellbeing and casting a contrasting mild alone self-reliant tradition. West Africa labored its means into my life like no different travel destination has.

My Most Memorable Expertise from West Africa

Ganta, Liberia solo travel

Road scene in Ganta, Liberia

I had lots of memorable experiences, but what stands out most is the nice shock of traversing Liberia to the far southeastern nook on a few of West Africa’s worst roads.

The entire country felt like a small town; I was never alone. In a bush taxi from Zwedru to Fishtown I met an area who knew the Peace Corps volunteer in Fishtown and eagerly introduced me to “my brother.” That volunteer gave me contact details for an additional volunteer in Harper, my subsequent vacation spot, and the local hooked me up with a journey from some Liberian UN staff (after which gave me a pineapple for the street). In Harper I bumped into another Liberian I’d shared a taxi with a number of days prior, who invited me to drop by a UNDP meeting for lunch.

I ultimately checked out of my guesthouse in Harper and stayed with the local Peace Corps volunteer, whose home I tracked down during a mobile service outage by asking the neighborhood youngsters (he was a math instructor on the native faculty). His family was visiting, together with several different PC volunteers from all over southeastern Liberia, yet they welcomed me to pitch my mosquito tent in the living room. These are simply a few of the many random connections woven into my journey. By the point I left Liberia I felt I used to be abandoning a rustic filled with associates.

The kicker is, I came so close to missing out on all this! Liberia had frightened me probably the most from a security perspective, perhaps unfairly, and I used to be planning to bail east to Côte d’Ivoire as an alternative of taking the great distance by way of. But the morning of determination time, for some cause I headed south as an alternative. I’m so glad I gave Liberia an opportunity, and so glad Liberia shattered my damaging preconceived concepts.

Packing for Solo Travel in West Africa

solo travel in Guinea

Trekking in Guinea. Packing included a solo tent and inflatable sleeping pad.

I used to be away from residence for five months complete (2.5 months in East Africa and a couple of.5 months in West Africa) and needed to journey as mild as attainable, so packing was a problem! I stuffed my Osprey Porter 46 backpack (which I beloved!) to inside an inch of its life. I had a solo tent and inflatable sleeping pad in there, plus giant provides of contact lenses and sunscreen, and all the practical essentials: water purification, bug repellent, pretty in depth first help package, and so forth.

My clothes was all about comfort and minimalism: a couple of light-weight merino wool shirts, two pairs of full-length pants with zip pockets, an extended skirt for extra formal or conservative situations, a pair of running shoes and a pair of sports sandals.

It’s arduous to overstate the importance of packing mild for this type of journey. I walked miles in search of guesthouses, spent hours crammed into bush taxis with my pack on my lap, and carried it on motorcycle taxis over tough filth roads. I even did a couple of multi-day hikes with all my gear, for instance once I hiked from Senegal to Guinea on distant trails. With the ability to move freely and not fumble with luggage provides you options as well as a confident vibe that’s necessary for safety and peace of thoughts.

What I Was Completely satisfied to Have Packed

Little essentials like a headlamp and water remedy have been key and acquired used almost day by day.

My pocket underwear thankfully stored my cash stash and passport nicely hidden once I was robbed.

A sarong was variously helpful as a mud mask, makeshift curtain, padding for uncomfortable bush taxi seats, towel, and even a modesty cover for roadside pee breaks on long overland journeys (it’s how the local women do it).

My small notebook and pen have been useful for recording instructions, contact particulars from new buddies, and phrases from impromptu language lessons. A nice smartphone is a rarity in West Africa and I might have felt awkward utilizing mine to take notes in all these instances.

What I Want I Had Packed

I typically wished for one nicer shirt on special occasions. Individuals in West Africa gown really superbly, especially the women with their pretty vibrant skirts and head coverings. I felt fairly ratty in my plain and practical travel garments by comparability.

As much as I really like merino wool for journey (it doesn’t get smelly, even if you’ve been hand-rinsing it in a bucket for 5 months!), even the lightest weight wool shirts have been uncomfortable in West Africa’s humid warmth. If I’d recognized then what I do know now, I might have sprung for some breezy artificial shirts with antimicrobial remedy. I’m presently testing a shirt like this from Athleta and I like it. Subsequent time…

Prime Ideas for Ladies Touring Solo in West Africa

Local taxi in Guinea

Native taxi in Guinea

The decision to journey in West Africa, alone or in any other case, isn’t one to take calmly. However for knowledgeable(ish) travelers who have completed their research and feel excited about taking it on, the potential rewards are large. If that’s you, listed here are my ideas:

  • Pack your sense of humor. When the bush taxi breaks down for the fifth time, or the driving force will get arrested, or a border official proposes marriage… Laughter is nearly all the time a culturally acceptable response and will aid you stay in a very good mood when issues get weird.
  • Prepare for plenty of consideration and prying questions about your personal life: Are you married? Do you will have youngsters? Why not? How previous are you? Individuals aren’t being impolite, they’re just expressing curiosity in a approach that feels pure in their tradition, they usually’re genuinely curious.
  • For dealing with interested men: try to all the time challenge confidence. Claiming to be married helps. When you don’t really feel threatened, think about deflecting good-naturedly with humor or conversation about different subjects. I do know, it’s unfair that we girls need to cope with these things, however getting indignant every time a person expresses interest on this vastly totally different culture is an effective approach to spend your entire trip indignant.
  • Culturally applicable gown: Higher legs are more scandalous than shoulders and even cleavage in West Africa. You don’t need a skirt but I might recommend loose-fitting full length pants if you want to avoid getting even more attention than you already will. I often wore short-sleeve shirts, however typically wore a conservative sleeveless tank prime in areas the place I noticed local ladies with bare shoulders.
  • Convey your personal provide of sunscreen, bug repellent, contact lens answer, and sanitary products. (I extremely advocate a menstrual cup for this kind of trip.) It’s straightforward to seek out toothpaste, cleaning soap, shampoo and lotion there, though the manufacturers will all be totally different. You’ll be able to often discover rest room paper in outlets, however deliver or buy your personal and don’t anticipate the loos to have it.
  • In the event you’re touring on a finances, be prepared to seek out your lodging on the fly once you arrive. Most “price range” establishments (West Africa truly isn’t an affordable travel vacation spot so this could mean anything from $10 – $40 per night time) haven’t any online presence, however useful locals will all the time be joyful to point you towards the nearby choices.
  • Manners: All the time use your proper hand for consuming, handing things or receiving things. The left hand is supposed to be reserved for sanitary functions, and even for those who favor to make use of your personal stash of toilet paper the locals nonetheless associate the left hand with rudeness. It’s polite to ask concerning the wellbeing of somebody’s family and need them properly when greeting or parting. Handshakes are widespread and enthusiastic; the Liberian handshake is particularly distinctive.
  • Be sure to converse at the least survival-level French: when you plan to travel in Francophone nations (Senegal, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire for instance). In any other case an already confusing place shall be ten occasions extra confusing. Being somewhat fluent would make for a extra satisfying journey. I taught myself primary French for this trip and nonetheless really struggled with communication.
  • Know your backup plans: what is going to you do should you get sick or lose your stash of money? ATMs aren’t widespread in West Africa, so chances are you’ll have to depend on one thing like Western Union. Analysis your options before you go, as a result of emergencies might be more durable to recuperate from on this a part of the world.
  • Study concerning the nations you’ll be visiting: present information, historical past, civil wars, current elections, and so forth. These things will come up in dialog with locals, and having the background information will make for more fascinating trade. It’s also a approach of displaying respect for nations which have lately endured lots. Information from this part of the world might be onerous to seek out, however verify international news websites like Al Jazeera, and Africa-specific sites like africanews.com and thetimesofafrica.com. You may as well learn troublesome but compelling memoirs from survivors of the civil wars when you favor to study that method.
  • Be open, concentrate, and enjoy the experience!
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Concerning the Writer: Alissa paused a tech profession to pursue her love of travel, vast open spaces, and getting in only a bit over her head. She needs that will help you get in over your head too – in a good way! – with unique guides and inspiration for aspiring adventurers. Say hi and share your journey aspirations on Twitter or Fb.

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solo female travel west africa guide
west africa solo travel guide

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