Compared with North Africa and the Middle East, South America and many Western countries, Southern Africa is relatively safe and nonthreatening for women travellers, whether solo or in small groups.

Local Attitudes

Attitudes towards foreign women travellers tend to be fairly liberal, and if travelling solo there are plenty of opportunities to meet people along the way. Southern Africa is one of the few places in the developing world where women can meet and communicate freely with local men – of any race – without automatically being misconstrued. You'll still get questions about what you’re doing, and where your husband and children are, but reactions are usually matter-of-fact.

Nightlife is something of an exception and in this sphere both black and white societies in Southern Africa are very much conservative, traditional and male-dominated. Some bars are male only (by law of the establishment, or by law of tradition), and even where women are 'allowed', cultural conventions often dictate that women don't enter without a male companion. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, it's best to seek out and follow local female advice on which places are acceptable.

Health & Safety

Stay safe with a bit of common sense and keep your wits about you, ie don’t wander around alone anywhere at night, and during the daytime avoid anywhere that's isolated, including streets, beaches and parks. If you go out at night, it’s best to go in a group. Additionally, many budget hotels double as brothels, and are best avoided if you're travelling solo.

Never forget that in Africa, HIV/AIDS presents a threat that's unimaginable in the West. Throughout the region, local sex workers are almost always infected. This also means local men may see a foreign woman as a safe alternative.

Tampons and sanitary napkins are sold in pharmacies and supermarkets in major towns, although you’re best off bringing your own preferred supply from home. It’s also a good idea to pack anti-thrush medication, UTI antibiotics and any other medication you might need.

Resources

Female travellers may like to contact the global organisation called Women Welcome Women World Wide (www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk), which fosters international friendship by enabling women of different countries to visit one another.