I have no words for how swiftly and thoroughly I fell in love with South Africa. As a solo female travelling through this vibrant country I went clubbing in Cape Town, bungee jumped off a bridge, explored crime hotspots, and went on a truly breath-taking safari. I did it all without ever once feeling unsafe. As with most countries, you can proceed with far less caution outside the big cities. However even in the busiest of places, I never once felt nervous purely because I followed these 8 simple safety rules:
1. Make eye contact
Most people looking to mug you want to fly under the radar. This is a lot harder to do if you look on-comers in the eye and acknowledge their presence.
2. Don’t flash your fancy stuff
This one might seem like common sense, but if you’re coming from a country where you’d happily fall asleep on a train with your laptop bag sitting next to you (like me), it can take some adjustment.
You may have bought a fancy camera especially for the trip, or you want to whip out your phone to check your maps, and who hasn’t needed to count their cash when getting used to a new currency? But there’s a time and a place. Usually that time and place is at your hotel, sitting inside a cafe or at least walking in a big group. Better still, leave it all at your hotel if you can.
3. Leave nothing unattended
Even if it’s just for a second while you throw something in the bin, there’s a good chance it won’t be waiting for you when you get back. Again, if at all possible, leave anything valuable locked up back at your accommodation. Losing a phone is one thing, but no-one wants to find themselves stuck without a passport.
4. Don’t go out alone after dark
Seriously, even if it’s only a short walk, just don’t. Plan ahead so you’re in a group or at your final destination before it gets too late.
5. Book a tour
If you’re a traveller who prefers to avoid tours, I’m with you. But sometimes they help you see places you just couldn’t do safely on your own. I definitely felt that way in Johannesburg. Of course a local guide or a group of friends can be a better way to go if it’s an option for you.
6. If driving, keep doors locked and windows up
Before arriving, I was told no-one stops for red lights in Johannesburg, or else they’d certainly be mugged. In my experience, the situation isn’t quite that dire, but there are a few tips you should stick to. Don’t unlock or unwind for anyone you don’t know, and again, keep your valuables out of sight. That includes your navigation system so work out your route before departing.
‘Smash and grabs’ do happen, as do attempted traffic stops, particularly in big cities after dark. No need to panic, but do keep an eye out for anyone approaching the car, stop for no-one, and don’t hesitate to run a red light if you’re alone at night and feeling unsafe (but do so with caution).
7. Don’t let strangers in your personal space
No matter how friendly and cheerful they may seem, there’s a real chance they’re hoping you’ll let your guard down long enough to let them pick your pockets. This certainly doesn’t mean you can’t talk to anyone, but keep your distance, maintain a firm grip on your bags, and don’t let yourself be cornered.
8. Trust your gut
Most of us have a pretty good instincts for safe situations. If it seems like the wrong neighbourhood, leave. If you’re alone and you feel like you should cross the road to avoid the person walking towards you, do it. If something seems suspicious to you, it probably is.