Safety Tips for Female Travelers in Malawi
(from the November 2005 Issue of Transitions Abroad magazine)
Sending email from an Internet café in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, took longer than I had estimated, and my plan to walk home before dusk failed. As I began the short journey to my hotel, a car pulled up alongside me. A man leaned out of the window and told me to get in. He said I was on the wrong side of town and was being followed. With little time to decide between what seemed to be two very dangerous choices, I got in the car and held my breath.
Thankfully, the driver turned out to be one of the good guys and dropped me off outside my hotel. He explained during our brief journey that he had been mugged the week before at exactly the same location. He waited until I stepped inside the entrance of my hotel and waved me goodbye.
Once inside, I sat on my bed and read my Malawi guidebook to take my mind off the ordeal. I was surprised to find a warning about the very road I had just attempted to walk down. It was dangerous in the daytime, let alone at dusk; muggings were frequent and thieves often hid under the bridge I had just ambled across.
We all learn from our own mistakes, but when it comes to women traveling alone, consequences can be severe. With this in mind I’d like to share some tips and advice that I should have taken myself.
1. Always read up on your destination. Don’t leave it until the last minute when you have already put yourself in a dangerous position. If you’re unsure about your destination it’s wise to check out some travel forums on the Internet to learn about other people’s recent experiences. Lonely Planet has a particularly useful forum called the Thorn Tree.
2. Don’t take a risky option just because it’s easier or cheaper. Ask first. Take a taxi if you’re really not sure of the area.
3. Ask around at your hostel or hotel to see if anybody is making a similar trip. There’s always safety in numbers, plus you’ll make some new friends.
4. Avoid carrying a bag; wherever possible, wear a money belt and don’t give prospective thieves a target.
5. Above all, follow your instincts: if you start to get that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach then you’re probably somewhere you shouldn’t be