So there are some rules of travel that you should follow, and hopefully you will stay safe at a backpackers in Cape Town.
- If you must get rotten shitfaced drunk – do it safely. There is a bar upstairs in Ashanti Gardens for a reason – it’s a safe space to drink. If you must go out – go in a group or at the very least a couple – there is safety in numbers. Don’t go to unsafe places. Check at reception at where it’s cool to go and where it’s not. I have a friend that has been travelling for eight years around Europe and South America. Every year he gets mugged. Last year he nearly made it an entire year without being parted from his cash but NYE in Barcelona.. Bingo! Every time he mugged, he’s as drunk as a skunk.
- If you are coming back to any of the Ashanti’s in the wee hours – it’s worthwhile being in a cab. Seriously taxis are not that expensive. The advantage of being in a cab means that if things look suss the cab driver can toot and the security guard can come to the gate. So what would be suss? A man standing on the corner at 2am in drizzle who isn’t a guard and just looks like he is hanging loose. Another dude hanging loose nearby. Look before you get out. If you feel nervous get the cab to be right outside the gate and shout out for the guard if he’s doing his rounds. You can always call reception too if you can’t raise the guard.
- Don’t wander around town with a big sign saying I am a wealthy tourist pick my pocket dude. Signs that say this are bum bags (fanny packs), matching sweat suits for couples, flags of your nationality proudly displayed, talking louder than anyone else if a 5 km radius with an accent that is clearly not lekker like a local. Discretion is the key. Dress like the locals do. Don’t carry bags that scream tourists. Carry a normal bag. Don’t look at guide book in the street outside of tourist strips. Find a café .. sit check out what you need to check out then go outside looking like a local. Clearly this can be a challenge if your skin colour doesn’t match that of the locals, but look what the ex pats are wearing, wear that.
- Don’t flash your cash. Don’t keep a wallet in your back pocket. I always keep another cash stash, and have my accessible cash (with no more than R200) handy. The hard-to-get-to cash is where the “motherload” is located. Back up credit card in the boot/bra/or as Husband likes to call it .. your Steve Grundies (Undies, underwear).
- Don’t walk around dripping in gold .. hells bells just put a sign on your back saying mug me. The only jewellery I take with me overseas is a wedding ring.
- Don’t leave your money belt hanging at the end of your bed unsecured. Seriously rooming with a bunch of stingy backpackers in Cape Town who are living off 2 minute noodles and you can going to leave your Christmas bonus dangling in full view whilst you are passed out? I sound judgey now don’t I? Well it happens more than you think. At least here at Ashanti we care about you and will report crimes that happen to our guests; my first backpackers in the dodgy part of Amsterdam when I rushed in breathlessly saying that one of the guests was being mugged outside, resulted in a suggestion that I should report it to the local police station. (Yes please go outside walk past the man with the knife assaulting that lovely Swiss boy who just took you to dinner, report it to the Police station 2 blocks down the canal!)
- Drugs. I get it, man. You are on holidays. You want to party. The only problem is that you don’t know the people selling you shit or what’s in it. The thing is, South African jails are not holiday camps. Save drugs for when you are on your own turf. At least mum/mom can bail you out then.
- Be aware. If some dude is following you .. don’t wander down that dark alleyway.
- Don’t leave your drink unattended and then come back to it. If it tastes funny don’t drink it. This is for boys and girls.
- Keep scanned copies of all your documents .. it saves time.
- Never ridden a motorcycle? Taking the road around table mountain in record time is not the time or place to learn.
- Don’t fight to keep your bag, wallet or purse. Even if you don’t see a gun or a knife, you don’t know that the baddie doesn’t have one, or that his/her mate doesn’t have one. Let the dude have your purse. BECAUSE YOU HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE. If you don’t have travel insurance you are an idiot and deserve to have all your money stolen.
- There are scams in every country, talk to your fellow travellers and pick up tips.
- Romancing the locals; you are on holidays, the moon is a big as a pizza pie, he/she has big blue/brown eyes… sigh! For a start if you must. USE A CONDOM !!!! And think about it. How vulnerable are you going to be? Is this true love or is it a desire for your wallet? Another reason to think twice if you want to do drugs or excessive grog if you are getting romantic …. Your judgement gets impaired.
- Don’t take all your money out with you. Secure it in the money safe. Don’t take your passport.
- Be wary but not rude. Not everyone is trying to scam you. The joy of travel is meeting new folk. But do be cautious. Sometimes tourists are targeted. If that alarm bells is ringing .. extricate yourself. Don’t wander around wide eyed smiling at everyone like you are in your girls own national geographic film. Make out you know what you are doing and where you are going. Even if you don’t.
- I am a big meanie when I travel. I don’t give to beggars. Why? Because you are letting everyone know where your cash is stashed. And often aren’t “helping”, you can even been contributing to the exploitation of children. If you want to a make a difference ask at Reception, there are some really good charities that Ashanti contributes too and you know the money is going to those in need.
- Don’t get pushed into doing something you are not comfortable with by your travel companions. On our first joint trip overseas, my Husband made every rookie mistake known to man, he booked taxis with drug dealers in the streets of Dar Es Salaam, he negotiated car hire with a strangers in the street in Stone Town, Zanzibar, and the excitement about how cheap this rubbish wood carving in the dogey market in down town Mombassa ruined any opportunity to negotiate a more appropriate price!! Thank God we didn’t start with India .. my nerves could not have borne it. I felt like the meanest woman in the world saying no, but at least we weren’t murdered. Stand your ground. If you feel like what’s being proposed is the dumbest idea ever it is .. don’t do it. Part ways before you give into pressure. If your travel companion has affection for you they won’t bully you into stupidity.
Enjoy Cape Town. Stay safe backpackers in Cape Town.
Contributor: Allison Finley-Bissett