For me (and my parents), hostels are the safest way to travel 

August 23, 2019

When I told my parents I had decided to travel the world on my own for six months, Cape Town, South Africa, probably wasn’t the first destination they were hoping I’d choose. They were likely leaning towards somewhere a bit more familiar… a little closer to home… with a lower homicide rate. You know, classic parent stuff.

But I was ready for an adventure, and I had heard epic things about Cape Town. I wanted to explore this world-class city, see what the fuss was about, and yes, I wanted to go cage diving with sharks. I’m not sure what my parents could have possibly been concerned about!

Luckily, my mom and dad are the most supportive humans in the world and they just want me to live my best life. Plus, I was an adult so they couldn’t exactly stop me — so off to Cape Town I went.

Touching down in the Mother City, I was excited despite the warnings I had heard. I knew South Africa didn’t have the safest reputation—in fact, Cape Town was reported to be the 13th most violent city in the world. This definitely warrants extra caution, but I grew up in a town outside of Vancouver called Abbotsford—formerly known as the “murder capital of Canada.” My childhood couldn’t have been any safer, and I knew that these statistics can be skewed by targeted violence. I was a smart and savvy traveller, and I wasn’t about to follow any gang members down a dark empty street. I don't want to say I felt invincible, but I felt like I knew how to minimize the risks—mind my belongings, trust my gut and avoid sketchy areas. Plus, what was I supposed to do, hide under a rock for the rest of my life?!

I checked into Atlantic Point Backpackers, an HI affiliate that had positive reviews online, and dropped my bags next to one of the comfiest hostel beds I’ve ever felt. My roommates—from Scotland, the USA and Spain—were friendly and raved about the adventures they had been having in Cape Town, like seeing the penguins at Boulders Beach and paragliding off Signal Hill. Everyone loved the city. I couldn't wait to have some adventures of my own!

I let my parents know I had made it there safely and set off on foot to explore the neighbourhood around my hostel, which I had read was safe. I was instantly smitten. Cape Town is absolutely incredible, from the stunning mountainous backdrop to the amazing weather and vibrant atmosphere. I headed down to the bustling V&A Waterfront to get lunch and browse around for a shark diving tour.

feeling safe in hostel in Cape Town, South Africa

The response I got over and over again was, “be careful, just be careful.” I was loving Cape Town, but these warnings put me on edge.

However, the more people I spoke to, the more I started to get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. It seemed that every local I chatted to, from my Uber driver to my waiter to the shark diving vendor, was taken aback by the fact that I was travelling alone. The response I got over and over again was, “be careful, just be careful.” I was loving Cape Town, but these warnings put me on edge.

I spent the beginning of my trip exploring the city, but feeling anxious along the way. I kept to the safe areas right around my hostel and stayed inside once it got dark—even though nighttime is usually when I thrive on my travels! I am a self-proclaimed dancing queen (little ABBA shout out for my parents).

One evening, Atlantic Point was hosting a braai night for its guests: an authentic (and delicious!) South African barbecue. I decided to attend and bonded with a few of my fellow hostel guests, many of them fellow solo travellers. When I found out some of them were going out dancing after dinner, I was intrigued. For me, experiencing the nightlife is a major part of experiencing a new place. But I had been strongly advised against going out at night in Cape Town by myself.

We committed to doing this as a crew, and guided by some hostel staff, we hit the town. My new friends stuck by me as we navigated our way through Long Street, notorious in Cape Town for partying and muggings. They ensured I was part of the pack as we hopped from venue to venue. They came to check on me when I met new friends at the bar. They ensured everyone was accounted for when catching our Uber back to the hostel.

It was an absolute blast. There’s something about being with new friends in a new place that lets you really let loose—not to mention Shakira belting “waka waka ay ay (this time for Africa)” to serenade us through the night.

Partying and feeling safe in Cape Town, South Africa

The beauty of solo travelling is the independence it allows, but I’ve never seen solo travellers band together and look out for each other like I did in Cape Town.

A couple days later, a group of us set out to hike up Lion’s Head for sunrise—a must-do in Cape Town. This isn’t something you should do alone, as there are occurrences of theft at the trailhead in the dark. My friends and I caught an early-morning Uber to the base of the mountain and climbed with the sun.

I’ll never forget the feeling of watching the sun rise from the top of the mountain overlooking Cape Town that morning. I felt so blessed to be experiencing this incredible place, so far from home but so blissfully happy.

The beauty of solo travelling is the independence it allows, but I’ve never seen solo travellers band together and look out for each other like I did in Cape Town. I was so grateful and, it turns out, my parents were, too.

On the final night of my week-long trip, my friends and I were having goodbye drinks. I posted a photo of some of us on a rooftop with the caption:

“I just have to give a shout out to these gems who have been keeping me safe and sound here in Cape Town. Every person who hears I’m travelling here has responded with ‘just be careful, be careful.’ Each one of these guys has rallied so I can go dance, kept an eye out for me and given me the safe side of the street during my stay here and I (and my mom) am so grateful.”

My mom left a comment:

“Yes, I am very grateful! Thank you guys! Our door is open if you ever come to Vancouver!”

Staying safe and making friends in hostel in Cape Town, South Africa

Staying in hostels is not just what I prefer as a solo traveller, it’s actually a best case scenario for my parents, too.

Now, my mom tends to leave overly sappy comments on my brother’s and my social media posts—she knows it; trust me, we’ve told her. But this comment really hit home for me how truly thankful she was that I was safe because of the people I had met at my hostel. I can’t even imagine how much they must worry when I’m off travelling. They just want me to be safe and happy, and, especially in a place like Cape Town, these things are best achieved when you’re with other people.

Staying in hostels is not just what I prefer as a solo traveller, it’s actually a best case scenario for my parents, too. My mom told me later that she was comforted when I told her I’d left her details as my emergency contact at my hostel. She was reassured to know that if something happened to me while I was away, the hostel would contact them. I guess it’s one thing to wonder if something bad had happened to me, but way nicer to know if something bad had happened. I mean, she’s not wrong.

But beyond the pretty standard safety features of hostels, like 24-hour security and locked entrances and room doors, what truly made me feel comfortable in Cape Town was being surrounded by other travellers, which isn’t always the case with hotels or private rentals. Hostels also usually offer group activities, meaning you don’t have to be on your own if you don’t choose to be. And hostel staff tend to be like-minded adventurers who are familiar with the area and can provide valuable recommendations on how to navigate it safely.

Travel is about the people as much as the places, and I’m still in close contact with some friends I met at Atlantic Point to this day. I loved my experience so much that I went back to the same hostel a year and a half later, made new friends, and had an even more epic time, if you can believe it! This time, my parents didn’t have to worry because they could trust that at a hostel, we’ve got each other’s back.

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