Ethiopia Travel Advice: How to Stay Safe
It’s the game nobody wanted to win: PCT Bingo. Peace Corps Trainee Bingo. Squares included “chased by an animal,” “poo in pants,” “poo in a bucket,” “vom and poo.” Basically, lots of GI-related things. It’s only natural for a group of wannabe Peace Corps volunteers to create a game out of the assorted hazards that might befall them while living in rural Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, though, is a wonderful place to visit. It’s a country full of marvels, like Lalibela, Ras Dashen, Harar, Danakil Depression, and more. But traveling to developing countries is always a bit of a gamble, right? From food poisoning, travel delays, and different types of harassment, there are a lot of little annoyances that can build up and disrupt your Ethiopia travel experience.
While I loved serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia, I had several incidents that put into perspective the challenges present there, especially for women. I lived in a larger city, Bahir Dar, and early on was constantly harassed by men while walking in the city center. I was grabbed in inappropriate places often, screamed at, and called hurtful names. Early on, I also was taken advantage of by taxi drivers and store owners. But I learned as I went.
Here’s my unsolicited advice for any women thinking about Ethiopia travel:
Be (or appear) confident
I found that walking down the street fast and with a purpose made it less likely that I’d be harassed verbally or physically.
Be vigilant in trouble spots
Bus stations, line taxi stands, or tourist-oriented sites are prime areas for petty theft and harassment. Make sure you take precautions to protect yourself. Wear a money belt. Don’t put anything valuable on display. Don’t let your bag(s) out of your sight. Don’t let anyone help you with your bag(s), unless you want to tip or you want something stolen. Research the costs and where to buy tickets so you don’t get scammed.
Be cautious when using public transportation and taxis
If you go the more inexpensive route of using mini-buses, line taxis, or public buses, or decide to splurge on a taxi in the big cities, follow some simple rules. In a taxi, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Either the driver will try to scam you, or he has more nefarious things in mind. Try to have some idea of the route, so you will know where the driver is going and you can get out if necessary. If you’re uncomfortable in any situation, just get out. As a woman, don’t get on a mini-bus if it’s only full of guys. Don’t be alone in a mini-bus with a driver and the door kid. Use your common sense and trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.
Get local insight
As much as possible, get information from locals on dangerous areas, places to avoid, drivers you can trust, and more. Most folks want to be helpful. They also don’t want anything to happen to tourists, who can be an important source of income and even prestige. Getting tips from locals will also be the perfect excuse to chat up your waitress, restaurant owner, or fellow patron. If language is a barrier, in larger cities you might be able to find foreigners or expats who can guide you.
While traveling in Ethiopia has its risks, the rewards outweigh them. You’ll get to experience a country full of awe-inspiring sites and amazing cuisine. The people are friendly and outgoing, very proud of their culture, and want to share it with you. Let them. Just take care while doing it.
As for that Bingo game, full disclosure: After an attempted late night trip to the outdoor latrine for a bathroom emergency during which I fell and broke my nose, it was decided that I was the PCT Bingo winner by default. I guess someone had to win.