Last year I took an eleven-day backpacking trip to The Gambia with two girlfriends. The main reason for choosing The Gambia for our break was that it was going to be hot (very hot), plus the absolute bargain we got on flight prices which clinched the deal. To say it was an interesting experience would be an understatement – we had some great experiences and times…and a couple that were not so great. We tried to fit in much as possible including a few days in some more touristy beach resort areas around Banjul; a three-day round-trip tour to George Town (Janjanbureh) seeing lots of nature, history and culture en-route; and spent three nights on the (desert) Island of Jinack. . For now, I’ll just tackle the subject of how to avoid hassle from bumsters in The Gambia, the cause of a couple of our ‘not so great’ times.
Anyone who’s been to The Gambia will know that around the touristy beach, market, and nightlife areas you’re almost guaranteed to be hassled pretty incessantly by young men known as ‘bumsters’. They want to ‘be your friend’, to ‘help you’, to ‘show you around’ etc. If you’re a woman or group of women that level of hassle increases ten fold.
As soon as you set foot out of your hotel the bumsters descend on you, often in pairs or small groups. They then proceed to walk in-step with you until if and when you manage to lose them. If you don’t manage to give them the slip them it’s likely you’ll find yourselves with an uninvited escort for the rest of the day or evening. Once you’ve engaged in conversation with them it’s game over! Subsequently ignoring them, being firm but polite, or being downright rude does little to deter them. You’ll just hear their catch-phrase “be nice…it’s nice to be nice”, repeated over and over.
The behaviour of the bumsters is probably partly encouraged by some women who visit The Gambia specifically to make local ‘friends’, to enjoy some sexy time, or even to find true love. Of course, that is absolutely fine (each to their own), however, to us it felt rather seedy. These young, often handsome Gambian men entangled with a western lady, often several decades their senior. For some, I’m sure it is genuine, but for the majority of cases, I’m rather cynical about it all.
For many females visiting The Gambia, either alone or with friends, this type of hassle will be unwanted and has the potential to put a real dampener on your trip. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, the bumsters are pretty pleasant in nature and we didn’t feel threatened…this post isn’t aimed to scare anyone. They were more of a very pesky annoyance, akin to a very persistent swarm of mosquitoes. That’s why I decided to share some helpful tips on how to avoid hassle from Bumsters in The Gambia.
How to Avoid Hassle from Bumsters
These six tips on how to avoid hassle from bumsters in The Gambia are based on experiences we had and advice we received from our tour guide, hotel staff, and expats we met whilst there.
#1 When bumsters ask “Your first time in the Gambia?” Always answer – “No I’ve visited before”. This quickly reduces their interest in you (probably because they know if you’re not already attached to a young man you’re not likely to be).
#2 Try not to engage in conversation in the first place, a repeated firm but friendly “No I want to walk by myself/ with my friends” etc. sometimes does the trick.
#3 When walking along the beach, take your shoes off and walk in the sea. bumsters generally don’t like getting their feet wet so won’t follow you.
#4 If you like to go out for food, drinks, and dancing in the evenings, position yourself in the middle of the restaurants away from the street and/ or visit the upper-level bars as the bumsters don’t tend to be allowed access to these.
#5 Tell them you already have a Gambian friend or that you’re married and your “husband wouldn’t like it”.
#6 As a last resort tell them you’re going to report them to the police and pointedly head in that direction. The activities of bumsters are actually illegal and the threat of being reported should scare them off.
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We tried all of these tips ourselves whilst in the more touristy beach areas and I can confirm they do work and should hopefully reduce the amount of unwanted attention you receive. This was the only thing we really disliked about The Gambia, however, once we’d found ways to deal with it, we had an amazing time.
Have you been hassled by Gambia bumsters? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it and if I’ve missed any tips for avoiding it!
P.S. You can read more about Can Travel Will Travel, and Andy and I, both individually and as a couple via the following link: