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Last year I took an eleven-day backpacking trip to The Gambia with two of my girlfriends. The main reason for choosing The Gambia was that it was going to be very hot, plus the absolute bargain we got on flight prices – that 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, including having to deal with Gambia bumsters.
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 three nights on the (desert) Island of Jinack.
For now, I’ll just tackle the subject of how to avoid hassle from The Gambia bumsters, the cause of a couple of our ‘not so great’ times.
Anyone who has been to The Gambia will know that around the touristy beach, market, and nightlife areas you’re almost guaranteed to be hassled incessantly by young men known as The Gambia ‘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 tenfold.
As soon as you set foot out of your hotel the Gambia bumsters descend on you, often in pairs or small groups. They 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 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! 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 Gambia 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’s absolutely fine (each to their own), however, to us, it felt rather seedy. These All these young, often handsome Gambian men entangled with a western lady, often several decades their senior…well there was just something a bit off about it. For some, I’m sure it’s 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. Although don’t get me wrong – for the most part, the bumsters in The Gambia were pretty pleasant in nature and we didn’t feel threatened…I certainly don’t intend for this post 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 the Gambia bumsters.
Avoid Hassle from Gambia 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. Tell them it’s not your first visit
When Gambia 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. Don’t engage in conversation
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. Walk in the sea
When walking along the beach, take your shoes off and walk in the sea. Gambia bumsters generally don’t like getting their feet wet so won’t follow you.
4. Choose where you spend your evenings wisely
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 Gambia bumsters don’t tend to be allowed access to these.
5. Pretend you’re already taken
Tell them you already have a Gambian friend or that you’re married and your “husband wouldn’t like it”.
6. Threaten them with the police
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.
We tried all of these tips ourselves whilst in the more touristy beach areas. 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 The Gambia bumsters? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it and if I’ve missed any tips for avoiding it!
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This Post Has 33 Comments
The Gambia is a wonderful place for a cultural holiday. I have been going for about 30 years. Relax on the beach and if you want to avoid the beach sellers take a sunbed by one of the many beach bars which polices their own area. Of course a visit to the country will not give you a real experience unless you go up country and call at one of the villages, look at the local shops, schools and health centres and then never complain about our NHS again.
I enjoy having fun with the bumsters but if I don’t want to be hassled I speak to them in a broad Scottish accent, “Where are you from?” answer, “Ah dinnea ken whit yer bletherin aboot” . A scratch of the head and most will go on to the next victim.
Go to The Gambia, you will enjoy the experience.
Thanks for your comment Rob.
Yes, I completely agree you need to get out of the touristy areas to experience the real Gambia. We did just that for a few days on our trip and it was incredible.
We look forward to going back again sometime 🙂
This whole tour is affordable i know. Thanks for the more info you have shared about Gambia.
“bumsters”, yes they can be a pain, go into a stall / shop, the owners will get rid of them, as they want to sell you something. They will be waiting for you if you say tomorrow or later. These are real poor people, and they think we are rich, we get wad’s of there money for say just £100, which is just a night out at home. We found that saying we will give one of the guy’s a tip at the end of our holiday if we could just walk around as we wanted, and we would ask for his help when we wanted, something worked well .He was outside the Hotel every morning telling others, he was looking after us. I gave him about £10 worth of our left over local money. He reacted like I had given a fortune, saying thank so much , very often. felt a bit sad for him really, It’s nothing to me, and for most of us in England.These poor people need our few coin’s given to them, just to get food for the day. We are going back for New Year. It really is a nice place to visit.so much to see, I walked with a lion, went feeding the monkey’s and one jumped on my back and started to rub my hair “what is left of it, very gently”. he got lots of nuts given to him ,while others took photo’s, then a visit to end up sitting next to a crocodile . I have all the photo’s and great memories from a very cheap holiday. Go and enjoy a Gambia Experience.
That’s a great idea Stephen to give one guy a tip at the end of the holiday to keep the others away. I know someone who did something similiar with the massage ladies on the beach in Thailand – worked a treat. I’m definitely not saying don’t give/ help at all, my post is just some tips to stop your trip being ruined by constantly being hassled!
I love your monkey story. I hope to take my Mum and Dad to Gambia at some point as I’d love to return.
Noe to self: Dont go to Gambia
We still loved Gambia, these are just some tips to avoid any hassle 😉
I haven’t been to the Gambia but being a solo traveler, these tips would come in handy. I have had similar experiences elsewhere so I feel these tips can be applied everywhere! Thanks for alerting about the situation 🙂
Yes I agree I think these would help in many places and situations. Glad they may come in handy!
great tips! Haven’t been to Gambia. When we’re traveling, little things like these we sometimes overlook. You have articulate and helpful tips in an orderly way. Ladies like us should consider these! Xx
Thankyou! I shall write another post soon about the amazing time we had there off the Beaten Track too!
I had never heard of Bumsters and they sure sound like a sticky lot. I am glad you told us about it as it helps being on the guard.
Yeah it’s good to know both sides of a place but don’t let this one negative deter you from visiting The Gambia
I was always tempted to go by Gambia because there were always super cheap offers, hope there is much more to see than bumsters! I will keep this list in mind if I decide to go, I think that the most effective point must be #4 lol
There is a huge amount more to see. I shall be writing about our 3 day trip off the Beaten Track soon! It’s a wonderful country to visit!
Ooh i havent heard of The Gambia yet. But these bumsters remind me of the touts in Southeast Asia. Cool tips for first timers especially ladies!
The Gambias amazing. I have to say though I found the Bumsters much more persistent than the touts in SE Asia. Don’t let it put you off though, it’s still definitely worth a visit!
I have never been in Gambia yet, I really want to go and explore more in Africa. Thanks to you when I go there I will know how to avoid bumsters 🙂
Did you like the country?!
Yes absolutely we loved The Gambia, especially getting out away from the coast and exploring along the river. I’ll be writing a post about this soon!
It’s nice that you came up with these tips and that you turn it into an article of its own. It’s one of the things that we, bloggers, don’t pay much attention or don’t give much emphasis when we write about our travels. Most of the time we tend to just mention about it in passing, so this article is definitely great for those who want to make their travel to Gambia hassle free.
Thanks, when I started our blog I always said we’d be frank and honest and not beat around the bush! It’s not always great but I like to look for ways to salvage a situation and make the best of it! This was the only downside of The Gambia so hopefully these tips will encourage people to visit!
I haven’t been to Gambia and have never even thought about vacationing there. What I found out from your post is these Bumsters are really irritating. Anyways your tips are cool and will always keep them in mind.
Don’t let it discourage you from visiting The Gambia. This aside it’s an amazing place?
Gambia, I haven’t heard much about this place but it seems to be pretty interesting! Ahh bumsters were something I never everheard about but it’s like and escort and the word used is quite funny! The tips mentioning of how to avoid them are amazing and it would definitely help! And mainly these tips can be used at several other places!
The Gambia is definitely worth a visit if you ever get the chance. I definitely think these tips could be used elsewhere too!
I’d never heard the term “bumsters” before, but I like it! I haven’t yet been to the Gambia, but I’ve seen similar behavior in other countries. It’s a tough line between deciding to be polite and understanding their economic situation, and just being rude to them because you want your own space.
Apparently it’s the general term used for these young men! I hadn’t heard it before either! You’re right it’s def hard to be empathetic whilst retaining your own space!
I actually thought about going to Gambia last year but decided against it. This is really useful help though for when I do decide to go. Thanks!
If you ever do get the chance it’s so worth it. Def try and get away from the coast to explore!
I visited Gambia and found it quite overwhelming. I went in 2011 and even though it was known as super safe, I still felt uncomfortable.
For instance, my then boyfriend and I were in the bank withdrawing money and 6 men had followed us in saying they would help us. There were no barriers between the back of the bank and the front and the doors were wide open. It was a bit of a scary situation to be honest, but saying that nothing bad happened to us.
I went to a sacred crocodile pond which was awesome where they left them in their natural habitat but they were so calm we could go close to them and a monkey park where the monkeys could roam free. I really did have a great time and I would recommend going for sure.
But yes, the hassle is intense. You just have to try and remember that these people have next to nothing and whilst it might be annoying for you it’s the only way some of these people can make their money. I agree with your points though but I would also say that if your ok with giving someone a bit of money to help them, they just love meeting new friends from richer countries and some of them have some very interesting life stories. Try to give some people the time but unfortunately these people don’t know that you have already been bugged by 20 people on your way past them so try to be empathetic at the same time.
I did enjoy reading your post however it made me remember my time there which was a real amazing experience. You write really well too!
Thanks for you’re comment!
I completely get what you’re saying about remembering these people have next to nothing and as responsible travellers I think it’s good to give back to the communities you’re travelling in. However I think in situations like that with the Bumsters in Gambia (especially for solo females), encouraging them or giving them money could potentially put you in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation. As always though everyone has different experiences and has to make a judgement call at the time as to the best way to react!
I’d always go with the a polite/ non-rude method to remove myself from the hassle, if at all possible ?
We were going to visit the sacred crocodile pond but didn’t make it.Maybe next time as we’d love to return!
I’ve not been to The Gambia yet, but there are some great tips here to use in many similar situations! Thanks for sharing!
Yes I think they could be useful in several places. Other than this though The Gambia was a great place to visit – especially ‘Off the Beaten Track’.