This Woman Was the First to Backpack Solo Through Ghana in 32 Days

Akosua Shirley in Ghana
Akosua Shirley in Ghana

As an advocate for domestic tourism, Akosua Shirley, a young Ghanaian travel consultant, content creator, and blogger, has turned Ghana’s diverse lands into paths of self-discovery, growth, and connectivity. With a backpack and an irrepressible passion for adventure and knowledge, Shirley embarked on an incredible 32-day solo backpacking expedition across her West African nation. Through her unique experiences, she brings attention to Ghana’s diverse cultures and welcoming people.

Shirley shares her journey through fascinating storytelling and provides invaluable insights and tips for fellow adventurers looking to explore Ghana. Moreover, she’s the go-to expert on backpacking in Ghana for anyone venturing out on their own, interested in Ghanaian culture or looking for a new destination. Dive into this interview to uncover the secrets of Ghana’s regions, culture, and obscure locations through the eyes of a true explorer.

TN: What inspired you to undertake a solo backpacking journey through Ghana?

Akosua Shirley
Photo Credit: Akosua Shirley

Shirley: Curiosity sparked my desire to travel solo across the regions of my Ghana. I just really wanted to know what everyday life looked like outside the capital, I wanted to visit tourist attractions i had only heard about or seen in our text books My sense of adventure and budget influenced my decision to do it backpacker style.

TN: How did you prepare for this 32-day adventure?

Shirley: I got my hands on a map that showed tourist attractions in each region and the towns they were in. I watched a lot of content on backpacking, and that’s how I came across Couchsurfing. I couldn’t find content specific to Ghana, and I think that fueled my desire to share more. I talked to a few people who had been or were from different regions to get a sense of what to expect.

TN: Can you share some highlights from your trip? Any particular places that stood out to you?

Shirley: The highlight for me was just really getting a glimpse of how people live across the country, local cultures, and how they’re similar to or different from ours in the capital. For example, in the northern regions, almost all motorcycles are private property, while in the southern regions, most motorcycles are for commercial use.

The highlights are many, but the ones that come to mind are some of the wild things I did. For example, in the Upper East region, I visited the Tongo Hills and made my way to the Tenzug Shrine. You aren’t allowed to enter unless you are bare-chested, barefooted, and have uncovered legs, so I did just that and entered half-naked.

TN: What were some challenges you faced during your backpacking journey?

Akosua Shirley in Accra
Photo Credit: Akosua Shirley

Shirley: Lack of information was one of my major challenges when moving around. It’s almost like you simply had to find your way to these places of interest and hope for the best. Information like contact numbers, rates, opening times, how to get there, hotels, and transportation options were surprisingly difficult to come by if you didn’t know someone who had been there. Thank goodness that now, with the surge in domestic travel bloggers, information gets around

TN: How did you navigate the different languages and dialects while traveling across Ghana?

Shirley: I think where I struggled the most language-wise was in the upper west region, where they didn’t speak my local language, Twi or English. I got there on a market day, too. Imagine being surrounded by people and everybody not understanding you. They called the assemblyman & the village teacher for me, so they were helpful. Aside from that, I got by with Twi and English.

TN: How did locals react to your solo journey? Did you have any memorable interactions?

Shirley: During the trip, I didn’t give the impression that it was a solo travel across all regions as a safety precaution so I didn’t have a lot of conversations on that. It was only one of my Couchsurfing hosts whom I’m friends with to date that I mentioned it to, and he was completely astonished. After completing the trip, everyone I have met since has been so surprised, shocked even and very impressed. They can’t wrap their heads around it. Questions like why, how, where did you get your courage from, weren’t you afraid come at me from all directions. It’s not considered a normal thing so it’s been a great conversation starter.

TN: How did you ensure your safety, especially as a young woman traveling alone?

Akosua Shirley, Ghanaian backpacker
Photo Credit: Akosua Shirley

Shirley: I had my DIY pepper spray in hand, which was blended Habenero pepper and apeteshie (our locally made high percentage alcohol), lol. I was very self-aware and shared information on a need-to-know basis. For the most part, I told people I was a tourism & hospitality student exploring for my final year project. I felt people would struggle to understand I was just a girl who loved the world and was traveling for traveling sake and might think me a spoilt rich kid who could be taken advantage of. It’s amazing to say that I was alone on the road among complete strangers for over a month and never had any problems.

TN: Were there any moments you felt like giving up during your trip? How did you overcome them?

Shirley: I had food poisoning in the eastern region, which had me re-evaluating my whole life. I kept asking myself who sent me. But honestly, is there an epic travel adventure without a good old food poisoning story

One thing I would say about that experience is that it really hammered in the need for development in all regions. I was in Kwahu, which is known for the natives of the town. Regardless of where they are in the world or country, they find themselves always coming back home to build mansions and develop the town. Due to this, I had access to great medical care, and I realized it would have been a different story in a different town.

TN: How has this journey impacted your understanding of Ghana’s culture and diversity?

Akosua Shirley Accra, Ghana
Photo Credit: Akosua Shirley

Shirley: What I found to be true about Ghana’s culture and diversity, especially being from here, is that it’s absolutely beautiful. I also think that there are a lot of misconceptions about the regions and tribes of people that schools and traditional media have failed to enlighten us on. I’m thankful for social media and content creators because everyone now has a platform to share and show their everyday life, and it’s really helping tackle harmful stereotypes.