Say the phrase ” I am thinking of a Solo Safari in Africa..” over dinner to friends and family and 80% of the time it is met with silence, an uncomfortable clearing of the throat by a cousin 4 seats away and various blank stares. The truth is anyone who dares to utter this phrase is deemed to be somewhat of a rebel with a wild streak, or having lost the plot….completely.
But for those of us who have done this, there is a wonderful accepting nod of “you are going to have the time of your life”, for we know how this small sentence will and have changed lives over the last few years.
Let us be honest here, people do travel with friends and families on amazing safaris through Africa, they go on numerous game drives, they spend hours taking photo’s and making memories with those close to their hearts, but there is a growing number of single or solo travellers (decided which term you feel comfortable with-personally i like solo) who decided that life is to short to wait for adventure, and they simply decided to go on solo safaris in Africa.
So once you have decided to do this, what are the next steps?
- Do your research: Yip, you need to decide where you would like to go and what you would like to experience. If you want to end your day on the beach, watching the sun set with a cocktail in hand, then a 7 day landlocked gorilla safari is not for you. If it is your first safari, opt for more popular destinations such as South Africa,Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Mauritius (especially if you have never been to Africa) Pop into your local library, bookstore or go online and read up about the huge selection of Safaris available to you,
- Decide what your budget will be: it may sound like the obvious thing to do, but remember you may be visiting a few countries, and they all have a load of different currencies. Always keep some local currency in your wallet, but do not flash it about, and always keep some funds on your credit card/ travel cash passport.
The next step is without a doubt the most important. Book your Safari through an accredited, professional Safari Travel Agent. There are 2 main reasons to partner with a Safari Travel Agent.
1. They love Africa! It is important to select an agent and team that have a passion for Africa ,safaris,nature, great destinations and plenty of adventure. The right Safari Travel Agent has travelled to the destinations they promote themselves. From the moment they arrive at a lodge, they make mental notes of the level of service on offer. A great Safari Travel Agent has an genuine passion for the balance between service and the experience you would like to have while on Safari. They seeks out the best game rangers and trackers at each lodge they visit, they visit local “off the beaten track” destinations, like the family run coffee farm in Kenya or the Fever tree forest in Mpumalanga and are able to tailor-make the best Safaris for you. It’s all about ensuring you return with memories and a yearning to come back to Africa.
2. Attention to Detail rules! A fantastic Safari Travel Agent will be able to arrange all your inbound and outbound flights fast and without hassle, as well as the flights between destinations in Africa-which is sometimes quite the feat! They are fantastic when it comes to arranging lodge, hotel and car rental bookings across a number of African Countries and they can arrange for pre-payments for bookings (if necessary)
The right Safari Travel Agent can arrange transfers from airports at 3am when your flight from Texas arrives at O.R. Tambo. Manage those tedious visa applications if you decided to travel from say South Africa to Kenya and onto Mauritius. Most importantly they can arrange for medical and travel insurance efficiently and timeously.
I always think of it this way, if you visit another continent, you could need assistance at times, even the most seasoned solo traveller could come across a glitch in the adventure and what better solution than someone who actually stays in Africa and have travelled across the countries. Remember a seasoned Safari Travel Agent has a comprehensive little “green book” of adventures and connections that can help you 24/7.
Congrats, you have booked your Safari, and you are on your way to Africa, here are a few pointers for the solo travellers.
- Pack light and right – not to much, and not to little-pack appropriately for your destination. If you travel in our summer months (Nov -Feb), do pack a sweater – there are always the unexplained thunder storms somewhere. If you come in our winter months (March-August) keep in mind it is milder than European winters, but you would need 2 good warm jackets. A great pair of hiking boots will also be fantastic -not brand new out of the box when you arrive -wear them in at least-come on. Oh and while we are on the topic of clothing, please no leopard print or camouflage, unless you plan on staying forever.
- Remember your Camera and Binoculars, and all your chargers and batteries.Do bring an international adapter or 2. Lodges and hotels often charge a rental fee for electronics in Africa. Same goes for cellphones, keep those phones charged.
- Data! Now there are a few places where data is relatively cheap, like in Kenya, for the rest it is quite expensive and you get little value for your buck. I would recommend you purchase a Pay as You Go Simcard at each destination and simply top up with data as you go.
- Yes you are a tourist, please do not behave like one. Having travelled to a multitude of countries in one year as a solo female traveller , if I had one crucial piece of advice for travel in Africa it would be this- try not to stand out. Do not arrive with a camera in hand, and with all your family heirlooms on display. Leave precious jewellery at home in the safe. Keep all your electronics in a plain backpack. Make sure you are streetsmart, which means checking your surroundings, and follow your instincts. Solo travel in Africa is fantastic, if you keep your wits about you and you are observant. Ask you Safari Travel Agent about local customs in each country, they will happily share info. For instance if you arrive in Zambia they will offer to help you navigate the airport, by pushing your trolley, accepting this gesture will result in locals who will expect a substantial fee for the 15 minutes it took to reach your car. There is a rule of ” I touch your bag, you pay” in most countries.
- Africa Time! You may have heard about this from friends and it is true-in Africa some things happen at its own rate. Flights do get delayed for several hours, traffic could be problematic if you have to wait for a barge to cross a river and catch a flight and the only way to manage it is simple -do not resist. You are on an amazing adventure after all. I promise after 3 days in Africa your watch will be left in your backpack.
- Talk like a local. All right, we do not expect you to be able to have a full intense discussion on local politics in Swahili, but trust me, being able to say “Hello, Please, Thank You, Goodbye and How Much? “in the local language is priceless. The drivers, staff and locals will greet you with a smile, and offer to teach you more words, making for an extra special experience whilst on Safari.
- the last point to discuss is unfortunately one each and every country in the world experiences -crime. Being able to identify your belongings are key, take photo’s of expensive items and serial numbers before you depart and save the images on your hard drive and email them to your personal email address. Keep track of your belongings, and know where your passport is at all times. Heed the safety advice of your Safari Travel Agent. Keep your passport in the safe of the managers office at the lodge you are staying at if you feel unsure about your room safe,As much as you are aware of crime and dangers in your own hometown, you need to bring this observant streak with you to Africa.
Is it worth it to travel solo to Africa? Yes absolutely!! Solo travel allows you to experience a country just like a local or ex-pat! It allows you a certain amount of more freedom in that you get to decide how you would like to spend your day. I personally love coffee, it allowed me to speak to the lodge chef for instance and ask him where locals find the best coffee. I could go with to source the best beans in Nairobi and bring some home. Best part is I now get to enjoy this coffee each morning, along with the memories of finding it off the beaten path.
So if you are contemplating the solo travel adventure, do it! just make sure you do it with the assistance of a fantastic Safari Travel Agent -like Safari Odyssey!