EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you search ‘solo travel’ on Instagram, over 5.5 million results come up. What once was a niche market and something reserved for gap year students backpacking around Europe or South East Asia, has now grown into one of the most popular travel trends. And it’s no longer something set aside for the Millennials, Baby Boomers are leading the trend – in 2019, 40% of 55 to 64 year olds travelled solo. Female travelers across all ages are driving this trend, using solo travel as an opportunity to enjoy freedom and independence, improve their confidence, and empower themselves.
Here is everything you need to know about solo travel in Africa.
Why Do It
Solo travel is one of the most empowering things you can do. The thought of getting on a plane, arriving at a destination and exploring it by yourself, is one of the most daunting things to most people – one of the biggest worries is always the dread of eating alone.
However, as with many things, the thought of it is worse than the thing itself. Once you’ve caught that first flight, or visited your first landmark alone, or eaten alone at a restaurant (it’s really not that bad!), you’ll realise that it really wasn’t that bad. But you’ll also have a sense of “I did that …actually, I did that by myself”. These moments are especially empowering when you’ve faced your first challenge – travel is no different from life, obstacles tend to crop up! When you travel alone, you’ll realise you’re able to solve problems and think of solutions by yourself, and there’s nothing more empowering than that. It’s a chance to prove to yourself that not only do you want to do things alone, but you can do things alone.
Every parent will tell you that traveling with children is more often an ordeal than not. You have to make sure you know where the nearest bathroom is, you have to have snacks on hand, you have to make sure there isn’t too much walking so as to avoid the dreaded “I’m tired”. The same goes for traveling with friends or other family, you finally arrive at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and spend most of your time making sure everyone gets a chance to take a photo of the signature leaning pose.
When you travel solo, it’s just you and the destination. Of course, there will be other tourists, but you don’t have to worry about them. You can enjoy the sight or show or experience all by yourself.
Solo travel is also a chance to be a little bit selfish. Maybe there’s a specific destination on your bucket list that your usual travel partner (or partners) aren’t interested in. Traveling alone is the chance to finally tick this spot of your bucket list. And then, once you’re there, you can do what you want or go wherever you want. If plans change or something doesn’t go according to plan, it is okay, because it’s just you – you don’t have to worry about keeping everyone happy.
Traveling solo also inevitably means you’ll be spending a lot of time alone. You will be spending a lot of time with your thoughts. It’s a wonderful chance to reconnect with who you really are when there isn’t anyone else around. It is the opportunity to remember what you like, what you dislike, what you want for your life and how far you’ve come. You can recharge your batteries – because your energy is yours alone and you decide how to expend it.
Where to Go
At this point, you might be wondering if Africa is the best destination if you’re planning to travel alone. No one really thinks of safari when they think of solo travel. But the purpose of a safari is ultimately to reconnect with and recharge in nature, and what better way to do this than alone? And alone doesn’t mean lonely. Safaris are typically naturally social. Unless you book a completely exclusive tour, you’ll be sharing game drives and meals with other guests which means you’ll always have people to exchange stories with at the end of the day.
Home to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar, Tanzania is one of Africa’s top safari destinations. The country is geared for tourists making it a great first-time solo safari destination. We recommend hiring a guide to ensure you make the most out of your time there. There’s a lot to do in Tanzania and a guide will only enrich your experience by answering your questions, sharing interesting information and pointing out things you might have missed.
What to Do
Visit the Serengeti
You can’t visit Tanzania and not witness one of the most famous and spectacular safari destinations on the planet. Home to the Big Five, over 70 smaller mammals and more than 540 bird species, there will be no shortage of incredible wildlife sightings. Of course, it is best to plan your trip around the Great Migration where over a million wildebeest and 200 000 zebra flow south across the Serengeti creating one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles.
Visit the Spice Islands
If you’re traveling along to reconnect with yourself, then Zanzibar is worth a visit. The sugar white beaches, still blue ocean and warm, fragrant air is the perfect recipe for finally settling down to that book you’ve been meaning to read and relaxing to the sound of gentle waves hitting the shore.
Voluntourism (volunteer tourism) is on the rise and solo travel is a wonderful opportunity to get involved with it. Tanzania has many non-profit organisations who welcome voluntourists. It’s a great way to really immerse yourself in the local culture and leave having made a positive impact and with a deeper understanding of Tanzania.
Described as the “Jewel of Africa”, this peaceful country is a great solo travel destination. Botswana’s calmness creates the perfect atmosphere for solo traveling seeking a more contemplative, intimate and relaxing experience. The locals are friendly and kind, so there’s no doubt you’ll feel welcome.
What to Do
Visit the Okavango Delta
A water-based safari in the Okavango Delta is the perfect chance to reconnect with nature. Winding through the papyrus-fringed waterways offers a different perspective on the traditional safari as well as some excellent photo opportunities.
See Elephants in Chobe
Chobe National Park is great for spotting the Big Five, especially the elephant – it is home to the highest density of elephants on the planet. During the dry winter months, you may see hundreds of elephants at a time. Chobe is the ideal solo safari destination because there is so much to do – game drives, guided bush walks, river cruises….
Go to the Kalahari
The Kalahari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dry, vast and arid, yet teeming with life. It is home to the San people – taking a guided walk with the San is truly special experience as you learn about their culture and deep understanding of the land.
Uganda is known as “The Pearl of Africa” and it truly is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. It has everything you could want from an African adventure – safari, adventure, spectacular scenery, an incredible cultural scene – without the crowds. West Uganda is your best bet because it is home to the most national parks, and gorilla and chimpanzee trekking. However, if you want to explore the east, Jinja is the spot for you – it’s full of activities and lots of solo travellers.
What to Do
Rwanda tends to hog the limelight with this sought-after safari experience. However, Uganda also offers gorilla trekking, and for a much lower cost. Gorilla trekking couldn’t be more perfect for solo travels – intimate, quiet and life-changing – it’s one of those rare things in life best experienced alone.
If you’re smitten with the gorillas (which is highly likely), we recommend going on a chimpanzee trek. It’s less of a trek but as rewarding. You’ll not only get to see chimpanzees but are also likely to encounter a number of rare and beautiful creatures, such as the grey-cheeked mangabey and black-and-white colobus.
The capital city, Kampala is worth spending a day or two exploring – visit the local craft markets and buy your souvenirs, discover the local art scene, and dance the night away with locals (the nightlife is buzzing!).
The “Warm Heart of Africa”, Malawi is one of Africa’s safest and friendliest countries, making it ideal for solo travel. It is also great if you’re a believer in slow travel – Malawians are never in a hurry!
What to Do
Visit Nkatha Bay
Nkatha Bay is a tropical beach holiday in the heart of a landlocked country. Mimicking the Caribbean, it has a laidback atmosphere; and the white-sand beaches on the shore of the beautiful blue lake are enough to convince you that you are at the ocean.
Go on Safari
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s smallest game reserve which means it has a wonderful sense of being “untouched”. You can opt for a game drive or a guided walking safari which will allow you to explore habitats not seen in the larger parks. If you’re in search of exciting wildlife sightings, visit Liwande – it’s considered the premium nature reserve in Malawi.
Head to Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi is the touristy spot – it is a shimmering surface of clear water, lined with peaceful, golden beaches and home to hundreds of colourful fish. It also attracts a number of animals like the hippo, warthog, baboon and occasional elephant.
- Safety first, a general rule for travel – always be aware of your surroundings, don’t travel at night, be cautious around strangers, and don’t walk with all your expensive cameras / phones etc. on display.
- Learn a few key phrases in the local language.
- Use eating alone as a chance to read, catch up on emails or write in your journal.
- Take your time – don’t rush something, especially if it’s something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.
- Share your itinerary with your friends and family back home.
- Don’t be afraid to take selfies!
- Avoid lodges or hotels that charge a single supplement (booking a tailor-made tour can help you with this!).
- Do something you normally wouldn’t do with others.
- Be confident in yourself and your abilities.
- Pack lightly and pack smartly – you don’t want to be hauling around an unnecessarily heavy suitcase!