When I decided to go on a solo safari in South Africa, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing the right thing. Would I enjoy the experience and fit in on safari as a single traveller? Fortunately, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’ but there were some things I wish I had known about being a single traveller on safari before I did the trip. While South Africa safaris at a luxury lodge offer a fairly cosseted and upmarket travel experience, there are some things solo travellers can do make their safari as a single traveller more enjoyable.
Even if you enjoy your own company, the communal nature of a safari holiday lends itself to socialising which can help to alleviate any feelings of boredom or loneliness. For example, Shamwari Game Reserve offers a daily afternoon tea, where solo travellers can mix and mingle with other guests if they wish. Every second night, dinner is served as a brai (the South African equivalent of an Australian barbeque) and eaten with your safari group and your guide, an arrangement which avoids the ‘table for one’ which solo travellers so often dread, particularly when they are surrounded by lively groups having fun.
If you are travelling alone, it can be wise to enquire beforehand about arrangements for meals and discuss alternatives if necessary. I was always seated by myself for lunch which was fine with me but may not suit everyone. Other lodges have ‘mandatory’ communal dining. Think about which dining options you prefer and arrange your stay accordingly.
While it might seem like a clever way to extract extra value from your trip, avoid the temptation to arrive early. It can feel rather lonely sitting in a huge common area, waiting for your room to be ready, while other guests talk excitedly about what they have seen on their morning drive. Instead, arrive just in time for lunch, settle into your room and then head out on your first game drive that afternoon. Once you know the other people in your safari vehicle, it is much easier to strike up a conversation.
However, that said, if you find yourself hoping your guide will find lions so you can feed an annoying ‘never-stops-talking’ fellow guest to them, it is possible to change groups. Simply ask discretely at the office or have a quiet word to your guide. They only need to find a single spot in another jeep, yet another advantage of travelling solo.
If you stay at a lodge for a few days or more, you will likely have the guide to yourself for a ‘private’ game drive or two, as the other guests in your vehicle check out and a new group joins you. This is a rare and special privilege, with front seat access beside your guide and a morning or afternoon of conversation which usually ventures beyond the usual safari patter.
During my private morning drive with Ranger Bethuel Mthembu, who had been working at Shamwari Game Reserve for five years, we saw lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinos galore. However, what I treasured most was the chance to learn about life as a local, and discover more about the beauty and diversity of South Africa, from someone who lived there. After this drive, I was invited to ride up front for the rest of my stay, yet another trip highlight.
As a solo traveller, you engage more deeply with your environment on safari plus there is time for quiet reflection after each game drive. There is also much joy to be found in having the freedom to please yourself during such a unique travel experience. In many ways, a solo safari is the perfect holiday for single travellers.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of Shamwari Game Reserve.
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