The ultimate solo safari survival guide
Solo travellers can make their safari even better with the following tips.
When I joined a safari in South Africa as a solo traveller, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing the right thing. Would I enjoy the experience and fit in as a single traveller? Thankfully, the answer was a resounding yes, but there are some things you need to know to ensure your solo safari adventure is memorable for all the right reasons.
Choose your season
High season is busier and more expensive, but it also tends to offer the best weather and wildlife spotting opportunities. However, you don’t necessarily have to visit at this time of year.
When you’re a solo traveller, travelling during the low or shoulder seasons can be worth it as you’re more likely to find accommodation deals with no single supplement. Provided you choose a lodge that isn’t accessed by charter flights, which usually require a minimum of two passengers to operate, a shoulder season safari can be a great choice.
Consider the time of year
If you enjoy a sleep-in, you may prefer not to visit in summer as you’ll have an earlier wake-up call for the first game drive of the day. On the upside, this gives you more time to enjoy the lodge and its facilities before lunch.
In winter, the timings are different, with a later wakeup call and earlier second game drive and dinner as the days are shorter.
Research different lodges
There are safari lodges in Africa to suit everybody; the trick is choosing the one that’s right for you. Some lodges welcome families, while others are honeymoon havens or popular with tour groups.
Solo travellers will likely be happiest at accommodations like Shamwari Private Game Reserve, which catered to a variety of travellers, most of whom spoke English, so it was easy to chat.
Check the dining arrangements
If you’re travelling alone, check the arrangements for meals and discuss alternatives, if necessary, before you book. I was always seated by myself for lunch, which was fine with me but may not suit everyone. Other lodges insist on communal dining for every meal.
Bayethe Safari Lodge at Shamwari Private Game Reserve offers a nice balance, with a brai (the South African equivalent of an Australian barbeque) for each safari group and their guide every second night. On the alternate evening, guests can dine as they wish.
Pack light and leave your wheeled suitcase at home
Unless you’re staying at a high-end lodge, you’ll probably be carrying your own bag at least some of the time (or all of the time if you’re on a budget safari tour), so being able to move around comfortably with your luggage is essential.
Fortunately, it’s easy to pack light for an African safari as the weather is warm and clothes tend to dry quickly. Avoid bringing a wheeled suitcase as these don’t cope well with dirt roads and rugged paths.
Don’t arrive at your lodge too early
While this might seem like a clever way to extract extra value for money from your trip, avoid the temptation to arrive at your lodge early in the morning. As I discovered, it can feel quite lonely waiting for your room to be ready while other guests gather around you, talking excitedly about what they’ve 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 in the afternoon.
Embrace the opportunity to meet other travellers
The communal nature of a safari holiday lends itself to socialising so, even if you usually prefer your own company, embrace the opportunity to meet other travellers from around the world. Once you’ve met the people in your safari vehicle, it’s easy to strike up a conversation as you all share a passion for travel, nature, animals and conservation.
Switching groups is possible, just ask
While it’s usually a pleasure meeting other travellers on safari, if you find yourself hoping your guide will find lions so you can feed an annoying ‘never-stops-talking’ guest to them, it’s possible to change groups. Simply ask discretely at the office or have a quiet word with your guide. Switching is easy as the lodge only needs to find a single spot in another jeep, yet another advantage of travelling solo.
Get to know your guide
If you’re staying at a lodge for a few days or more, you’ll probably have your guide to yourself for a ‘private’ game drive or two, as the other people in your vehicle check out and a new group joins you. Sitting up front in a safari vehicle with no other guests is a special experience that only single travellers get to enjoy.
On these trips, conversation tends to venture beyond the usual safari patter, and includes the chance to learn more about the local wildlife and what life is like in South Africa from someone who lives there.
Embrace the joy of quiet reflection
As a solo traveller, you’ll 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. As I discovered, a solo safari is the ultimate holiday for adventurous single travellers.