When I say “solo travel”, what images come to mind? Maybe you picture a twenty something backpacking through Europe, or maybe even a colorful scene straight from “Eat, Pray, Love”. This time when I say “solo travel” why don’t you picture golden African sunsets and bountiful wildlife instead.
Let’s reimagine going solo and think: SAFARI!
Just to be clear, you don’t have to be recently divorced or have a fresh diploma in hand to qualify as a solo traveler. Folks from all walks and stages of life find themselves exploring on their own. Whether for a gap year, searching for a fresh perspective, or just wanting to escape the daily rat race; at any age, solo adventures can be more than fulfilling. My experiences traveling alone have led me to discover surprising parts of myself. Let’s be honest, there are few things more empowering than mastering an unknown place all by yourself! When it comes to solo travel, I encourage y’all to dream further and envision what a solo safari could do for you.
At 19, all my friends were college broke. AKA, they had plenty of money for late night fast food but didn’t save up to travel abroad with me. So, I embarked on my first traveling adventure, alone to South Africa. The purpose of my summer voyage was to participate in an internship at the National Zoo in Pretoria, one of South Africa’s capitals. Yep, plural – South Africa has three unique capital cities; one for legislative, judicial, and administrative branches, respectively. The sad reality of this adventure was that my time was spent exclusively working inside the bustling city center instead of out exploring the wilds of Africa I imagined growing up. My weeks were spent thawing fish for seals and cleaning owl poop. All the while, my mind was busy daydreaming of the true African wilderness. With growing eagerness to swap society for savanna, I began planning my summer finale to the world-famous Kruger National Park. Even after spending three months on the continent of Africa, I had yet to see wildlife. Even though my days were spent close to animals, I hadn’t seen them in their natural habitats – in the WILD. A safari experience was long overdue.
The day after my internship ended, my supervisor (a salt-of-the-earth South African) drove us the five hours from Pretoria to Kruger. She could only stay the first night, after that I was completely on my own. I was far from stranded though, my base was within the expansive Skukuza Rest Camp. This compound, run by South African Parks, is location near the southern region of the 7,000 square-mile protected area. Flanked by the Sabie River, guests can view wildlife right from the safety and comfort of the camp. Reflecting back, I still can’t believe how fortunate I was to spot numerous antelope, a herd of elephants just across the river, and even a leopard stalking prey along the sandy riverbanks – all from a shady bench within the camp. Skukuza’s accessibility (shockingly drivable, I might add) and amenities (multiple full-blown restaurants) make it wildly popular with both local and international visitors. It makes sense that Skukuza has earned the nickname, the “capital of Kruger”. Plus, with the added appeal of affordable prices, Skukuza makes for a popular stop among budget savvy travelers like myself. Back in 2012, my bungalow at Skukuza only cost about 1,470 rand per night which is – equal to about $85 US dollars. I had discovered my own perfect way to safari, all on my own!
What captivated me most were the scheduled game drives. Guests can pick from sunrise, sunset, and night drives – and no surprise, I did multiple of each! I enjoyed great game viewing on all options, but the night drives were easily the most unique (even though all my photos were blurry with unrecognizable animals). But the most unforgettable experience I had while at Skukuza was an afternoon bush walk lead by the South African Parks field guides. I highly recommend everyone to – Skip the Safari Jeep: Discover Wildlife on Foot! It was on foot that I saw my first ever WILD pride of lions!
My Top 3 reasons to Safari Solo
- Unlike other solo travel destinations, when on safari you are never truly alone. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to stumble upon a buffalo on my own. From the moment you check-in, you’re never left on your own. With the exception of when you tuck yourself in at night, you’ll be in the company of other likeminded folks keeping their eyes peeled for rhinoceros. Safari operators flawlessly fill your days from dawn till dusk with activities.
- Finding yourself in the African wilderness gives you an immediate sense of camaraderie. Even if you’ve traveled alone to get to the bush, once you’re there everyone acts as one cohesive unit. Conversations centered around the day’s sightings draw everyone closer around the campfire. The people sitting next to you don’t remain strangers for long. Instead, each of you are connected by your collective desire to share the stories of your day. Having these shared, authentic experiences of watching wildlife will bring people together in no time.
- All travelers seek the pleasure of unwinding, but in the bush you will find yourself not only unwound but reconnected in the most powerful way. They always say, 10 out of 10 people claim that being on safari doesn’t just make for a great holiday it makes for a life changing experience. And until you’ve fallen asleep to the rumbles of hippos or a distant lion’s roar, you can only dream of what that sense of wonder is like. All the more reason to begin dreaming up your safari now!
So this time around, when I say “solo travel” I want you to picture yourself decked in head to toe khaki, peering through your binoculars at a statuesque herd of giraffe. This is the type of solo travel I hope that everyone can embark on. Let’s get out and make everyday life for wildlife!