Solo travel has been a growing trend for 2017. And, although Africa might not be immediately top of mind when considering solo travel destinations, the continent should definitely not be overlooked.
Tour operators in Africa and the U.S. argue Africa ticks all the boxes for this new trend, and they have seen the numbers of solo travelers to Africa rise steadily year over year. Said Angela Aschmann, spokesperson of Go2Africa: "Experienced solo travelers look to southern Africa for adventures that they can have nowhere else on the planet."
Mareike Pietzsch, spokeswoman for Giltedge Africa, agreed, adding that solo travelers come to Africa to discover a different culture, landscape and way of being. "If you are not distracted by a crowd, friends or family, then solo travel opens your senses to a country's sights and sounds," she said.
For first-time solo travelers, safety and security is a major concern when traveling to Africa. Henk Graaff, MD SW Africa, explained that these travelers often opt for scheduled-departure trips. "First-time solo travelers tend to book organized tours offering guaranteed departures, as this is a safe and cost-effective way of traveling. Although these tours often take travelers on a roundtrip through South Africa, overland adventures to Botswana and Victoria Falls are also a good option."
Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, explained, however, that a group tour is not a necessity, as all safari destinations that have good quality lodges are ideal for solo travelers. He said: "Lodges are safe and provide solo travelers the opportunity to meet with other travelers to learn and share their safari experiences.
Another concern solo travelers have is loneliness, said Elizabeth Gordon, Extraordinary Journeys and Safari Pro member. She explained, however, that the nature and structure of a safari alleviates the concern of being by yourself. "One of the greatest draws of Africa for solo travelers is the fact that most activities are shared with other people," Gordon said. "Game drives are shared experiences. We can also pinpoint camps that offer communal dining to make solo travelers feel part of the group. There are always people to talk to, and I think that's interesting and perfect for solo travelers."
Nina Wennersten, Hippo Creek Safaris, agreed with Gordon, explaining that it's a good idea to send solo travelers to camps and lodges where they have One Table for Dinner, giving them the option each night of dining with others.
Of course, the dreaded "single supplement" is also an obstacle for solo travelers, said Ian Proctor of Ultimate Africa Safaris. But he added that a reputable tour operator can suggest safari properties that don't charge this.
Gordon agreed, advising solo travelers to do so outside peak season because a lot of camps waive their single supplements that time of year. Another option for budget-conscious travelers is last-minute travel for people who are flexible and can leave within six weeks because camps are willing to waive single supplements if they have empty beds.
Although it might be tempting to send solo travelers to the "tried-and-trusted" destinations with convenient logistics such as South Africa, Aschmann explained that all destinations in Africa are suitable for solos. "Some prefer to be really remote and off the beaten track. With the right planning, anything is possible," she said.
Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, said he has seen an increase in clients wanting off-the-beaten-path safari vacations for truly remarkable experiences like trekking with gorillas in Rwanda or witnessing the amazing migration across the Serengeti. "Just like the stripes on a zebra, each solo traveler is unique and has their own desires, expectations and bucket lists."
Judi Wineland, a female pioneer in adventure travel who owns AdventureWomen, said solo women travelers are also enjoying opportunities to connect with the locals. One popular activity is to be with Maasai women in the privacy of their homes and to chat with them at the lively camp.
Also, Thomson Safaris said they've seen a particularly strong demand from solo women travelers who want to see untamed wildlife. "Solo travelers often have a strong, adventurous spirit. They want to get up close to the wildlife or conquer Kilimanjaro. We're finding incredible interest in solo Kili expeditions!"
The overwhelming feedback from tour operators is to not diss Africa as a solo destination for fear of the unknown. Said Proctor: "Don't be afraid I have spent the past 20 years exploring Africa, often on my own on extended trips, and have met some of the most interesting people I once met Nelson Mandela's personal photographer in an airport lounge of all places while also learning so much about myself as a person during quiet times."
"Africa is the easiest place to send solo clients. They will be taken care of every step of the way, greeted warmly by the African staff and also find interesting company on game drives and at meals," said Cherri Briggs of Explore Inc. and Safari Pro member.