- Megan Zavaglia
What not to do when your guided trip for ten becomes a solo adventure
When booking a trip to Africa, you may want a travel partner. However, not everyone is as excited to go to Africa as you are. As a single woman in 2012, I didn’t feel like a solo trip was the right move. Sure, Australia and Scotland were no problem, but let’s face it, I was concerned about my safety.
So, when I decided to bite the bullet and book the most epic trip of my life, #1 on my bucket list, I did some research. I had tried for a trip to South Africa about 7 years prior but after two travel partners bailed, I had to cancel and lost about a thousand dollars. Ouch.
This time, I decided to go with a booked group tour. That way if friends wanted to join great! If they then canceled, no worries - I wouldn’t be stuck. On a recommendation, I looked through the various choices on safaris.com and ended up booking with Naipenda Safari Group. Hey, OPRAH had traveled with them so, I figured it would be safe. The set up was for a group of ten people at a time, five per car.
The safari was organized so that you would visit an area, stay one or two nights in a tent, and the next day the staff would pack up and move to a new location. We’d stay at a resort while they set up. This allowed us to “hop scotch” around the area in comfort.
When I booked the trip, it was myself and two others in the group. I tend to plan early so I assumed that more people would fill in the remaining spaces before we left. I scheduled for the end of January, 2012. In late fall, early winter of 2011 I was notified that the other two people in my group had canceled, and no one else had booked the remaining spots. That’s right. Once again, Africa by myself.
I expressed my concerns to the travel company and they understood my hesitancy to go alone. I had a choice, I could stick with the original booking and have the exact same experience as the larger group trip, OR, wait until February and go with a HONEYMOONING couple. Yeah, that sounded like fun. In order to alleviate my fears, the safari company put me in contact with a woman that had the same issue about a year and a half prior. What surprised me was her IMMEDIATE advice to go on my own. I wouldn’t have to share the car with others, I could direct the trip how I wanted to, I could have MY OWN adventure. That was it.... I was in. I hadn’t stopped to consider the freedom that I was being granted by being on my own.
Now, I will admit to being the quintessential traveler when I initially go to a location. When I went to Scotland I had my backpack with the water wicking jacket, just enough sweatshirts and pants to make it through a week without having to do laundry, tennis shoes and jeans that screamed I’M A TOURIST! My next trip to Europe was far more low key, but I knew what to expect. Same thing in Mexico, the standard American shorts and tropical shirts, two baseball caps, again, tennis shoes (you’d have thought I’d learned) and two pairs of flip flops. I tell you this so that you can get an idea of how over the top a trip to AFRICA would be.
I shopped for everything thing you have seen on TV as the quintessential items to take on a safari. Have you seen Joe vs. the Volcano? Think of Tom Hanks preparing for his journey and that will give you the right feel (minus the trunks). There was underwear that you could wash and rinse and dry easily. Travel pants? Yep, the light weight ones that zip off at the knee and had lots of pockets. No tennis shoes this time, I got trekking shoes! Of course I needed the moisture wicking shirts that I could easily rinse out if needed…. And yes, you got it, I even got the hat. An actual safari hat that was ventilated on top with a nice wide brim.
I had a new digital camera with a case and ALL of the gadgets to go with it. A tripod and “sand bags” that I could use to balance my camera on the window sill. New suitcase? Of course! I needed something small, something that would stand up to the dirt and travel stains that I would inevitably get (did I mention I was in a safari car and then in a tent? Was I expecting to trek through the Serengeti alone?) I was a walking advertisement. After I got to know Muridy, he confessed that he had me pegged the second I got off of the plane as his “American” guest. It would have been hard to miss me.
I also prepped for the trip in other ways. Shots, medications, purchased the highest DEET bug spray I could find, research, research, research. If I was going to Africa, I was going prepared. No mosquito was going to give me malaria.
Side note here: The mosquitos aren’t that bad…. It’s the tsetse flies you’ve got to watch out for – those suckers bite and it HURTS. And you know what? The DEET spray didn’t faze them! Money not well spent.
Here’s a travel tip for you: Don’t spray yourself with a DEET bug spray and then cover that area up, say with your socks. The literal POISONOUS spray and fumes that you’ve spread on your skin can’t escape and you get a nasty rash. One that itches. The only way I could get the itching to stop (without actually taking off my socks and shoes and scratching for an hour) was to stomp my feet. Yes, I’d skootched my socks down and pulled my pant legs up, but it was too late. It itched so much I thought I was going to cry. After stomping my feet every 4 minutes for about a half an hour Muridy finally spun around in his seat and asked me what the heck I was doing. (See? I can make a fool of myself with just one person in attendance.) I sheepishly explained and Muridy sighed with exasperation. “You guys worry too much about Malaria – I’ve had it before a couple of times and it isn’t that bad.”
That stopped me in my tracks – could it just be that we Americans are overly concerned about such things? Yes, there are deadly diseases everywhere (look up dengue fever if you want to be freaked out), but maybe we need to take it down a notch. I mean, I took the malaria pills, why did I need to poison myself as well? Just food for thought.
Back to my trip and the planning. So, I decided to go on the trip alone and it was the BEST decision. I had time to get to know my guide, Muridy. I had the ability to direct where I’d like to go and what I’d like to see without having to worry about anyone else. I didn’t have to share the windows and the open roof. I had the freedom to experience everything I wanted, and more.
Our daily routine was set up as such:
- In the morning I’d wake up when I wanted. I assume if they had late sleepers in their group the staff would wake them, but I was typically up at an early hour.
- I’d take advantage of my pit toilet and freshen myself up at the wash stand with warm water placed outside the tent in the morning.
- I would join Muridy for breakfast. We would eat in the dining tent, a meal prepared by Saleh and served by Victor.
- Muridy and I would head out for the day with a packed lunch (thanks to Saleh again).
- We would drive around the area – usually with some sort of itinerary in mind, booked time in Ngorongoro or over to see the Maasai, a trip through a different section of a park, etc.
- At the end of the day we would return to camp where I would use my bucket shower (hot water prepared for me as we were returning to camp) to rinse off the dirt of the day.
- After that it was a campfire and then dinner in the dining tent with Muridy. Victor always close in case we needed something
- Post dinner I would head to my tent with a warm good evening from “my guys”
Not too shabby for a safari trip for one, right? I’m sorry that the other two people who had booked had to cancel, but I’m forever grateful and amazed that such circumstances presented themselves.
Typically, at the end of the safari day the group would gather around the campfire and chat, reflect on the day, etc. I didn’t have a “group”. The camp staff felt bad that I was there alone straining to read a book by firelight. In their kindness they felt a need to keep my company (which is good, it’s hard to read a book by firelight.)
Because of this I got to know them well. Pius, who assisted with the site and did my laundry (yep – laundry was done for me….) had a little girl named Lilly. Robbie was the “go to” guy for all things at the site and with the jeep. He wanted to be a guide and was working hard to learn about the areas, animals and plants. Victor had a wonderful smile and, while shy, shared some fun stories. That’s how these people became “my guys”, I spent hours with Muridy in the jeep laughing and learning and then got to know the rest of them by the fire. Amazing people, amazing times. When the safari was over, a couple of them cried, and so did I.
Let’s not end on a sappy note.
Travel tip: What not to do when you’re camping in the Serengeti and someone does your laundry?
Answer: Put your undergarments in the dirty clothes bag. That’s right, that easy wash underwear came in handy because I had to wash it myself in my sink. I didn’t discover that until after I received a small package from Pius with my undergarments, unwashed, with a note that the staff didn’t take care of those items. I think my face was as red as Pius’.
Travel tip: What not to do when your guided trip for ten becomes a solo adventure?
Answer: Cancel your trip. You could be in for the ride of your life.
Next up: What not to do when bush pigs and water buffalo saunter past your tent at night.
Solo = Nguruwe wa msituni
Hat = kofia
Underwear = chupi
Vaccinations = chanjo
Research = utafiti