Solo travel: Sally Kirby bigs up going it alone

I’m comfortable travelling on my own. The first flight I took, from the UK to Spain, aged six years, was solo. Two years later, I travelled as an unaccompanied minor from the UK to South Africa. It was January, so summer in Johannesburg. It was hot – a shock in itself: I’d never experienced heat like it. I’d love to have captured the look on that little girl’s face as she was met off the plane, introduced to the pilot, escorted through customs, and greeted by her Daddy, who’d travelled out a few months beforehand.

That was the first of my many Africa adventures. The seed was planted. There’s no forgetting that warm Jozi welcome, and that sensory overload; the colours, the music, the smiles, the smells, and the goldmines – so exotic. That’s one thing travelling alone offers in bucket loads: an engagement of all your senses, opening you up to a heightened appreciation of newness and variety. There’s an element of vulnerability, and being open to meeting new people, often having to rely on the kindness of strangers. I love that saying that everyone has a role to play in our lives, a message to pass onto us. Travelling solo opens you up to so many of those encounters; the potential to open your mind and expand your horizons is huge. From the person you sit next to on the plane, for 12 hours, to the guide who you entrust your life with on a walking safari.

Indeed, solo travelling when on safari strikes a lovely balance of time alone and time with others. Whilst meals can be taken on your own, I’d recommend camps where meals and activities, such as wildlife drives, walks and horse riding, are communal, unless you really want to be alone alone, which can also be arranged. For those that enjoy some solo time, you’ll no doubt cherish the quiet moments; the siestas, reading by the watering hole, morning swims, and sunset walks. Brief moments to stop, reflect and fully appreciate what you’re experiencing. Sharing stories around the campfire, G&T in hand. It’s always interesting to listen how you introduce yourself to strangers, to how you see yourself at that time. More than likely, you’ll find yourself amongst a small group of like-minded people, bonding over a mutual love of wildlife or a shared hobby. Or learning new skills together, perhaps how to make a traditional fire with the San bushmen, and how to climb trees to collect honey from the wild bees. Africa is nature’s playground on a vast scale. Here we can connect with our inner child; a place of no fear, just excitement and pure delight in every moment!

Some people assume solo travelling will be lonely. It can be, though there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Often, it’s something of a state of mind: if I think I’m going to be lonely, then I most probably will be. On the other hand, if I’m up for the adventure, then I know from experience that it’s an opportunity to be amazed, to be opened up to a whole new world, and often provides the experiences and space that brings me back to a much happier self. Solo travel: it’s not for everyone, but if you’re anything like me, try it, and in Africa, which is extraordinary, and in so many ways.

Ol Donyo Sally Kirby

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