Travelling to Africa alone as a 21-year-old
Last October I went to Africa. Uni was done, and it was a bit of time I had between graduation and starting my journalism exams (if journalism is something you’re interested in, check out the Study section of the blog).
I chose Africa for the safari; really original I know.
I’d always wanted travel alone because it pushes you to meet new people and do what you want rather than compromising and sticking with a friend the whole time.
The prospect of organising a trip like this was very daunting though. I had done America on my own through the camp business – Americamp – but that was a very different kind of trip. Safety was a big thing to think about, as well as knowing where I needed to be to do what I wanted.
STA Travel was my saviour. My friend had gone through them a few years previous, and they had made everything really easy for her to arrange.
I went into the store and picked up a couple of big books on African tours which I spent a couple of weeks looking through and highlighting furiously. The fact you could actually get a physical book was a big win for me already, I needed to turn down pages and circle ideas – sometimes a screen just doesn’t cut it.
The planning stage:
If you love to be organised and have a plan – this is the way to prep for a big trip.
Here is a timeline of my planning process:
(For reference, this started in April, and the trip was in October)
1. I told them when I wanted to travel, how much I wanted to spend, and what I wanted to do – this allowed them to match me with the right tour. This was all done in a two-hour appointment in person. Having a face-to-face meeting made it all really easy to make sure I was getting what I wanted as the tour agent could explain everything to me clearly.
2. We set up a payment system, so I was paying for it all in smaller chunks over a three-month period. (This was payment for the tour, flights, and any extra activities I wanted to book in advance)
3. Jabs – I only needed about four jabs, but you need to think ahead with this to make sure you get them all done in time.
4. Insurance/STA travel card/Sim card – This stuff is really boring but really important. I didn’t want to be going out there with cash, so I set up a card to take instead. As I was travelling through four different countries, all with different currencies, this made it really simple and safe too.
5. Other than this, all that was left to do was a big shopping trip to Mountain Warehouse. Luckily for me, it was having a massive clearance sale, and I ended up spending £140 when it would have been £350! (That included a bag, walking boots, and clothes)
Your agent supports you throughout, making sure you’ve done everything you need to. You just need to keep on top of your emails to stick to all the deadlines you have to meet.
I made a folder of everything I would need when I was out there, all my flight details, travel instructions, and important points of contact if anything was to go wrong. Just make sure you have played out the journey in your head, so you know exactly what you’re doing before you join your tour group.
I had three flights and a shuttle bus before I got to the group, and this also featured a very long visa check process, so be prepared and know what you’re doing every step of the way. When you’re on your own and you need to remain vigilant and organised.
I cannot stress enough that this was the best time of my whole life. I still get sad thinking about it now, and how much I miss it.
Our route: Zimbabwe > Botswana > Namibia > Cape Town
I kept a bullet diary of the experience to avoid forgetting anything, plus it gives you an idea of how much you can do on these tours:
Saturday (Zimbabwe) – Meal at restaurant / Meeting the whole group / Live band
Sunday (Zimbabwe) – Zambezi rafting / Sunset river cruise / Meal with group at hotel
Monday (Botswana) – Driving / Safari in Botswana / River cruise
Tuesday (Botswana) – Driving / Pool time / Camp fire
Wednesday (Botswana) – Morning hike / Driving / Pool time / Delta flight
Thursday (Botswana) – Driving / Canoeing the Delta / Swimming in delta / Sunset hike / Basic bush camping
Friday (Botswana) – Canoeing back from Delta / Driving
Saturday (Namibia) – Driving / Glamping site / New members join us / Group meal out
Sunday (Namibia) – Driving / Community project visit / Safari / Massive storm
Monday (Namibia) – Safari / Pool time
Tuesday (Namibia) – Driving / Cricket match / Hike / Punch party
Wednesday (Namibia) - Living museum / Driving / Hike / Sleeping under the stars
Thursday (Namibia) – Driving / Skydive / Group meal out / Karaoke
Friday (Namibia) – Quad-biking on the sand dunes
Saturday (Namibia) – Driving / Saw the flamingos stop / Sleeping under the stars in the desert
Sunday (Namibia) - Dune 45 / Hike
Monday (Namibia) – Driving / Fish river canyon at sunset / Cheese and wine night
Tuesday (South Africa) – Driving / Canoeing
Wednesday (South Africa) – Driving / Wine tasting night
Thursday (South Africa) – Cape Town / Table Mountain / Shopping / Final group meal
Friday (South Africa) – Road trip down Cape Town coastline / Final goodbyes
Saturday (South Africa) – Fly back home
My point of listing all this is to show you that for the money you’re paying, you get to do and see a lot! Touring with a group is the safest way to travel through Africa, and best value for money too. There were other activities I could have done as well as this too – this isn’t even all the options!
The group age ranged from 19-35, but the majority were late twenties. I was surprised at the small number of Brits too, which was really refreshing. Mainly it was Canadians, Australians, and Germans – a variety I loved because there was never a dull moment due to how different everyone was.
I cannot stress enough how amazing travelling with a tour group is. My confidence has grown massively, and I feel ready to go again…I just need corona to disappear now! Don’t stick to what your friends are doing – go alone, meet new people, and do what you want to do!
My main advice is to be organised. I don’t want to sound like a nagging parent, but in order for everything to run smoothly so you can have the best time possible, be prepared, because no one is going to do it for you. Using a travel agent like STA definitely helped me make sure I was good to go – and I had the best time of my life.
If you have any questions, please just ask – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, if you’re interested in doing a summer working at a camp in America, here are a couple of blogs I wrote about my experiences with that:
The camp experience – https://www.indialilyblogs.com/post/bucket-list-summer
Post-camp travel – https://www.indialilyblogs.com/post/living-a-dream