AFAR Ambassador Megan Murphy reflects on why one is the perfect number on safari
As a lover of animals and adventure, an African safari has been at the top of my travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. So earlier this year, when I was invited to Kenya on a private safari as part of AFAR’s partnership with the USTOA, I jumped at the chance. USTOA is the United States Tour Operators Association, whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, and peace of mind to destinations across the globe.
I’d be traveling with Monograms on their Kenya Private Safari itinerary to three distinct safari destinations—Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Lake Nakuru, and Maasai Mara—in late September, during dry season, when temperatures range from cool at night to warm during the day. This is a great time to witness the region’s famous wildebeest migration.
All of this sounded fantastic, but was going to Africa by myself (as a petite female in my 30s) a smart idea? Should I be concerned about safety? Would I get lonely? Any hesitation quickly evaporated after speaking to fellow journalists and safari-goers who have experienced Africa solo. I began to grasp just how special the opportunity was and chose to adopt a Swahili phrase that’s commonly used in Africa: hakuna matata (meaning “no worries”). Remaining enthusiastic and open-minded helped me make the most of my journey.
As I reflect on my solo safari, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. If you have any hesitations about embarking on a safari alone, consider my top five revelations, which will hopefully encourage you to take the leap!
Even though I went to Africa by myself, I never felt alone. My Monograms driver-guide, Julius—whose warm demeanor, sense of humor, and endearing nickname for me (“Duchess Megan”) put me at ease immediately—kept me laughing and learning while traveling between destinations.
Being one-on-one with Julius during each game drive allowed me to gain a deep understanding about life in Kenya, local culture/traditions, animal behavior, and African history. Chatting with him, as well as getting to know the welcoming locals and hotel staff, greatly enhanced my experience. Meeting people with a different cultural perspective and seeing the world through their lens is truly enlightening and can expand your level of understanding of the world.
There’s nothing quite like being intertwined with nature on an African safari. Getting up close and personal with Kenya’s incredibly diverse wildlife—playful lion cubs wrestling each other; adorable baby baboons getting piggyback rides on their mamas; graceful giraffes straddling to sip from a watering hole; exuberant packs of zebras running on the horizon at sunset; and so much more—moved me to tears and fulfilled any need for connection.
During an early morning game drive in Masaai Mara, I had the good fortune of encountering a notoriously elusive leopard. I spotted this magnificent feline high up in a tree, devouring a fresh kill of warthog. After a piece fell to the ground below, he stealthily climbed down the trunk, ever so gracefully, and continued eating his breakfast amid the tall grass. Africa’s big cats—lions, leopards, cheetahs—are particularly curious. When his piercing amber eyes shot in my direction, the rest of the world melted away. The electricity of our intense eye contact shook me to the core; it was one of the most beautiful encounters I’ve ever had, human or not.
Imagine watching a family of enormous elephants march by, mere feet in front of your vehicle; so close you can hear them breathing. Or seeing a rainbow emerge over the rolling Serengeti plains after a quick mid-afternoon rain shower. Without anyone else to distract you, focusing on each magical moment becomes second nature.
I found myself completely overcome with raw emotion over the sheer brilliance of what unfolded before my eyes. From the fascinating wildlife and the genuine friendliness of the local people to the breathtaking landscapes and the dramatic, ever-changing skies, everything in Kenya inspired me. I let go of all inhibitions, allowing myself to feel freely and be vulnerable and let the power of this once-in-a-lifetime experience take hold of me. Wow, did it grip me tightly.
While driving through the Mara, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with a massive male lion, who flashed his golden eyes directly at me through an open window of our safari vehicle. What a thrill! And there was a time when two behemoth water buffalos came dangerously close to my tent in the middle of the night (don’t worry, there’s 24/7 security at most camps; all ended up fine!).
Having your heart race uncontrollably, even for a fleeting moment or two, can be invigorating. It’s all part of the excitement of safari. By trying new things, facing your fears, and embracing the unknown, you’ll return to your friends and family as a more enriched person. And the courage and confidence gained from traveling alone, especially on safari, can transform every aspect of your life. Also, for the record, I felt extremely safe throughout my entire expedition.
Going on a safari isn’t a “Hey, wanna go check out some animals this weekend?” spontaneous type of trip. You’ll need to research, plan, and prepare—including getting required vaccinations and applying for a VISA, depending on which African country you’ll be traveling to (both surprisingly easier processes than I thought). It may be difficult to find a travel buddy who’s on the same page as you. So why wait on others? Make it happen for yourself.
Traveling solo is the ultimate freedom. Want to get up early to watch the sunrise over a cup of rich Kenyan coffee (which is divine, by the way)? Or sit around the fire pit late-night sipping Amarula and South African wine? Or sweet talk your driver into staying out a little longer to photograph endangered white rhinos? You can do what you want, when you want to. I found this freedom exhilarating.
Read more about Megan’s travels with Monograms Travel on the USTOA blog.