From lunches and carols to markets and meeting Santa
Travelling Alone in the Western Cape
Our very own Dudu Luthuli explores the lush Town of Oaks as a solo female traveller
Women are taking over the world.
Well, at least as far as globetrotting is concerned. Truth is, the solo female travel sector is the fastest growing segment in the tourism industry. Of course, the concept of journeying on your lonesome has been around for decades, but the surge in womenfolk, who are jumping on this bandwagon in recent times is something worth remarking on.
According to 2014 statistics released by popular travel site Booking.com, 65% of American women are going on vacation without partners or friends, 59% of US female solo travellers say they’re eager to take another lone trip within the next 12 months and 65% of American ladies feel more confident when travelling alone.
But that’s the US. And it begs the question: what’s it like to trek across South Africa on your ace?
We figured that there’s no better way to explore the topic than to experience it for ourselves, and so our very own Dudu Luthuli headed out to the beautiful Cape Winelands town of Stellenbosch for a few days with no one but herself for company. Here’s a diary of her experiences.
Wednesday Evening – Preparing for the Journey Ahead
I’m packed and ready for my two-day adventure through the oak tree-lined streets of Stellenbosch as part of an excursion organised by the folk at The Stellenbosch Experience. The trip, which begins first thing tomorrow, will see six women (me included) tour the town alone. As for me, I have always found the concept of traversing places on my own quite exciting. And so, I’m itching to head over to the Town of Oaks to see if it, like more and more places around South Africa and the world, welcomes the 21st century lone traveller with open arms.
Thursday Morning – Hello Stellenbosch
The past few days in the Mother City have been gloomy, but today, the Stellenbosch sun is out and radiant. I’m making my way to the Oude Werf Hotel (the oldest continuously operating hotel in South Africa) to meet the five other women and the trip organisers over breakfast.
All of the ladies are different. Some are married, some have little ones and some, like me, are single. The one thing we all have in common, though, is that we’re looking for adventure, and we’re pretty sure that this trip will dish out a fair amount of it. Apparently, that’s exactly what statistics have revealed: more women, across all ages and cultures, are looking for thrilling voyages, and travelling alone seems to open up a world of excitement that isn’t as accessible when you’re on expeditions with familiar faces or even loved ones. This is because when you’re flying solo, you enjoy the thrill of independence, of making your own decisions and of doing things in your own time and on your own terms.
Thursday Afternoon – The Experiential Traveller
According to Phyllis Stoller of The Women’s Travel Group (a US-based tour operator for women), statistics have also indicated that solo females travellers are more inclined to fill their itineraries with experiences rather than traditional sightseeing activities. Seasoned traveller and founder of the I Teach Travel blog Pravina Chetty agrees with this and adds that experiences make for more enriched travel. “Having a picnic right under the Eiffel Tower is a far better way to really experience the landmark than just taking a picture near it so you can tick it off your bucket list,” she explains.
And since I’m in the Cape Winelands district, I need to have a vino experience. Though, I’ve decided to swap the classic sip and swirl session for a wine blending tutorial at Middelvlei farm. This family-owned estate is incredibly charming and still uses traditional methods to create its reds and whites, which makes it the prime spot to learn a thing or two about crafting my own vintage. The one-of-a-kind activity leaves me feeling like a real connoisseur and I’m proud to have created a blend with a make-up of Pinotage (my favourite red), Merlot and Shiraz. This experience is definitely one for the books and makes for an afternoon I will never forget. Doing it on my own gave me the chance to be fully present in the moment and to go about things exactly the way I wanted to, which added a whole new dimension to the affair.
Thursday Evening – Dinner for One
Tonight I’m wining and dining at the Spier Hotel’s in-house restaurant on my ace. While the experience of eating alone may sound daunting, it is the prime opportunity for me to unwind and reflect on my time spent in Stellenbosch so far. And as Pravina notes, this is one of the best things about solo travel: you get to do a whole lot of introspection. “You get to really learn more about yourself, what you respond well to and what you don’t, which is amazing,” she explains. And I couldn’t agree more.
Dining alone also gives me the time to touch base with friends and family (read: send them lots of selfies and snaps of my adventures so far) as well as catch up on world news and all that’s transpired on social media. It turns out that the advent of the digital age has made more women feel comfortable about travelling on their own as they can check up on families and give them updates as they go – making them feel safer in a foreign place and more connected with home.
Friday Morning – An Outdoor Gallery Experience
It’s my last day in the beautiful town and I need to make sure I make it count. I’ll be doing so by going on an art walk around the main urban hub. The organisation that heads this tour, the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, firmly believes that art is something that should be enjoyed freely, and so, from time to time, it curates open-air exhibitions that turn the Town of Oaks into an alfresco gallery, which helps visitors to fully immerse themselves in the creative scene. Speaking of immersion, this is yet another perk of solo travel: when you’re alone, you have no choice but to fully bury yourself in the space and take every inch of it in with absolutely no distractions.
Friday Afternoon – Thank You Stellenbosch
As my trip draws to a close, I breathe in the last bit of fresh Winelands air and I make my way to the train station to head back to the Mother City. It’s not long, though, before I’m completely lost. Between experiencing the endorphin-induced rush of having just successfully completed my first one-man travelling experience and being caught in the Friday afternoon peak hour madness, I mistakenly switched trains and am now in Klapmuts, a dorpie north of Stellenbosch that I have never been to before.
It turns out that I’m not the only person who made this fumble, and at the Klapmuts station I find a fellow lost soul, who quickly becomes a friend as we exchange stories excitedly. This experience really sums up what travelling solo is all about to me: that even when lost, adventure awaits around every corner. My new friend and I are safely headed to Cape Town now, and while this trip may be over, I’m already planning my next solo expedition. Because even though you start out a journey on your own, you’re never really alone.
5 TIPS FOR TRAVELLING SOLO IN SOUTH AFRICA
1. Plan well (and make Google Maps your best friend): Have a clear idea of where you are going, even if this means spending at least 30 minutes before you leave browsing a map and planning a route, so that you look confident and sure of yourself when you head out.
2. Budget well: Unfortunately, travelling solo means that you can’t cash in on group discounts. This is why it is essential to budget well and to look out for enticing deals. Airbnb.com and Couchsurfing.com are great resources to search for accommodation for single people that isn’t as pricey as traditional hotels.
3. Be vigilant: Never wander off into quiet, deserted places. If you are going to explore an area in the evening, let the staff at the hotel/backpackers you are staying at know where you are headed, (it’s also always good to check out the profile of the place you are visiting on Google beforehand).
4. Interact with the locals and ask them what they get up to: Don’t be afraid to go to the local café and ask the barista or owner of the establishment what they get up to in the town in their free time. That way, you will find lots of hidden gems and activities that aren’t usually in tourist brochures.
5. Have fun and enjoy your solo time!
A special thanks to The Stellenbosch Experience for organising the trip and to Pravina Chetty of I Teach Travel for the useful travel tips.
Looking for lodgings in this quaint Cape Winelands town? Here’s an overview of Accommodation in Stellenbosch.
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