How a trip to Tanzania built my confidence and taught me to be more lion

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Before this summer, I’d never travelled to Africa, I’d never been on safari and I’d never considered a solo trip. In fact, up until that point, I rarely even went on holiday. If I did, it was never without family in tow. So, my trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar with Flash Pack in August was a first for a multitude of reasons.

I chose a safari adventure in the Serengeti because I’ve always loved animals; I have two dogs and I studied animal care at college. I also work as a primary school teacher, meaning any time off with others must coincide with the holidays which can be tricky. My sister, Jenni Shaw, works for Flash Pack, so I was already familiar with the company. I thought, “I might as well try travelling on my own and see what happens.”

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Six of us from the group were on the same flight from London

Flying to Kilimanjaro from the UK was exciting but also nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what people on the trip would be like or if we’d all get on. I’m generally not very confident but it really helped that we set up a WhatsApp group ahead of our trip. On the run-up, we chatted a little and helped each other with trip planning, like what to pack. It helped relieve my anxiety in some ways. Even though we’d never met each other prior to the start of the trip, we’d already talked and could at least put a face to a name. 

As it happens, six of us from the group were on the same flight from London. When we arrived in Tanzania early, we got to sit by the hotel pool and have breakfast together before the trip had even begun.

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At night we could hear wildebeest and hyenas

Our home for the next few days was the incredible Bush Rover Suites. The site consists of luxury converted Land Rovers that are stationed in the heart of the Serengeti. There was wildlife all around; at night we could hear wildebeest and hyenas with their distinctive high-pitched yowls. The campfire and restaurant were a little walk from our rooms so we had to be escorted everywhere at night; you can’t go out into nature like that alone.

It’s funny because even though I’m normally quite a nervous person, I wasn’t at all bothered about being so close to wild animals. In fact, I really liked the sounds and I slept amazingly. We had four-poster beds with mosquito nets draped over them – they were extremely comfortable.

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The trip brought so many pinch-yourself moments

My roommate and I got along straight away. We’d filled out the trip questionnaire with our likes, preferences and so on and we were both very similar. Neither of us stayed up too late and we both liked a snooze in the morning. At one point we were staying at the Little Okavango Delta Camp, with stilted rooms above Lake Victoria. We could hear the hippos at night. My roommate was convinced they were going to come in but I managed to talk her out of it, reassuring her that wasn’t possible.

The trip brought so many pinch-yourself moments, from flying through the bush on a 13-seater plane, to impressive views of the Milky Way from our campfire at night – we were in an area of zero light pollution.

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At one point, we followed the tracks of a leopard

Of course, the animals themselves were beautiful, too. Our game drive sightings included a matriarch elephant with two baby calves, a giraffe that wandered right into the path of our safari jeep, and the dramatic spectacle of a group of vultures battling with a hissing hyena over a piece of fresh prey (the vultures won). At one point, we followed the tracks of a leopard that had just killed a baby wildebeest. Leopards are extremely elusive but we managed to spot it just half an hour before the sun went down.

We ended the trip on the island of Zanzibar where I booked an optional expedition to swim with dolphins. We were wearing masks and our guides would nudge us off the boat into crystal-clear waters whenever a pod was nearby. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat.

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We all became friends quickly

We had two Americans in our group, lots of people from the UK and others who’d joined from Switzerland and Dubai. From the outset, we all got on really well and became friends quickly. One of the girls in our group was a veteran Flashpacker – she’d been on at least five adventures – and she remarked that our trip was the fastest she’s ever seen a group bond together.

Everyone was just very chilled. We turned up when we were meant to – no-one was late or grumpy – and we all wanted to learn about each other and our different lives. There was no pressure to be “on form”, either; in our downtime, some of us had time alone or napped, while others socialised together. I don’t drink and no-one thought that was strange or asked me why.

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One photo captures how confident and happy I felt

Those of us who live in the UK have already arranged a reunion; we’ll be heading for a Halloween daytime rave together. And I’ve already picked my next Flash Pack trip, too; I’m heading to Morocco next summer for surfing, vintage sidecars and quad biking in the desert.

One of my favourite photos from my trip shows me on a dhow boat in Zanzibar. Our group went out together on the final evening and as night fell, we ate fruit, played the bongos and swam in the sea. It captures exactly how confident and happy I felt in that moment.

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There was no need to people please

I think my biggest learning from the trip is not to worry about what other people think of you. On an adventure like this, you can just be your authentic self and people will accept you. As a teacher, sometimes I have to pretend to be more confident than I am but in this group, I could let that instinct go. There was no need to people please – I could just be me.

Fiona Shaw is a primary school teacher from The Wirral. She travelled with Flash Pack to Tanzania and Zanzibar

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Courtesy of Fiona Shaw & Flash Pack

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