Preparing for Safari

EAST AFRICAN SAFARI

 

Some folks prefer to wing it when they travel. They like to pack the night before, book the hotel land and go for it. Not me, this is not my style. For me, planning for the trip is almost as fun as experiencing it. Well not almost as fun as the trip but call me a weirdo but I got no problem with planning. For Safari, I think this is especially important.

For one, compared to most vacations, Safari is very expensive. Sure I guess you could find super budget stuff but I am getting older and ready to kick it up a notch. No, I don’t have an unlimited budget but I can afford better than the ‘budget’ category so I prefer to research until I find what I am comfortable with. Its nothing more disappointing to me then arriving to my accommodations passing by three or four better choices because I didn’t take the time to explore what’s available.

Packing

Packing for a Safari is different from other types of vacations. In my opinion its easier. The only thing that makes it a little complicated is the stopover you may take in a cosmopolitan city on your way to or from the Safari – you want to be prepared for that of course but at the same time you need to gear up for the Bush.

Of course first is my goal to get everything in carry on luggage(s). For safari its really not that difficult. One thing that works in my favor is that, now, if I have a flight more than 5 hours I go business class. Wait, I didn’t say I pay for a business class ticket though. For instance, this trip I am going business class all the way. Turkish Airlines, Swiss and United. From DC via Istanbul to Kilimanjaro. Then the return is out of Nairobi via Swiss through Geneva and Zürich on United into DC. Total cost (drum roll)…. $108.60! Yep that’s it. I used my points for that. So for the cost of two carry-on bags in economy I have roundtrip business class seats and business lounge access – I know not bad right.

Now, for Safari you want to have all soft luggage. This is mostly because of the smaller planes that you take between camps domestically in Africa. They have weight limits and I guess it’s easier for them to cram more bags on the plane that way. Usually the lodges and camps that I tend to stay at will do my laundry. This is a very good thing because I can bring much less knowing that they will be nicely cleaned and folded for me the next day! Dressy clothes are not needed. Even for the few days that I will spend in Nairobi I’ve packed two nice sundresses otherwise I will wear the khaki pants and t-shirts during the day.
IMG_4594

 

I love PacSafe products! They incorporate anti-theft properties that come in handy when traveling solo or with others. This video shows one of the products that I use and love.

 

 

I usually pack a scarf or two.  I especially like to use my scarf on the flight or any place where I am a little chilly. A scarf can be a great fashion accessory. Here is a video that shows a few great ways to wear your scarf.

Let me interject here that I use the space bags. You know those plastic bags that you push the air out and zip up? Priceless, I use these instead of rolling the clothes and I think its the only way to pack!

I pack two shorts, two pants (that can also convert to long shorts) about 6 tops, under garments and two pair of shoes and flip-flops – boom. For ladies make up is really not necessary. Worst case is tinted moisturizer and of course mascara, lipstick and hair products. When shopping throughout the year I ask for travel size samples of my products which I use for travel. Normally I can fit all products in one pouch and this is my goal….to keep it simple. I’ve learned that I usually pack way more than I actually use.

I find the things that take up most of the space are the electronic devices and binoculars. I take my iPhone, iPad, camcorder, media cards, chargers and cords. I do have a Canon 35mm with interchangeable lenses but that thing needs a passport to itself. It’s so cumbersome carrying it and all its parts so I tend to leave it because the camcorder zoom is just as strong plus it also does photos. I’ve done this all over the world and my pictures, well take a look for yourself. I made a new purchase for this trip. It’s a bluetooth enabled speaker that also charges my devices with a solar panel. As long as I have sunlight I have a charge for my phone plus I can listen to music.
Wireless speaker and solar charger

Wireless speaker and solar charger

Also when traveling to Africa I always make sure to bring something for the children living nearby or kids of the folks who I meet at my accommodations. This trip is extremely special because I have the opportunity to visit a friend I’ve made through World Vision. When I began to communicate with Naijoi and her family they would always end their letter with ‘you are always welcome in our home’. While I thought that was a nice gesture, I never had any hopes that that would actually happen. Fast forward 6 years and guess what? Yep I’ve made plans via World Vision to visit with her and her family in their village in Tanzania for the day. Now this is amazing! I’ve dedicated one carry on for her village alone.

Tour Operator

Planet Africa Safaris (PAS)

 

I almost never do group tours when on vacation because I prefer the freedom to make my own adhoc decisions as my day unfolds. Safari’s are different in that you can not really rent a car and go on the conservatories or Serengeti on your own. South Africa is a little different but in those scenario’s you pretty much stay on road but that’s not really a safari right?

Although most safari’s follow a similar format, nuances of your day may vary depending upon the class of accommodations you’ve booked. For instance, some camps are very intimate and may have only 5 – 10 tents with two people per tent. This scenario will seem more exclusive compared to accommodations with more than 20 rooms. Of course normally the smaller you get the more expensive it gets.

Smaller camps usually have dedicated butlers per tent, daily laundry service, gourmet meals with open bar…basically you are in the middle of no where with all the amenities of a high-end hotel but you still manage have an authentic bush feel. Even if you do not have a dedicated driver there are normally no more than 6 to a vehicle. Meals are usually served for all together family style but if you prefer, they will set up and serve you in your tent. And the tents can be pretty luxurious while still be authentic for the surroundings. Also there is normally an option for massages and a pool.

Larger accommodations are just not going to be as intimate as a smaller camp but its all in what you are looking for and willing to pay.

So when on Safari you are normally staying at a camp or lodge. Safari’s pretty much have a format in that you normally have at least 2 game drives per day which last between 4-6 hours, and if you are lucky enough to stay at upscale camps you may also have the option of a walking Safari or balloon ride. If you have not hired your own personal driver you are on drives with others staying at the camp.

The routine is usually that you wake at about 5am (about sunrise). Your butler will bring a try of coffee, tea and assortment of muffins and croissants. You get dressed and head out to the vehicle. Normally, the night before the guide will meet to discuss everything the night before.

Midway thru the morning drive you normally stop for a snack. They set up a table and prepare drinks, hot and cold, with snacks. The trucks also have small refrigeration to accommodate cold items. Remember, it’s still early like about 8am. So around 10am you head back to camp for a full breakfast and free time to lounge, swim, get a massage, walking safari or nap! Then it’s tea time which is basically lunch and then about 3ish you are back out for the afternoon drive for about 4 hours which normally includes a stop for a sundowner. The more luxurious the accommodates, the more outstanding the sundowners.

After the afternoon drive, you head back to camp, get cleaned up for dinner and drinks around a fire.

Of course I’ve skipped all the information here about the jaw dropping experiences you have with all the animal encounters throughout the day.

Let me tell you, by the end of the day you are soooo exhausted from all of the driving, eating, drinking and walking PLUS the time difference that you sleep like a baby!

I JUST LOVE IT.

For this safari, I pretty much knew the camps that I wanted to visit so I contacted them directly. All of the camps are part of Asilia Africa. Asilia in turn referred me to PAS to make the reservations. I did actually see that two of the camps were bookable online with I think Expedia but I went with Asilia’s advice and contacted PAS.

I will provide  more details on my recommendation or not for PAS. I began working with PAS in February and its now August. What PAS was very helpful with was coordinating all of the domestic transportation in Africa. It’s customary to drive between certain locations while flights are better between other locations to save time etc.. So in all it was very helpful to use their services but will have a separate post on them after the vacation.

In addition to Asilia Africa, here are a few Safari groups that I recommend:

andBeyond (Used them for South Africa)

Singita

Wilderness Safari

Nomad

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these outfits!

 

Travel Insurance

I’ve used Insure My Trip twice before. Although I’ve not needed to use the coverage I’ve seen very good reviews for the products. The site is user-friendly and allows you to easily compare plans with lots of choices.

 

Travel Vaccinations and Visas

 

Your travel shots will vary depending on which country you visit. Get a recommendation for a travel clinic in your area. Visit the CDC site to see which shots are required for your location. Print this out and take with you to the clinic. Don’t wait until the last-minute.

Here in DC we are lucky in that we have access to embassies and if this is your scenario I advise getting your visas as soon as you can. Visit the website of the country you intend to visit. You may be able to secure your visa online or may be advised to secure your visa when you arrive there. Normally you will need proof of an airline ticket and accommodations.