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I don't know how to get started planning my trip...

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I don't know where or how to begin planning my trip. Do I start with a travel agent who specializes in Africa (how do I find one?) or do I start with a safari operator (how do I find a reputable one?) or do I decide on East v.s. South Africa and then try to figure out parks, lodging, etc.?

The more I read, the more confused I become. As you know, for the first-timer the choices are overwhelming. Every time I think I've made a decision I read something that changes my mind. So, I'm going to throw this out there and I'll be interested to see what, if anything, I get back:
- I'm 54, female, in good health, recently separated, and will be travelling alone. I would prefer having the company of a small group on my trip.
- I've dreamed of going to Africa my entire life, since I was seven. This is huge for me.
- I'm spending my savings to make this trip happen (carpe diem!) and don't expect to be lucky enough to see Africa a second time.
- I have 2 weeks for the trip and can go pretty much anytime of year.
- I'm an artist and working photographer. I'm a serious animal person. I want to see the "best" wildlife and scenery.
- I don't want to spend the entire trip jumping from park to park. I'd rather see a few of the better ones and have a chance to really experience them.
- I love the idea of tent camps as long as I have the basics of toilet and hot water...
- I loath the idea of tour buses and dueling jeeps jockeying for position around mating lions.
- When I google "safaris" the choices are endless. How does one choose/find a reputable operator or travel agent?
- And finally, I've even considered doing a volunteer stint, (i.e. where I'd assist on a wildlife reserve) but those choices are also endless. And, again, how does one know which of these programs are reputable and safe?

So there you have it. It's clear I need assistance. Ah, but for the good old days of experienced travel agents! I've got Fodor's and Frommer's and Sierra Club books on East and South Africa all over my house but I'm really starting to stress over this - and this is definitely not how I want things to be. I could really use some direction... thanks!

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