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Trip Report Zimbabwe and Botswana Safari in September-Hooray!

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We are ecstatic; we are finally going to Africa!!
After 2 ½ years of hoping and two prior aborted trips because of business conflicts, we are going to Africa in September. Thanks to amazing service and responsiveness from TravelBeyond, we have booked our trip to Zimbabwe and Botswana. Considering that this was a last minute window for travel for us and, that this is high season, it feels like nothing less than a miracle.
We were having communication/response difficulties with another tour operator (maybe the time difference?) and contacted Craig Beal and Pamela Buttner at TravelBeyond with a request for help. This was July 13 and I wasn’t too hopeful of getting everything pulled together for September. They did it! Within 24 hours we had a rough itinerary to consider and comment on with tentative bookings. We loved the proposal; they stayed within our budget, and consistently answered any and all concerns or questions promptly, even on weekends. I think Craig sleeps in front of the computer. I am still amazed they could book us with such little time to work with.
Here is our itinerary:
We leave SFO on September 11 for Frankfurt on United, then on to Johannesburg arriving September 13 in the morning.
Sep 13 Fly to Harare/HRE, picked up and flown by charter to Ruckomechi Camp, Zimbabwe for three nights.
Sep 14, 15 Ruckomechi
Sep 16 Charter flight to Little Makalolo (HwangeNnational Park, Zimbabwe)
Sep 17, 18 Little Makalolo
Sep 19 Charter to Victoria Falls/VFA. Transfer to Vic Falls Hotel.
Sep 20 VF Hotel
Sep 21, 22, 23 Road transfer to Kasane. Charter flight to Savuti Camp, Botswana three nights.
Sep 24, 25, 26 Charter to Kwetsani (Okavango Delta, Botswana) for three nights.
Sep 27 Charter to Maun airport to Johannesburg, Frankfurt and home.

We arranged our own airfare in order to use miles to upgrade to business class on the US/Frankfurt portion of the trip. We could not use them on SA. Unfortunately, we have a horrendously long travel time there and back since we live on the west coast, but I did discover we can shower in Frankfurt to help a bit (we have a 5-hour layover). I am a little concerned about arriving in Johannesburg after a 28-hour 45 minute trip and immediately flying to our first camp, but again, a work conflict made it very difficult to leave Friday.
Ah, we are on holiday and will enjoy it anyway.
I have never used an agent before this trip. We travel a lot (mostly Asia and Europe), but I felt that we could not maximize our time and the experience booking everything ourselves. The other factor that influenced me is that we wanted to visit camps without 60 other people there and wanted to experience what my mind holds as a “real” safari. So, we worked with agents affiliated with specific, small tented camps.
We purchased our own trip insurance through SquareMouth using their helpful comparison guide and are happy with the rate through them.
Right now we are in the process of working with the luggage requirements for the different airlines and the charter flights. Probably, we will both use carry-ons. I know there have been some negative postings about South African Airways, but my experience so far has been very positive. I contacted their customer service about requesting a vegetarian meal for my husband. Because the flights were booked through United, that airline said they couldn’t help. After a couple of emails, SAA not only helped but clarified the types of vegetarian meals available. They also helped with a carry-on question. Each time, their replies were prompt and professional.
So, we have had great experiences thus far in planning our trip. I will update any changes. But, I strongly recommend Craig and his staff at TravelBeyond if you want amazing service for trip planning. And, no, I am neither related to anyone there nor have I ever met them. It is just that in a world where good service seems to be an exception, I like to recognize companies and individuals who deliver it.

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