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

Old Dec 18th, 2007, 06:20 AM
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I don't know how to get started planning my trip...

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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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 08:33 AM
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Simple question, but no simple answer. There are imitless options (and limitless source materials), and very few of them (so long as you are careful) are really bad, so long as you're going to Africa.

It sounds like you have done some reading, but you probably should still do some more. Start general, then get more specific and you go along. Maybe try the onsafari.com FAQ page or the Siyabona.com site to get some general info first and maybe help narrow down your preferences.

Since you will be traveling alone and would prefer being in a small group, you should consider some of the multitude of operators who offer those (rather than a private customized safari for your first time), such as go2africa, Micato (excellent but expensive), OAT, etc., etc. Some serve both East and Southern Africa, some not.

Good luck, it certainly can be a bit overwhelming, but at least it's overwhelming in a good way.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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I can picture you on a mobile tented safari in Botswana. Wilderness Safaris has several, which include both the mobile tents and permanent tented camps. You can't book directly with WS; you have to go through a safari planner. However, you can check them out at www.eyesonafrica.net. There are two styles, Discoverer and Adventurer, so see which would appeal to you. There are also other companies that run mobile safaris in the Delta, such as Masson's and Wild Lifestyles.

Additionally, there are luxury permanent tented camps, but they have gotten quite expensive. Finally, one of our contributors (PredatorBiologist) recently took a trip to Botswana, staying in less expensive (or well known) camps and had a great experience.
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35092404
Lots of options for a wonderful wilderness experience!
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 08:59 AM
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aknards, I was in a similar situation a few years ago -- mid-50s, traveling solo, love animals and the thought of safari, didn't know where to begin. [OK, there are also some differencs: different gender, and I'll make my 4th safari next summer.]

One overriding thought that I hope you keep in mind is that there is no 1 right answers, and there are many, many good answers. With that said, and based on your criteria, here are my thoughts:

- If you expect to make only one trip to sub-Saharan Africa, make the trip to Botswana. This is a magical land with magical people, separated from the rest of the world by more than simply the miles. The variety of geographies (especially between land and water-based camps), the remoteness of it all, and the magnificent creatures add up to an amazing experience. I've had fabulous safaris to South Africa and Kenya, but my experiences in Botswana stand head and shoulders over the others.

- You are wise to look for comfortable, tented accommodation. For me, the difference between a tent and a standalone chalet is enormous -- I feel much closer to nature in a tent. And you will not have a problem finding tented camps with flush toilets and hot water showers.

- The best time can vary depending on where you choose to go. Fortunately, there's lots of information available on best times of year for various spots.

- While I can understand your looking to be part of a group when traveling to a totally new place, I have found that traveling solo to safari camps has been wonderful. I have been met at the airports by representatives of the ground operators that my travel agent used, and the travel parts went smoothly. At the camps and on drives, I've never felt isolated or awkward, and the camaraderie among safari-goers seems to cut across any social barriers. The only exception I've experienced was one night in Kenya when the entire camp (except for me) was rented out by a group, but that seems to have been an unusual situation.

- As for how to go about it all, I'd suggest that you first decide on the region that you want to go to. Then, consider whether you want to do an organized (pre-set) tour, or a tailor-made safari. If you go for tailor-made, then you'll need to choose an appropriate agent -- but that's a long way off.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:12 AM
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First, I suggest you decide what your budget is. There are two basic choices. I believe if you want the best bang for your buck Eastern Africa is probably your best bet as far as good game viewing per dollar.

I have not been to Southern Africa but I understand (and I am sure others will correct me) you get a more intimate experience there but for more money.

If you go to Kenya or Tanzania you will see many more animals and all sorts of them. I understand the brush in much thicker in Southern Africa. However, you are likely to see many more game vehicles. I counted 18 trying to see the first leopard we saw (in the Samburu in Kenya).

You should also take a look at the very illuminating East Africa Index:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34860283

Following is specific link to our trip to Kenya in August last year:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34868269


Also, time of year will dictate where best to go.

Finally, would strongly suggest you try and find a friend to go with you. Single supplements tend to be very expensive.

Kevin from California
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:16 AM
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Link to South Africa Index:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34868269
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:18 AM
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Oops let's try this again re Southern:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34858382
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:37 AM
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aknards,

I think I know how you feel. I had the same sense of being overwhelmed 11 months ago when I started researching safari options. Despite all that, the more you learn, the more things will start to take shape for you. In the end, itís a pretty personal matter of figuring out what it is you want. Then thereís the equally tough matter of reconciling what you want with what you can afford!

I started by reading Mark Noltingís book ďAfricaís Top Wildlife Countries.Ē For me, as a complete newbie, this book provided a great overview of the different countries, the wildlife parks and preserves in each, what kinds of animals youíre likely to see and where, what time of year is ďbestĒ for different areas and different countries, and much more. I found it a great introduction to the whole topic and it really helped provide a foundation.

Next, this forum. As youíve no doubt already found, itís a gold mine of information. I read every trip report I ran across to get a sense of what people were actually experiencing and where. One of the links I found here took me to e-gnu.com where rack rates for a lot of camps can be found ( http://www.e-gnu.com/searchAccomodation2.asp ). These may not be wholly accurate, but I believe they get you into the right ballpark and it was an eye-opener that brought some reality to the question of what I wanted vs what I could afford. Especially as a solo traveler, the single rates at many places are just astronomical.

When I felt like I was beginning to get a sense of what I wanted, where I thought I wanted to go, and how much money I could realistically afford, I started to talk to an Africa specialist travel agent. There are several that are frequently mentioned on this board and are reliable and knowledgeable. Especially as a newbie, you need the help of a professional who can match your desires and your budget to something real on the ground.

Itís a process all right, and itís sometimes difficult Ė especially when reality collides with desire. In the end, however, ďwowĒ was it worth it! I had 10 days on a mobile camping safari in Botswana, followed by 4 days at Mala Mala, and I think that my every expectation was exceeded So, Iím a ďveteranĒ now of one African Safari! And, like everyone else that comes to this forum, I started thinking about my next trip before the first was over! Take your time and enjoy the process. I know youíll enjoy the result, whatever it is.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:48 AM
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I have been to Africa twice with OAT - Ultimate Africa in 2005 which is a fly-in safari to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe staying in small mostly tented camps which are very comfortable and private and The Best of Kenya and Tanzania in 2007 staying in a mix of Serena Lodges and tented camps. Both trips were wonderful and a great value, especially Ultimate Africa which was a bit lower in price. Actually, I would say Ultimate Africa was an amazing value considering all of the included flights, the intimate private camps and all you could drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Game viewing was great in both East Africa and Southern Africa. More cats in the east, more elephants in the south. Lots of other vehicles encountered in the east, almost none in the south. More spectacular scenery in the east and more cultural experiences. More emphasis on game in the south and more relaxing because of flying vs many hours on the road.

I would suggest contacting OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) for a catalog so you can take a look at what they have to offer. OAT limits its trips to 10 to 16 people and caters to people over 50 but often has younger travelers. You can travel easily as a single or OAT will try to find you a roommate if you don't want to pay the single supplement.

Keep visiting this site. You will find lots of good suggestions for other options.

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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 09:58 AM
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Aknards,

I had the same thought as ShayTay, a mobile in Botswana, based on your desire to leave crowds behind. If time, maybe some days in the Sabi Sands in South Africa.

Botswana has tremendous diversity of environment from desert to delta, with excellent wildlife.

Good luck finding a friend to join you. Iíve rarely been able to rustle up a traveling companion and go solo much of the time, like you are planning to do. Solo in Africa is a breeze.

The mobile safari offers the advantages of group travel: less costly and companionship. A Wilderness or other quality run safari would take you to good game areas. (If some other links to differnet mobile operators do not materialize, Iíll put some in within a day or two.) You can usually control whether you are willing to share a tent or have your own accommodations. A few days in Sabi Sands in South Africa, after the mobile, would offer other advantages: solo travel but a shared vehicle (unless you requested a paid for a private one), outstanding game viewing of predators, a limit of 3 vehicles per sighting, a different environment from Botswana.

The reason it is so hard to make a choice is that there are so many. Itís like deciding where to spend 2 weeks in the US.

The good old days of the experienced travel agent might not help you that much here. You want an African specialist, not a typical travel agent, no matter how experienced.

This site has a Q&A format to help you.

http://www.fisheaglesafaris.com/choosedestination.htm

Here is Botswana & South Africa weather.

http://www.uyaphi.com/botswana/weather.htm
http://www.uyaphi.com/afriweather.htm


This site shows the best wildlife viewing throughout the year in different parks.
http://africa-adventure.com/dsp_besttime.html

Look at this report. I think something like this would be ideal for you.
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35087419
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34858382
Iíve done a Wilderness Botswana mobile and stayed at Mala Mala, just never combined them. Both were outstanding.

One comment on Mala Mala alone. The ranger eats with the people in his vehicle so you have at least one winner at your table in my opinion because the rangers are hospitable with good people skills. When I was at MM, my vehicle-mates were also good company, but thatís not a guarantee. Anyway, I want to do a combo like this sometime, and think anyone would enjoy this.

I see RickMck, who did the trip I suggested above, already got a suggestion in himself.

Here is the Wilderness site.
http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/
Explorations are where the group mobiles are. This site also has the permanent tented camps which are absolutely lovely with good to outstanding game, and very expensive in high season, when wildlife viewing is best. See that e-gnu site RickMck listed.

Any Wilderness safari or property must be booked via an agent. There are many reputable companies that book Wilderness. Iíve used Africa Adventure (Ft. Lauderdale) and Eyes on Africa (Chicago) for Wilderness trips. Fish Eagle (Houston) gets good reviews and Iíve been impressed with my interactions and info from them.

If you choose Southern Africa, you will miss the wildebeest and zebra migration in Kenya/Tanzania, which many people associate with African wilderness and wildlife. Just so you are aware.

Good luck and please post as your plans develop.

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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 10:02 AM
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Wow, technology can be truly amazing! Thank you, everyone, that's already responded. Now for some really ignorant questions back to you...

rizzuto, you said something that I think is of major significance to me. I thought a "private tour" meant client(s) and guide, staying "privately" alone in the tent camp that they reserved. Were you saying that a private tour for me would mean that I plan it the way I want it; (somehow) arrange for a guide; and when we get to each location the other tents are occupied by people who have done the same as me? So that I won't be alone all the time with just the guide? I'm so confused. Do the other people have their own guides? How do meals and drives work? Do we all eat together and share vehicles? Is all that provided by the camp? I'm really not a moron, I've successfully planned all my trips, but this is so much more complex, complicated by all the unfamiliar African names. What's really throwing me, I think, is the terminology. I just got back from two weeks in Israel. My family hired a private guide. He was with us 24/7, in our private van (no other people), going with us from city to city. He escorted us to restaurants and all activities which we did privately. So, this whole guide thing and vehicles that can and can't cross borders and private reserves...ahhh, yes, I definitely need to do more reading.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 10:43 AM
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Lynn has a lot of good information (as always!) In 2006, we went to Botswana, then spent three days at Kirkman's, which is next to (and used to be part of) Mala Mala. This area is known as the Sabi Sand reserve and borders Kruger NP. You are almost guaranteed to see leopards and rhinos there, which you might not see in Botswana. Kirkman's is now part of CC Africa, and they don't usually charge a single supplement. Per their website for Kirkman's: "Single supplement waived for first two single rooms on any one booking."
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 10:55 AM
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I'm just curious...who are you guys? Obviously you're connected by your love of Africa and most of you seem to have travelled there extensively. But, you also seem to know one and other, or am I mistaken? Are some of you travel professionals?

As Sandi's already figured out, I'm not very experienced using talk forums, so forgive me if I've just crossed talk boundaries by asking (feel free to inform me of what proper forum etiquette is...)
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 11:12 AM
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aknards, the daily cost of the camp includes (typically) one morning and one afternoon game drive, and the game driver will have a guide (driver) and, at many camps, a tracker. You will be paired up with 2-5 other guests who are staying at the camp, and you'll have the same guide throughout your stay. The guide is usually an employee of the camp (or the organization that owns the camp).

Some of the people who post on the board are indeed tour operators or agents. Others, like myself, have no financial connection to safaris except for having to pay for them. At this time, there's no formal way of identifying who's who except for some due diligence and research in the forum.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 11:15 AM
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A few are safari planners and safari outfitters, but most of us just love to travel to Africa. There have been some rather ugly threads of late about whether the "professionals" should participate and whether they should identify themselves as such. No advertising is allowed on the Board and I think that our cadre of professionals are good about not crossing the line. The editors watch fairly closely, as to the other contributors. I, for one, am thankful for their contributions and am happy with how it currently works. I hope this doesn't start up those disCUSSions again!

I've been to Africa eight times and am passionate about it. Some people prefer private safaris and and other enjoy going with others. I've done both but, for the last couple of years, have organized an annual group safari for friends and others. I just love watching "newbies" experience Africa for the first time! My trip to Kenya next September is this kind of trip. I usually suggest East Africa for first-timers, but your initial e-mail sounded like you might prefer a wilder destination like Botswana, which is my favorite place in Southern Africa, with Sabi Sand a close second.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 11:21 AM
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aknards -

We were at one time in the same place as you... had to start somewhere. Many of us before the Internet and travel forums. But since then, we've gained experience and made return trips, so are glad to share what we can. Don't give it another thought.

Ask questions and we'll do our best to assist. Believe me, we're an eclectic group of Africaphiles
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 11:30 AM
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ShayTay,
Thank you for your candor. I find this forum fascinating, and I can't believe my good luck in stumbling onto it.

In my wildest dreams I can't imagine going to Africa eight times! Since I was little and first read Joy Adamson's trilogy, I've never stopped promising myself I'd get there. I was married 24 years - we went to Turkey, Portugal, Italy, etc., but I couldn't convince my husband to go to Africa. Well, now I'm alone and I'm finally going.

In just the last 24 hours, this forum has helped me start putting the pieces together. If one reads long enough and goes back far enough, every question's been asked and answered (numerous times) on this site. What a treasure!
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 01:36 PM
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Yes, the Forum is a great resource! As within any community, our experiences and personalities run the gamut. Some of us have actually gotten together, face-to-face. That was a lot of fun, putting faces to screen names and sharing experiences.
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 01:56 PM
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Dear Aknards

You've already had some great advice above, will try and add my random thoughts in a moment.

But firstly, you mentioned that many of us here seem to know each other and that's true - many of us are regular posters here and over the years we've asked questions, helped each other, witnessed each other's frustration, dithering and then excitement as a trip comes together, read each other's trip reports on our returns so that we feel we've almost lived each other's trips!!!
I started posting here back in 2000 (I'd been posting on the Europe board for quite a while already) as I had a trip in 2001.

And, as with many here, the trip came and went and I quickly realised that here were a bunch of people who shared my passions and understood th sadness that the trip was over, the wonderful memories, the yearning to go again.

With further advice from this board I planned a much longer trip (9 weeks) in 2004 and have just booked another one for next year.

As has been mentioned, a number of posters here are involved in the industry as safari planners, agents, operators, guides and perhaps even camp owners. Most are here not because they are looking for clients but because they, even more so than the rest of us, since they have made it their career, love Africa and love to share the joys of a good trip there.

In terms of your post... I agree with the suggestions of Botswana as a country that may fit your expectations of uncrowded and photogenic wildlife viewing. The advantage of many of the camps in Botswana is their small size - many have betwen 3 and 10 tents only which means 6 to 20 guests in total! There's nothing like feeling that one is truly in the wilderness and that there are many, many more animals than people sharing it with you! The downside of Botswana is that it is a pretty expensive safari destination though with advice from here you'll certainly be able to make your money go as far as it can.

But if your internal vision of Africa is the wide open savannah's of the Mara-Serengeti, punctuated by thorn trees and stalked by prey and predators then it may be better to opt for East Africa. Whilst there are certainly instances of many, many vehicles around a sighting (something I and many others have witnessed) it is possible, as I have learned from others here, to plan a trip that minimises that occurence. Again, that means staying in the smaller camps which ups the cost.

I would ask a few more questions, indelicate though they may seem.

Can you give an idea of your budget? Often people ask questions saying only that they have a small, medium or large budget or even that money is not an issue until they actually realise quite how high the cost can go! If you could give even a rough idea of your maximum budget (excl. of international air fare) it would help greatly.

Are there any particular animals you dream of seeing? Recommendations will differ if you respond with leopards or lions or wild dogs or a particular type of bird...

Does your 2 weeks include international travel time; if so where are you travelling from (so we can take off the appropriate number of days when helping propose possible destinations/ itineraries)?
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 04:50 PM
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Hi Kavey,

You asked excellent questions and I don't mind at all - in fact, I welcome your help. It's interesting that you mention the vision of wide open savannah because that's what I've always pictured, preferably with Kili somewhere in the background (I know that's incredibly cliched but, sorry, that's what I've always imagined...) So, until I found this Board, I was thinking possibly Tanzania/Kenya. But, the consensus here seemed to be that East Africa is very overcrowded and Botswana would be more of what I'm looking for.

What animals do I want to see? Lots and lots of lions, elephants and giraffes (I know, those giraffes are tougher to find.) Everything else would be terrific "icing."

My budget? I'm almost afraid to say because I've already made myself look the fool on this Board, but what the hell. Without international airfare, (I live in North Carolina, so could fly out of Atlanta or NY), I have about $6500 to spend. My 14-15 days would probably have to include overseas travel.

So, here's a really tough question I need to ask: do I have enough $$ and time to do a safari "justice" or, should I postpone this trip until I have more of both? (Obviously, more time and money would be ideal, but you know what I'm saying.) This is a real reality check for me, I kind of scared of the answers I'm going to get. However, if I'm going to do this, I want to do it right... Obviously, I'm not expecting you to make this decision for me, just offer an opinion. thanks
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