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South Africa With Toddler In Tow. Who here has done it and how did it go?


Nov 19th, 2013, 03:53 PM
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South Africa With Toddler In Tow. Who here has done it and how did it go?

I'll be making about my 10th trip to Africa, and about my 7th to South Africa but this time, for the first time, it will be with a child, as my wife and I will be with our 15 month old daughter.

We're hoping for the best on the flights, LAX - London Heathrow - Johannesburg - Durban and elected to save money by having her on our lap. It is my understanding that providing there is an empty seat, that they will allow a baby to occupy the seat and make every effort to seat us all together. We still had to pay, what was it, 20% or so of the fare because it is international rather than domestic (children under 2 fly free in the USA), but it was still worth the 80% savings, or I am saying that now prior to the actual experience.

We are starting out with 3 nights in Durban at the end of next May as I am running the Comrades Marathon (89 kilometer "ultra marathon") and I booked us into a great looking furnished apartment right on the beach and just about half a mile away from the Hilton which is the host hotel for the 20,000 runner strong race. I just thought it would be nicer for us to have our own little apartment on the beach with our own kitchen, washing machine/dryer and other amenities lacking in a hotel room and I've had nothing but good luck using AirBNB.com in the past where I booked this after reading only glowing reviews for this individual apartment.

We will have a rental car throughout the trip and after our 3 nights in Durban are completed it is about a 3 hour drive to our next stop, Isibindi Zulu Lodge, a safari lodge but more focused on cultural activities with Zulu dance performances, than on gameviewing (there are no predators in the traversing area or at least no lions or leopards). I thought this would be a nice experience and it looks like a great place.

From there, it is another 3 hour drive or so to our next safari lodge, Leopard Mountain Lodge, set in the Big 5 Zululand Rhino Reserve, where we will spend 3 nights. This is a little tricky because at the moment, my wife is hesitant to leave our daughter, during game drives, with a babysitter provided by the lodge. Maybe that will change but for now we are talking about alternately each going on game drives as, obviously, a 15 month old cannot go on game drives.

This gets us going on our route that will make for a more forgiving drive (another 2.5 hours?) to our 4 nights at Thonga Beach Lodge, set on the Maputaland Coast, not far south from the Mozambique border. The only other lodge within a dozen or more miles, I believe, is Rocktail Bay, but I preferred the looks of Thonga Beach Lodge. This will be nice as we'll have four days altogether as a family on a pristine beach that should still have nice enough weather despite it being early June (winter) due to its location on the Indian Ocean bordering Mozambique.

Then, we finish up with 3 nights at Mkuze Falls Game Reserve, a 5 star luxury lodge that has been on my radar for half a decade or more. I picked up a package on LuxuryLink.com for an unbeatable price, I mean even lower than cost for a tour operator. Mkuze Falls is in the Pongola area around some other really nice looking 5 star lodges but it is NOT in Mkuze Game Reserve. Mkuze Falls is located about halfway between Durban and Joburg so, from there, we are just driving back to JNB for our onward flight home.

Any tips for traveling with a toddler, rental car, experiences with daycare at safari lodges, etc. will be greatly appreciated!

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Nov 20th, 2013, 12:59 PM
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Took me by surprise that you'd be taking the toddler.

While I'm not one to put my hands in your pockets, but that's a long time for a 15/mo twisting/turning toddler to be sitting on anyone's lap. Besides getting them to sleep, their ears are constantly popping and the crying that goes along with it. You'll soon find out how many other paxs that will be want to be as far away as seats available.

From friends who have been flight attendents tell what a horror having 'lap babies' who are the first to fly out of your control if any turbulance. Better to pay and have a childseat (airline approved).

Childseat also good for any vehicle rentals, but if for some reason you decide against bringing your own, be sure the rental firms provide these. Unless either of you plan to be carrying 'little Ms. Princess' - do consider one of those inexpensive umbrella type strollers... they do tire eventually from walking about or need a nap mid-day and it's easier to sleep in one of these when you're trying to grab a bite to eat at a roadside restaurant or while shopping.

While it's great to be able to take little ones when traveling even long distances, lots of things have to be considered for everyone's comfort and being able to enjoy the experience.

Regarding nanny services at hotels or camps, best replies will come direct from wherever you plan to stay as you know the little one won't be able to go out on game drives. Also, when needed during your game drives or wanting a quiet dinner for yourselves, verify again the nanny services and costs (they're often quite reasonable for a few hours).

Another thing to verify is what foods they have for little ones and if you can have early dinners. Though I'm certain as you'll be doing quite a bit of driving, should be many markets where you can pick-up foods that she'd prefer. And if yours still sleeps in a crib, inquire if these are available with mossie nets when staying out in the bush.

Unless you are assured to be in malaria free areas, you have to consider, besides for yourselves malaria meds, Malarone for her - there is a child dosage (based on weight which I believe up to 40/lbs, am sure she's way less) and know there is now a generic available at slightly lower cost.

That's a place to start, let us know what success in finding answers.
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Nov 22nd, 2013, 08:52 AM
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It will be low malaria risk areas and in winter but we will definitely follow the guidelines. I imagine she'll likely be about 35 pounds by then as she's already 21 pounds at 7.5 months and she's tall.

Each place I selected does offer nanny/babysitting services and it is at a very forgiving price (about $4 per hour, probably enough to cover their daily pay, I'm guessing, and, of course, we'd tip on top of that).

Flying in will be each low season to Europe (LAX - London Heathrow) and low season in South Africa (LHR - Johannesburg), I just believe it is a good $1,000+ gamble that there will be an extra seat available to my daughter at no cost.

By the time she's 14 months, I trust that she will be eating a lot of regular foods and there is just such a wide selection at 4 and 5 star safari and beach lodges in South Africa that I'm sure she'll be fine on that front. That's one place where the Southern African safari lodges, particularly those in South Africa, definitely edge out the Eastern African safari lodges. I'll wait until she's a few years older for Tanzania or Kenya as the wildlife/predators are so prevalent there that I'd freak out if we lost sight
of her for even two seconds.

It will definitely be an adventure of a lifetime, experiencing South Africa with a 14 month old toddler...lucky girl!!! Hopefully she doesn't turn her nose up at Disney World / Hawaii / Mexico in order to demand Africa every year!
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Nov 22nd, 2013, 08:53 AM
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Ooops, actually, flying into London will be far from low season, end of May, but still not as bad as if we were flying two weeks later once school is out.
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Nov 22nd, 2013, 09:54 AM
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Let her turn up her nose as much as she wishes... you're the one paying and where you go, so too does she. Just wait till she reaches her teen years, if not earlier. If not already a Princess, just wait for those challenges ahead.
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Nov 23rd, 2013, 11:17 AM
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It sounds wonderful, Roccco. But I wouldn't count on an empty plane seat. Every time I've gone to SA over the last 30 some years, the plane has been full.

Have fun!

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Nov 23rd, 2013, 12:17 PM
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I usually fly from Vancouver to Heathrow in May and am always amazed at how packed the flights are.

You might try paying the approx $50 per seat for pre booking. Book an aisle and a window in a row with 3 seats and hope no one sits in the middle one.
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Nov 23rd, 2013, 06:40 PM
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Hey Rocco,

Great to hear from you. I seldom come onto Fodors anymore ....... but, I'm sure you would also get some valuable suggestions if you posted on safaritalk .......

I'm sure your daughter will have a fabulous time in SA.

Would definitely like to hear about your Comrades adventures (I wish I still had the legs for it - but, I don't) ......

Good luck
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Feb 4th, 2014, 04:18 PM
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Kath BC, thanks for the recommendation...$50 would be a small price to pay for the increased chance that my 14 month old daughter has her own seat.

HariS, I'll be sure to tell you ALL about my Comrades Marathon experience. I am good and ready to tackle all 55 miles of Comrades and can hardly wait!! Back when I was 250+ pounds and visiting Southern Africa frequently, there was no way I could have ever run Comrades but now it should be a mere formality as I've already run tougher and longer races.

Don't rule out your own run at Comrades even if it takes you every bit of those 12 hours to complete it. If not Comrades, then at least run the Two Oceans (56k/35 mile) Marathon in Cape Town. It is my favorite race to date in about 140 marathons/ultras completed.
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