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You Won’t Believe Where I’m Recommending You Take a Toddler on Vacation

This stress-free time reminded me of how enjoyable motherhood could be.

If you go on to most family travel Facebook groups, you’ll find parents frequently asking if it’s possible to bring a young child on a safari. Usually, the answer is “wait.” Honeymooners, retirees, and families with much older children typically book these adventurous trips. But after years of pandemic-induced quick trips, my husband and I were itching for an adventure. So, we ignored the classic commentary and booked a trip to Zambia with our four-year-old Wilder in tow. Despite the long trek to get there, going on safari with our toddler was the most relaxing family vacation yet.

Let me start by saying that although we’ve traveled to several countries and across the U.S. with our son from when he was a newborn, I’m not a go-with-the-flow mom. I thrive on schedules and routines, as does my four-year-old. But traveling is one of my greatest joys in life. So, I’ve endured many stressful moments, like eating dinner in the hotel bathroom to not wake the sleeping baby and meltdowns in security lines, to pursue my passion. While I left every trip with a positive takeaway, they weren’t always relaxing.

I was going to spend two days taking four flights across four continents to spend several days in a tented camp in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. To say I had some trepidation would be an understatement. After all, if he goes to bed late one night, I have a child who will be a cranky monster for days and wake up at the crack of dawn. I had no idea how he would react to a six-hour time difference, lengthy game drives, and more.

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Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the trip together. Here’s what to know and why you should consider it too.

Invest Time in Planning and Prep

Before ever stepping foot on the plane, I spent months planning and preparing for the trip. Although there were minor hiccups along the way, this prep work allowed us to enjoy the adventure fully.

First, it’s important to note that many safari operators won’t even accept children of Wilder’s age. That should be a starting point if you consider booking a similar getaway. However, we wanted to take it one step further and ensure the operator truly welcomed children, which is how we ended up staying at Time + Tide Africa. They had cribs, cots, a children’s menu for meals, and kid-focused activities like crafts, baking classes, and more. While every outfitter is different in terms of accommodations, pricing, and offerings, I recommend finding one that suits your family’s needs.

Jordi Lippe-McGraw

But choosing an operator that offers private game drivers is key when traveling with a toddler. Yes, it might be more expensive, but flexibility is essential. Usually, you go on a game drive with other guests staying at the camp. So, you all have to leave at the same time and come back at the same time. But, if you have a toddler, you know that sometimes it can take a little longer to get out the door, and bedtime might be a bit earlier than honeymooners.

A private driver means you can leave a few minutes after everyone to ensure your toddler gets a full breakfast, make a mid-drive stop to run around, and return early from an evening game drive to make bedtime. And we never had to worry about ruining someone else’s trip.

Besides the itinerary planning, I prepared as much as possible for my toddler’s tendencies. That meant I stocked our carry-on and suitcase with his favorite snacks, brought his comfort animals, and downloaded his favorite shows on the iPad. These all came in handy for the flight and on safari.

There Are No Daily Parenting Stresses

Although I spent a lot of energy preparing for the trip, everything was out of my hands once we got to the camp. One of the most stressful parts of parenting at home is all the planning and prepping.

On safari, a team does that for you. There’s a simple set schedule every day: eating and game drives. Someone else is driving, deciding where to go, and preparing your meals.

All we had to was choose from a daily menu for each meal and show up for the game drives. That’s it. By taking away so much of the mental load, I was able to be more present as a parent and enjoy our time together as a family. We even slept in one big bed together, which we’d never do at home. The stress-free time reminded me of how enjoyable motherhood could be.

A Safari Schedule Is the Perfect Toddler Routine

Part of what makes a safari doable with a toddler is that the schedule is ideal for little ones. You wake up early, have breakfast, and go on a game drive. While out, you have a snack stop before returning to camp for lunch and a nap. After a nap, it’s another snack, evening game drive, dinner, and bedtime. If it weren’t for the fact that we were in Africa witnessing elephants, giraffes, and lions in the wild, you’d think it was a typical daycare routine.

So, if you’re worried about planning a safari because the schedule and activities seem too intense, I’m here to tell you it’s quite the opposite. It’s the perfect routine for toddlers.

Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Toddler Moments Will Happen

Even with all the planning taken care of and a schedule primed for tots, it’s important to remember toddler moments will still happen. I knew Wilder wouldn’t suddenly become a different child just because we were in another hemisphere. Your child’s behavior will be the same on safari as it is at home.

My son is very active and needs time to run around. He also is sensitive to lack of sleep and food. So he had a rough day with a tantrum because we didn’t fully meet those basic needs (getting enough sleep and calories). However, once we did, he was pleasant again. The same thing would have happened at home. The difference was that since those daily parenting stressors were gone, we could approach the mini meltdown calmly and not let it ruin the day.

The Toddler Excitement Is Contagious

Now, this is the part where I get a little cheesy. Toddlers get excited by every little thing. On safari, it’s another level. Every animal was a big deal; the jeep was a built-in playground. Even finding sticks and leaves was exciting. You couldn’t help but find the same joy. Seeing these things through his eyes was one of the greatest parts of the trip and made me appreciate motherhood again.

And if you’re wondering whether or not he retained any information from the trip—a common reason against bringing a toddler on safari—I overheard him telling a friend back home about sausage fruit and hippos’ uniquely hilarious bowel movements.