I am an adept travel planner — both for myself and for clients — and likewise undaunted by it. The hubby and I tackle fairly ambitious itineraries for three weeks each spring, and I do all the planning. None of these trips are with groups nor are they via cruise ships, and many involve driving wherever we go. But when it came to planning the upcoming trip to Africa, I’ll admit I needed to call in the heavy artillery. How does one even begin to decide where to go on this massive continent with 54 countries? Obviously one can rule out those on the travel advisory/warning lists, but that still leaves a huge number of countries offering safaris and destinations friendly to tourists. Alas, what to do. Forthwith, my step-by-step …
First, who do you know that’s been to Africa who travels in a similar manner to yours? Whenever I encountered someone I knew who had been, I did some brain-picking: Where did you go? How long? What time of year? Did you use a travel company? Likes and dislikes? How did you fly there? But – and this is a big but – as with anything you can spend all your time collecting information that does nothing more than serve to be confusing. Outline a basic framework and stick to it! Don’t be susceptible to constantly changing your mind by adding yet another piece of info.
Through trusted contacts (beginning in 2014) I was referred to three invaluable resources: DK Grand Safaris, African Travel Resources and the company ultimately chosen: andBeyond. From there I was on my way. Note, like getting to Africa itself from Los Angeles (28 to 30+ hours or more), this is not a short process ..
Once you decide on who you are going to work with, narrow down your choice of countries to a few and then go deep into finding out which work best for your particular goals. A big one is the time of year you want to or can travel, because heavy rains can play a big part. Obviously cost is another big one … and this is not a budget destination for sure.
Another key point is determining how to get to where you are going. I am a strategic, long-range planner regarding award seats with a pretty great track record. Many times the itinerary is planned based on the best air and then settling on the ground game, so to speak. We are flying through London and then south to Cape Town as our starting point; coming home is from Johannesburg to Hong Kong for a completely different experience. Options are key and I must give kudos to the folks at American Airlines for their help.
The potential downside to booking far in advance are the schedule changes. About six weeks out, I was reviewing our seat assignments (about which I am admittedly obsessed). I couldn’t access some info online so I called American and spent a good hour on the phone. One flight had been changed, and I was concerned that any delay from our departure (not exactly a long-shot) would result in a missed connection with a domino effect. I had them change us to an earlier flight which added a good connection cushion. Had I not called …! The takeaway is to reconfirm all your booking details! Well worth the investment of time.
In a little over two weeks, the hubby and I will be heading to Africa having been vaccinated, equipped with copious amounts bug repellent, stocked with extra camera batteries, neutral colored clothing, duffel bags, no jewelry, and a sense of adventure. Every person I spoke to who has been to this part of the world absolutely raved about the experience. So I look forward to sharing my stories with you …