surfin' safari: everything you need to know about going on a safari
happy monday everyone!
i am so excited to finally be able to sit down and share all of the details of my trip to africa back in december! while this wasn’t my first time in africa (or going on a safari), it was my first time going as a photographer and/or blogger or even being slightly prepared for what was to come. the last time i went to africa was when i was in high school when my parents and i went to malawi for a mission trip and then onto a nearby safari with an ending in zambia. we went during august so the weather was tolerable but still hot during the day. and don’t even let me get started on my atrocious packing job! back in 2010, pinterest just started but it wasn’t really a “thing” yet, so i really didn’t have any resources to figure out what to wear. as a result, i basically packed nike shorts and t-shirts and felt so out of place. this time around, it was my chance to redo it all, and redo it right! so let’s kick off this recap with the most logical transition: what i packed!
what i packed
leading up to the trip, i probably got 3 emails a week from my dad reminding me that my total weight of my suitcase could only be 35 pounds. let that sink in for a minute.
thirty. five. pounds.
i know, i was definitely freaking out too. but i took a deep breath and just ordered one of everything from nordstrom. the main reason i ordered the majority of my pieces from them was simply because i would be able to return the pieces that i didn’t bring with me after i got back the trip and not be restricted to a 30-day return policy. so i started ordering things almost immediately after the trip was booked: about two and a half months before we left. as i briefly mentioned in the beginning, the first safari i went on, i only had neon nike shorts and that was far from practical. so this time i knew better and opted for neutral tones (whites, tans, browns, and greens - aka anything to blend into my surroundings) and thin layers. i tried to pack as many pieces that could be interchangeable with each other to create different outfits in an effort to not waste space in my bag.
so what exactly did i bring for 11 days in africa? including the clothes i brought for the next two countries, my complete packing list included:
2 short sleeved t-shirts
2 long sleeved t-shirts
2 button down shirts
3 pants (including one pair of jeans)
2 lightweight jackets
2 thin knit sweatshirts
2 pairs of sweatpants (for the plane)
1 pajama shirt
4 pajama shorts
handful of underwear (duh)
4 pairs of socks
4 sports bras
1 regular bra
2 hats - do not forget hats!!
2 handbags (for cape town - i didn’t need to impress the lions with my trendy pvc bag)
2 hiking boots ( which ended up being 3 because one of mine broke while at jfk!)
1 pair of flip flops
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of slides
1 pair of espadrille flats
and of course, limited jewelry, travel-sized toiletries, minimal makeup (i only brought foundation and mascara), and i threw in a pair of slippers for the plane.
all of this had to be packed in a soft shell suitcase and ended up using this one from my last africa trip…no cute steamline luggage this time around. but in all honesty, safari trip aside, the reason i’ve held onto this duffle for so long is because it’s truly high quality! it is surprisingly light, sturdy, and incredibly durable! i don’t think i’ll ever get rid of it…no matter how “unfashionable” it is haha!
once everything was all packed up and not an inch was spared in this tiny bag, it was time to weigh it. it came to a grand total of 26.2 pounds! i was genuinely shocked and incredibly proud of myself. especially when my weekend trips to the hamptons have at least 40 pounds of luggage!
how to prepare
before traveling to any developing country, some shots and/or vaccines may be needed. i gave myself about a month buffer before leaving to get my booster shots. i found a travel doctor here on the upper east side where you just go in and out in a few minutes. thankfully many of the shots i got the first time around lasted up to 10 years so i just needed two shots total - and because we weren’t going to zambia this time around (or a yellow-fever zoned country), i didn’t need a yellow fever shot #blessed. the doctor then prescribed me two pills to bring with me: one being for malaria that you take a few days before leaving, every day during the trip, and a few days when you come home (to be safe), and one in case i got sick while there (because when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s good to have just in case). for specific vaccines or requirements for the destination you’re going to, use this resource here!
in order to reduce our exposure to malaria while we were there, it is recommended to spray any external clothes (i.e. not on underwear or undershirts or on the inside of clothing) with a chemical called deet or something comparable…basically strong af bug spray. this is what i ended up using on all of my clothes for the safari and victoria falls only! i went up to my rooftop to spray the outside of all of these clothes and let them air out. it is also incredibly important to never use this on skin or get it in your eyes! be sure to check out my “africa” highlight for more details on this!
once i was packed and ready to go, i had to mentally prepare myself for the 14.5 hour flight (16 hours on the way back). i am actually pretty okay when it comes to flying long distances especially when it comes to overnight flights…just don’t forget the melatonin pills! the only thing is that i get bored really quickly when i’m awake for obvious reasons. while my parents flew by delta out of detroit (where they live and where i’m originally from) and had to transfer in atlanta before their flight to johannesburg, my bother and i were lucky enough to have a direct flight from jfk with south african air. i guess i’ve just been spoiled in the past because on nearly every international flight i’ve taken (99% of the time with delta) there has been wifi and an incredible movie selection, but this was not the case on our flight where there was no wifi and movies that i’m pretty sure i owned at one point on vhs.
once we all landed and made it to johannesburg, we checked into the intercontinental hotel located just across the street from the airport to be convenient for our next flight in the morning. i couldn’t even begin to tell you how happy i was to have a 5-hour long shower and a good meal after that flight.
after sleeping for seemingly ever, the next morning we got up bright and early for our flight from johannesburg to maun, botswana. this flight was only about an hour and a half but once we landed, we spent almost another hour and a half waiting to go through botswana customs because there was only one woman working it. we then had to go back through security to get on another plane to head to the actual safari in the okavango delta, but this time it was super tiny and only sat 10 people! this plane was the reason our luggage could only be 35 pounds and in a soft-shell suitcase. we rode with one other family who was going to another camp nearby and continued flying after they dropped us off. this last flight was only about 45 minutes but was so bumpy and crammed, if you are claustrophobic or get motion sickness, definitely look for alternate routes or shorter flight times.
all in all, including the flight to johannesburg, it took us almost 18 hours of just flying time alone to get there!
where we stayed
once we arrived to the okavango delta, we were met by our guide on the tarmac with our safari jeep and taken to our camp. we stayed at seba camp in botswana: part of the wilderness safaris group. we were greeted with song by some of the staff were given a quick overview of the property before heading out immediately on our first drive.
the amenities on the property were pretty minimal and to be honest, i wasn’t impressed. the decor was bare but there was plumbing and electricity in the tents but those were pretty much the only perks…oh and an open bar. there was a pool but it was a funky green color and i didn’t want to test my fate. clearly i was not the planner this time around. but while the ambiance of the camp didn’t spark much joy for me, the staff was truly incredible! they really went above and beyond to make sure you were happy and felt comfortable. they even set up the cutest christmas tree on christmas!
our typical day was laid out with a wakeup call at 5am, breakfast at 6, followed by a morning drive (with a break somewhere in the delta to stretch our legs and have a drink), returning for bunch at around 10/11ish, a siesta until 3, an evening drive concluding with a sundowner out in the delta, and then returning for a communal dinner at about 7/8ish. it’s safe to say that i was exhausted after each and every day! there were a few drives that my mom and brother opted out of but with me being the photographer, i felt as if i couldn’t miss a drive. and honestly, i did get kind of annoyed with the drives after the second day because the jeeps are so clunky and you’re basically off-roading for 4 hours straight, i was just getting physically tossed around. then, on top of that, i was in the sun that whole time. yes i had a hat and yes i had sunscreen (#spf100) but it was just draining. this is why i would strongly recommend that people spend no more than 3-4 days on the actual safari itself…and once you’ve seen one zebra, you’ve seen them all haha.
one thing i did love about this camp was how communal it was. there were about 4 other families who were there at the same time as us and it was fun to chat with them all and hear about where they came from. shockingly we were the only ones from america! there was a family from canada, one from switzerland, and even one from a neighboring town in botswana!
i received a few questions about how safe i felt on the safari especially since we were getting crazy close to the animals. i can honestly say i always felt completely safe. the animals on the reserve are so used to the safari trucks driving around that essentially they are like another tree to them haha! juuuuust don’t get out of the car without your guide saying it’s okay because when you’re in the truck, the animals view you as one object…not 5 people inside one. and when you’re out on a drive, that is definitely not the time to play any pranks on siblings and try and funny business.
i’m going to be completely honest here and say i don’t really know, but i know it wasn’t cheap. i was incredibly fortunate enough to travel with my family for this trip and my parents planned and paid for everything. we also went during one of their peak times of the year (right before christmas) so prices definitely reflected that but just looking on their website now, the camp we stayed at shows a current rate $1000/person/night and this includes all lodging, food, drinks, and guide.
the price really is also dependent on what kind of camp you choose to stay at. i know there were camps that were more budget friendly (minimal electricity and fewer amenities) and others that were super luxurious (air conditioning, wifi, etc): it’s all up to what you’re comfortable spending.
how it was planned
as i mentioned, my parents (primarily my dad) did the planning on this trip. it was a welcomed break for me as i’m typically the planner on all of my family and blogging trips. my dad enlisted the help of abercrombie & kent to coordinate the camps and all of the transportation logistics. while there were so many times where i was so thankful we hand them (like meeting us everywhere we landed and making sure we got on the proper flights, transportation to and from the camps, etc), the actual planning of our stays didn’t quite meet my expectations. for example, when my dad received his initial itinerary we were planning on going to sabi sabi in the kruger national park in south africa. after that we would have needed to fly back to johannesburg, and then take another flight into victoria falls. geographically this didn’t make entire sense because we would have been seemingly bouncing all around the southern part of africa. so at the realization of this, my dad suggested that we move to a camp geographically closer to victoria falls with the goal of a shorter and more logical travel time. abercrombie & kent may have made the switch to seba camp in botswana but what they failed to tell us was that it was essentially the same amount of travel time. after the camp we had to take a tiny flight to maun, then another flight almost to the border of zimbabwe, and then an hour and a half drive to victoria falls (needing to get out twice to go through customs and get a visa).
it was little things like that where i felt abercrombie & kent wouldn’t ever be my first choice again when planning something so complicated because everything wasn’t explicitly laid out for us to look over and it wasn’t clear what amenities were going to be available at each of the places. we still had an amazing time but the next time we go to africa, sabi sabi will definitely be where we go!
what i wish i knew
how actually hot it was going to be. i definitely checked the weather before leaving and saw that it was going to be hot but holy crap it was hot. did i mention it was hot? some days it hit a high of 110 degrees and during the siestas i would take a cold shower every hour just to maintain a reasonable body temperature. i think one of the reasons i was taken aback by how hot and uncomfortable i was was because the last time i was on a safari, it was in their winter so the lack of air conditioning wasn’t noticed. but boy did i notice it this time haha!
the last thing i wish i knew was that there was no wifi or even an ounce of cell service at all. now, if you’re friends with me, you’re probably sick of me venting about how i didn’t have wifi for nearly 5 days…
“we get it allie!” - all of my friends
but it was something that i wasn’t expecting because i confirmed with the team (aka my parents) that there was wifi at the camp. granted i could have checked beforehand but i was really enjoying not being the planner for this trip (but won’t make that mistake again). i didn’t make the proper arrangements like planning my christmas blog posts in advance, downloading movies, even just putting up an out of office email! ugh! but now that it’s been almost a month and a half, i can safely say i’m over it. kind of.
i hope you all enjoyed this and i hope it answered any questions you may have had about the trip! still to come are all of the photos because that’s really what everyone cares about, right?