Parents may be reluctant to take their young children on an African safari, here’s why I highly recommend it.
For the longest time, while selling dream safaris to clients, one of my biggest annoyances was having to customize itineraries to include children. “Children should not be allowed to travel” were words I actually uttered. “Why does anyone think taking their kids on safari is a good idea” was spewed out of my mouth. I would glare unapologetically at the parents trying to hush their screaming baby on a 15-hour flight. I used to look down my nose in disgust at those who let their offspring run around the hotel reception while they checked-in. But fast forward to 2012 and suddenly I was a mother. Okay not so suddenly. It took the usual 9 months but at the age of 38, I finally had a son. My views dramatically changed and I became that person. “What do you mean you don’t permit children under the age of 10 at your lodge?” “You don’t have a kids club, what kind of establishment are you?” I went from searching for airlines that didn’t allow anyone younger than 18 on board, to questioning why restaurants, hotels, and stores were not more child-friendly. Have you ever tried navigating the aisles of Gap with a stroller? Everything shifted. The focus of my life was no longer about enjoying the fruits of my labour. My focus became wanting to share my passion for travelling with my child. I wanted to be able to give him the opportunity to see and do all that I had and more.
And so began the journey of travelling with an infant, then a toddler and most recently a 5-year-old boy going on 30! What I discovered is that one, it’s possible. Two, it’s pleasant, actually more than pleasant it’s delightful! Three, there are major benefits to having a small person in tow – priority boarding anyone? But the true reward of exploring the planet with your little person is that there is something so revitalising about seeing everything through the non-judgmental eyes of a child. To be able to perceive things with such fervent innocence is a gift, long forgotten by most adults.
I cannot count the number of game drives I have been on, throughout a multitude of reserves, in numerous countries. I can remember the first time I saw a leopard, it was in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana in October 2012. (The fact it only took 39 years of my existence on earth before I saw one is a whole other blog post!) I can call to mind my first bush walk in the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape. I came within metres of no less than 6 cheetahs in June 2014. I recall the thrill of following wild dog on the hunt through the Sabi Sands in March 2015. When I look through my wildlife photographs it can take a while to remember where they were, who I was with, and what stood out most on that safari. I had become rather blasé in regards to how privileged I was to get to see all the animals few get a chance to see in the wild. Yet every time I have been on a wildlife adventure with my son, it is exactly that, a new and exciting adventure. It was once again exhilarating to see an impala. You know, those antelope you see on every corner. The ones called the McDonalds of the bush for that reason. That and because they are “fast food” for the predators and have a big M on their butt! I had almost forgotten how ridiculously good looking these graceful gazelles were! Taking family safaris with my son has forced me to slow down and appreciate all the sights and sounds of nature. This is essential if I want him to get a true bush education. One that he will not get in any brick and mortar classroom.
Embarking on a family safari is something that brings great joy to me. But, I am definitely not naïve when it comes to the challenges of travelling with a child! Kids have a short attention span, and instantaneously get bored, tired, hungry and need the bathroom. None of which are easily managed on a game drive. My little treasure slept through one of the most exciting animal interactions we have ever encountered. It involved a leopard and hyena fighting over an impala and was loud! But with planning and prep work, I can pay testament to the fact that it is remarkably rewarding to take your children travelling from a young age. Be prepared that once the bug has bitten there is no turning back! The bar was set exceptionally high on our African adventure last year. We took him to Mauritius, the Sabi Sands and Cape Town, so this has now become the expectation. We can’t be going on a vacation if it doesn’t involve flying long haul! We cannot wait for later this year when we visit Cape Town, Botswana and Victoria Falls together. It does, however, mean giving up my daily latte for a while as we endeavour to save up for the trip!
A few words to the wise…
- Regardless of how good the entertainment system is on board, airplanes can be boring. Make sure to pack a couple of books, crayons, colouring and activity books (age-related). Do not forget that favourite teddy bear, regardless of how threadbare, dirty or stinky it may be. If it is necessary to induce sleep it is necessary that it gets on the plane. The mealtimes and choices on board are also limited, so pack some familiar snacks and treats.
- Try to find a game lodge which has a dedicated kids club. Look for the ones that offer a range of activities for children of all ages and not only a child minding service. Besides having the usual play area, arts and crafts centres and story-telling, many lodges offer junior ranger programmes, nature walks, cooking classes, scavenger hunts, tree planting, fishing, as well as many other fun and educational features. Parents do your homework!
- When considering which game lodge to stay at, those with family tents or suites are preferable if you have younger children. Larger families, or two or more families travelling together, should investigate the option of a booking a private villa or house. This may actually work out more cost effective. It also comes with the added benefits of a private guide, vehicle, chef and more.
- A private vehicle and guide give more flexibility with the timing and duration of your game drives. This is important when you have kids. It also means you don’t have to worry about your brood upsetting any of the other guests on the game vehicle. You also don’t want to end up in the same 4×4 as a twitcher who will wait hours to get the perfect picture of the elusive white-winged Flufftail! Adults may even get bored and whiney at this point!
- If you have a spare camera, give it to your child to document the trip as they see it. Don’t direct what they shoot, you may be pleasantly surprised by some of the pics they capture. It will also give them a huge sense of freedom and accomplishment.
- It is exciting to see a pride of lion or a herd of elephant on a game drive, but there are times when you will not see any animals. Thus it is vital to have a ranger who shares his knowledge about the smaller creatures, plants, animal prints and poop, in an interesting and entertaining way for the whole family.
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