My first memory of Africa was when I was a little girl watching the movie Born Free, the story of Elsa and her cubs. Intrigued by the beauty of the land and the wildlife, I've always had a deep appreciation for nature and the desire to explore.
It is amazing what you can see or learn about a country without even leaving home, but at a certain point it's time to stop dreaming or sitting in front of your computer and start packing your bags. I was able to plan a multi-country African safari around the Adventure Travel World Summit in Namibia. Kasey and I were going to four countries (Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia) over 28 days. Inspired by photographs and stories from my husband and son and their trips to Namibia, I spent a great deal of time preparing. I started by trying to get a good overview of the continent. Then I began studying our partners’ itineraries, camps, and lodges. After nearly 16 years in the adventure travel business I finally had the opportunity to embark on my first African journey.
Getting ready for a trip like this is a lot, but if you give yourself time, you can minimize the stress. First comes checking your passport. Passports need to be valid for at least six months after date of entry into the country (if you plan to arrive on March 1st, your passport needs to be valid through September 1st of that year) and that you have at least four blank pages. If your applying for your first passport, congratulations! Err on the side of caution and allow yourself at least six weeks to get the passport back.
Once you are sure you can legally get into the country, you’ll want to make sure you can leave as healthy as you came. You can consult with your doctor about which shots or vaccines are required and which are recommended. He or she may be able to give you the help you need, otherwise most towns have a travel clinic that will be able to help. You will most likely need antimalarial, Yellow Fever, and Typhoid shots. For our trip, it was also recommended to be current on our hepatitis series and tetanus, and to have had a flu shot. Every country is different; the Center for Disease Control website is a good resource. If you have other medical concerns, consult your primary care physician too. I also recommend that you ask for a prescription for Cipro, for infections, and bring more than enough of your essential prescribed medication should you get stuck somewhere on back end of your trip.
Before you leave home, don’t forget to notify your bank and credit card company that you will be traveling; tell them to which countries specifically. Doing so will prevent the fraud detection department from freezing your cards. Once in country, you can access ATMs or change currency at the airport. Carrying small bills is better for purchases once you get outside of the larger cities.
I have to admit I was dreading the long flight, but I kept telling myself the adventure waiting on the other side would be worth it. Getting to Johannesburg, South Africa from Billings, Montana seemed daunting, but, in reality, it was only three flights: Billings to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Johannesburg. I recommend when booking your flight, if you're not flying business class or economy comfort, to get an aisle seat and not too far from the bathroom (but not too close either!). Typically, the long international flights don't offer WiFi, but each seat has a TV monitor and offers a variety of entertainment. Food and beverage service tends to be better on the longer flights, but just in case, carry water and snacks in your pack. Don't forget to keep your toothbrush handy – it's nice to have it when you wake up.
Many international flights get in too late to meet your tour operator or guide so you may be on your own. We stayed at the Or Tambo Intercontinental, which happened to be across the street from the Johannesburg International Airport and was very accommodating. Check out the hotels in the area and see if they have services you might be able to enjoy on your first evening whether it be a glass of wine, spa, or fitness facilities. Most important when beginning a trip like this is a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow your adventure of a lifetime begins!