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!
Having spent the last 14 years in the adventure travel business you can imagine that I have had the chance to visit many a wonderful place!
Whether you’re looking for someplace to host a corporate retreat or a romantic weekend, when it comes to spas Red Mountain is my personal favorite, hands down. How can you beat the location! St. George, Utah is nestled in the vibrant red rock landscape, complimented by the bright blue sky. It's just a quick trip from Las Vegas, away from the daily hustle, and one can be as active or relaxed as they choose.
When the resort first opened it offered more of a medical concentration on health and wellness. As the years have passed, Red Mountain has evolved into a full on resort and spa. Among the amenities, guests will find several daily unlimited classes to choose from during their stay. The complimentary schedule includes Pilates, yoga, Zumba, cooking and nutrition classes. For those looking for more action they can hop on a bike and explore Snow Canyon.
For the outdoor enthusiasts, the resort’s “back yard” offers a plethora of convenient options: hiking, biking and photography. Red Mountain is happy to call many of the local State and National parks "neighbors," all of which showcase a natural display of desert animal life, unique botanicals and dynamic rock formations. In particular, Snow Canyon State Park is home to 7,000 acres of red rock canyons and cliffs, lava caves and two volcanic cones. St. George’s climate creates an ideal environment to enjoy outdoor adventures year round.
Additional services that are not included, but can be taken advantage of, range from health and wellness consultation, digital photography field classes, Anaszai pottery workshops, and canyoneering, just to name a few. Enjoy onsite dining in the Canyon Breeze Restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Guests can also get healthy options that are backpack ready at the Canyon Counter. If you forgot something, visit the general store on site for everything from powerbars to Chacos.
I have to confess, my last visit to Red Mountain was a little lazy. Our day started with sipping coffee on the balcony of our villa watching the sunrise. The next decision; which classes to take for the day? Still more decisions to make: which treatments to have at the Sagestone Spa. I look forward to my next visit this coming February when Dan and I will be hosting the couples wellness retreat February 10-15, 2013! We hope you join us!
When most people think of "riding" in South Dakota an image of a Harley Davidson comes to mind. On South Dakota cycling tours you'll explore the "Badlands" by pedaling on two wheels!
Rapid City is often called the "Gateway to the Black Hills" and the "City of Presidents". Your adventure begins and ends in Rapid City. Named after the creek that runs nearby Rapid Creek.
What can I do on my South Dakota vacation? Many ask. As an adventure vacation destination there are many highlights; Mount Rushmore, Chief Crazy Horse Monument, Custer State Park, Reptile Gardens, The Badlands, Wall Drug, Deadwood, The Passion Play and of course the Sturgis Bike Rally. The pine covered mountains and prarie lands are abundant in wildlfe and natural attractions. You can also try your hand at Texas Hold'em; Slots, Progressive Poker or Black Jack!
When it comes to cycling tours, what most dont know is that the Mickelson Trail is on the list of many cyclsts to do list. The trail offers a great way to get out and explore the countryside of South Dakota. Part of the Rails to Trails, the Mickelson Trail is an old railbed. constructed in 1890 it operated as a dedicated route until 1983. You can cycle the entire trail in one day or split it out into a few days. The trail was named after the state governonr George S Mickelson. Established in this cycling trail Adventure is a total of 110 miles.
And if you would like to try some good local cuisine a visit to Kevin Costner's restaurant or bar & grill. Located on the main street of Deadwood.
I will leave you with "Where the heck is Wall Drug?"
Your adventure friend,
Any one who has traveled with an adventure travel company will tell you it was their guide(s) who made their adventure vacation. When it comes to our "Ambassadors" in the field its no surprise that Austin-Lehman guide team Nikki & Eric Keely are the cream of the crop!.
Both Nikki & Eric grew up in the Alleghany Mountain region of Northwest Pennsylvania. But, the didnt actually meet until six years ago in North Carolina. When they aren't guiding guests through the wonders of our National Parks they are out having their own adventures. Both are passionate about life, laughter, family, meeting new people, music and sports.
Having been on many wonderful adventure vacations with Austin-Lehman I for one, know that they could take me anywhere, even camping in my back yard and it would be an exceptional advednture!
Your Friendly Adventure Travel Gal,
It all started with a casual conversation with my daughter's college roommate at her graduation last May. "Hey, Jacq, you should go to Peru with Kasey and me" . A couple of weeks later our group had grown from two to four, and then to five. A few more weeks down the road and our group is now seven in total, our final number ended up being eight!
I love to travel in South and Central America, and Peru has been on my bucket list of adventures for a very long time. The scenery is fantastic, the food is delicious and the locals are so friendly that I have a hard time leaving them.
In order to get ready for this adventure I have been training for the last six months. Four mornings a week I have been going to fit camp at the gym at 5:30 am. Yes, it sounds crazy, but, I have to be able to keep up with the youngsters in the group! I know that day when we climb Huayana Picchu I will thank our fearless fit camp leader Angie for all of those extra lunges. While I cant do much to prepare for the altitude, the rest of me (body & soul) will be strong and ready to trek on down the trail!
I have been so excited about our trip, that even though my suitcase is still on the shelf in the garage I have packed and repacked my bag and my pack in my sleep! Counting the days until our departure and watching weather.com!
Your Travel Wizard,
What kid doesn't love swimming, camp fire cookouts, sleeping out under the stars and water wars! Kids (and adults) of all ages are in for a treat when they launch on this exciting Idaho Family Salmon River Raft . You'll spend the next 6 days traveling through the canyons of the Snake and Salmon River, hoot and holler while you swim the river and ride the rapids. On the banks of the Salmon and Snake hone your "corndogging" skills. Learn the history of the Snake and Salmon Rivers including tales of the Nez Perce Indians and Chinese miners of the late 1800's.
When looking family adventure vacations make sure to put this trip at the top of your list!
Your Family Adventure Wizard,
I have had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon many times. Its tough to choose my favorite Grand Canyon Vacation memory, but here are a few.
Arechologists say that the Grand Canyon was first inhabitated by Native Americans nearly 10,000 years ago. The first non-native inhabitants were Spanish soldiers who explored the South Rim of the canyon with Hopi guides in 1540. This mission of this expedition: searching for the "Seven Cities of Gold". In 1869 John Wesley Powell, a one armed Civil War veteran led the first voyage to explore the Grand Canyon.
I have rafted the Grand Canyon on a j-rig in the big waters of the spring of 2011. Sleeping under the starlight skies as our journey took us the 187 miles from Marble Canyon to Lava Falls. in a contstant state of the change the Grand Canyon takes you on a magical journey back in geologic time. Massive canyon walls that display the eons of natural history, at one place dark and narrow, and at another lush with waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet in amazing veils of water. Our daily stops included hikes to sparkling streams, pristine pools, green fern glens, and ancient Anasazi ruins. The mind thrilling twists and turns of the Grand Canyon entice you with the thrill of over 60 rapids.
One of my personal favorite hiking vacations was in the Grand Canyon to Havasupai. Havasupai translates to the "People of the Blue Green Waters". This lush tropical slot canyon off of the Grand Canyon is an amazing utopia in the middle of a very dry land. Lush tropical gardens, thundering waterfalls, travertine pools filled (refershing after a day of hiking) canyons filled with grape vines and the clearest skies imaginable at night.
See you out on the trails,
Austin-Lehman Adventures has been showing our guest the best of our country’s National Parks for the last 27 years. We strive to incorporate the “hidden” gems on our National Park Tours. We also provide professional and knowledgable guides to show you the way and explain how we can help to preserve and protect our National Parks for tomorrow’s generation. We decided to share our top 10 “uncovered” gems of our National Park tours. Don’t worry we still have plenty up our sleeve…
1,) Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is home to a wide range of beautiful scenery, but probably best known for their stunning glacier carved valleys and enormous granite walls. John Muir named this place the ‘range of light’ and for good reason. One place to really get a full scale of these massive valleys is from Glacier Point, 3,214 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. Although Glacier Point is not “hidden” this spot is often over looked, this scenic point can be accessed by a 30-45min drive from the valley floor.
2.) Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is renowned for its amazing scenery and wildlife, here at ALA we try to show our guest a side of Yellowstone that they might not see on their own. That is why we have created Safaris in Yellowstone. What is a safari in Yellowstone you ask? An expedition to one of the most premiere wildlife viewing spots in North America. Often referred to as the “Serengeti of the West” we set out for the Lamar Valley to observe animals in their natural habitat, the ALA way! Our morning starts off at 5am at our hotel in Mammoth Hot springs, early morning is the best time to view the wildlife. Then we drove into the Lamar Valley, to catch a glimpse of grizzly bears, wolves, elk, herds of bison, antelope, black and brown bears.
3.) Canyonlands National Park
A real treat on our Utah- Arches to Moab trip is a bike ride along the Island in the Sky route. The Island in the Sky trail takes you along a sheer-walled mesa that is in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. The route follows the rim of the mesa, with scenic points where you get amazing views out over the surrounding country, including rugged canyons that have been carved by the Colorado and Green rivers. In many places the surrounding country is 1,000 feet down, virtually straight down, just an added bonuses to this all ready heart pumping ride.
4.) Wind Cave National Park – South Dakota
Did you know that the United State’s 7th national park was created in none other than South Dakota? Not only that, but this national park was created underground! Wind Cave National Park takes the status of the world’s first “cave national park” and is comprised of one of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems as well as the mixed grass prairie, ponderosa pine forests, and assortment of wildlife that flourish above the cave’s surface. Containing nearly 95% of the world’s boxwork formation, this cave lacks the stalactites, stalagmites, bats, dampness, and creepy crawlies that you’d normally associate with a cave. On ALA’s South Dakota tour, we descend into the depths of the cave with our national park service guide by our side. You’ll be amazed by the unique formations, colorful stories, and the general “feel” of the cool, dark cave!
5.) Kenai Fjords National Park
On our Alaska Adventure, you’ll be entering the only section of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by road. Explore valleys sculpted by glaciers and get up close and personal with Exit Glacier, one of the out-flowing glaciers of the magnificent 700 square mile Harding Icefield. You’ll discover firsthand how plant life reclaims the barren rocky landscape as you ascend from green, luscious plant vegetation to an “as-far-as-the-eye-can-see” moon-like display of snow and ice. Views along the Exit Glacier Trail are nothing other than spectacular, but if you can ascend to the summit (which is definitely a challenge), you will remember the views of a lifetime (especially if you’re lucky enough to experience a clear visibility day!)
6.) Grand Teton National Park
Kayaking the pristine, clear waters of Jackson Lake is one of those experiences where you can’t help but think “Life is Good!” Keep an eye out for bald eagles, mule deer, osprey, and maybe even a playful group of river otters on the banks. Settle into a comfortable pace as you paddle your kayak through the calm lake near a wild bird sanctuary. About three-quarters of the way through this loop, we make a stop at our own private rocky beach. As we eat a cold bowl of ice cream on a hot, sunny day, we take in the magnificent views of the square-topped Mount Moran, seemingly emerging out of the far end of Jackson Lake! After skipping some rocks, building a few log structures and even playing a little “King of the Kayak,” we’ll head out for the marina where we will indulge in a tasty, nutritious lunch at a beautiful picnic area on the shores of our playground!
7.) Yellowstone – Wapati Trail
Experience all of the thrills of Yellowstone National Park in one single hike! Walk through the rolling grasslands covered in wildflowers with names like Indian Paintbrush, Yellow Columbine, and Fireweed, and keep an eye out for the enormous rack of a bull elk laying in the shade of a lodgepole pine tree. “Walk on the moon” as you enter a barren, white-out landscape created by one of Yellowstone’s four geothermal features: a hissing, steaming fumaroles. Continue past the lily pad pond and up a short, steeper section of trail to emerge upon one of the most beautiful views you will see in a lifetime – the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
8.) Bryce Canyon National Park
Hike the magical hoodoo rock formations of Bryce’s Peek-a-Boo trail. This trail gives you amazing views of the Hoodoo formations. Hoodoos are tall slender spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands. The formation name is Claron Limestone, the rock’s age is from Paleocene or Eocene age, 40-60 mya. The Native Americans believed that the Hoodoo formations would come to live as giants and ward off intruders.
9.) Zion National Park
Kolob Canyons is home to magnificent mountains of red sandstone. Kolob Canyons is a remote 30,000 acre block of Zion National Park located northwest of Zion Canyon. It boasts the parks highest peaks – Horse Ranch Mountain at 8,726 feet and some of Zion’s youngest strata. The Kolob Arch flaunts one of the longest spanning freestanding arches in the world. The structure is an adult alcove natural arch set high on an exposed cliff. It was made as a result of vertical joint expansion, wall collapse and erosion.
10.) Glacier National Park
Hiking the Iceberg Lake Trail, the hike surrounds you in amazing flora with bear grass as high as your chest. The lake trail also provides some of the finest wildlife viewing opportunities in Glacier National Park. The vertical elevation gain of 1200 feet, providing unsurpassed views of the park. Lake Iceberg is named for the “icebergs” that float around on the lake. The lake sits in the shadows on the northern flank of Mt. Wilbur, receiving very little sun.
That is it for now… If you want to see some more uncovered gems of our National Parks, join us on one of our National Park Tours.
Your friends at Austin-Lehman Adventures
Carol getting to know the locals!
Over the past 13 seasons I have had the pleasure of working with many guests, helping them choose the adventure that is just right for them. That said, my favorite trips to plan are customs vacations and or exclusive adventures. I love going from A-Z, start to finish with the group, family, or just friends getting together for that special adventure vacation of a lifetime. Nothing gives me a better sense of accomplishment than knowing its another trip well done!
So many times I have heard conversations like this: “At dinner with the Smith’s last week my husband John mentioned we were looking to take our family to Alaska and then the Smith’s chimed in they too were looking for an Alaskan Adventure. We started talking and mentioned we had such an amazing Family Adventure to Yellowstone with Austin-Lehman Adventures, we offered to make the call. The Smith’s then went on to mention their friends the Jone’s were talking about an Alaska Adventure as well. So I volunteered to call you”.
And there is starts…. You find yourself “chairing” the planning and scheduling of an adventure vacation for 3 families, with lots of different ideas, dreams and expectations. No need to be worried, every great experience starts with that first step…. And that first step doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
In the next few minutes I am going to try and share some simple steps I have learned and used these last dozen plus years. I will try and take away a bit of the anxiety and put in a dose of reality and a pinch of fun! These 12 steps can be used for an extended multigenerational family vacationor corporate retreat, for a singles getaway for that special group of girlfriends or just you and yours wanting something really special.
Without boasting I will take a minute and share just a few of my favorites these last few years….
How about the Grandfather that called wanting help in taking his two grandchildren on a National Parks Vacation. The catch being they wanted to do 5 National Parks in 6 days by private jet… we made it happen!
Or there was the very special 60th birthday party on the island of Kaui for a dozen friends celebrating this special occasion. The special day and moment came at sunset, standing in the surf, cocktail in hand as the Hawaiian Trio played and a helicopter dropped rose peddles from the sky… (OK that’s one of my favorites and doesn’t happen every day).
One more was a custom Yellowstone National Park adventure for the mother, her sons, their spouses and their children. 3 generations, 20 willing adventurers of all ages and desires. Everything from horseback riding, rafting, hiking, to wine tasting (for the adults while the kids were treated to a poolside pizza party)
The point is, anything and everything for anyone is possible! It just starts with that first step (call) and we will do our part to make it as easy as possible.
Key is information and education… you first need to determine a rough idea of who the group is and what they may want. So before you get too far into it, try kicking things off with a “get together” of the key decision makers. Be prepared to ask at least the following questions and take copious notes…
1. Narrow down your destination, its ok to have a couple but not more than three. Keeping it simple really helps when trying to decide. Be sure to agree on domestic or foreign.
2. When is the best time for everyone (caution here, this can be a big challenge), try and get all to block out at least a few dates.
3. Budget- Better get what the budget is or can be on the table early in the process.
4. Wish List- Next up key activities and the wish list of everything you want to do. (Horseback riding, rafting, biking, etc..)
5. Get an idea (this ties back to budget) on type of accommodations and or camping… try and get a consensus. Example: 4 start Lodges.
6. Length- Also tied to budget is the overall length, be sure to allow a day or two on either end for traveling.
** OK, now armed with the above you are ready to “make a few calls” or emails for that matter (with Custom and Exclusive adventures I prefer). Pick one or two tour operators (preferably from personal experience and or direct referrals, with googling up on the internet a distant 3rd choice). Then pick up the phone and give them a call! (refer to: http://www.austinlehman.com/choosing-a-tour-operator-pages-477.php , for some additional tips and tricks for picking a Tour Operator)
7. Be up front and let them know you are just the spokesperson for a group and describe the demographics of your party!
8. Work with your adventure consultant to come up with 2-3 detailed rough and simple itineraries. Do not put endless hours into the details until you have a few sample itineraries to supply your group. No need to flesh out what you are doing on day 3 until you have determined if you are going to Alaska or Belize on your adventure. Get a budget on the 2-3 itineraries and take back to your party.
9. Almost Ready- Armed with a rough itinerary, budget, destination and dates, you will soon find out how easy it’s going to be… often this is the case, but occasionally its back to the drawing board. But if you did 1-6 above, you should be dang close and should be able to get everyone to agree on at least the next phase.
10. Top Pick- Once you have that “top pick” ask for the nuances from the group. What they really like, what might be missing, special events (birthdates, anniversaries, etc.) and take this information back to your adventure consultant. Share all the details…
11. Remember- With all this in place you should be able to get a final itinerary (remembering it’s a Custom/Exclusive Vacation and can be adjusted at any point, including while on the fly, ask me and I will tell you a few fun ones). With the final itinerary you should be able to lock in dates and pricing.
12. The last step should be even simpler, now hand it off to your adventure consultant you have been working with and their team to work with all the individuals to get the final details, deposits, paperwork, insurance, etc., all in place. This doesn’t have to be your choir, it’s what they (we) get paid to do. All we need is the list of participants and contact information.
Now step back.. there will be a lot of back and forth, a lot of Q&A before the actual trip, but relax, you did your part (and a great job you did I might add).
When the day finally arrives and you find yourself heading out to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime with the fellow travelers you help get on their way, you will smile ear to ear with the extra satisfaction that comes with being a key contributor in creating the perfect Custom Vacation!
In closing I will share one of my most memorable compliments, it came from a grandmother that I worked with to arrange a 80th birthday trip for her husband, adult children and grand children to Costa Rica. She called me from the hotel in Gunancaste to tell me how perfect and fantastic everything was. A couple of years later I had the pleasure of working with her again to plan a trip with the family for her 75th birthday. We are already talking about what we are going to do for his 90TH!
your friendly travel expert,