There is something alluring about going to Africa. Perhaps it is the wide open spaces, blue skies, white sandy beaches or hundreds of wild animals freely roaming the savannah. Or is it the intriguing mix of tradition and modernity that is evident in many African countries?
Whatever draws you, sharing this extra ordinary experience with your kids is magical, and you will no doubt create memories that will last a lifetime. Even then, planning a successful African safari can cause some anxiety especially when travelling with kids.
This article shares some practical tips that when incorporated in your planning, will make all the difference in your African trip with the kids.
Consider the Age of the Children
Even before you start planning your African safari, the first thing to consider is the age of your children and how long flights, day long game drives and other changes in environment might affect them.
Remember, an African safari is for the whole family to enjoy. If your children are too young, such as two or three years old, they might not fully appreciate the feeling of being in Africa. Taking care of smaller children in a new and limited environment (such as in a safari jeep) might also take a toll on the parents.
Given that for most people this is a once in a lifetime adventure, you might want to wait until everyone is old enough to appreciate and handle it.
Discuss your Safari Expectations with the Kids
Before embarking on your African safari, it might be helpful to discuss what the trip will entail and what expectations you have as a family. You can learn a few facts about the country you are visiting, as well as about the specific places.
If you will be going to some game reserves for instance the kids can learn more about the wild animals that they expect to see there.
You can also ask them what specific things they would like to do and incorporate these in your itinerary. This ensures that they are mentally prepared for the trip, and also stirs up their interest and excitement.
Get a Private Safari Vehicle
During your safari, you will be travelling in custom made 4*4 safari vehicles on most occasions. It is important to get a private safari vehicle for your family as opposed to a shared one.
A private vehicle allows you some freedoms that might not be possible otherwise. For example, if your child gets a meltdown in the middle of a game drive, you don’t have to worry about taking care of him and managing the feelings of other strangers in the vehicle with you.
You can also ask your driver to stop for any length of time, or drive back to the lodge in the middle of a game drive. This is not possible in a shared vehicle where schedules are strict.
Get Family Friendly Accommodation
When making your safari reservations, ensure that you get a family friendly lodge or camp. The most ideal would be one with interconnecting rooms where you are in one room and the children in the adjacent room. This way you know they are near you at all times.
Another important issue is food. A family oriented hotel will have more food options for children, and will be open to special requests. Even then it is important to carry some assorted snacks with you; they come in handy especially during long game drives.
Finally, check if your hotel has a children’s play room. Some will have a game room where kids can spend an hour or two especially in the early evenings.
Plan for a Variety of Activities
Game drives are a major component of an African safari. While they are exciting, you don’t want them to be the sole activity during the safari. Smaller children can especially get tired of long game drives.
Plan to incorporate other activities such as balloon safaris, cultural village visits, horse riding, swimming and walking safaris. This will ensure that the safari remains exciting and keeps the kids engaged.
Another way to keep the kids engaged is by bringing along binoculars and tasking them with identifying animals from afar. They can also take pictures with a disposable camera and smaller children can color and tick off the animals that they see.
Clothing and Footwear
The kind of clothes and footwear that you pack for your African safari will depend on the country you are visiting and the time of year. Unlike the US where seasons are clear cut, most of Africa experiences rainy seasons and hot, dry seasons.
Your travel agent will have advised you on the weather. Even then, it is better to err on the side of caution especially where children are involved. Carry with you some jackets in case of chilly mornings/evenings, hats and sunglasses.
Light long sleeved shirts/ t-shirts and pants are useful in protecting the skin against the sun and insect bites. For footwear, carry a pair of canvas shoes, and an open pair for the indoors. Do not forget to pack lots of sunscreen.
Medicine and Vaccinations
Pack any prescription medicine that your children might be taking, making sure that it is enough for the duration of the safari. Some game reserves are far from any major cities and you might not be able to get a refill. It is also important to carry other emergency medication such as Epi-Pens, inhalers, insect repellents and other allergy medication.
Yellow Fever vaccine and anti-malaria precaution are required when travelling to some parts of Africa where the diseases are prevalent. Again depending on where you are going inquire with your local immigration office on the best course of action. Your travel agent should also be able to advise you appropriately.
There is no place in the world that is completely safe or risk free. Booking your safari with a reputable company ensures that no corners are cut, putting your family at risk. As such, do your due diligence.
When travelling in the wild, ensure that your children understand that wild animals are dangerous and should not be provoked. For instance, they should not throw things at them, shout at them or wander about unsupervised.
Having the right travel insurance is important as it might help you mitigate issues such as missed flights, lost luggage and medical emergencies that might necessitate evacuation.
If you love travelling and adventure, then an African safari might be in your bucket list and be as exciting as watching a game of the NBA basketball odds. With some good planning and incorporating the tips above there is no reason why you should not have a fantastic, memorable African safari with your kids.