I design travel experiences for a living and we help many types of families arrange fun and adventurous family safaris. But there’s nothing like doing it yourself to remind one of what is really important when traveling with kids, especially to Africa. Here are my Top 10 tips for taking your family on safari to Africa.
Pacing: Don’t try to do too much and build in some flex time to fill as needed, depending on everyone’s mood and energy level. We pushed the limit on scheduling but were flexible also. Letting our 7 and 8 year old boys run like wild animals on the beach in the morning made the longer afternoon drives much more bearable.
Accommodations: Sure, we can all squeeze into one standard hotel room with two double beds, but is that what we really want? Make sure to pick camps, hotels and lodges with enough room for everyone to spread out and feel comfortable, while still staying within or near your budget. Apartments with kitchenettes are more prevalent in South Africa than many other African destinations.
Games, videos and music: Yes, take an iPad, Gameboy or MP3 player! Our kids are younger. They love playing video games, but we strictly limit their playing time at home. On our trip, we downloaded a few new games to our iPad and let them play longer than usual but not too long. It made the longer drives much more calm and allowed mom and dad some quiet time, especially on the arduous 24-36 hour plane flights to and from the United States.
Packing: Pack light but not too light. We went to Africa with 3 carry-on bags and 4 backpacks between the 4 of us. Traveling so light makes it much easier to get around and laundry service was available every place we stayed. But check the weather forecast for your destination. We were underdressed and quite chilly on some days. Take a stocking cap and warm jacket if traveling to South Africa May to September. (We did come home with 4 bags due to a large purchase! Another good reason to pack light – to allow some flexibility for souvenirs.)
Health and Safety: We brought plenty of antibiotics, anti-diarrhea tablets, bugspray and more. We didn’t use any of it, but it would have been very unpleasant if we’d needed it and didn’t have it on hand. South Africa has well-stocked pharmacies, but if you’re in a national park or game reserve, things won’t be as readily available.
Photography: Take enough cameras and video cameras. We had 4 cameras, two video cameras and two iPhones. We used them all. One video camera broke along the way. One kid’s camera ran out of memory, and we used the camera and video camera capabilities on our iPhones a lot.
Food: Diet before you go. I’m partially joking here. There’s so much food while on safari and the food in South Africa is especially good. Plan on gaining some weight while you are there!
Culture: Kids like to meet other kids. Make sure to give them opportunities to interact with children from other cultures.
Planning: When working with a travel planner like Africa Adventure Consultants, make sure you let them know what type of activities your family enjoys. South Africa is such a diverse destination; there are probably opportunities to incorporate them in a two week vacation. There are also lots of opportunities to put kid-friendly twists on traditional activities such as big game safaris. Our kids enjoyed making plaster castings of lion prints, amongst other things.
Flights: Buy the best seats and routing you can afford. While saving $50 looks good on paper 6 months before you go, you’ll definitely appreciate more leg room or shorter layovers, even at an additional cost, when faced with a 24-36 hour journey across 8 time zones.