Planning a Trip to South Africa

Traveling 7,850 miles to another country on the other side of the world is no trivial trip. We spent hours deliberating whether we could go, when, how we would travel and what we would see and do. Here’s what we did and how we planned the trip.

Airplane tickets from the U.S. to Johannesburg are not inexpensive and our initial research discovered prices from $1,600 to well over $2,000 each depending on time and final destination. We learned to do the math. At the time of our research, prices in South African Rand tended to be 14% in U.S. dollars. So if lodging was R1400, it was really $200. We researched the cost of lodging, in country airfare, trains, rental cars, and petrol. We looked into park entry fees, game lodges, and food and came up with a budget we could afford. We factored in travel time, made an initial itinerary, and extended our vacation time from 3 weeks to 4. We told the kids and bought our tickets. Now it was time to plan.

We bought books and checked books out from the library, finding “Rough Guide” and “Lonely Planet” books to be the most detailed and most informative. We ordered maps online, and most importantly, we talked to people. We spoke to local friends who spent 7 years living in South Africa. We spoke to our friends who live there now, making appointments to talk on Saturday mornings when it was 8 a.m. at our house and 3 p.m. at theirs.

Another college friend of my husband’s, who brought her family to South Africa the previous summer, proved to be our most valuable resource. Through email and phone calls we asked her numerous questions. What did they do? What did they wish they’d done? What would they do differently? We ended up staying at two of the accommodations they recommended and following a similar route to theirs.

We read Trip Advisor online forums and reviews. We used Google Maps to get directions to and from many places and to get an idea of distance and travel times. Before we left, my husband used Google to “drive” a few sections of road, becoming more comfortable with the roads before actually driving them, and I became intimate with the country and its geography. Now we were ready to go.

By planning the trip ourselves, we were able to do the trip. We controlled the cost and the activities, choosing to stay at many self-catering options in order to afford the game lodge safari experience at the end. And once we were there, we reveled in the experience. We lived South Africa, and the 4 weeks flew by with little disruption or surprises in our itinerary.

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