After a few weeks of frustration and extreme disappointment over having our Middle East trip canceled yet again, I have fully switched into travel planning mode for our upcoming return trip to Africa this autumn. If you follow my blog closely, then you are likely well aware of how much I love the continent of Africa. Ever since I visited Tanzania a handful of years ago, I have wanted to make it back to this beautiful and amazing continent to explore some more. There is something truly special about Africa that touches you deeply when you visit. The landscapes are extreme, the wildlife is iconic, and the people are some of the friendliest I have met in my travels. That is why I am excited to start this Africa travel planning process and share it with you.
In this Africa travel planning series, I am going to share with you the process I will be using to plan my trip to visit the incredible countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Planning a trip to Africa can seem daunting, but after having visited the continent without a tour company in the past, I am much more confident in my planning this time around. I plan to review with you the different options available to you when planning a trip to Africa, as well as explain why we have made the planning decisions that we have made. In part one of this series, I am going to start by explaining how I started my Africa travel planning process.
Things We Want to See
One of the best parts about this trip is that we will be in very close proximity to incredible destinations in a number of different countries. There are a number of different places that we have long wanted to see in South Africa, including the amazing city of Cape Town, the beautiful Garden Route National Park, and the infamous Kruger National Park. However, we are also planning on using the city of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe as a hub for the second half of our trip, which will give us easy access to day tours in Zimbabwe and Botswana. Here is a high-level list of the places we have earmarked to see during our Africa travel planning for this trip.
- Table Mountain (in Cape Town)
- African Penguins (in Cape Town)
- The Garden Route National Park (South Africa)
- Golf on the coast of South Africa (George, South Africa)
- Kruger National Park (South Africa)
- Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)
- Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe)
- Chobe National Park (Botswana)
Options for Planning the Trip
When it comes to planning travel for any trip, there are multiple different ways in which you can do your planning. These options range from doing all of the travel planning yourself to paying someone to take care of all of the planning for you. Really, there are no bad options. It all comes down to how much control you want to have over the planning process and how comfortable you are doing the planning for the trip.
- Use a travel agent to book your travel
- Book a comprehensive, all-included tour
- Plan the entire trip ourselves
- Book smaller tours within a self-planned trip
Using a Travel Agent
By far, the easiest way to book a trip to Africa is to use a travel agency that specializes in travel to Africa. There are a number of great tour agencies out there that offer some incredible travel packages to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, and I have listed some of the ones I think are good for you to review below. I don’t have anything against using travel agents to book travel, but personally I like to have more control over my travel planning process and I have always been successful at saving money by doing most of the planning myself. Granted, this requires significantly more work on my end, but it is work that I enjoy. I also like the fact that I know exactly what I am missing out on when I do my own Africa travel planning because I have done all the research and made the decisions on what to include and not include on the trip itinerary myself.
Booking a Comprehensive Tour
Another way that you can plan a trip is to look for a comprehensive tour from a tour company. With a comprehensive tour, everything is planned for you. You don’t have to worry about booking transportation and flights, hotel accommodations, arranging border crossings, or booking excursions for your trip. All of this is typically arranged for you by the tour company. The tour company may give you a free day here and there, but generally, your trip is mostly planned for you, and you are part of a larger group traveling together.
When we planned our trip to the Middle East that got canceled, we decided to use a comprehensive tour from Tour Radar (I am a big fan of theirs) because we weren’t as comfortable planning transportation and border crossings in the Middle East. If you are interested in seeing some comprehensive tour packages for South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, I have included some good options that we reviewed below for you to check out.
The drawback of using a comprehensive tour is that you leave many of the planning options up to the tour company. Yes, you can search for a tour package that has as many of the things you want in it, but chances are there won’t be a tour package that includes everything you want and nothing you don’t want. Not to mention, you will likely be traveling with other people when you book a comprehensive tour. For many travelers, meeting new people is a perk, but it can also be a challenge. I have talked to travelers who have used comprehensive tours for safaris and wish they had a smaller group on safari because some travelers in their group weren’t comfortable with the vehicle getting too close to the animals. These are obviously things you will need to consider when deciding how to plan your trip.
|Southern Africa Safari|
|South African Sojourn with Victoria Falls|
|South African Sojourn with Victoria Falls & Chobe Area|
|10 Nights To Vic-Falls,Chobe, Hwange & Cape Town|
Planning the Entire Trip Ourselves
If you would like the most control possible over your travel itinerary and aren’t afraid to put in the work doing research, then planning the entire trip on your own is by far your best option. In addition to making sure you get to do all of the things you want to do on your trip, and only the things you want to do, chances are that you will be able to save quite a bit of money by planning the entire trip on your own. You will get to decide which parts of the trip you will search for bargains on and which parts of the trip you would like to splurge on. When I travel within the United States, I always do all of the planning on my own because I am very comfortable planning travel in my home country, and I know how to save money on booking travel here.
However, before you decide to start planning an entire trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana on your own, you should also understand the difficult logistics of this endeavor. You will need to make sure you rent the proper vehicle for going on safari in the national parks you visit, and you should make sure you are comfortable driving in these countries and within the parks. The roads within Kruger National Park are generally ok for novice overlanders (as they like to call backcountry road tripping in South Africa), but when you get to the national parks and conservation areas in Zimbabwe and Botswana, the roads are much trickier (with deep sand, wash outs, and other challenges) and fuel can be much more difficult to find if you don’t know where to look.
Using Tours on a Self-Planned Trip
One of my favorite ways to plan a trip when traveling internationally is to do the majority of the trip planning on my own but rely on smaller tours when navigating areas where I am less comfortable traveling on my own. This is what we did for your trip to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands. I planned our travel to Peru and Ecuador and all travel and accommodations while we were there. However, I booked a tour to see Machu Picchu (which is now required) and a tour of the Galápagos Islands. This worked out very well because we saved quite a bit of money using hotel points and frequent flier miles to keep our transportation and accommodation costs down, but we also didn’t have to worry about getting around in the Galápagos Islands and figuring out where to see the animals we wanted to see.
What We Decided to Do
For our Africa travel planning, we have decided to plan most of the transportation and accommodations on our own, but book tours to see all of the national parks that we would like to see. This will allow us to use frequent flier miles and hotel points to significantly lower the cost of our trip, and it will give us the flexibility to do things like golf along the Southern Coast of South Africa. In the next segments of my Africa travel planning series for our trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, I will explain in more detail what our itinerary will look like and how we are planning the logistics of the trip.