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  • by Gretchen Richter de Medeiros

"South Africa: we are already looking forward to the day that we ­return."

For me, half the fun of traveling is planning the journey. During the three years that we were saving money, I read countless books about the countries we were considering. I sketched out possible routes on a poster-sized wet-erase map and tracked airline ticket prices online. I followed travel bloggers and thought about our budget.

Determining a plan for Africa took longer and was more difficult, somehow, than the other countries on our itinerary. Perhaps this was because Africa felt more unknown and dangerous than South America and Europe. None of us had ever been to any African nation, so we had no first-hand knowledge of what it would be like. Additionally, there were times when it seemed that only Heather and I were truly excited about the adventure. Rodrigo was game, but the children were decidedly lukewarm. Even encouraging them that an African safari would be as cool as all the animal experiences we’d enjoyed visiting the Brazilian Pantanal in 2011 didn’t peak their interest.

Only slightly daunted, I persisted. On a weekend-escape to the woods I read Lonely Planet’s South Africa cover-to-cover, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness, and An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants. I interviewed friends, some who had volunteered in African orphanages, and some who were from, or had lived in, South Africa. Heather’s friend shared a slide-show about her safari in Kruger. We watched National Geographic videos and flipped through photo books filled with people, landscapes, and animals.

After all that, I knew for sure, Africa was going to happen! And South Africa was determined as the place to go.

When we arrived in Brazil we still felt uncertain that we could be DIY travelers in South Africa despite the fact that we had 3 months of successful travel through South America. So I reached out to two recommended travel agents; Global Basecamps focused on Cape Town and road-tripping along The Garden Route while Outlook Safaris organized our time in Kruger.

What a different experience it was to have someone else plan this leg of our trip! Instead of spending hours reading through TripAdvisor reviews and waiting days for responses from potential apartments, B&Bs, and Inns, I only had to read through the agent’s suggestions (and found myself having to push for less-fancy lodging). Instead of worrying about where we’d buy groceries or do our laundry, I was thrilled that our agents handed us that info on a (electronic) silver platter. I stopped worrying about logistics and started getting excited about the things we’d do and the animals we’d see.

I’m happy to report that we were all thrilled with our visit to South Africa. Cape Town was gorgeous, clean, and easy-to-get-around-in. Our road-trip was stress-free thanks to pre-printed driving directions, quality, modern highways and great road signs. Each animal-encounter was more amazing than the previous (these all deserve their own blog entries, watch for them soon!). Our safaris were all that we’d hoped they would be and more.

Once in-country, we realized that our worries were truly unfounded. We didn’t need to spend the money to hire the travel agents, but I don’t regret that we did. We are already looking forward to the day that we ­return under our own planning-power.

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