The Big 5 Game on Safari

African Lions by Natalie Parker 2

I heard the term “big five” used a lot while we were on safari: what the big five were, whether one had seen all of the big five, etc.

I soon found out that the big five game were the elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.  It seemed a bit odd to me to single those animals out as had to see.  Maybe it’s because I like giraffes.  Moving on.

It wasn’t until I decided to put together this post of some Big Five pictures that I found out what the origin of the term is.  It’s actually a hunting term — these animals were considered by hunters as the five most difficult animals to hunt in Africa on foot.  Later the term was adopted by safari companies for marketing purposes.  I suppose that explains why I was confused about why giraffes weren’t “big” enough to be in the group.  It certainly explains all the big five magnets and postcards!

Be that as it may, since I gathered the pictures, here are some of my favorites of the big five from our trip.

Leopard by Natalie Parker

Cape Buffalo by Natalie Parker

African Lions by Natalie Parker

Wihte Rhinos by Natalie Parker

African Elephant by Natalie Parker

Introvert’s Guide to Choosing a Safari

Botswana Giraffe by Natalie Parker

If anyone asks how we planned the safari portion of our trip, my head will explode.  Or yours.  Either way.

We did (or Mr. P did) a huge amount of research and reading to decide what we were going to do.  To save you that, it really comes down to two things: what region you will visit and how much money you want to spend (or what type of experience you want).

For us, it came down to choosing between Tanzania and Botswana.  Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what we had to decide.  A lot of the decision hinged on what we were comfortable with since we’re introverts and don’t like talking to people.  Animals are fine since they don’t talk to me.

Pros and Cons about Tanzania

Visiting the Serengeti.  Think “the Lion King.”  Most people when they think of safariing picture the vast Serengeti with herds of game.  Tanzania is the place to see it.

Cheaper.  We could hire our own private guide.  This would mean we introverts wouldn’t have to talk to other travelers, but it also might mean that we’d have to constantly talk to the guide.  We agonized over this bit.

Closed vehicles, driving long distances.  Transferring between different safari camps or areas is done by car.  Since the car will travel long distances, it’s not an open air vehicle.  These cars usually have windows that open and pop tops.  Still, it’s not as ideal for picture-taking or getting up close and personal.

National Parks mean more cars.  Although we could have a private guide experience, safariing isn’t closed off to 1 or 2 cars per area.  If there is a game sighting or you are visiting a famous location, you could run into as many as 30 other cars who are there to see the same thing.

Botswana Safari Leopard by Natalie Parker

Pros and Cons about Botswana

More expensive.  Botswana set out to deliver a particular type of higher-end safari product.  Safariing is done in private reserves and it generally costs more.

Private reserves mean fewer cars.  A safari camp on a private reserve will send out just a handful of cars.  It’s possible to go all day without seeing another car or just 1-2.  It feels much more private.

But that means you will probably share a car.  Unless you spend an ungodly amount of money for a private car, you will probably share a car with 2-4 other people during game drives.

Safari transfers by air = open air cars.  In Botswana, the safari companies have small aircraft and transfer guests to the different camps by air.  Aside from the cool experience of flying in a small plane, it also means that your car is open air.  It’s ideal for picture-taking and getting a good view of the animals.

Different landscape, smaller herds of game.  The landscape is different than the Serengeti and you are likely to see smaller herds.  But . . .

More up close and personal.  You will probably get closer to the animals since you are on private reserves and there are fewer cars.

Possible visit to Victoria Falls.  Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is very close to Botswana and can easily be added onto a trip.

Botswana Lion by Natalie Parker

What we Chose and Why

We agonized over whether having a private guide or having car-mates was the best way to go.  We chose Botswana and here’s why:

The open-air vehicle was worth having car-mates.  This turned out to be 100% true.  I would not trade the view we had from our car for anything.  And our car mates were very nice (of course they were, but it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we don’t like to talk to people).

We wanted the experience Botswana was offering, even if it meant that we wouldn’t see huge herds of animals.  Believe me, we saw plenty.  See above, fewer lions but extreme closeup.

Adding South Africa.  We added a safari camp in South Africa to our itinerary so we could see white rhinos.  I liked having the safari experience in two countries.  Plus, we got to add in some time in Cape Town at the end.

Easier to fly to.  We got to South Africa to start our safari with one layover.  To Tanzania, we would have needed 2 stops.

We were able to get a green season deal.  We traveled in November and were able to get a few deals on our safari package because it wasn’t the “high season” yet.  This does mean that there wasn’t as much game as there would be a month or two later, but we did see a lot.  It also meant that there might be bug issues, but that’s a story for later.

Is having a private guide really better for introverts?  Or is having car mates better?  Honestly, the latter.  Yep.  For a couple of the days, the camp wasn’t fully booked so we had a car with just us.  We felt like we were “on the spot” a lot, with our guide making more conversation with us, us having to be more communicative about what we were thinking/feeling during game drives, having to talk more during our stops for coffee and drinks, etc.  It was hard to simply sit and observe the animals sometimes because they thought we were bored unless we said something (when you stop taking pictures, they sometimes think it’s time to move on).  Having car-mates meant that we could quietly observe animals or step away from the group when we were stopped.  Definitely food for thought.

What would you pick?  I hope this helps fellow introverts!


Things You Should Never Wear on a Plane and Other Travel Reading

Air France A380 by Natalie Parker

7 Things to Never Wear on a Plane.  Yep.  All the yeps here.  I know some would disagree with the flip flop statement, but you never know when you are going to be running through the airport or on an unexpectedly cool plane.

Visa-Free Travel to Brazil.  Citizens of the US and a handful of other countries can travel to Brazil without a visa this summer.  Perhaps due to this summer’s Olympics in Rio, this could be an awesome thing if you saw a last minute low fare and wanted to hop on a plane to check it out.  I still really REALLY regret not doing that for London 2012.

CNN’s Emerging Destinations for 2016.  Yes please.  All of the above.  When do we leave?

Greenland Travel: What You Need to Know.  On that note, check out this blogger I picked up on recently and her trip to Greenland and Iceland.  I want to go to Greenland!!! (I spared you the all caps, but picture a tantrum-ing toddler saying that).

Hotel Currency Conversion Scam.  I’m with Lucky on this one, it’s totally scammy.  When using your credit card in foreign countries, always always be proactive and tell them you want it charged in local currency before they run the card.  They should give you a choice but you never know who will think they’re doing you a favor by charging in your home currency (and ripping you off with a crap exchange rate).  Check out my post here for more tips on using credit cards abroad.

Have you Ever Seen a 5-Engine 747.  This is way cool and kind of freaky.

How to Stay in Shape on the Road.  All kinds of fail from Mr. P and I on this during our recent 38-day trip.  I really liked this post and will consider his ideas for our next trip.

New Guide to British Etiquette at Heathrow.  I thought it was super cute.  It will be shown to incoming passengers.  After you . .

Why I Don’t Send Postcards and Do Something Better

Happy Mail by Natalie Parker

I rarely send postcards while traveling.  Not never, but rarely.  My niece and nephew better be feeling pretty special right about now because they got one of the two we sent on our 38-day trip.

Why I Don’t Send Postcards

Postcards are easy to find.  Stamps aren’t as easy.  Some places will sell international postcard stamps along with the cards themselves, but it’s sometimes a ripoff.  Once I tried to mail a stack of postcards from the Louvre on our first ever trip abroad and it was actually cheaper and faster to mail them inside an envelope (although it looked kind of dumb).

If I have postcards and stamps, I have to make sure I have the time to write something and it’s usually super quick.  Finally, I have to find some place to mail them.  Mail boxes aren’t as ubiquitous as you’d think in every country.  Sure, I can hand them to the front desk at a hotel, but I’m not always staying in a hotel.

What I Do Instead

Earlier I talked about why and how I buy gifts on trips.  Half the fun is giving the gift to the person when I get home.  Sometimes I give it in person but most of the time I mail it.  Enter the Weasley mail.

I love packaging things up, picking a cute card from my stationary stash, then going through my vintage stamps and adding up enough to mail the package.

Does this take longer?  Yep.  It’s an involved process to weigh, write, wrap, address, and stamp everything.  But I love sending mail and I love taking my time with each step.

I think this is so much more awesome than sending postcards.

That Time Someone Broke into Our Hotel Room at 2am

Do Not Disturb

Yep, it really happened.  Technically the guy didn’t realize he was breaking in.  But let’s back up a sec.

Why do hotel rooms in South Africa not have latches or safety chains?  Seriously, why?  My scientific sample is 3 hotels in two major cities of varying niceness (not including safari lodges).  No safety chains.  No latches.

On the very first night of our trip, we were staying at the City Lodge at the JNB Airport.  We had to transfer to our first safari the next day and an airport hotel for our jet lagged souls was the easiest.

At 2am, I woke up to the sound of someone opening our hotel room door.  I shoved Mr. P awake (gender roles, awesome.  He also kills spiders).  He leapt out of bed and ran to the door, yelling the whole time.

Poor strange guy who tried to get into our room.  He was so freaked out.  He was halfway down the hall by the time Mr. P got there.  Turns out the hotel checked him in and gave him a key to our room.  In the middle of the night.  Obviously, we weren’t pleased.  He told us that he’d go back to the desk to yell at them and straighten it out and we could go back to sleep.  Right, after we calm the hell down, sure we’ll go back to sleep.

I thought this was an issue just for the City Lodge.  But nope.  Our super nice boutique hotel in Rosebank did not have a latch.  Neither did the Protea in Cape Town.

I hope someone can shed some light on this.  In a country where travelers are warned about crime, why aren’t there latches?  We can put aside the social commentary on crime and whether the warnings are necessary or correct for a sec.  Let’s agree for the sake of argument that it is an issue if the hotel room binder includes information about what to do if you get carjacked as well as what the hotel pool hours are.

Any thoughts from folks who live there or who have traveled there more than me?  This doesn’t affect my desire to go back to South Africa.  We were already dreaming of our next trip before we left.

Photo courtesy Pelle Sten via Creative Commons license.

Is there a “right” way to travel? Our 38-Day Itinerary

Bon Voyage by Natalie Parker

Short answer: there is no right way to travel.  But, we sure can kill ourselves if we think we’re doing it wrong.

Mr. P and I planned a very ambitious 38-day trip around the globe.  Very. Ambitious.  Some may think it’s “wrong” to hop in and out of so many countries, that one should spend a lot of time to “really experience” what a country and culture has to offer (dare I say more “authentic?”).  We used to think that too.

We started planning this trip around a 10-day safari.  There were so many other places we wanted to go and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to take this much time off work again.  In previous trips, we spent time in one country or one region.  It felt weird to switch around a lot.  We really wanted to go to India, but we also really wanted to go to Vietnam.  But if we were in Vietnam, we were really close to Cambodia.  Wouldn’t it make sense to see Angkor Wat if we were already in that part of the world?  Could we make it work in just one day?  Would we have to chose between Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal?

Then we let go.  And went for it.

Our 38-day Itinerary

Here is how our trip shaped up:

  1. Fly to London (Overnight)
  2. Fly to Johannesburg, South Africa (Overnight)
  3. Arrive Johannesburg, South Africa
  4. Travel to Shidleza Safari Camp, South Africa
  5. Shindzela Safari Camp, South Africa
  6. Shindzela Safari Camp, South Africa
  7. Shindzela Safari Camp (Morning), Travel to Johannesburg (Evening)
  8. Travel Kwara Camp, Botswana
  9. Kwara Camp, Botswana
  10. Kwara Camp, Botswana
  11. Kwara Camp, Botswana (Morning), Travel to Kwando Lagoon, Botswana (Evening)
  12. Kwando Lagoon, Botswana
  13. Kwando Lagoon, Botswana
  14. Kwando Lagoon, Botswana (Morning), Travel to Cape Town, South Africa (Evening)
  15. Cape Town, South Africa
  16. Cape Town, South Africa
  17. Travel to Dubai (Overnight – Layover)
  18. Travel to Malé, Transfer to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
  19. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
  20. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
  21. Travel to New Delhi, India via Colombo, Sri Lanka
  22. New Delhi, India (Morning), Travel to Jaipur, India (Late Evening)
  23. Jaipur, India
  24. Travel to Agra, India (Taj Mahal)
  25. Agra, India (Morning), Travel to New Delhi, India (Afternoon)
  26. Travel to Singapore
  27. Singapore
  28. Singapore
  29. Travel to Hanoi, Vietnam
  30. Travel to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
  31. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (Morning), Travel to Hanoi, Vietnam (Evening)
  32. Travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia
  33. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  34. Travel to Da Nang, Vietnam via Ho Chi Minh City
  35. Da Nang, Vietnam
  36. Travel to Hong Kong via Hanoi, Vietnam
  37. Hong Kong
  38. Travel to San Francisco

How Did we Do?

It was an awesome trip.  We spent a lot of time in planes, but I’m happy that we were able to see everything we wanted to see.  Sometimes I felt a bit like we were “checking the box” travelers, trying to get in the big sites.  But, we purposefully didn’t see every single must-see in every city.  We knew we were getting just the flavor of a place and stuck to it.  We also tried to stick in relaxing time during parts of the trip and used resorts in the Maldives and Da Nang to recharge.

Still, every time we used a guide, we had to explain why we were spending so little time in their country.  When it came down to spending a little time somewhere or not spending any time, we chose the little.

There are SO many places we want to go back to.  We knew that would happen.  We are always going to want to go everywhere.  It’s always going to be hard to decide what to do with vacation time and funds.

I’m not sure if we’d plan a trip this crazy again, but it was the best experience.  Seriously, how many times are you going to be somewhere where the Maldives are actually on the way to your next destination?  Americans will understand.

The card above is this one by kikki.K.  I picked it up during a card shopping spree at their Christmas sale while we were in Singapore.  

38 days, 7 countries, 1 duffel

Traveling Around the World in A Duffel Bag by Natalie Parker (1)

38 days, 7 countries, 1 duffel bag each.  This is the lightest bag I ever packed.  Back when we went to China in 2012, we took one large suitcase, 2 carry-on size rolling suitcases, plus a backpack and a purse.  What were we thinking?

On this trip, we were severely restricted on the weight of the luggage because of our safari flights.  We were only allowed 44lbs total per person (including carry-ons) and our luggage could have no hard sides or frames.  How’s that for a challenge?  It’d be one thing if we were in safari/backpacking clothes for all 38 days, but we weren’t.  We needed to dress for our safari and be able to have a night on the town in Singapore.

How did we do?  Amazingly.  I wore every single thing in the suitcase and never really felt that I was under dressed for anything (except when Emirates decided they’d rather not deliver our luggage to the Maldives in a timely manner, a story for later).  It helped that we didn’t go anywhere that is super cold this time of the year.

Traveling Around the World in A Duffel Bag by Natalie Parker (2)

Dragging these duffels through 20+ airports, I thought the chance for divorce was quite high.  It turned out to be a piece of cake.  We used luggage carts whenever we could (mostly to put our carry-ons down and give our shoulders a break) and the bag wasn’t too heavy to carry on my shoulder.

We used the High Sierra 30-inch Wheel-N-Go Duffel.  It was inexpensive and a fantastic purchase.  None of the straps broke even though we checked it onto 29 flights.  There are wheels so it can be dragged easily, but not as easily as a regular rolling suitcase because there is no frame.  But, because there’s no frame, it can be rolled up and stored.

I still prefer a regular rolling suitcase, but this bag was seriously the next best thing.

Technically, it was these two duffels, plus a backpack for Mr. P, a purse for me, plus my Longchamp bag to carry the cameras and chargers.  I didn’t need the space in the Longchamp bag, but I didn’t want to pack any electronic, even a charger, in our checked duffels.  That would come to pay off (another story for later).  Toward the end of the trip, I filled the Longchamp bag with fragile souvenirs and Mr. P carried a very small additional bag with souvenirs and a change of clothes.