How do you get the most out of your African safari? After all, you've spent your hard-earned money and set aside your precious time to come all this way. I've spent countless hours on safari around all sorts of different guests and also seen hundreds of feedback forms from our own travelers. All this data has given me a real window into how you can extract maximum value from your time on safari or traveling anywhere in the world!
1. Ask questionsIn Africa, this usually means asking your guide about the animals and plants that you encounter. Our highly-skilled, naturalist guides are a wealth of information. One recent guest remarked, "We felt as though we were with professors with Ph.Ds in every natural science. We learned so much about the animals and the complexity of the habitat and how every feature of every species, plant and animal fits together and is designed for the benefit of that species survival or the benefit of another species survival." Seeing wildlife is only a quarter of the experience – the other three-quarters is in-depth learning!
Not sure what to ask? Start with the basics: What, How, Where, Why, When, Who? How many lions are in a pride? Why do zebras have stripes? How do giraffes sleep? What is so special about a termite mound? Where do elephants get their water in the dry season? Guides love to share their knowledge and have the most fun with guests who are inquisitive.
2. Actively listen and reflect
Once you ask a question, really listen. This means concentrating on what your guide says, trying to understand it and relating it to information that you already know. Pay attention to information that surprises you or is different from what you originally thought. Some guests even keep a journal of things they learn each day or reflect on new ideas during dinner at the end of the day. This reinforces what you are learning so you can better remember and share when you get home. Often it leads to even deeper questions.
3. Say "Yes" to new experiences
Part of what makes an adventure an adventure is stepping into the unknown. Stretch your boundaries, get out of your comfort zone, give something new a whirl! Walking safari with your guide in the bush? Yes, please! Try some homemade banana beer? Sure! Paddle a canoe in the Zambezi? Let's do it! Read with some students in a local village? Definitely! Drink a cup of cow's blood with the Maasai? Er…nope. It's also a good idea to know your limits and feel okay to say no if something is just not for you. Which brings us to….
4. Speak up if something isn't working well
From your guides to camp hosts to drivers – everyone is hoping and working hard to make sure that you have the absolute best possible time on your holiday. They all know that you have come a long way to experience their little corner of the world and want to give you the very best experience. So if things fall short, speak up! I very occasionally get constructive feedback from guests about dining options, other guests they share a vehicle with or something that was amiss with their room. I always follow-up with my in-country partners and am surprised by how many times the camp or lodge had no idea about the guest's concerns. The best people to bring your concerns or issues to are the hosts, managers and guides that you see every day. If you are uncomfortable, speak up and our colleagues will do everything they can to fix, change, re-do, re-shuffle or otherwise try to accommodate so that you can have a wonderful experience. Waiting until you get home to raise the issue might help out the next guest, but it's a missed opportunity to make it right in the moment.
5. Be present
This can mean a few different things. For one, resist the urge to capture everything in pictures and videos. Do you really want to spend your time looking at a 3" screen of the ENORMOUS elephant right in front of you?! In other words, get out from behind the camera and immerse yourself in the experience. Being present also means putting social media, email, phone calls and other distractions on hold for a bit. It's hard, I know! But you'll feel so much more connected to the place where you are if your mind isn't constantly drifting off to think about work, family drama, the stock market, posting gobs of photos or videos each day or (the worst) reading about politics. This is your adventure vacation after all – the world will wait for you to return. Take this time for yourself and really dive into the experience all around you. After all, aren't leopard cubs playing by your Land Rover so much more interesting than anything else?
There are other ways to get the most out of your travels too, but these seem to me to be the big ones. I'm just as guilty of breaking all these suggestions from time to time so go easy on yourself – nobody's perfect. I find that a little reminder goes a long way, like a "cheat sheet" in your travel journal.