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Getting into the Safari Mindset

Safari is both a type of travel as well as a way of thinking. Sure, you are going to have a schedule, going from one lodge to another on certain days. But you need to embrace an open mindset—be ready to be flexible. Here’s a great example: I had a long transfer from Victoria Falls Town down to a camp in the southern part of Hwange National Park. It took a couple of hours in a vehicle, then we rode the Elephant Express train for several more hours (yes, a train safari!), and when we arrived to disembark from the train car, everyone was ready to hop in the safari vehicles and get whisked off to camp. We were past the point of wanting to freshen up and relax for a bit.

Instead, we jumped in a vehicle without our luggage (it was put in a different Land Cruiser) and we headed to a huge pride of lions that had been spotted just a bit earlier. The guides and staff are knowledgeable and knew that the pride could easily disappear for several days and we might not see them again during our stay. Plans change when opportunity arises.

But that flexibility does not apply to the rules. Listen to your guide, to the camp managers and staff, and do what they say (and don’t do anything they say not to do). These are wild animals, and just because they look like big kitties or a friendly elephant, they are very dangerous—even more so when you can’t see them. (Predators are very good at hiding.) If you are told not to leave your lodging in the dark, please don’t. Escorts are readily available to take you where you need to go.

That open mindset is important for your trip, as this isn’t a visit to the zoo. There is no way to go along and check off various animals you want to see. You can’t have lions and cheetahs on your To-Do List in the morning, with elephants and rhinos that afternoon. But what you should do is ask questions, engage with your guide. Share what you are hoping to see. Better yet, ask them what might be a good idea for your group to go looking for.

Here’s another example for you. On the way to Serengeti National Park, our wonderful guide asked if we would like to take the direct route or the long way. “Why,” I asked him, “should we go the long way?” In the park, you can’t go off the road. We had time to explore on the way to the entrance and he wanted to go cross country, see what we found away from the road. We agreed. I saw that quintessential image of three or four giraffes at a gallop against the magnificent East African horizon. We came upon a mother ratel and her two young ones; boy, did they take off in a hurry! And we found a set of lionesses with a kill under a tree, along with two sets of cubs. We parked nearby and watched them for an hour, the only vehicle in sight.

So being flexible and having that open mindset will easily lead you to do one more thing: take lots of pictures. With digital cameras these days, go wild (pun intended). I’m not a good enough photographer to think one shot will be the winner, so I snap plenty and hope one of them is great, but I’ll settle for really good. One tip I did get from a great wildlife photographer: focus on the animal’s eyes, even if they aren’t looking at you. It helps you--the photographer--stay connected to the subject.

Don’t be shy! If you see an animal, point it out. If you want the vehicle to stop so you can enjoy a bird, a particular animal, or just the view, ask to stop. The guide will be more than happy to oblige.

You are on safari out in the wilds of Botswana or Zambia, or trekking through the rainforests of Uganda. With you is your guide, a very knowledgeable person who has spent years learning their craft. Ask them questions! About the area, the animals, the park. And get to know them. Ask about their families, their backgrounds, and how they came to work as a guide or tracker. Do that with the staff at your lodge. These are great people who love what they do, and almost undoubtedly love the area they get to live in.

If you're a solo traveler or a couple that gets put in with some other people for a game drive or a walking safari, make friends! You already have something in common—you are on safari together! They might be from across the world, but who doesn’t need a friend to visit in another country?

Be ready to get up early. If you think a safari is going to be relaxing, I’m going to burst your bubble. Early rising is imperative for the best game viewing experience. That “Bush & Beach” combo mentioned above? The beach is to get some rest in before you head back to the (ugh) real world.

And finally, unless you are using it for taking photos or videos, you don’t really need that smartphone. My advice is, if you do bring it, keep it in airplane mode. Snap your photos and get some fun videos. Worry about sharing stuff on social media after you get home. Or at least at the airport for the flight home.

Now that you are convinced a safari is right for you, let’s start preparing for a wonderful trip!

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