Updated: Nov 7
When the location where I was employed closed earlier this year, I remained as a part-time employee, testing out the next chapter of my life: retirement. My husband Mike asked me how I wanted to celebrate my retirement. That was easy; go on holiday. His second question was where do you want to go? That was not easy. My first thoughts, such as Australia, Mike threw back to me, questioning if I really wanted to do that for myself or was it for the family. Isn't that what moms do? Consider the wishes of the family when holiday planning? Mike insisted that this trip be something that I genuinely wanted to do for myself. It took time; the answer was buried deep inside me, not even on my short list.
With time and reflection, I arrived solidly at wanting to experience the animals of Africa in their environs. I had only dipped my toes into Africa, visiting its edges of Morocco and Egypt; I wanted to dive deeper into the continent. I wanted to go on safari.
August would be the month in order for our son Ethan to join us; the timing ignited my hidden wish to experience the great migration. I proposed my plan to Mike; he quickly responded, “That sounds like a great trip for you and Ethan to take; I’ll stay home and take care of our cats.” I was quite surprised, but took it under advisement.
Normally an independent traveler, I knew I needed to work with a tour operator in order to maximize the safari I envisioned, but which company? So many choices, not only safari companies but also general travel agencies that include safaris in their offerings. This was my personal trip of a lifetime; I wanted to get it right.
I contacted several agencies, all of whom had stellar reputations. The responses were varied. Some emailed me regarding planning. Some sent me a pre-packaged safari itinerary with a note that it would be fully customized (those went straight to trash). Some wanted to talk with me. Giada Claussen, a safari specialist with go2africa, fell into this later group. Of those I spoke with, Giada stood out.
She asked much more than the standard where, when and how much money. She wanted to get to know me in order to plan my perfect personal holiday. She was interested in my likes and dislikes, my interests, my desires, my wows and my never-minds. She wanted to know what I wished to gain and what would disappoint me. She wanted a full picture of me and of those traveling with me. I was impressed with her approach from our first telephone conservation.
Something else stood out to me. Based in South Africa, go2africa is run by people born and raised in Africa. Their safari experts have grown up on game reserves and spend their personal time going on safari. Some have worked as head rangers or hotel managers; but they all have an innate understanding of their country. With go2africa, I was ensured that 100% of my expenditures would stay in Africa, just the way I wanted. They rely on first-hand knowledge of every destination, lodge and activity they recommend; this checked another box for me.
In April 2022, speaking by telephone, I told Giada that I wanted to go on safari in August. She replied with a question, “In 2023 or 2024?" Ideally one should start planning a safari a year in advance, some recommend 18 months. I wanted to go within 4 months, during high season, along with all the people who had rescheduled their cancelled safaris from 2020 & 2021 due to Covid restrictions. Giada remained positive in spite of the challenge, while communicating that many properties will already be booked and relaying that we needed to make decisions quickly. She remained confident we could make it happen.
Giada had numerous thoughts and suggestions. She would run ideas by me, I would take time to consider, then get back with her. I wanted some upscale items, but I was ok with basic lodging also. The essential aspect to me was great game viewing, and I would be disappointed if I didn’t see cats. I was not interested in spa services while there, but I definitely wanted some wow factors. I asked for variety to create a richer tapestry, rather than all the same level of service.
The map on the left below outlines our entire trip, while the one on the right shows our safari sites in Kenya:
Together we assembled a 23 day itinerary in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Giada had good insights on the logistics of connecting the safari with Ethan to a family trip with Mike. Victoria Falls was on Mike's bucket list and he looked forward to visiting the vineyards of South Africa. Ethan and I would have 9 nights in varied safari camps in Kenya. Mike would fly to Johannesburg, South Africa where he would spend one night. The next morning, Ethan and I would fly from Nairobi while Mike was flying from Johannesburg; we would all meet up in Victoria Falls, after which we would explore Cape Town and environs, including the vineyard regions. We had a terrific itinerary with many moving parts.
Once we were booked and our deposit paid, I was introduced to go2africa's Anne Du Randt. She did an excellent job arranging additional tours we wished to add and guiding us through the process regarding the requirements of each country, weight restrictions (especially for the light aircraft), packing tips, visa requirements and more. She was always prompt, courteous, helpful, and patient with my inquiries.
Even though all was set, Giada and Anne remained in touch. In Vic Falls, my first-choice property was not available, so we reserved elsewhere. When my first choice had cancellations, Giada grabbed two rooms for us. Later that property offered her an upgrade to a sister property. Giada asked if I was interested which I was. It was reassuring knowing Giada was keeping her eye on our trip even after our money had been paid. Before our trip, the airline that Mike was planning to take from Johannesburg to Vic Falls defaulted. I missed the urgent calls and emails from both Giada and Anne asking for approval to rebook this flight. They again saved the day, arranging an alternate flight while it was still available.
Giada arranged all the many moving parts and everything came off as scheduled. At one camp, the manager was unaware of one item on our itinerary; I emailed Anne. She responded immediately and within fifteen minutes it was all sorted. Both Giada and Anne were available throughout our holiday.
Giada had suggested a short safari in South Africa so Mike could experience a taste of safari. Mike was uninterested; the value just wasn’t there for him. Nonetheless, during our sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, Mike thoroughly enjoyed seeing the hippos in the water, the birds, and the elephants and other wildlife on the shore. So he did get a taste of African wildlife in their habitat; I am trying to talk him into more.
During our trip, whenever Mike had a question, he would say, “ask Giada or Anne”. They were there throughout the planning of our trip, during our trip, and they were still there after we returned home, checking in with us and following up. Mike had been a tad apprehensive about the scope of this holiday; however, flying home, we were talking about how effortless the trip had been. Mike commented, “Giada and Anne were holding out hands throughout the trip.”
Giada promised me I would see cats. I saw cats every day, at every camp! I saw cats sleeping, eating, playing, hunting and copulating. I saw lions, cheetahs, leopards, serval cats, and more. I saw males and females, adults, babies and toddlers. My dream of seeing cats in the wild was fulfilled. The caveat: it was exhilarating and could easily become addictive.
Now, looking back, I realize that for all my questions, Giada's answers were spot on; she knows Africa, she knows the properties, and she took the time to get to know me.
After returning, I learned that go2africa was named one of the top ten "World's Best Tour Operators and Safari Outfitters" in 2022 by Travel and Leisure. They were also named “Africa’s Leading Safari Company” at the 2022 World Travel Awards. They have six safari experts featured on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of Top Travel Specialists. These are only a few of their numerous accolades. I also adore their slogan: “We won’t show you the world; we'll show you Africa, better than anyone else.”
I did my research; I listened to my intuitions. I entrusted my trip of a lifetime to Giada and Anne. They exceeded my high expectations and honestly, a bond was formed; they feel like family or friends; I can’t wait to meet up again.
Postscript: This post is entirely heart felt. It was neither sought nor paid for by go2africa. https://www.go2africa.com