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African Safari with Kids: Why & How You Should Travel with Children

by Elaine Clara Mah

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For some parents, the idea of traveling with young kids may be something to avoid at all costs.

But alas, with the arrival of the little ones, once a traveler, always a traveler. Instead of sacrificing your travels, you may be wondering when it would be best to start traveling with kids instead.

Whether it’s traveling to a nearby town, abroad or even going on a family safari in Africa, you may have plenty of questions on the matter.

Is it good for the kids to travel when they are very young? And if so, what should one do to ensure smooth sailing?

That’s where this article comes in. Here, we’re offering some insights into why it is a good idea to travel with your kids and how to plan a stress-free safari with your children.


Traveling is Good for the Brain

kids on vacation

Despite the possible tantrums and meltdowns that may happen during the trip, traveling is good for a young child’s brain.

In his research, neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp found that when on holiday, individuals exercise two genetically ingrained systems located deep within the brain’s limbic area that is known as the play system and the seeking system.

The play system is generally exercised when you are essentially in play mode – be it lounging by the pool, dipping in the sea or experiencing a safari in the savannah – while the seeking system is exercised when you are exploring and discovering things or places.

Though as parents, we try to give our children adequate time to play and explore each day, these times happen in small intermittent pockets.

When on holiday, children are exercising their play and seek systems from almost the get-go. From boarding the plane to arriving at a new destination, they are exploring and experiencing new environments.

Activating these systems within the brain triggers well-being neurochemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, which reduces stress in both adults and children.


Traveling While Young Makes Them Better Travelers


Traveling becomes easier for children as they experience it on more and more occasions. They learn to know what to expect, what they should do and what they shouldn’t.

Traveling soon becomes a familiarity instead of a novelty, which makes them less prone to sensory overload. Before you know it, your child will be your best travel companion!


Traveling Creates More Conscious and Mindful Children


For young children, the relationships they know often don’t expand beyond their immediate family members and school. The world they know may also be limited to the suburb, town or city that they inhabit. Merely showing them the world from books and the media isn’t enough to create conscious and empathetic children, as they aren’t able to touch and feel as they might do outside.

Taking them out and showing the world in its true form helps expand their worldview. Taking your kids out in nature makes them more aware of the environment and is a great way to introduce Mother Nature and all its inhabitants to them.

Going out can be as simple as taking a walk in the woods or as elaborate as planning a family safari out in the savannah.

Either way, outdoor activities with children will broaden their horizons and expand their worldviews. It will also, in turn, make them more responsible travelers who will understand the importance of preserving the environment once they grow older.


Tips to Ensure a Smooth and Stress-Free Safari with Kids


Traveling can take a toll on adults let alone on children. And the younger they are, the more chances to have a tantrum on your hands at the worst possible moment.

Thankfully, there are some things we can do to ensure that your experience of traveling with kids will be a nice one.

From choosing the right destination and activities for your kids’ age, making sure they are protected against diseases, and entertainment is provided, here are some easy tips to ensure a great trip for everyone.


Choose a suitable country for a family safari

family in south africa

When traveling with kids, it’s a good idea to opt for countries that are easily accessible, have low malaria risk, and are safe.

South Africa and Botswana have entire areas that are malaria-free. While Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia have areas of low-malaria risk. Note that most malaria-free reserves and parks are in South Africa.

Heading to South Africa with your kids? Read our article about planning family safaris in South Africa.

If you are traveling with young children, it’s best to stick to malaria-free parks. Whereas older children may go to low-malaria risk parks. Do note that some medication is not recommended if children are 12 years old or younger so make sure to talk to your health provider ahead of your vacation.


Plan a kid-friendly holiday

Researching the accommodation is one of the best things a traveler can do before booking a vacation. And this is valid for any traveler, especially for parents traveling with children.

You need to know if accommodation offers babysitting, if they have kids’ activities or a laundry service.

Also, make sure to announce in advance that you are traveling with kids. This way, you get all the information about what a particular accommodation can offer, and you’ll be able to schedule accordingly. Many lodges offer great kids’ programs that can give you some much needed time off or enjoy an adults-only activity.

While going on a safari in Africa may be more of an adult activity, make the trip interesting for the kids by explaining to them the animals that they might see. Create activities based on the wildlife that they are trying to spot to keep them entertained throughout.

Include kids’ activities before or at the end of a safari holiday too so that the kids have something to look forward to. Plenty of safari tours also tailor their itinerary to suit children so keep on the lookout for family friendly safari trips!

And don’t forget that you can mix a safari with other activities, such as relaxing on the beach. For example, Zanzibar is a great place to visit after a safari in Tanzania. Or you can enjoy a scenic ride on the Golden Route before (or after) you visit Addo Elephant National Park.

But remember that kids do get bored. Spotting animals may be fun and exciting at first. After seven days chances are, you’ll have your hands full with figuring out new activities for them. That’s why it’s best to choose a multi-destination safari and stick to trips shorter than a week.


What is a good age to go on a safari with kids?

Many safari operators suggest that 8 years old is a good age to start going on safaris. The children are old enough to interact with the guides or someone from a local village.

Some activities only allow older children to participate. Children under 15 years old aren’t allowed to go primate trekking. Going on a mokoro safari is reserved for children 16 years or older. Accepting children aged 6 to 12 on a game drive is at the lodge manager’s discretion.

Going on a safari with children younger than 6 years old is not advisable. Toddlers and pre-school kids have a hard time dealing with long-haul flights. Traveling with young children is not only about what they can do during a safari but also how they deal with time zone changes, early morning wake-up times, and long flights.

With that being said, there are plenty of parents you have taken kids under 6 years old on safaris

Kindly note that not all lodges accept children. Make sure to check with your safari organizer and tell them that you are bringing children as well as how old they are.

Keep the bugs away

Be aware of the vaccination requirements and recommendations for each country you are visiting.

When traveling to Africa, be sure to bring insect repellent and apply generously on your children as well as on yourself. This is a great way to protect your child’s skin from being bitten by harmful insects such as mosquitoes that carry the yellow fever virus or malaria.

Dress appropriately – wear clothing that covers most of the hands and legs. Ensure that your rooms are equipped with mosquito netting and when indoors, keep the air-conditioner on.


Be extra cautious about food and water

The last thing you want to happen on your family trip is to have the little one sick with food poisoning, or worse, contracting diseases such as cholera and Hepatitis A.

An easy way to prevent this is to be vigilant about the food and water you consume. Drink only bottled water or, where needed, drink boiled water. Avoid cold and raw food, and instead opt for hot, cooked food. Practice careful sanitation and use plenty of hand sanitizer.


Travel light

kids and luggage

When traveling with children, remember that there’s already plenty to carry and lug around. Don’t add to the weight with bulky luggage filled with things you might not need.

Before you even start packing, create a packing list and scrutinize it. Ask yourself if you need all the items on your list and see what you can afford to leave behind.

When packing for cold weather, limit the number of coats that you take along. Instead, bring more inner wears so you can layer them up. Compact clothes into zip lock bags to save space. Remember to pack only what you need and not for “just in case” situations.


Book red-eye flights (overnight)

When traveling long distances where your estimated flight time is anything between 8 and 12 hours, it might be a good idea to book a (red-eye) night flight.

Where possible, try to coincide flying time with bedtime so that your child will use the time on the plane to sleep.

A sleeping child is a quiet child, which means that there is less chance that they’d want to walk about, be entertained or kick up a fuss. Dress them in pajamas and go through their normal bedtime routine even before the flight takes off. Before you know it, they’d be sound asleep, and you can get some rest too!

Plus, red-eye flights are most often more affordable than daytime flights.


Check-in online and board early


Online check-in has made much improvements these days! You can now avoid having to wait in long lines by simply checking in online in advance from the comfort of your home.

If you’re not yet doing that, we urge you to start checking in online and you’ll see how wonderful it feels to simply breeze through the airport in no time!

Kindly note that some small, local airlines won’t allow online check-in.

We know it can be hard to leave the house early when going on vacation with a small child, but if you do make it out the door early, you’ll have only benefits to reap.

Most airlines will allow parents with children to board just after the first-class passengers, so if you make it early, you’re in luck. Boarding early will also release tension and stress, and you and your child will be able to relax on the journey.


Book transportation in advance

When leaving on vacation with your child, it is important to think ahead of all the steps needed to be taken, from the time you take your first step out of your front door until you put your bags down in your hotel room.

This is precisely why transportation is so important. Don’t just rely on the fact that you will find some kind of transfer when you get off the airplane!

If you don’t, then you’ll be stuck with a tired child outside an airport and that has got to be a horrible situation to find yourself in. Call ahead and confirm with the safari organizer that there is transfer available and waiting for you at the airport.


Don’t forget the medicine!

This is very important and something a lot of parents overlook. Do not forget medicine at home, whatever you do! Bring medicine for pain, upset tummies, fevers, allergies, and anything else that your child might require, but make sure you are allowed to travel with them.

Some countries limit the medicine you travel with but, in general, having a prescription is enough. Do make sure to check with the airline and/or airport about what medicine can be brought.


Mind the toys and entertainment


No matter where you go and for how long you’re staying, you need to bring some toys! You should always travel light, so make sure you scale it down when it comes to toys.

Older children may prefer to listen to their favorite music or an audible book (or two). Perhaps they enjoy reading so make sure to pack that e-book reader. 

More often than not, your kids are fussy when traveling because they are overwhelmed by their new surroundings. A new place may leave them feeling uncertain and insecure. Aside from constantly reassuring them, familiar toys from home may help your kids feel secure and comfortable.


Have snacks ready

Placate those little tummies by having ample snacks ready for the long drive or plane ride. When you are stuck in your seat for hours on end, food on hand will help you pacify your children especially if meals are taking longer than usual to be served. If you have a fussy eater, be sure to bring their favorite snacks and treats!

However, try as much as possible to avoid giving your child sugar before going on a trip. The last thing you want is for your child to have all the energy in the world kick in when you’re taking off.

If they do want something sweet, fruits are always a nice choice and so is home-made granola. Make the treats small and make sure they eat real food before they have their treats.


Invest in a child tracker

The thought that you might lose your child is enough to make any parent break out in a cold sweat. That’s why we highly recommend to use a child tracker when you travel. Some trackers can be worn as a bracelet or can be attached to clothes. Just pick the one you think is best for your kid!

Remember that you are in a foreign country and though it may be safe, always err on the side of caution. Always hold on to your children’s hands and keep an eye on them. Don’t let them wander off on their own even if they are older.

Be aware of your surroundings and take note of any suspicious activities. However, try not to be paranoid. While bad things do happen, they are the exception and not the rule, so go on your family holiday with ease but always exercise general caution.


Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised

Your vacation probably won’t be the worst, but you do need to plan accordingly. Just make sure that, a few days before you leave, you make a list of things that could go wrong and think about how you can counteract that.

For example, in case you lose an item that is important, make sure you pack a spare one. Trips with children tend to be filled with surprises, so just make sure you do your best to foresee them and enjoy the trip, as much as you can. By doing so, you’ll help ensure a fun and memorable family vacation for everyone.

Thinking of the best African destination for your family holiday? Go on a safari for families in South Africa!


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