When we were planning our self-drive safari to Namibia we were specific in what we wanted. we were looking for an unforgettable trip to celebrate a big year (2 big birthdays and a big anniversary). We wanted something that was completely different from the holidays that we had taken in the past. And boy, did we get that! Namibia was, hands down, one of the best trips we have ever, ever taken. But that’s not to say it wasn’t tricky at times or that we were caught out by a few things that I wish I’d known before we went. Here are 5 things to know before a self-drive safari.
It’s stating the obvious but Africa is enormous. You can drive for hours and hours and not see a single car. The driving can be monotonous depending on where you are – sometimes there’s plenty to see and marvel at and sometimes, well, there really isn’t.
You need plenty of ways to stay sane both as individuals and as a family! Audiobooks probably saved our trip although I could quite happily never hear Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series ever again.
Ever, ever, ever.
But they served a purpose and kept the kids from going mad so if we were doing it all again I would do that all again too. If your kids get motion sickness like mine do then these are a great alternative to iPads, use less battery and, of course, reduce screen time which we were determined to do on this trip.
We played a lot of games. For the record, i-Spy is tricky when you’re going through a barren landscape but others can work like “I’m thinking of an animal” and other favourite family games that we use in restaurants while we’re waiting for food.
Our best tip, though, is to schedule regular breaks. Know your route before you set out and plan accordingly. Cabin fever and hunger-induced anger can (and will) break you.
Oh, the dust. It gets everywhere. Like, everywhere.
It gets in the car. It settles on your skin in a fine but irritating layer. And it will get into your stuff – through suitcase zips and everything.
It’s inevitable so the first thing to do is to embrace the dust. But there are a few things you can do such as wrapping all your cases in bin bags (fold the top over on itself) to minimise how far it can go. Washing and moisturising regularly also helps.
If this seems like a short section, once you get there you will know that it absolutely is not a reflection of just how much dust there is to deal with.
3. What to do in an emergency
Back to the long distances. When I say you can drive for hours and not see another soul, I mean it. Which is kind of scary if you start to think about things going wrong like someone getting sick or the car breaking down and it can all get a bit overwhelming and scary.
Travel with your own supplies. I can’t emphasise enough how much security our safari first aid kit gave me. Have a few days’ worth of food and drinking water with you at all times. Regularly and top up petrol – most 4x4s have 2 tanks meaning you can go for miles before the tank starts to show as empty. This is not a time to chance it and hope for the best when you’re not sure quite how much you need to get to the next town in several hours.
Rent your car from a reputable agency. All the good ones will have a tracking device on the vehicle and will know where you are at any given time. We planned our route in conjunction with them so, not only had they pre-populated the destinations in the sat-nav, but they also knew what our intended route was. It was comforting to know that they could get someone out to us in a matter of a few hours if needed.
Have a local sim card and a satellite phone. The whole time we were driving, my Qatari phone didn’t connect to any network at all. I was glad that we had taken the time to get a local sim card. But even that ran out of signal in the more remote areas – a satellite phone is essential in an emergency.
Just as you don’t really know where the next petrol station is, nor do you know where the next supermarket is or, crucially, how good it is! The agent who set us up did a great job in plotting on a map and in our detailed itinerary where the supermarkets would be but they were of wildly varying standards. When you see a well-stocked supermarket, use it to your advantage and replenish your supplies.
5. Unforgettable memories
This all sounds a bit doom and gloomy for one of my posts. But I like to be prepared. I like to know what’s coming and I find that the more we prepare ahead of time for a holiday, the better it turns out to be.
There’s nothing on earth that could have prepared me for this holiday. It was hard work at times but it made up for it in spades with the incredible memories that we had. Seeing Dead Vlei, climbing sand dunes, spotting wildlife and watching the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets of our lives all contributed to what really was an unforgettable holiday.
If you’re heading to Africa on a self-drive safari then all I can say is: HAVE FUN!