Anne Foy tells you all you need to know about travelling with kids in Africa
An African safari is an awe-inspiring experience for the whole family. Although some parents might be wary about the logistics of taking their children into the African plains, a holiday in the bush can be hugely educational and the experience will stay with them forever. However, a little extra planning is usually required when the kids are involved. While they might be excited about the prospect of seeing lion and elephant up close and personal, it is important to remind them of the practical realities and expectations that are required, too. Here are a few of the things to consider:
Before booking, double-check any imposed age restrictions; some lodges do not allow children under the age of seven to go on game drives for safety reasons. A loud or disruptive child can either scare away the animals or (more worryingly) attract them. This can also spoil the trip for others. Think about your child’s age and temperament – would a private jeep be more suitable and relaxing for your family? Or how about teaming up with another family? Some lodges actually cater specifically to children, so research these.
Children see wildlife so freely on TV and in the movies that it’s easy for them to forget that they are wild and potentially dangerous. It’s important for parents to instill a sense of respect in them before you hit the plains, and teach them to listen to the important advice given by your guide. Although animals are used to seeing safari vehicles in their habitat, they remain dangerous, unpredictable and can become agitated or enticed by the sight of small children leaning out of the windows or creating a fuss. Although the chance of being involved in a fatal attack on an African safari is extremely low, it is still important that children are aware of their surroundings and the risks. Ensure that you carry a well-stocked first aid kit containing band aids, insect repellent, sunblock and antihistamines, as well as taking out a good travel insurance policy to cover the whole family.
Patience is a virtue
As any safari buff knows, a game drive can involve a lot of waiting before you see any action. For adults, this anticipation is part of the thrill and makes a sighting even more magical. But for children, whose attention spans are usually considerably shorter, the novelty can soon wear off. Therefore, they must be kept occupied. Encourage them to look through a reference book to identify wildlife they may encounter. Be prepared for them to fall asleep during quieter times and think carefully about whether or not to wake them up, even if you spot a lion or a rhino. However impressive the wildlife on offer, a tired child may not be in the best mind to fully appreciate it – and there’ll always be another day.
Help them get the most out of it
Safari is a hugely enlightening experience for children and adults alike. Help your kids get the most out of this opportunity by giving them the tools to record and understand their adventure. Binoculars, a camera and a journal are just a few of the things every child should have in their backpack. Not only will this keep them engaged but it will give them precious memories to look back on.
Know when enough is enough
Like any family vacation, routine tends to go out of the window on safari with bedtimes, meals and naps disrupted. This can lead to tired and over-emotional kids. Although the temptation to attend every drive (night and day) will be there for adults, take into account the needs of the children and plan plenty of downtime in the lodge, too.