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Shenton Safaris

The word ‘epic’ is used far too loosely and frequently these days; it often loses its true emphasis by being so freely applied to mundane day to day occurrences that are, in fact, far from being ‘epic’.

With this in mind, I usually try to avoid the word in my writing altogether. But when it comes to my recent month long Southern African safari trip, the word ‘epic’ finally seems fully justified, and pretty much unavoidable.

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My trip with Elefant Tours took in delights such as game drives in Chobe National Park in Botswana, Luanga National Park in Zambia and South Africa’s Kruger, there was also Victoria Falls, a river trip on the Zambezi, snorkelling in Lake Malawi, the beautiful tropical beaches and islands of Mozambique and so so much more.

I’m sure that all this is more than enough to have you picking up the phone and dialling to book your own trip as soon as possible. In the meantime, here are a few insider’s tips on how to make the absolute most out of a Southern African ‘epic’ adventure:

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Remember to pack the essentials

-If you are camping make sure your sleeping bag is a good one as temperatures can get pretty cold at night in certain places. A travel pillow would be handy too.

-A head torch is also a must for the nights as is a good mosquito repellent.

-You’ll be likely to cover a fair few miles on foot, so a good pair of hiking boots is highly recommended (and unlike me, make sure you break them in before you set off), as well as a rain jacket and plenty of sun block.

-Binoculars are very useful for game drives, as is, obviously, a good camera with a decent zoom lens. A sturdy camera bag is also advised.

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-It’s always a good idea to bring your own first aid kit along and anti-malarials will also be needed for certain areas.

-If you are planning on bringing a laptop or tablet then be sure it’s as light and compact as possible, and long battery life will be an advantage. Most lodges should have wifi.

Overall, my advice would be to travel as light as possible. No, you don’t need those high heels or that smart shirt you haven’t worn since your Matric ball. Keep it simple.

Common sense is key

Much of this point should be a no brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating. Be sensible.

Here are some examples of what that means:

-Keep your valuables as safe as possible at all times. A money belt, tucked inside your pants, is a good idea for your passport, cash and cards when wandering around towns and cities.

-When camping in the bush don’t go wandering off on your own.

-When on safari, don’t do anything your very experienced guides tell you not to, such as leaning out or getting out of the vehicle apart from when you are told it is safe to do so.

-Equally, don’t get so terrified of something bad happening that it restricts you. Despite Africa’s reputation, if you are sensible, it is no less safe than most parts of the world.

-An African safari is not a wildlife documentary. There is not a lion around every corner. It takes the cameramen years to get the shots that make it into those programmes. Be patient.

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Be a responsible tourist

Remember you will be travelling with and meeting a range of different people along the route, many of whom may be culturally very different to you. So:

-Be tolerant, respectful and open-minded; take the time to find out how certain cultures, people and practices work.

-If you want to take pictures of/with someone, tip someone and so on, ask them if that is OK, or how it works exactly. For other etiquette tips, ask your guide.

-More than anything, people make a place what it is, so make the effort to engage with the locals in a positive way; ask questions, learn and help to support local businesses and artisans where possible.

Be patient

-And be prepared. Road surfaces can be bad and bring about punctures.

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-Border posts can be a pain in the bum…to put it mildly.

-Remember that, in general, time (and bureaucracy for that matter) works differently in many of the places you will be heading through. Some people call it Africa Time. After all, why the rush? You’re on holiday, and afterwards all those little mishaps and delays will only make for more funny anecdotes.

Get involved

-Enjoy a hands on, dust-in-your-hair kind of experience. It’s about getting the feel of the places rather than taking a picture postcard kind of approach.

-Put up your own tent, help out with cooking and buying supplies and so on. The more you put in, the more you get out, as they say.

-The above motto could be similarly applied to the way you interact with the other people on your trip. Even if for no other reason than to help the travel time pass, get to know those around you. You might well make some lifelong friends.

-Equally, don’t get too entrenched in a routine of drinking beers with your fellow travellers at camp and not independently exploring your surroundings and meeting the locals when the chance arises

So what are you waiting for?

It’s all pretty simple stuff really, isn’t it? But it could just be the difference between a good holiday and an absolutely ‘epic’ one. I chose to aim for the latter, and I certainly won’t be forgetting the experience anytime soon.

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Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark is a British freelance journalist based in Cape Town. After travelling to more than 50 countries worldwide, he came to Africa on a one way ticket in 2008, in search of sunshine and stories. He writes for various platforms including News24 and Future Challenges and was featured as one of The Big Issue's best young writers in South Africa in 2012.