African Family Safari on a Budget. Planning: Part I

How to consider a trip to africa for a budget-conscious family

Last summer, a flight sale gripped my soul and I talked my husband into putting four tickets on the credit card for an “affordable” month long trip this fall. (Note: We have an approach to travel that goes like this, "buy when the flights are cheap and the work is light." We're not good at saving up for trips.)

We’re headed off to South Africa, for the third time as a family. After our last visit, I wrote much of the section on South Africa for Travel for Kids (which I still recommend perusing for specific family tips). During that trip, I was traveling with a nursing baby and a 4-year-old for my sister’s wedding - let’s just say it was slightly stressful. 

This time, our kids are old enough to engage and truly remember (ages 8 and 11). And, aside from visiting their cousins - we intend to make an absolute learning experience out of it. We are, after all, pulling them both out of school for a month and missing a month’s worth of salary as consultants. Still, beyond the flights, travel is fairly affordable in South Africa. The South African Rand to U.S. Dollar is currently hovering at around 14 to 1, in favor of American tourists. The locally grown food is amazing, the hospitality is divine and the scene - for a family - is as exotic as it comes. 

My sister has lived in South Africa for 10 years and has two young kids. She met and married her South African husband and has been breaking my heart ever since. They live on a remote farm in the Eastern Cape where merino sheep grow strong and snow flies in winter (yes, Africa snow!). They live incredibly remote - so we have to plan any other segments of the trip carefully to allow for travel time to and from their farm.

None of our trips are on a glamorous level. We are, by nature, budget-minded. Here's what we have researched and planned, so far: 

Flights: The reason we're going is the cost of flights this year. We found flights for about $850/round-trip per person using Kayak's fare calendar systems. I was able to compare prices across dates and pick the departure/return that gave us the best price. So, incredibly handy. I then called an African-focused travel agent at Portland, Oregon-based, Azumano Travel and inquired about the price. He said he'd probably not be able to beat it. But he did. Even with agent fees, booking through a travel agent, this time, paid-off. Plus, we get the added assurance of all the boxes being ticked.

Travel Insurance: This will be only the second trip we've ever purchased insurance for. For a myriad of reasons (it's Africa, it's a family of four, it's a whole month and we could possibly have to cancel due to innumerable possibilities.) For only $220 we booked what seems to be a very comprehensive plan through our Azumano agent and AIG.  

Itinerary: Here's what this trip entails so far: Driving from Kruger National Park through our family's Eastern Cape Farm onto the Wild Coast and possibly over to Cape Town.  

  • Length of Trip: One month in late fall (Africa's summertime) to the country of South Africa, only.

  • Arrival: Our flight arrives early morning in JNB where we plan to meet-up with my sister's family and rent our own car. We will stay one night at a guest house mid-way on the 5-hour route to Kruger National Park.

  • Inside Kruger: My South African brother-in-law has booked three nights inside the park through the SAN Parks system (National Parks): one night at a hut at the Lower Sabie Rest Camp and two nights in a cottage at Skukuza Rest Camps. These are incredibly affordable accommodation. As low as $30/U.S. a night. 

  • Outside Kruger: After leaving the gates of Kruger, my sister's family will head back to their farm in the Eastern Cape and I've booked two nights for my family at the affordable Sabie River Bush Lodge at the edge of Kruger National Park. Rather than go for one of the exclusively priced, private game reserves, this family-friendly lodge is on the outside edge of the National Park and overlooks the Sabie River - a nightly game watering hole. Plus some dining is included in the price. (A friend recently stayed there and raved about it. More about this amazing gem of a lodge in another post.)

  • Kruger Surrounds: After exploring the area surrounding Kruger and the Blyde River Canyon for five nights, we will drive for two days to my sister's farm near Molteno in the Eastern Cape. We have not yet decided which route to take to the farm. Possibly going through Clarens or the small country of Lesotho.

  • Eastern Cape: We'll spend the majority of our trip in the Eastern Cape, split between their family farm and the ultra remote Wild Coast where we have to opportunity to stay at a family home. This area is also known as the Transkei and is the homeland of Nelson Mandela and the Xhosa people.

  • Unplanned Days & Departure: Beyond the Wild Coast, we will determine the rest of our itinerary and how long we will keep the rental car later.  Considering the cost of adding Cape Town in for a few days. Our final departure city is Johannesburg on Day 29.

Car Rental: Driving in South Africa is quite easy and we have navigated the roads and systems in the past. However, it is not without adventure. First, the driving is on the opposite side of the road. Second, you do want to complete your travel before dark for a number of reasons including game and safety.

We've booked a larger (rather than smaller car) through Budget and did book a "manual", as "automatic" is not common for rental cars. 


Coming Up: South Africa on a Budget Part II