The Ultimate Bucket List Trip: My African Safari

Going on an African wildlife safari is something that I’ve been dreaming about for longer than I can remember. My mother grew up on the African continent, so I’ve been hearing  tales of the wonders since I was a child and I’ve always longed to experience it for myself. But, the right opportunity or travel partner never seemed to come along. So, I decided to go on my own, which while not the economical choice, was immeasurably worth it!

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I started in Cape Town, South Africa where some lovely friends offered to host me in the Mother City. From there, I flew to Hoedspruit, located deep in the African Bush where I had booked a 4-day all-inclusive safari at the Vuyani Safari Lodge. I could not have been happier with my choice, which was not made lightly. The research that went into choosing the right safari company was extensive and exhausting. But, what ultimately guided my final choice was (1) price, (2) location, and (3) size.

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I wanted an intimate safari experience, but I also wanted to meet people since I was travelling alone. During my time at Vuyani, many parties came and went, but there was typically no more than 20 at a time, which is the perfect size for lively chats over our shared meals. I lucked out and arrived the same day as a lovely young couple from Norway. We became fast friends and spent the majority of our time together, to the point where people thought we actually came together. To my surprise, they also got engaged during the trip and just got married this past summer!

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New Friends – Magnus & Mona

As a solo traveller, I also needed to be mindful of budget. I knew that going on a safari could be a once in a lifetime experience, so I didn’t necessarily want to cheap out, but I also knew that I’d be paying more for my experience. Vuyani really struck the balance of  luxury and value – I felt pampered beyond compare, but still didn’t break the bank. From the moment I was picked up at the nearby airport to the moment I hugged the staff goodbye, I received world class service. Every time I left my room, someone was offering me a beverage or asking if I needed anything. They fed us extremely well with buffet breakfast and lunch and a 3-course dinner every night plus drinks/snacks in-room and in the lodge whenever we wanted. I also got to sleep in a bed surrounded by mosquito nets, which was always a fantasy of mine.

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Living the life I was born to live

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Infinity Pool in the Bush

I also considered the type of experience I wanted and ultimately went with a small private game reserve. The benefits of this were that we had way more freedom with where our drivers could take us including getting out of the vehicle and “off-roading” in pursuit of hard to find animals. We also had the privacy to explore our reserve without other tourists. Some of the limitations of a smaller reserve meant that we typically saw smaller groups of animals (think 8 elephants instead of 50) and some animals (like buffalo) were not present at our reserve.

 

 

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Now, I wasn’t fully prepared to sacrifice seeing the “Big 5” so I also chose a reserve that was conveniently located only a couple of hours from Kruger National Park. I was able to take a day trip there to see the buffalo and so much more. We had to leave at 3:30am to squeeze in the entire day trip, but it was well worth it. I was able to complete my Big 5 bingo by finally seeing the buffalo and also got to see a herd of elephants at the watering hole at the same time as hippos and crocodiles. Plus, we also got to see a giraffe and her newborn calf. With the combination of the day trip and my time at Vuyani, I had a perfect safari experience.

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What does a typical day on safari look like?

  • 5:00am – Wake up
  • 5:15am – Coffee
  • 5:30am – Morning Game Drive
  • 8:30am – Breakfast
  • 9:30am –  Free-time (Nap / Pool-time)
  • 1:30pm – Lunch
  • 5:00pm – Afternoon Game Drive (with Sundowner or “Happy Hour” in the bush)
  • 8:00pm – Dinner
  • 9:30pm – Bedtime

Now you may be wondering if 4 days was long enough? And, I would say that yes, it was just enough. But, I also lucked out with perfect weather and was fortunate to see all the key animals early in my safari. It may be best to book a couple extra days (if you can) to ensure that you’re able to see everything you want. I certainly would have loved to stay longer if I had the time and budget to do so. I made new friends, lived the life of luxury, and had the most incredible wildlife experience of my life! This was by far the best travel activity that I’ve ever done.

2018: A Year in Review

2018: A Year in Review

We didn’t realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun. – Winnie the Pooh

Even numbered years have historically been good to me and 2018 was no exception. I travelled to seven countries on four continents, visited friends and family all over the world, got a promotion at work, and spent another year living in my favourite place on earth. In my typical fashion, I’ve recounted the big travel highlights below in chronological order.

1. Nashville, Tennessee (January)

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I kick started 2018 with my bestie Joy in sub zero Nashville. We bar hopped and ate really good food and danced our way into the new year at a Y2K themed party.

2. Dubai, United Arab Emirates (March)

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I’ve been fascinated with the Vegas of the Middle East for over a decade, since I saw a TV special on the building of the famed “7-star” Burj al Arab hotel (pictured above). Over the years, the city only gets more impressive as it seemingly breaks every record in the book.

3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (March)

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Abu Dhabi wasn’t really on my radar until I learned of the stunningly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The city takes luxury to the next level and felt even wealthier than Dubai, which was hard to imagine.

4. Cape Town, South Africa (March)

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South Africa has topped my bucket list for years and with dear friends recently moved back to Cape Town, the time was finally right for a visit. I spent about a week in total in Cape Town exploring everything from Cable Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder’s Bay to the V&A Waterfront. I could easily have spent a month in the Mother City, flitting between beaches and wine farms.

5. Stellenbosch, South Africa (March)

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My dream day trip from Cape Town to the famed Stellenbosch wine region where my hosts Debbie and Theran took me to multiple wineries for tastings of cheese, chocolate, and yes, all the wine! I couldn’t get over the cheap prices and wished I could’ve brought home an entire case.

6. Hoedspruit, South Africa (March)

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During my trip to South Africa, I finally lived out my biggest bucket list activity to date – an African safari! Since, I was travelling solo for most of this trip, the price was more expensive than it needed to be, but still worth every penny. It is the best thing I’ve ever done while travelling and something that every single person should do before they die! I plan to write a more detailed post about this trip at a later date. But, in short is was four days of all-inclusive luxury, sunshine, and the Big 5!

7. Napa, California (May)

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For our 10 year friendaversary, my group of university girlfriends and I upgraded our annual girls weekend and flew down to Napa for ALL the wine. We couldn’t have picked a more picturesque place to celebrate our amazing friendships that have seen us through marriages, pregnancies, career changes, and all the ups and downs of life. I’m forever grateful to be doing life with this crew!

8. Cannon Beach, Oregon (June)

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In June, I made my 7th trip to Oregon with a new travel buddy in tow. My boyfriend, Markus, and I made our inaugural trip together one for the books by visiting the beautiful coastal towns of Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach on our way to spend a few awesome days with my cousins in Portland. We fit in some of the usual tourist trappings like Powell’s Books and Washington Park, but added in the Edgefield Brewfest to really get us into the spirit. Every time I go to Portland is better than the last… What can I say? I’m a PNW girl through and through.

9. Kelowna, BC (September)

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For the second year in a row, my cousin, Teri-Lynn, flew out from Winnipeg for the long weekend and we drove straight to wine country! (are you sensing a theme here?) I love the Okanagan Valley and was thrilled to finally be checking out the Naramata Bench. We managed to squeeze in stops at Legend Distilling, Lake Breeze, Van Westen, Ruby Blues, Sumac Ridge, Mission Hill, and Quail’s Gate. Some we visited for the wine, and others for the view. Either way, this is one of my favourite places to go every summer!

10. Helsinki, Finland (September)

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A trip to Europe wasn’t originally in the plans for 2018, but when my Finnish boyfriend decided to visit the mother land for his first visit, I couldn’t resist the urge to tag along and visit friends Kathrin and Kristof. We had an incredibly five days soaking up the food (munkki and karjalan piirakka were faves!), sauna culture, and beautiful natural surroundings. I know that this will be a place we come back to again and again!

11. Tallinn, Estonia (September)

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We were stoked to learn that the gorgeous historic city of Tallinn is just a 3 hour ferry ride from Helsinki. We decided to spend a day wandering the old town, which I cannot recommend enough. It was straight out of a fairy tale and far less touristy than other old towns I’ve seen throughout Europe. The Baltic countries are quickly climbing up my destination list as I seek to combat overtourism with less popular destinations.

12. Copenhagen, Denmark (September)

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Now, Copenhagen certainly is a popular city, and one I’ve had my sights on for years now. However, travelling in late September helped us to avoid the summertime crowds and really enjoy the city at our own pace. We LOVED Copenhagen and can’t think of a reason why any person wouldn’t want to go there. Again, a more detailed post is yet to come, but our favourite spots were Nyhavn (pictured above), the hipster bars in Norrebro, Reffen, Freetown Christiania, and Kastellet.

13. Winnipeg, Manitoba (October)

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I often spend Thanksgiving away from my friends and family but this year, we all made the trek to Winnipeg to celebrate my grandpa’s 80th birthday. It was so nice to be all together, which is becoming less and less common. And it also gave me the opportunity to enjoy the fall colours at Fort Whyte Alive even if it meant digging out my winter coat far earlier than I would have preferred.

14. Whistler, BC (October)

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Whistler is one of my favourite places on Earth and since it is both an incredibly popular winter and summer tourist destination, I like to visit in the off-season. This year I went with a group of friends in late October, one of the most beautiful times to go in my opinion. The weather couldn’t have been better, still allowing us to go for a classic walk around Lost Lake as well as sit on a patio outside, but without all the crowds.

15. Mexico City, Mexico (November)

My last big trip of the year, was my annual girls trip with go-to travel buddy Megan. This was our 7th trip together since we met in Vietnam back in 2014 and our 6th country. We had the BEST time exploring the impressive Teotihuacan pyramids, the beautiful parks in Condesa and the fascinating Casa Azul. I could easily see myself returning to Mexico City for the cheap and delicious food, year-round perfect weather, and picturesque neighbourhoods. I didn’t sign up for beginner Spanish next year for nothing.

2018: By the Numbers

Countries Visited: 7 (5 new ones) –  USA / United Arab Emirates / South Africa / Finland / Estonia / Denmark / Mexico

States Visited: 4 – Tennessee / Washington / California / Oregon

Provinces Visited: 3 – British Columbia / Manitoba / Alberta

Plane Rides Taken: 15 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has).

Airports Visited: 15 (BNA, SEA, DXB, CPT, HDS, YVR, SFO, PDX, LHR, HEL, CPH, YYC, YWG, YYZ, MEX)

Kilometres Flown in 2018: 82,957

Beds Slept In: 16. Of those, 5 were hotels, 5 were crashing with family or friends, 4 were Airbnb rentals, 1 was a safari lodge, and one was my own bed!