Smart Traveler Tips

Smart Traveler Tips

Some practical advice on how to prevent unnecessary vacation-planning stress:

Inspect your Passport:
As soon as you even consider leaving the country, check your passport’s expiration date. You can be blocked from boarding the plane if the date is inadequate. Some countries require three months prior to expiration, some have a more stringent six month policy, so as a rule of thumb I recommend to clients that they stick to the six month rule. (Example: if you are flying on June 5, the expiration must be after December 5).

U.S. PassportCopy your Docs:
Carry photocopies of your travel documents and passport in a separate place from the original documents. Even better, leave a version at home, or text or email pictures of the documents to a responsible friend or family member.

Stay on Top of Shots:
Many countries have very specific immunization requirements and proof of these may be required for entry. Other vaccinations just make good health sense and can eliminate potential illnesses during your travels. I often refer clients to a Travel Doctor who specializes in the prevention and management of health issues related to international travel. Another great source of info is the Center for Disease Control, which outlines each country’s specifications. Flying to South Africa? If you visited Brazil recently and your passport was stamped upon arrival, you will need proof that you were immunized against Yellow Fever to gain entry to South Africa.

Register as a Smart Traveler:
Check out the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service for U.S. citizens that connects you with the local embassy and consulate while abroad. By enrolling, you receive important information about safety conditions that can assist you in making informed decisions about your travel plans; it will help the embassy contact you in case of natural or other disasters; and can help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

Global EntryBecome a Trusted Traveler:
U.S Customs & Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs provide expedited travel for pre-approved, low risk travelers through dedicated airport lanes and kiosks. The most popular is Global Entry which has been rolling out to U.S. airports. Travelers must undergo a background check and in-person interview in order to secure a Global Entry Card. Upon landing in the U.S., members skip the customs line, proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport, place their fingerprints on the scanner for verification, and complete an on-screen customs declaration. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt and the traveler hands it to the designated customs official.

Global EntryGlobal Entry comes with the added benefit of TSA PreCheck, which is the Transportation Security Administration’s program that allows eligible, low-risk travelers to enjoy a dedicated security line and expedited security screening. TSA PreCheck means you can ease through security without removing your shoes, light jackets, liquids, or laptops from your bags, therefore less time on line. If purchased alone (without Global Entry), TSA PreCheck requires an in-person interview, background check, and fingerprinting. (Note: American Express offers many of its cardholders reimbursement for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck fees).

Upgrade to REAL ID:
Is your driver’s license expiring soon? Consider upgrading to a REAL ID. This is part of the U.S. Federal Government 2005 Act which established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. Eventually, to fly domestically in the U.S., your state license or ID must meet these federal standards of identification, or you might have to bring your passport to comply with the upgraded security requirements.

Get the Facts on Visas:
Most countries have very specific visitor requirements and that includes visas, a conditional authorization granted by a country to a foreigner allowing them to enter. Some visas must be secured in advance through a local embassy and affixed to your passport; some can be purchased at the airport upon arrival. It’s important to know ALL the visa and passport rules prior to your flight or you may be prohibited from boarding the plane. Flying with your children to South Africa? Those under 18 must possess a birth certificate with a raised seal to enter, along with a passport. Check out travel.state.gov for more info arranged by destination.

American Express logoDownload Credit Card Apps:
Even if you prefer not to make credit card payments online, create an online account to keep track of purchases you make while away, and make sure to subscribe to email or text alerts to be notified of potential fraud or credit card theft.

AllianzPurchase Travel Insurance:
As they say, “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Hands down, travel insurance is the best investment you can make. In the event of illness, death, terrorism, or severe weather, travel insurance helps you recoup your nonrefundable expenditures. To avoid exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions, make sure to purchase the policy within two weeks of the first deposit made on your trip, and check policy details before you file a claim to ensure that your cancellation reason is on the covered list.

It’s not always 911:
Know how to call for an emergency in the country you are visiting. In the U.S. it’s 911, but that does not apply all around the globe. In Europe, the number to know is 112. Check travel.state.gov for all the details.

Micato Safaris, South AfricaTravel Light:
Not everyone can travel with just a carryon, so if you are planning on checking luggage, make sure to read up on airline requirements. More obscure destinations in Asia, Africa, or South America often have smaller airports that are served by smaller aircraft.

Prep the Kids:
Discuss the itinerary in advance of the trip; download an illustrated city guide; watch a travel video on YouTube – kids will feel more invested in the adventure, and more likely to “go with the flow” if any delays or glitches pop up. Upon arrival, I always made sure my boys knew the name of our hotel in case we were separated while traveling off property. Give everyone a map (yup, those free, folded paper things that the concierge hands out). Real map reading skills are an art form that should not be forgotten, and kids often have a better sense of direction than adults. Plus, they will enjoy being part of the solution rather than the problem of being lost, especially if you are in an area with no Wi-Fi or cell service…and no Google Maps!

Book Early:
Have a bucket list trip like African Safari, Australian Outback, or Alaska Cruise? Plan early (one year out!) to get a leg up on the itinerary, excursion, cruise, or lodge of your dreams.

Use a Travel Agent:
(Yes, that’s me!) For access to upgrades, special offers, extra amenities, and VIP treatment, help with multi destination or multigenerational travel, honeymoon or babymoon, nothing beats a professional. A travel agent takes the stress out of vacation planning and that makes you a Smart Traveler!

For more travel tips, check out my recent articles: A Few of My Favorite Travel Things and Twelve Top Travel Apps

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Guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle

Guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle

To truly appreciate Iceland, you must go beyond urban Reykjavik and experience the natural wonders which make this country so unique. After a few days in the capital city (read my recent article “Best of Reykjavik”) with a side trip to the Blue Lagoon (check out my article “Iceland’s Surreal Spa”), we spent a day exploring the Golden Circle — this island nation’s most popular sightseeing route. It’s chock full of historic sites, stunning scenery, and amazing attractions all linked together by a 300 kilometer looped road through the heart of the country. A full day excursion, up to nine hours, is required to absorb it all.

The three main locations included in all Golden Circle Tours are Pingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Want to enjoy a more personalized and unique experience? Schedule a private tour and go off the beaten track and seek out the area’s hidden gems.

Thingvellir National Park is where the country’s original Viking chieftains first assembled to forge their national identity and laws. This UNESCO World Heritage site presents a mix of historical weight and serene natural beauty. Geology buffs (like my boys) will recognize that this rift valley is where the two halves of Iceland (the Eurasian and North America tectonic plates) are slowly drifting apart – two centimeters per year – forming the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Time spent in Thingvellir will provide insight into not only how the island was formed millions of years ago, but also how its civil society emerged.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

A geological journey along the Mid Atlantic Ridge between tectonic plates

Oxarafoss Falls, Iceland

Our visit to Thingvellir included a stop at Öxarárfoss

Geysir, Iceland

Geysir photo courtesy of “Reykjavik Erupts” tours

The Geysir Geothermal Area, located within Haukadalur Valley, is the site of intense geothermal activity. Dotted with hot pools, clay pots (acidic hot springs), and fumaroles (openings in the planet’s crust), the resulting minerals of the earth create a colorful palette in the surrounding hills.  The Great Geysir, first to be discovered, lends its name to all other geysirs around the world – the word comes from the Norse verb which means “to gush.” Although Geysir now rarely erupts, nearby Strokkur releases its steam approximately every ten minutes and throws water from 66 to 132 feet into the air, so keep those cameras handy.

The iconic Gulfoss, or Golden Falls, is where the Hvita River, fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, the Langjokull, thunders down 32 meters into a rugged canyon with walls that reach up to 70 meters in height. The falls come with their own history – early 20th century foreign investors tried to harness its power to produce electricity, which fortunately never came to fruition.

The perseverance and legal wrangling of a local farmer’s daughter (who even threatened to throw herself into the falls) helped bring attention to the importance of preserving natural resources. Since 1919, Gulfoss has been permanently protected by the Icelandic government. There are two viewing areas for the falls: the flat rocky platform that projects out into the river right above the falls, and the top of the canyon where you get a broader view of Gullfoss and the river. When conditions are favorable, you just might spot a rainbow…or two.

Gulfoss, Iceland

The rocky platform overlooking Gulfoss makes for great photo ops

On a private Golden Circle tour you will have the opportunity to experience other amazing sites besides the big three. Visit historic and cultural Skálholt, with its iconic wooden cathedral, home to numerous music festivals; Laugarvatn, a spa town with natural hot springs; and Kerid, an ancient (and stunning) collapsed crater lake surrounded by red volcanic rock – its bright spectrum of colors look positively unearthly.   Join a river rafting expedition through the canyons of the glacial Hvita River, Iceland’s largest. Stop for lunch at Efstidalur, a 17th century “farm-hotel” and restaurant. A delicious meal here comes with a view overlooking the glass enclosed cow barn (source of the milk that goes into their heavenly homemade ice cream). At the end of a long day of touring, stop for a cup of the best hot cocoa at cozy Golden Circle restaurant Mika — famous for their handmade chocolates. (We loved sitting out back at one of their garden picnic tables).

River rafting, Hvita River, Iceland

River rafting in the canyons of the Hvita River

Kerid Crater, Iceland

Kerid Crater’s colorful palette is unearthly

Herricks Travel American ExpressPHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

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For more information on my trip planning services, and to learn more about our private volcano tour with “Reykjavik Erupts,” please click here.

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Blue Lagoon: Iceland’s Surreal Spa

Blue Lagoon: Iceland’s Surreal Spa

A trip to Iceland is not complete without a stop at the Blue Lagoon. A short drive from Reykjavik Airport, it’s the country’s most visited site — the fact it is man-made, does not diminish the charm.  This geothermal spa located in Grindavik’s black lava fields (the southwestern corner of the island), is a fortuitous by-product of the country’s commitment to geothermal energy. The spa features state of the art facilities and is very Scandinavian – it’s immaculately clean and well organized.

The Blue Lagoon’s lava field setting is other-worldly

Thanks to Iceland’s volcanic activity, the country has a never ending supply of geothermal energy from natural hot water bubbling up from the earth’s core. Eighty-five percent of the country’s atmospheric heating is generated from geothermal sources. At power station Svartsengi, superheated water originating 1.2 miles below the earth’s surface, passes through an exchange process to provide fresh water for heating while also generating electricity.  The runoff water forms a lake nearby and functions as a spa. Rich in salt and minerals and possessing an otherworldly milky blue hue, the Blue Lagoon’s warm waters (98-102° F) are praised for their healing qualities.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR BLUE LAGOON VISIT:

Make a stop on your way to or from Reykjavik Airport…
Depending on your travel schedule, plan a visit either before you head to Reykjavik or at the tail end of your vacation – it’s 14 miles from the airport and 29 miles from downtown Reykjavik. There’s even a place on site to store your luggage. If possible, arrive early (8am) before the crowds for the most relaxing and authentic experience.

Blue Lagoon IcelandBook tickets in advance…
Purchasing tickets online is required and makes your check in process hassle-free.  Upon arrival, enter the welcome area and receive your wrist band which tracks any purchases you make. There are changing facilities, lockers, and showers to pass through prior to taking your dip in the lagoon. The lagoon area has a swim up bar, a place to receive your silica or algae mask, a sauna, steam room, and lava steam cave.

The sprawling facility also features a lobby gift shop with Blue Lagoon branded facial and body products, a full-service restaurant, and to-go style café where you can grab a quick bite after your spa experience.

Choose a service level…
On the Blue Lagoon website, under the ticket purchase section, are descriptions of the four categories of service each with increasing levels of amenities and services:

Standard: This entry level option provides entrance to the facility and a silica mud mask, applied as you soak in the blue waters, which acts to “deep-cleanse and leave your skin fresh and clear.”

Comfort: Adds on use of a towel, a complimentary drink at the swim up bar, and an algae mask that promises to “nourish your skin and minimize fine lines and wrinkles promising a youthful glow.”

Premium: Adds on the use of bathrobe and slippers, a reservation at full-service Lava Restaurant and a glass of sparkling wine with your meal.

Luxury: The top tier of service, includes all of the above plus entrance to the Exclusive Lounge. You are met by a customer service person at the entry to the spa facility and immediately whisked into your assigned (and lockable) changing room — a lovely private area with a shower stocked with amenities and spa products, with direct access to a common lounge complete with comfy couches, cozy fireplace, and light snacks and beverages.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Your Luxury Lounge comes fully stocked with amenities

Blue Lagoon Iceland

The cozy Relaxation Lounge completes the spa experience

Come prepared…
If making a stop on your way to or from a flight, make sure to place items in your carry on that you might need during your spa visit: change of clothing, bathing suit, flip flops. A waterproof lanyard pouch for your smartphone comes in very handy.  Prior to entry into the lagoon, put conditioner in your hair to protect it from the silica (it’s definitely not good for color treated or keratin treated hair).

Care to spend the night at the spa?
Consider the adults-only Silica Hotel, a boutique 35-room property just steps from the Blue Lagoon with an expansion slated for next year.

Photo opportunity…
Before you leave, head up to the roof top viewing platform for some great selfies.

For more travel tips on Iceland’s capital city, check out my recent article: Best of Reykjavik

Herricks Travel American Express PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

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Best of Reykjavik

Best of Reykjavik

Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle and positioned on top of the world’s most active volcanic hot spots, Iceland checks all the travel adventure boxes – glacier hiking, fjord kayaking, cave exploring.  But no journey to the 66th parallel is complete without a visit to the country’s captivating capital. Reykjavik, the smallest, northern-most capital in Europe combines the hip with the wholesome – it’s a modern city with small town Scandinavian charm.

Originally under Danish rule, Iceland gained independence in 1944 and slowly emerged from its fishing-focused foundation with a little help from the 2010 volcanic eruption that paralyzed European air travel and put Iceland “on the map.”  Reykjavik, now a tourism magnet, maintains its Viking roots while embracing a cosmopolitan flair.

Reykjavik, IcelandOnly have time for a quick visit to Iceland? Spend a few days in Reykjavik — the old city center welcomes with its metal clad houses, mossy lawns, picket fences, and bustling pedestrian zone. Combine this with an array of appealing day trips – from bubbling hot springs to volcano hikes — Iceland’s famous geological wonders are at your doorstep.  Travel in summer for unending hours of daylight, or in winter to witness the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). To fully appreciate the country requires a longer stay — driving the 830-mile ring road that encircles this island nation can take a week to ten days depending on the number of stops made along the way.

BEST OF REYKJAVIK:

Walking Tour: The best way to explore any city is on foot. Your wanderings will take you into pocket-size shops and quaint restaurants, with plenty of chances to meet the locals along the way. Or, take a Segway or bike tour if you prefer to explore by wheel.

Reykjavik

Lake Tjornin

City Hall: Sitting on the shores of Lake Tjornin, this modern building may lack visual appeal, but it is worth a look: pick up brochures at the tourist center and walk around the super-sized three dimensional map of the country located in the lobby.

Laugavegur: This predominantly pedestrian street lined with cafes, galleries and shops, is truly the heart and soul of the city. Stop at Alafoss for Icelandic wool sweaters and pick up weatherproof gear at 66° North. (By the way, no one carries umbrellas in Iceland so pack a hat or hoodie!)  Hrim Housewares offers functional yet cool Icelandic design pieces all crafted from local materials. Grab a coffee at Reykjavik Roasters or fruit smoothies at Joe & the Juice. Purchase a travel guide at funky Edmundsson Bookstore, and sit down for refreshments at their café, Te & Kaffi.

Restaurants: A Reykjavik tourist brochure I picked up in our hotel’s lobby states: “Reykjavik dining is not cheap so it better be good.” Yup, that’s about right. But, the offerings do not disappoint. Iceland’s waters are some of the coldest and cleanest worldwide and thanks to government programs, one of the most sustainable.  Menus feature unique dishes like shark, Icelandic lobster, and puffin.  Dine at Sjavargrilled, or Fiskmarkadurinn and sister restaurant Grillmarkadurinn for an amazing selection of surf and turf.  Sushi Social is a delicious Japanese and South American mashup. Or for a novelty meal, try the “conveyor belt” service at O Sushi.  Enjoy lunch at Iceland Fish & Chips for the healthiest and freshest version of you guessed it: fish and chips.   Fill your picnic basket at Sandholt:  the tastiest sandwiches and mouth watering pastries to go.  Visit the circa 1937 hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur — it literally means “the best hot dog in town.”  Their menu reads: “hot dog, soda.”  Get one with the works: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, and fresh and fried onions.  Stop in any supermarket and stock up on farm fresh Skyr yogurt, high in protein and virtually fat free (it’s thick and creamy and is Iceland’s secret to healthy living).  At the end of a day of touring, warm up with a giant bowl of Thai-style noodle soup at cozy Noodle Station.

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja:  Where Laugavegur forks, walk up Skolavordustigur Street to reach this Lutheran Cathedral, one of Reykjavik’s most iconic buildings, named for the Icelandic poet and clergyman, and visible from almost anywhere in the city. Its design echoes the basalt lava-flows common in Iceland’s landscape.  Climb to the top of the tower and you will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view.  Just outside the church, take a selfie with the statue of Norse explorer, Leif Erikson, and pay homage to the man who REALLY discovered America (600 years prior to Columbus).

Museums: My fishing-fixated kids loved the Viking Maritime Museum, devoted to the history of Iceland’s fishing industry and the great “Cod Wars.”  Head outside the city limits to visit Perlan, a science center built on top of the city’s salt water tanks.  (Climb up to the 360-degree outdoor viewing platform or walk through the world’s first indoor ice cave).  Check out the child-friendly Museum of Iceland (on the second floor kids can dress up in Viking attire complete with sword, shield, and chain mail).  Or, take a peek at the more adult-themed Phallological Museum!

Volcano House: This petite but information packed learning center focuses on the volcanic and geothermal history of Iceland, with interactive and hands-on exhibits. Watch the moving, hour-long documentary about the recent eruptions (1973 and 2010) and the effects on the people that lived through these horrific natural disasters. How they managed to restore their communities with little help from the outside world is humbling and awe-inspiring.

Puffins Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland has the largest puffin population in the world

Whales & Puffins: Recently, whale watching has slowly out-paced commercial whaling in Iceland (thanks in part to national/international animal preservation organizations).  For an up close view of these awesome creatures, hop on one of the harbor boats that leave daily year round and catch sight of Orcas, Humpbacks, and dolphins too.  From May to August, take a puffin tour of the surrounding islands and view the breeding grounds of these diminutive birds known for their bright orange beaks and matching webbed feet.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

This geothermal spa is located in a lava field about 24 miles from the center of Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon: Thanks to Iceland’s volcanic activity, the country has a never ending supply of geothermal energy from natural hot water bubbling up from the earth’s core. It’s piped from mountain to town to warm up everything from homes to swimming pools.  Today, 85 percent of atmospheric heating is derived from geothermal sources. In the southwest, at power station Svartsengi, hot water passes through a heat exchange process to generate electricity. The runoff water forms a lake nearby and functions as a spa, the Blue Lagoon. Rich in salt and minerals and possessing an otherworldly milky blue hue, the naturally hot waters are known to have healing qualities. Depending on your schedule, it is possible to make a stop on your way to or from Reykjavik airport (there is a place on site to store your luggage). Arrive early before the crowds for the most relaxing and authentic experience. (More on the Blue Lagoon in a future post).

Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon

Golden Circle: This 300-kilometer looped route through the heart of the country covers many of Iceland’s most well-known sites both natural and historic.  This region, northeast of Reykjavik, brings you up close to the rift valley where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are slowly separating.  A full-day tour includes stops in Pingvellir (where the country’s original chieftains first assembled to forge their national identity and laws); Geysir (the gushing hot springs after which all such vents worldwide are named), and Gullfoss (the thundering Golden Falls).  Crisscrossing through this area are roads that meander through beautiful countryside, more green than many of Iceland’s rougher outlying landscapes. (Stay tuned for my upcoming article on the Golden Circle and our full day tour with local volcano experts, Reykjavik Erupts).

Check back soon to read about our adventure aboard Windstar Cruises as we circumnavigate Iceland on a seven-day itinerary.

Golden Circle, Iceland

Kerid, an explosion crater on the Golden Circle route

Reykjavik

Laugarines shore, a recreational area in the outskirts of Reykjavik

Herricks Travel American ExpressMOBILE PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

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Safari Packing Tips

Safari Packing Tips

Light luggage, light heart

The rule “less is more” definitely applies when packing for an African safari.  Unburdening yourself from the usual travel trappings is liberating.   On our recent family trip to South Africa we journeyed from city to safari and back again hopping from lodge to lodge by bush plane (click here to read my recent posts).  Not worrying about our “stuff” added to the spirit of adventure.  Need advice on what (or what NOT) to pack for your safari?  Here are my top tips:

Thank you Micato Safaris for the great duffle bags

WEATHER:
Weather can vary based on the country and the time of year (seasons may be opposite of your home country). Wintertime in the southern hemisphere (June through September) means as you travel north (towards the equator) temps go up, with the reverse being true in their summer (December — March).  Kenya and Tanzania, located in East Africa, have milder, spring-like weather year-round verses South Africa, which has much greater temperature swings.  No matter the destination, early morning and late evening game drives can be cooler than when the sun is high in the sky.

LUGGAGE SIZE:
Luggage requirements (weights and measurements) vary by airline carrier, so check these in advance, especially the baggage allowed on small bush planes. For our safari, a medium sized rolling duffle bag with exterior zippered pockets to store non-valuables worked perfectly.

SHOES:
Shoes take up lots of room, so choose carefully. Hiking boots are only necessary if you plan on trekking or mountain climbing. On safari, you are traveling mostly by vehicle, but hard soled, comfortable shoes are a must for bush walks.  Over the ankle hiking boots are bulky, so a better option are walking or hiking shoes (preferably with waterproof Gortex, like North Face or Merrells).  Flip flops come in handy for the lodge pool or Jacuzzi.  And, slip-on style leather sneakers are convenient for airport security and work well for “in between” weather patterns. Touring Johannesburg and Cape Town during their winter?  Pack a pair of light weight leather ankle booties with rubber soles for cool or rainy days.

CLOTHING:
Layers, layers, layers.  Simple and neat, casual clothing, whether you are in the city or on safari, always works best.  Even in warmer weather, long pants and long sleeve shirts made from quick-dry or dri-FIT material will protect you from strong sun and mosquitoes. Wear a short sleeve shirt or tank top underneath for quick changes en route when the mercury rises.  Leggings or jeans are okay, but leave the trendy, ripped ones at home.  Ventilated trousers (like REI, prAna, or KUHL) are a great option and will keep you cool and dry.

Sabi Sabi Safari

As the sun sets, long sleeves and trousers work best

Pack clothing that can be washed (not dry cleaned) since many lodges provide complimentary same-day laundry service).  Pick neutral colors and leave the brights at home.  No camouflage patterns – it is simply not acceptable.  And, keep away from brash, logo t-shirts – it’s best to blend in.

When temps drop, most lodges will provide warm blankets or hot water bottles in the open-air vehicles, but come prepared with scarf, wool beanie, glove liners, fleece jacket, and light-weight quilted vest, because when the sun sets it gets cold!  Heavy winter boots and coats are not necessary — but I definitely appreciated my flannel pajamas during our visit in July!  In the cooler evenings in Cape Town and Johannesburg, I made good use of light weight merino wool cardigans that were easily layered (and didn’t take up much room in the luggage).

Sabi Sabi Safari

Dress in neutral attire that will not “attract” animals, especially when spending time outside the vehicle during a “Sundowners” break

Outdoor dining at the lodges is very popular, but dressing up for dinner is generally unnecessary; it’s more relaxed than you think, even at the luxury tented camps.  Usually, we went right from our evening drive to our al fresco dinner.

Other important items?  A brimmed hat and bathing suit for warm, sunny days and rain shell and collapsible umbrella for rainy days.  And, if you have read my previous packing article (click here) you will know I never travel without a wrap or Pashmina!

Mini surge protector

ELECTRONICS:
Bring extra batteries, memory cards, and lens cloths for your camera (dust gets everywhere) plus power packs for your phone. Converters and adapters will be required for most electronics, and a mini surge protector always is useful in any hotel room where outlets may be few and hard to reach. During game drives, my boys also made good use of binoculars — great for children who may not be using a camera or spotting wildlife through a zoom lens.

This adapter kit works with all Apple devices

Many lodges provide flashlights, but pack one of those mini mag lights just in case — lodges can be pitch-dark at night (although for safety reasons, you are usually escorted back to your tent by a guide). Most lodges include a hairdryer so skip packing this heavy item (and wear that hat you packed!)    Make sure to download books to your e-reader in advance because wifi and cell service can be unpredictable, or better yet, bring an actual book or travel-sized board game – since being “off the grid” is really the point.

SAFARI DAY-PACK:
Take a tote bag or a light weight backpack to use in the safari vehicle to store your camera and the extra layers of clothing you may shed (it can double as your carry on).  Make sure it has a zipper to keep your items dust-free (the bag usually winds up on the floor during all that off-road driving).

MEDICINE & FIRST AID:
Assemble a well-stocked first aid kit in a Ziploc bag. Include extra prescription medications (an antibiotic script, just in case) plus over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen, allergy and diarrhea tablets, cortisone cream, motion sickness pills, dry-eye drops, hand sanitizer, bug spray, sunscreen, and adhesive bandages.

Packing cubes

PRE-PACKING:
Before placing items in your bag, lay out your things by item type and then remove one item from each category – you will not miss them!  If traveling between several lodges, I recommend those flat, zippered, nylon pouches to arrange your stuff.   You can lift them from suitcase to dresser drawer and back again without having to repack each individual item.

DONATIONS:
Handing out toys, pens, and candies to local children you meet along the way is strongly discouraged because it creates an endless cycle of begging. Instead, search out a “Social Enterprise,” an organization that runs as a business with profits going to support a community project or social need — buy locally made handicrafts or stop at a community-run store or café. Upon your return home, make a donation to a cause that has pulled at your heartstrings be it animal conservation, children’s charity, or land preservation.  Your dollars, euros, or pounds will go a long way to helping our planet and all who dwell on it.

Sabi Sabi Safari

During our stay in Sabi Sabi, we visited a local community and the “Swa Vana Center,” which cares for orphaned and vulnerable children by offering physical, emotional, social, and educational support.

Sabi Sabi Safari

We stopped in a local market and met the proprietor.

Sabi Sabi Safari

After shopping at a local crafts market, we were treated to a performance of music and dancing.

Sabi Sabi Safari

The local children loved “hamming it up” for the camera

Our visit to the local communities in the Mpumalanga Province was an enriching and educational experience

PAPERWORK:
Check your travel documents — having the proper paperwork is crucial.  LOOK AT YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATE: it cannot expire prior to six months from the dates of your trip. If you have LESS thank six months left on the expiration you will NOT be allowed to checkin at the airport or board your departure flight! Make sure you secured the appropriate visas to enter a country. South Africa requires all children under the age of 18 to possess a valid birth certificate with a raised seal, in addition to a valid passport (even if traveling with both parents).  Many countries may require proof of inoculations so check the cdc.gov website (or visit a doctor that specializes in travel related immunizations) to learn about recommended shots.

For more packing advice, check out my recent articles: “Twelve Packing Tips Every Traveler Should Know” and  “A Few of my Favorite Travel Things.”

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Tintswalo, Manyeleti Safari

Tintswalo, Manyeleti Safari

Our recent journey to South Africa opened our eyes and our hearts to a new world. In Cape Town we walked in the footsteps of former President Nelson Mandela and learned of his struggle for freedom and the true definition of leadership (click here for my previous posts on Cape Town). On safari in Sabi Sands we spotted the Big Five and the Magnificent Seven in all their four-legged glory. (Click here for my articles on Sabi Sabi).

The next leg of our adventure continues here… We flew north by bush plane to Manyeleti, another private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park, which is located in the northeastern part of the country, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We were met at the dirt airstrip by our guide, Alister, and tracker, Pardon, who whisked us off into the bush to our lodge, Tintswalo.

Wildebeast, Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Wildebeest exhibit the largest animal migration in the world

TIntswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

In a pride, all the lionesses are related

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Leopards are nocturnal. During the day , they rest in thick brush or in trees.

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

During three days of game drives we caught sight of lions, buffalo, kudu, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, and fox and absorbed lessons in all manner of flora and fauna. The most important, but tragic animal fact we learned? That extreme poaching continues to run rampant in South Africa.

After dinner one evening in the lodge, Alister showed us a heart wrenching video that portrayed the devastating realities of this slaughter. Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years, primarily driven by the demand for its horn, specifically in Vietnam. Often associated with traditional Chinese Medicine, it has evolved into a status symbol displayed to mark success or wealth. Poachers are funded by international criminal organizations that provide sophisticated equipment and substantial bounties to track and kill rhinos. The animal is tranquilized and then the horn is brutally hacked off its snout – the animal left to die a slow and painful death, often in full view of its offspring.

Hoedspruit, South Africa

At the Hoedspruit Center for Endangered Species, orphaned rhinos are nurtured

One afternoon, we visited the nearby Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center to learn more. This unique facility focuses on the conservation and sustainability of rare, vulnerable and endangered species in South Africa. Through education of surrounding communities, tourism, breeding, rehabilitation and anti-poaching initiatives, HESC aims to make a difference in the long-term survival of the planet and its animal inhabitants. The rhino, second largest land mammal after the elephant, specifically has borne the brunt of poaching, which has led to near extinction.

Tintswalo Lodge Suite

Tintswalo Lodge – suite bathroom

In between our excursions and twice-daily game drives from Tintswalo, we relaxed in our two-bedroom Baines Suite, named for the nineteenth century English artist and explorer.  The suite includes a living room, kitchen, dining room, and chef.  Our boys were delighted when creatures great and small visited the suite’s backyard plunge pool. On occasion, the front desk rang our rooms to alert us that a herd of elephants had arrived for their daily drink at the watering hole located in full view of the restaurant terrace.

Tinstwalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Tintswalo’s suites, all named for 19th century explorers, feature exquisite colonial era decor

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

A Waterbuck visits our suite’s backyard plunge pool

On our last morning, we bid a sad farewell to Tintswalo as we joined the other guests for a “bushveld” breakfast. Our lovely al fresco buffet, laid out along a dry riverbed under the tallest of olive trees, was a symphony of sights and smells — the brewed coffee and roasted bacon mixing pleasingly with the aromas of the surrounding dried brush grasses.

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Almost daily, this herd visits the lodge watering hole

Tintswalo Lodge, Mayeleti

The wooden boardwalk connects all of the lodge’s suites to the main lobby, restaurant, and library

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

A farewell breakfast in the bush

As we boarded our safari vehicle and headed back to the landing strip to await our flight to Johannesburg, we reflected on our safari experiences, pondered the interdependence of humans and wildlife, and recognized the impact this intertwined relationship has on the world’s survival.

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Sundowners at Tintswalo — a highlight of our stay

Check out my son Harris’s video, below, of a herd of Cape Buffalo we encountered during one of our evening game drives. (You can watch all of his adventure and travel videos on his Vimeo Channel – The Suburban Sportsman)

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New York Times Travel Show 2017

New York Times Travel Show 2017

New York Times Travel ShowWant to travel the world in a New York minute? Visit the New York Times Travel Show held at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center January 28-29, 2017 where you can join thousands of other travelers as they roam the aisles amongst 500 plus destinations and suppliers.

Attend this interactive exhibition and come away with a wealth of knowledge: attend educational seminars, learn about new resorts and hotels, and enjoy international food and entertainment. From Asia to Africa, the United States to the United Kingdom, the world will be at your fingertips.  NY Times Travel Show

The Jacob Javits Convention Center is located on Manhattan’s west side (34th Street and 11th Avenue).

New York Times Travel ShowNeed help putting it all together? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com
I will help you create your unique trip for 2017 and beyond.

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