8 Things I Learned the Hard Way on Safari

Going on a safari in Tanzania was an experience unlike any other. I traveled to the African country in December for my honeymoon and was immediately struck by the scenery when I first awoke in Arusha. From that moment forward, the trip just got more and more fascinating as we ventured to Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater, and lastly to the Serengeti. 

While the getaway was everything we'd hoped for in a honeymoon (with romance meeting adventure), there were some things that took us by surprise.

I should preface this information by saying that I am one of those people who thoroughly plans a trip. Though I do leave room in the itinerary for impromptu exploring, everything else -- researching, gear, and recommendations -- is all in place before setting foot on the plane. This trip was a bit different because our tour guides, Asilia Africa, did most of the planning, but I was happy that there was still a plan in place. Yet, no matter how much planning and prep went into this incredible vacation, there were a number of things I could only understand by actually being there. Here are eight things I learned the hard way on a safari.


1. You Will Gain 10 Pounds

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

When I think of being in the middle of
nowhere, a plethora of food options doesn’t typically come to mind. I just
assumed that while on a safari we’d be snacking and having small meals — basically noshing on whatever was available. Not to mention, anything we would be
consuming would get burned off because it was an adventure after all, right? Wrong.
Not only did we get fed, every meal was a three-course extravaganza. It was some
of the best meals we’ve ever had in our entire lives. It still boggles my mind
how we got four-star dining delivered fresh to us daily when the closest food
source was probably a four-hour drive away.

And remember that idea of being active?
Well, we’d eat these massive (and delicious) meals and then sit in a jeep for six hours. Now don’t get me wrong, my heart was racing at times, but not
necessarily in an aerobic way. By the end of the trip we had easily packed
on a few pounds, so prepare yourself for that “safari ten.”

2. There's No Such Thing As Safari Chic

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

I had always envisioned I’d look super cute in my khaki
pants, zebra sweater, and chic sun hat while cruising around the Serengeti with perfectly wind blown hair. In reality, my greasy hair (due to quick
showers) was thrown up in a bun, and I spent a lot of time in large rain boots, unshapely cargo pants, and a variety of shirt layers to prep for the changing
temperatures. Needless to say, I wasn’t very fashionable.

If you see people stepping off the plane, as we did, in cute
dresses and booties, they’re simply lounging at the lodge. Designer duds and
mud just don’t mix.

3. Using the Restroom in the Middle of the Serengeti Is, Erm, an Experience

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Some guys may be used to going to the bathroom on a street corner,
behind a tree, or pretty much anywhere that isn’t a toilet. For ladies, it’s a
bit more complicated. While I have used nature as a restroom a number of times
in my life, I wasn’t quite prepared for what it would be like in the middle of
the Serengeti. Without going into detail, let’s just say nothing is more
beautiful — and terrifying — than squatting behind a jeep with wild animals in
sight.

4. The Term "Airport" is Used Loosely

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Initially I thought I could plan the entire trip on my own
and book internal flights throughout Tanzania. I found it impossible to do and
was lucky to have Asilia take the reigns for me. Once I got there, I realized
exactly why it had been so difficult to nail down these airports. That’s
because the term “airport” can range from a paved strip to a patch of
dirt that looks only slightly different than any other patch of dirt.

5. Don’t Get Excited By Your First Zebra

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Our first day on safari was really exciting; we checked off
three of the “Big Five” in just a few hours. And to top it off, we were beyond
thrilled to see a zebra! We asked the driver to pull over to take thousands of photos — including zebra selfies. I mean this was a zebra, after all! How often do you
get to see one of those? Well, by the end of the trip we learned. You will see a zebra
about every 10 seconds. They’re like the safari version of squirrels. They’re everywhere. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure our guide thought we were nuts
because he knew by the end of the trip we would have seen approximately a billion of them.

6. You’re in the Lion’s Way

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Obviously, one of the best parts about this trip was
being able to get close to these wild animals and watch how they interact in
their own habitat. I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that wild
animals will eat your face off, so stay far away. I quickly learned that
everything from elephants to cheetahs want nothing to do with you. In fact, a
lion even used our car as cover to stalk a zebra. I don’t speak lion,
but I’m pretty sure it was thinking, “I don’t know what this ugly thing is
in front of me, but I’m at the top of the food chain and I’m going to use it to
take down that zebra.”

7. The True Definition of Off-Roading

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

I own a Mini Cooper and live in Manhattan,
so my idea of off-roading is heading to the suburbs of New Jersey. I never
understood why anyone would need a suped-up SUV when the roads are paved and
someone even plows them for you in a snow storm. Any way, now I know why these mini-tanks are
necessary (in some cases).

In the middle of the Serengeti, there are no
roads. There aren’t even dirt roads. It’s just a mixture of mud and grass going
up, down, or flat. We were jostled left, right, up, and down, and I’m pretty sure
we were within seconds of toppling the car completely over numerous times. The good news: my
grip strength significantly improved.

8. Smells and Sounds Can’t Bother You

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

Courtesy of Jordi Lippe-McGraw

As luxurious as our accommodations were, there were
still some less-than-glamorous things you can’t avoid. Whether it’s animals or
the humans you’re traveling with, you will be exposed to all sorts of smells
and sounds. While you have no control over the wild things,
be sure you’re very comfortable with your travel companion because you will
know their bathroom schedule intimately.

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