Planning a Safari (Two Years and Counting)

For my 50th birthday in 2021, I decided that I would take the family on a safari. So, in February 2020 (note the timing), I started to narrow down the options. I had a short list of requirements: 1) Be able to fly all four of us in business class both ways; 2) Keep the budget around $10k; 3) Work with a recommended local company.

I found a local tour operator based in Nairobi, Kenya who came highly recommended from a well-traveled friend. I emailed a few others just for comparisons. In the end, we decided on a Kenyan safari rather than Tanzania or both countries as it was easier to fly in and out of Nairobi and my budget would stretch more in Kenya than Tanzania. We mulled over the idea of adding some beach time at the end of the safari, but decided against it based on the timing of available flights and besides, we have world-class beaches an hour’s plane ride away in Florida that we visit every year.

I left the detailed planning to the locals in Narobi and worked on the flights. I managed to book Qatar Airways (including a flight on QSuites) using American Airlines miles for the outbound flights and Turkish Airlines using Avianca LifeMiles for the return. Finding four business class seats both ways was surprising, although planning for January 2021 after the holidays was helpful (both kids’ colleges were starting classes later in January).

I also managed to book hotel nights in Nairobi for the first and last nights using free night certificates at Marriott and IHG properties. I even splurged for two rooms in each hotel so the kids (adults) could have their own room.

So, on February 25, 2020, everything was booked. Well, you know what happened next. About two weeks later, the world shut down. I didn’t do anything to change the trip at that point, but by around August 2020, it became apparent that some of the flights were not operating and many of the lodges and camps in Kenya were still going to be closed.

After consulting with my tour operator, I was able to rebook everything for June 2021. The airlines allowed me to rebook the flights and I was also able to rebook the hotels. We were set for summer, except one of the kids decided they couldn’t come then due to an internship. So, it would just be three of us.

Around February 2021, we decided to postpone yet again. Despite vaccinations being available in the US, Kenya was slow to open to tourists so we decided to wait until the following January when all four of us were available to take the trip. So, I canceled all the flights and hotels and rebooked everything again for January 2022.

In December 2021, omicron began its march across the world. Thankfully, it was lower severity, but given the chance of catching it was pretty high and given the Kenyan rules about quarantine if we tested positive before our flights home, we decided to yet again cancel, this time just 11 days before we were scheduled to leave.

Here we are in February 2022. We are now planning to leave New Year’s Eve 2022 and make this safari happen. Hopefully, by the time we go, all testing requirements will be lifted on both ends. As of now, we have Qatar Airways flights to Nairobi, but no flights home yet. It will be fun (and nerve-wracking) to try and figure out the flights home as the year progresses. Hopefully this time the trip will happen, and I will be able to share the pictures and reviews here!

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