Off to (a Birthday Safari in) Africa

Hippo in Botswana's Okavango Delta - photo by Brian Scott

So, today is my 40th birthday.

(It’s the one thing Matt Damon, Sigourney Weaver, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and I all have in common.)

A few errant age spots and some stubborn gray hair aside, I’m relieved to find that I’m really happy about it.

I have wonderful friends and family, the best husband for whom a woman could wish, a new role as an expert (genConnect)…

…and oh, I’m off for a two-week safari in Botswana and Tanzania!

Truth be told, Adam and I were originally planning a trip to Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro for my big birthday celebration. Since all three of these (reportedly) gorgeous countries are becoming increasingly popular with tourists, the timing felt right.

Until mid-plan, when it just…didn’t.

I’d go to bed with visions of the Mediterranean, alpine lakes and wineries, but would wake up from dreams of acacia trees, giraffes, zebras and lions; it seemed as though all the B-roll from The #1 Ladies Detective Agency mini-series was on perma-loop in my head.

I re-read the posts on my friend Katy’s Botswana and South Africa “spafari” honeymoon. Then I re-read them again.

During the day, I’d space out here and there, thinking about my friend Erika’s press trip to Tanzania, where she stayed in a big series of Hobbit houses overlooking the ancient Ngorongoro Crater.

I started finding myself at my bookshelves, combing through Biography of a Continent; African Nights; A Bend in the River; Mountains of the Moon and more.

And then, as I mouse-hovered over my own Travel Binder on Croatia, I finally got it. Here, my entire being was trying to ask for Africa — and I just wasn’t listening.

Okavango Delta, Botswana - photo by godutchbaby

I turned to Adam, broke the news of my shifting mindset, and saw his blue eyes go wide. When I said I’d love for us to sally forth and explore some African parks on our own, those eyes got a lot wider.

“But…what about the Hobbit village? That place looks amazing,” he cajoled. “And besides, c’mon — it’s a big birthday! Let’s do this right.” Pause. “And…and I don’t want to wander off alone into the African bush and be eaten by a great big hippo. I mean, have you seen their teeth?! They can eat a man’s head off like it’s a graham cracker.”

Aaaannd as usual, the man had a point. Our largely sedentary, Mac-based lifestyle hasn’t exactly upped our Darwinian advantage in the wild.

So, because they are one of the world’s most sustainably-run tour companies — and the proud proprietors of the mythical Hobbit lodge — we’ve booked my once-in-a-lifetime birthday safari with the incredible &BeyondAfrica.

We leave Los Angeles on Sunday, arrive in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning, hit the ground running to catch a series of two small flights to northern Botswana…and then our journey really begins.

We’ll spend six days in Botswana, exploring the unique swampland of the Okavango Delta. We’ll stay half the time at Nxabega and the other half at Xudum, taking canoe safaris and crying for joy every few minutes.

We’ll then head north to Tanzania for five days, stopping mid-journey at the (seemingly spectacular) Arusha Coffee Lodge.

We’ll spend two nights at a luxury tent camp in the Serengeti to witness the tail end of the Great Migration of wildebeest. We recently saw this amazing 60 Minutes segment on the Migration, and we’re pretty much freaking out with excitement (though we don’t actually hope to witness crocodile carnage).

Finally, we’ll get to stay at The Great Big Hobbit Shire, otherwise known as the Ngrongoro Crater Lodge. Overlooking the neighborhood where humanity is thought to have originated, it seems the perfect spot to put my milestone 40th birthday into a far greater perspective.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge - photo by albedo20

On October 24th, we’ll spend our last night in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya (at the 5-star, downtown Stanley Sarova) before winging off from Jomo Kenyatta Airport to Heathrow.

We’ll spend one night together at a HomeAway vacation rental in London, then part ways for five days while I blaze a path of WhyGo London research across the city.

I’ll return home to L.A. for something akin to 24 hours, kiss Adam, snuggle my dog until he’s the thickness of a bath rug, finally watch the season finale of Mad Men, do some laundry, repack…then head out on a 10-day press trip to glorious South Australia!

This will be my longest trip since the mid-1980s (when I first visited England with my parents and my brother), and I’m extremely excited to move into this whole new stage in my life.

Of course, just in time for us to leave, we’ve both got a fantastic new flood of work heading towards us like a rogue wave, neatly illustrating how any busy couple feels before a big trip: half-thrilled and half-stressed .

But as I once heard a wise man say (one that looks a lot like my husband), wait for the perfect moment to take a vacation and you’ll go exactly nowhere. To honor your commitment to your time away together, you’ve generally got to crunch in preparation, dodge guilt, call in favors, throw out your apologies in every direction and run pell-mell for the goal.

Holding the football of my birthday travel dreams, we’re both keeping our heads down…and running off to Africa.


See also
TWT Travel Binder: Botswana
TWT Travel Binder: Tanzania


  1. CANNOT WAIT to read all about Africa. Wowie. Please tweet pix along the way if you can!

  2. Amazing! I cannot wait to read all about your vacation. You are such a GREAT writer…now I have to read your post to hubs. It’s not long until we head back to Couples Swept Away so we can participate in the upcoming Reggae Marathon. Yikes!

    Have a safe trip and the wonderfully spectacular birthday you deserve!

  3. Happy Birthday!

    Tanzania is on our bucket list. I look forward to seeing lots of pics from you.

    Congrats on the new job!

  4. Now that sounds like an amazing itinerary. We have yet to see the Wildebeest migration. I can’t wait to hear about it! Have a great time and happy birthday!

  5. Can’t wait to see your pictures and hear about your adventure. Have a fantastic trip!

  6. Enjoy. We’ve been to the Delta twice and by far they were my favorite trips. I just turned 40 and had a Peru trip planned, but some medical testing kept me from being able to leave the country. Went to Disney World and had a great time. You’ll find your change-of-mind will be the right decision.

  7. Gary Randall says:

    Have an absolute blast and Happy 40th. When you return we want to take you to dinner to celebrate and hear all about the trip since we are going in December.

  8. Hope you had a great time in Botswana and Tanzania! Looking forward to reading about it 🙂

  9. Glad to see that you’ve suffered through your 40th. Can’t wait to hear about it when you get back. Happy Birthday!


  1. […] Off to a (Birthday) Safari in Africa TWT Travel Binder: Botswana TWT Travel Binder: Tanzania This entry was posted in Africa, Botswana, Eastern Africa, Featured, Ngorongoro Crater, Okavango Delta, Serengeti, Southern Africa, Tanzania by Melanie. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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