A wonderful article from our friend and partner Charles Norwood, who inspired us to travel and explore Africa in self-drive
Charles and his wife Meregan created the first commercial self-drive safari in 1992 and after more than 25 years of operations have come to know what makes the perfect journey. Self Drive Safari Resource is the result of all that experience and is a free knowledge site to help you with your planning, pre-departure, and experiences on the road in Africa.
Today Charles is the founder and owner at Self Drive Safari Resource, a free content web site that offers, information, planning, inspiration, and on the ground knowledge to fully independent travelers that are driving themselves on safari or Overlanding across Africa. The knowledge for the site has been developed from more than 25 years of self-drive safari operations across Africa by Meregan and Charles Norwood.
When I first went to Africa in the early 1980’s firstly working for an African Aid organisation and then as an overland driver to lead groups of young people wanting to explore the continent, there were very few options for those wanting to independently discover Africa for themselves. The only way to do this was to buy and equip a Land Rover and drive yourself there, having first taken a couple of years off work. This was obviously not possible or practical for most people, which troubled me for some time until one day in 1992, I was driving across Chobe National Park (Botswana) with my now wife and the idea hit me; we were in one of the most beautiful parts of Africa in the ideal vehicle and exploring it for ourselves. It was as if we were following in the footsteps of the original explorers across a timeless landscape, unchanged for centuries and camping in the bush amongst incredible wildlife. Why not offer this experience to everyone as a ready to go package?
We based our company on that principle for the next 25 years, enabling people with full-time jobs and busy lives access to the best slice of an African overland journey. This was a better way to explore the bush, the insider’s way and it enabled people to see the country as a local rather than be shown a sanitised version of it from the back of a game viewer.
Thus, armed with an itinerary and camp bookings, a superbly equipped vehicle and importantly a back-up network if they had a problem, we slowly started to change the way people went on safari.
We set up our first vehicle in 1992 and went back to London to sell the idea to an unsuspecting public, the self-drive safari was born.
However, to this day the most often asked question I still get asked upon explaining to people what I do and what I have devoted my professional life to is “is it safe”? And the answer is always the same, “it’s as safe as you make it and common sense will see you through most situations in Africa!”
I can understand the newcomers trepidation when they have been fed a lifetime’s worth of dubious news stories of the “Dark Continent”, but that is all they are, stories about some countries in a continent that can amazingly fit the USA, Europe, Eastern Europe, India, Japan, and China combined with its perimeter. Countries like Namibia have National Parks larger than some countries and a low population density, political stability and personal safety statistics better than many European countries. So please never use personal safety as a reason not to travel to Africa.
Since Jack Kerouac’s popularised the road trip, it has been deeply ingrained in the USA as a style of travelling that enabled rewarding and life-changing travel experiences.
The progression from the road trip to the self-drive safari is seamless and no more hazardous a way of travelling than driving through the wilderness parks back home. In the same way that you would take care of any new journey, if you follow a few common-sense rules, you will stay safe.
For some, they will want to do all the research and planning and make their own bookings to create what they believe is the best priced holiday however, the amount of knowledge needed and time to research this type of journey can be daunting. Furthermore, the pitfalls of going it alone, combined with the benefits of using a specialist self-drive tour operator will ensure peace of mind whilst you are on the road.
Many traditional safari tour operators don’t understand why driving yourself works so well as a safari experience. They prefer to create journeys that are more controlling of their clients and offer similar variations on lodges and camps linked by light aircraft transfers, with a highly polished product and a high level of guiding. These types of safari can deliver wonderful game experiences, especially if top-level guiding is found. However, to the more independent-minded, it can be slightly frustrating and over-controlling.
The experienced operator, who understands the concept, will create a unique self-drive journey, built around the level of experience of clients and challenge as well as enthrall them with a route that delivers safe and rewarding encounters with both the wildlife and the local population and gain an insight that stays with them and even changes their perceptions of the world.
By Charles Norwood
So, what’s the best way to start planning this type of journey? Please follow our next blog post for the answer.