It's possible to fulfill the dream of a 'grand adventure' Exotic: Family travel to Africa takes money, vaccinations and a willingness to put up with discomfort. But what a trip!

Taking the Kids

November 02, 1997|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE and TC

Some vacation dreams do come true. Just ask Lynne Weaver.

Ever since she visited Africa as a young student, Weaver wanted to return. Twenty-two years, one husband and two sons later, the Massachusetts antiques dealer finally made it. This time she shared with her family the world that for so long had been the stuff of her vacation fantasies.

Their trip last summer to Tanzania, she said, was every bit the "grand adventure" she'd waited for and well worth the thousands of dollars it cost.

"I fell in love with the elephants," she said. "We were so close we could hear them slurping water up in their trunks."

African safaris certainly don't come cheap -- well over $10,000 for a family of four, including air from the East Coast, outfitters say, and that's just for a week or two.

It's no relaxing trip to the beach, either. There are the required vaccinations for everything from yellow fever to typhus and, as in any Third-World region, the restrictions on what you may eat and the possibility that someone will get sick anyway.

The trip itself is arduous: two long days of plane travel followed by miles on bumpy, dusty roads. The poverty is like nothing Americans have seen.

No ballpoints

"We're always complaining that our schools have no money," said Holly Hubbs, a West Virginia teacher who was on safari in Africa last summer with her family. "In Africa we saw what really poor means. I brought scissors, but those children didn't even have paper or ballpoint pens."

But where else in the world can parents and kids track rhino, watch lionesses dig into their just-caught dinner, sit (in a van) surrounded by baboons or observe a Zulu medicine man at work?

"It was [as if] we stepped inside the pages of National Geographic, said Hubbs. "We were there!"

So many American families are clamoring for that

get-us-out-of-our-familiar-world adventure that tour companies are offering family safaris to Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana, complete with visits to a village school, Swahili sing-alongs, lunch at a local guide's home (where the American kids are intrigued by the outhouses and lack of electricity) and the chance to score a goal against a future pen pal.

"The boys couldn't believe the village kids could play soccer so well barefoot," said California grandmother Georgia Searing, who was traveling with her husband and two 11-year-old grandsons. Their trip to Tanzania included eight youngsters, one less than there were adults in the group.

That's not an uncommon scenario in the African bush these days. "There's that narrow window of when the kids are old enough to go and not too old to want to go with their parents," explains Will Weber, whose Michigan-based Journeys tour company has seen this Africa market change over the last 20 years. "The sense of let's-explore-the-world-with-the-kids is stronger than it's ever been." (Call Journeys in Ann Arbor, Mich., at 800-255-8735.)

"There's definitely a feeling that people want to see Africa before it gets overrun," adds East Africa coordinator Anne Morrison for Wildland Adventures. (Call Wildland Adventures in Seattle, at 800-345-4453.)

Millennial trip

"A lot of people are talking about taking their kids for the millennium," observes Judi Wineland, who with her husband specializes in family safaris at Thompson Safaris. (Call Thompson Safaris in Waterton, Mass., at 800-235-0289.) Grandparents are at the head of the line.

Some ultra-deluxe trips, specifically for grandparents and their grandchildren, now "sell out before we get the brochures printed," said Helena Koenig, founder of GrandTravel, the travel company that specializes in grandparent-grandchildren tours. (Call GrandTravel, in Bethesda at 800-247-7651.)

Abercrombie & Kent is adding more family departures to meet the demand. (Call Abercrombie & Kent in Oakbrook, Ill., at 800-323-7308.)

Families can also use a trip to Africa to teach their kids that giving is as rewarding as merely touring: Family Explorations now is developing service trips during which parents and kids will devote equal time to helping repair a school or develop a new program for the children and seeing game preserves. They'll still pay plenty for the privilege, however. (Call Family Explorations in Swarthmore, Pa., at 800-WE-GO-TOO.)

Yet the families who are packing their cameras and taking their kids to Africa aren't always those upscale, been-everywhere, done-everything types.

"We get people who don't even have a passport," said Thompson Safaris' Wineland.

Some have put aside money for years for the trip. "I get calls from people when their kid is 6: They want to start saving so they can go when he's 10," she said.

Holly and Dave Hubbs, both teachers in a tiny town, blew all of Holly's salary and then borrowed more to finance their family's trip to Africa last summer.

"We tell the kids this is their inheritance," said Holly.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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