Australian-born Justine Glen urges women to travel around Africa. The founder of Reis Voyage says travelling to Kenya on her own in 1995 was one of the best decisions she has ever made. She married there and both her children grew up there. Now she divides her time between Australia and Africa, creating bespoke tours for adventurous souls. Justine talks about the challenges of travelling and living in this vast continent.
1. What advice would you give to women exploring Africa?
- I suggest travelling with either a friend or a small escorted trip of no more than 4 – 6 people.
- If you are more adventurous and want to travel solo then choose edge of season or peak times of year.
- Select luxury camps that offer you the option to be more social and meet other people from other parts of the world.
- Fly-in packages especially in Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana are a great way for the mid to high end solo traveller to get around.
- South Africa, Botswana and Kenya are great first-time introductions into experiencing wildlife in Africa.
- As you become a more seasoned traveller, then you could look at walking adventures in wildlife destinations like South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
- Travelling with escorted trips is the safest way for women. The reason for this is that everyone still has a personalised experience.
- Advantages include everyone fitting in one vehicle, which is like having your own private vehicle, but without the cost. You meet interesting people of similar ages and interests, and form strong friendships.
We lived in Arusha, Tanzania, the tourism gateway for the northern circuit of national parks. It was great time in my life and very different to Australia. Houses are secured by high fences or walls. We had a mix of friends from different nationalities. My son spoke Kiswahili rather than english when he first started to walk and talk. We worked with local Tanzanians within a safari operations background and had the opportunity to visit national parks such as Tarangire or Lake Manyara on weekends. Wildlife was on our doorstep.
Roads are full of potholes and only few of the main roads are tarmac. Vegie markets were noisy and colourful. “Matumba” – a clothes market was where the world’s donations would end up. There was nothing like finding a pair of jeans from Jeanswest in the piles! Kids would call out “mzungu mzungu” (means white person). Bartering at the local Masai curio market was always challenging and humorous. Tanzanians are very proud people and I wouldn’t swap my time there for anything in the world. Obviously security is always something that you have to be careful of, but if you are aware of what is around you and respect the country you are in then it is a safe place to be. Waking up every morning to the view of Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro is something I miss every day.
3. What were the advantages and challenges for your children growing up there?
My two children were taught humility, seeing other children that are less fortunate than them. They are taught respect. Swahili culture is very polite. Consideration and respect are always given to elders. They made good friends from all nationalities, they ate the local food – “nyama choma na chipsy” meaning BBQ meat and chips. The biggest challenge is education and international schools are expensive. I didn’t want to send my kids to boarding school so the only option was to move back to Australia.
The Grand Circle Foundation provides support for education in local schools mainly in Tanzania and Kenya. Clients on safari to Tanzania will enjoy a visit to a designated school to see what the foundation has either built or provided for children and teachers. An example recently is of bicycles being donated to one of the schools in Karatu to provide a mode of transport to either children or teachers living a distance away. Projects enable water to be readily available and school materials for children. Farming projects help provide the school with necessary food supplies to feed children while they’re at school. Once the school has reached a level of sustainability through completion of projects the foundation will then source a new school to support in another surrounding area.
Please note my definition of group tours is 12 + people. Most budget or selected group tours will fly through certain areas due to on ground expenses and to protect their own margins. They will make sure to push local operators for the lowest accommodation rates – based on a volume of passengers that is not always achieved – only stay in national parks for the minimal time possible. While I get that this sometimes is the only way for people to be able to afford visiting Africa, it isn’t giving back to the livelihood of the people or to conservation efforts that are trying to help preserve wildlife against poaching.
I have a friend in Arusha who started the concept of the “slow safari”. They have a luxury camp called Chem Chem. It’s based on the edge of Lake Manyara and is on a wildlife corridor into Tarangire national park. At the start they struggled to get people to understand their concept. Today through education and sticking to their beliefs they are doing exceptional well. Nico has focused on conservation and reviving a wildlife population in an area that was nearly desolate.
6. What’s the demographic of your clients?
Demographic from the ages of 46 – 64, hard working professionals who love to travel or are well travelled. They will be either solo women travellers, couples and good friends traveller together. A majority are women, more than men and/or couples. They want the ultimate experience everywhere they go and value for money. Luxury adventure – the combination of 4 – 5 star accommodation and a choice of selected adventures such as walking, horse riding and traditional game viewing. They don’t want budget or the noisy lodges or group tours, they want to enjoy every experience available to them. Clients are into conservation and plight of the community including wildlife projects. They want to see the raw and remote parts of Africa and not skip through it.
- Wildlife – walking and visiting the national parks. Photography – having time to take thousands of photos.
- People – the banter and speaking the language.
- Local projects – there is nothing better than visiting a local school or community project were the kids are constantly smiling throughout hardship. Giving back.
- Food – going down to and eating nyama choma at a local bar – having a Kilimanjaro beer to wash it down – is probably not the most ladylike thing but was our favourite thing to do on a Sunday.
- Horse riding – Horseback safaris are another great way to see wildlife.