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Tanzania Travel Planning Guide
Anticipated Travel Date: July 2021
Planning an Epic Safari & Beach Adventure in Tanzania
Needless to say, I could not be more excited for my first trip to Africa. I have wanted to experience an African Safari since I was young & saw some amazing pictures from my Aunt & Uncle’s trip to Africa. I am not 100% sure, but I believe they went to South Africa.
It was difficult for me to narrow down which part of Africa I wanted to visit and the types of experiences I wanted to have there. Luckily, I had a wonderful & patient travel agent with True Africa, who worked with me via email and over the phone to come up with the perfect itinerary that fit my time and budget constraints. If you have read any of my other posts, you probably realize I typically do most of my own travel planning and arrangements. But for this trip I chose to hand over the logistical work to an expert in Africa as a treat to myself for my 40th birthday! It was Murielle, with True Africa, who helped me decide that Tanzania was the perfect first African experience for me.
So, how did we get to this point? Why did I choose Tanzania?
What are the things that need to be taken care of before a trip to Tanzania?
What is the best timeline for getting everything done?
Well, let me show you!
- 07/09/2019 – Deciding Where to Travel for my 40th Birthday (2 years out)
- 08/15/2019 – Decision to travel to Africa Made (23 months out)
- 08/17/2019 – Begin Correspondence with True Africa (23 months out)
- 08/31/2019 – Initial Deposit Placed with True Africa / Save $ (23 months out)
- 02/02/2020 – Pemba Island Addition (17 months out)
- 03/01/2020 – Coronavirus / Attempting to Save $ (16 months out)
- 08/11/2020 – Purchased Outbound International Flights (11 months out)
- 08/12/2020 – Added 1 Day to Front of Trip (11 months out)
- 08/24/2020 – Purchased Return International Flights (11 months out)
- 08/25/2020 – Added Domestic Flight with Coastal Aviation (11 months out)
- 09/01/2020 – Initial Packing List Started / Wish List Started (10 months out)
- 09/17/2020 – Correspondence with Dive Shops (10 months out)
- 09/21/2020 – Upgraded Flight Luggage Weight Allowance (10 months out)
Timeline: July 2019 - August 2019 (2 years out)
I started thinking about where I wanted to travel for my 40th birthday just after my 38th birthday. Yeah, I know – I’m a planner. Plus, I knew I wanted to do something big, and would need lots of time to save the money.
I started looking into places by browsing the internet. I wanted to go someplace I had never gone before, but that didn’t really help me narrow things down very much. I kept considering different options, running ideas by friends, and eventually narrowed it down to either Lake Como, Italy or someplace in Africa. I eventually settled on Africa. I absolutely love Italy, but I have been to Italy already, and I thought Lake Como would be a better fit for a birthday or special trip later in life. I am fortunate to still be in good health, and wanted to do something more adventurous for my 40th birthday since I am able to do so.
Once I decided I wanted to go to Africa, I went crazy researching all of the incredible things to do across the continent. I wanted to experience a safari while staying in a tent, I wanted to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, visit the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, see Victoria Falls in Zambia, visit the Great Pyramids in Egypt, drink wine in South Africa, and on and on and on.
I was close to driving myself crazy when I decided that as a birthday treat for myself, I was going to work with a travel agent in Africa instead of doing all of the planning & logistical work on my own. Best Decision Ever. Murielle, with True Africa, put together some amazing proposals that helped me get a handle on how long it would take to travel between all of those destinations and the costs associated with that adventure. Let’s just say it was way out of my price range, and was going to take way more time than I could take away from work.
So – back to reality! First and foremost I knew I wanted to experience a safari while I was in Africa. And one of the main things I hoped to see on safari should be no shock – CATS!
Since the trip was planned during my birthday, which is in July, Tanzania stuck out due to the opportunity to see the millions of wildebeest migrating throughout Tanzania & Kenya during that time of year. And more grazing animals should also mean more opportunities to see Big Cats. Another deciding factor was the ability to stay in tents for a portion of the trip, instead of relying solely on lodges. And finally, I also wanted to spend some time relaxing at the beach and hopefully squeeze in some scuba diving. Since Zanzibar is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, that pretty much sealed the deal.
By staying in one country, we successfully reduced the cost of the trip and the amount of time that would be spent moving from one location to the next. By choosing Tanzania, I would still be able to experience safaris throughout several different ecosystems, hopefully see some cats, and end the trip with a few days by the ocean.
Yay, I'm going to Tanzania!
Even though I am using a travel agent, that doesn’t stop me from being a control freak and wanting to know exactly what to do & expect before and during the trip. Not to mention, I am super excited and can’t stop thinking about the trip!
Since I am using a travel agent for the majority of the trip, the planning for this trip looks a little bit different, but still required some action on my part… so read on to find out what I had to do to get ready for the trip to Tanzania & the timeline for getting everything done!
Confirmed Itinerary / Initial Deposit / Start Saving $$
Timeline: August 17, 2019 - August 31, 2019 (23 months out)
Over the course of a couple of weeks I worked with Murielle, a safari specialist & general manager for True Africa: The Safari Company, to finalize the itinerary for Tanzania. She put together an amazing PDF itinerary highlighting all of the accommodations for the trip & all of the amazing attractions I would get to experience.
Once we finalized the itinerary, I knew the price of the safari & everything that would be included in that price. In general, the price included lodging, in country transportation (air & ground), park permits, most meals, & laundry at a couple places. To hold the reservations, I put down a 30% deposit. The balance was due 10 weeks prior to trip.
There was no time to waste to start saving for the big trip. So, first, I sat down and tried to come up with a total estimate for the trip. I came up with the following list of things to add up to determine an estimate for the total trip cost.
- True Africa Safari Payment
- International Flights
- Lyft/Uber to & from airport
- Travel Insurance
- Pet Sitting
- Extra Food & Drinks
- Scuba Diving & Dive Gear Rental
- DAN Diving Insurance
- Other Excursions / Activities
- Tips for Guides & Hotel Staff
- Souvenirs & Spending Money
- Uber – Dar es Salaam
Once I made a list of all of the possible expenses, I added everything together to come up with a total trip cost estimate. Then, I divided the total amount by the number of months I had left until the trip to give myself a goal of how much money I needed to set aside each month to have enough by the time the trip rolled around. Obviously, some of the money would need to be paid before the trip – airline tickets, my balance with True Africa, travel insurance, etc. – but I thought this would at least give me a gauge to make sure I was on the right track with saving.
Pemba Island Addition
Timeline: February 2, 2020 (17 months out)
After I had already finalized the itinerary with True Africa, I came across a reason to want to add a few extra days to the trip. I found out that you can stay in an underwater villa at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island. Since I had no idea when I would have another opportunity to return to Tanzania, I decided to add a few days to the trip in order to make a trip to Pemba Island. I was also excited to add Pemba to my itinerary as it is not well known with tourists, unlike neighboring Zanzibar.
I was able to make this happen because I made some extra money working overtime at the end of 2019, and so I went ahead and paid for the few extra days. I probably should have put that money towards saving for the bulk of the trip that I had already arranged, but I just couldn’t resist!
Now time to save up for the rest of the trip!!
Coronavirus / Saving $$
Timeline: March 2020 - August 2020 (16 months - 11 months out)
If I had a crystal ball & I had known what was about to happen in the world, I doubt I would have made the same decision to add those few extra days to the trip. But I had no way of knowing that in early 2020 a novel coronavirus was spreading around the world, & that virus would change the way we travel and live.
As happened to many people during this time, our work life & financial situation changed. I was deemed an essential employee, so I was fortunate enough to keep my job during the pandemic, but the hours were greatly reduced in an attempt to social distance. With that change came a reduction in pay.
At first, I thought I was going to have to cancel the trip to Tanzania. I sat down and took a hard look at my finances. I looked for ways to cut expenses to compensate for the reduction in pay. It didn’t leave much left for saving for a big trip. I wasn’t very optimistic, and I was really bummed out. Plus, I didn’t even know if travel would be allowed. So many people (myself included) had to cancel multiple travel plans.
In fact, it was having to cancel other trips that allowed me to set some money aside in case Tanzania opened for tourism by July 2021. Then I got creative to further reduce expenses. I took advantage of lower interest rates by refinancing my mortgage, RV, and student loans. I also sold a few things & further cut back on spending. What I was spending I put on credit cards to earn travel points while being extra careful to make sure I didn’t spend more than I could afford to pay off each month. Slowly, but surely I began to save up some money for the Tanzania trip.
Booked International Flights: Departure
Timeline: August 11, 2020 (11 months out)
The one-year out mark came & went, and I started looking into international flights as the airlines started to post their flight schedules. My credit card did not post the flights as soon as the airlines dropped them, but I was able to figure out the delay and make sure to check the flights the day they were posted with my credit card. I wanted to book through my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card travel program in order to use points to save some money.
I knew that I really wanted to fly first or business class since the flights would be long. I got spoiled when I found a crazy deal on Delta One to Paris using skymiles a few years ago and I was able to lay down and sleep most of the way to France. It was the most comfortable I had ever been on an airplane, and I was hooked. It’s not really something I splurge on for shorter flights, but being a long one & my 40th birthday, I wanted to make it work. But I was also prepared to make it work on regular tickets if it was the difference between getting to go on the trip or not since my financial situation wasn’t where we expected it to be due to the pandemic.
I don’t know if it was because I purchased the flights the day they were posted or the travel industry suffering from the pandemic, but I ended up finding an amazing deal for the flights. I debated waiting for the return flights to post, as round trip or multi-way tickets are often a better deal that one way tickets. But I finally decided to go ahead and use the points on one of my travel credit cards to purchase our outbound flights, and wait to use the points on my other travel credit card to purchase the return flights. It was too good of a deal to pass up, and splitting the flights meant I could use more of my points.
I will be traveling Tanzania on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and will be flying business class thanks to an amazing deal & travel points earned on the Capital One Venture Card. I leave from Atlanta, GA, USA and arrive in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania after a 5 hour layover in Amsterdam.
I did a little research and was excited to find out that you could easily rent a room for a few hours or even just a shower suite to freshen up at one of the hotels in Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport. There are also showers and refreshments available in some of the lounges at the airport as well. Between the lounge access that comes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card & the lounge access that comes with flying business class on KLM, I will have options to pass the time during our layover. Schiphol also has plenty of restaurants, shops, a library, and spa services. So I may just get my nails done while waiting too!
Added 1 Day to the Front of the Trip
Timeline: August 12, 2020 (11 months out)
While booking the outbound flights to Tanzania I realized that the flights were substantially cheaper if I left one day earlier than I had originally planned. Even knowing that would mean adding extra expenses in the form of another night in a hotel and meals, to me it was a no brainer. Even if the price was the same, why would I pay more for a shorter vacation when I could leave a day earlier and spend the same amount of money? In fact, the price difference in the flights was so much that we will actually save money AND get an extra day in Tanzania!
So a tip for anyone booking flights on a budget – check the price of flights on a day before and after your preferred flight day if possible. In this case, I was able to be flexible and it worked out in my favor!
I am also excited about this extra day because as I get older I have been notorious for getting sick while traveling. My first trip in first/business class to Paris that I mentioned earlier? I turned green as we were touching down and had to clutch a vomit bag through customs as my travel buddy fanned me with our passports hoping I wouldn’t lose it. (I managed to make it to the hotel where I spent our entire first day in the bathroom.) And don’t get me started on the time I clutched a ziplock bag while shuffling through the Vatican or “feeding the fishes” off the side of a dive boat in St. Kitts.
Okay – so it took me quite a while to realize I get motion sickness now. Coming from someone who used to read books while riding in a car driving on curvy mountain roads, I didn’t want to admit it was happening. Regardless… it happens and for this trip I was glad to have an extra day at the start of the trip with nothing planned in case I do get sick again. Plus it will help me adjust to the time difference and (if I am feeling up to it) get to see a little more of Arusha than I originally anticipated.
I was hoping my travel agent, Murielle, would be able to add the extra night to our stay at the first lodge in our itinerary, Lake Duluti Lodge. I liked the idea of not having to travel for a day, and they have a coffee plantation and nice grounds that I was hoping to explore if I felt up to it. But I was also prepared to stay somewhere else if necessary.
So I contacted Murielle, and she was able to contact the lodge and secure the extra night at Lake Duluti Lodge and adjust my airport pickup with my safari guide! Win!
Booked International Flights: Return
Timeline: August 24, 2020 (11 months out)
Again, paying attention the date I thought the flights would post to the credit card reservation system, I was online the day flights for our return trip posted. I got such an amazing deal on the outbound flights to Tanzania, I was worried I wouldn’t be as lucky again. I told myself that if I could only fly business class one way, then the outbound flight, with the overnight flight and time change into the future, was the better of the 2 flights to have business class. If it didn’t work out financially to fly business class back home, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Well, folks, I got lucky again!! I am traveling business class on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Atlanta, GA, USA with another layover in Amsterdam. This time the great deal was due to points and my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.
The reason I chose to fly out of Dar es Salaam instead of Zanzibar (like I had originally planned) was – you guessed it – a huge price difference! The international flights from Zanzibar to Atlanta were substantially more expensive than from mainland Tanzania (Dar es Salaam) to Atlanta. Yet, a domestic flight from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam is an inexpensive 30 minute flight. The savings of flying out of Dar es Salaam were much higher than the cost of adding in that short & inexpensive domestic flight with Coastal Aviation. Plus, I will have the opportunity to spend the night in Dar es Salaam, a place I have never visited before.
Initial Packing List / Wish List Development
Timeline: September 2020 (10 months out)
With the flights booked this trip started to feel real. It started to feel like this trip may actually happen despite everything else going on in the world. So I shifted gears and started thinking about what I wanted to pack for my trip to Tanzania. Another way that I thought I could save some money would be to take inventory of what I already owned that I could use on the trip, and create a wish list of things I would like to purchase for the trip. This would help save money in a few ways.
First, I would know what I already own that would 100% work for the trip. Plus, I could get creative and see if there were other items that I already own that could be repurposed or changed to meet my needs for the trip. I could also start narrowing down the packing list and remove anything from the packing or wish list that I don’t really need. Finally, this idea helps reduce the risk of purchasing something, only to realize I had something similar in our closet.
Second, I could keep an eye out for clearance sales, and pick up a few items off of my wish list as they went on sale. I could work a few items into my monthly household budget here and there instead of being stuck with a huge purchase (that I likely wouldn’t be able to afford & therefore wouldn’t happen) right before the trip.
Finally, I would be ready with some ideas when my family started asking me what I wanted for Christmas/Birthdays, and possibly pick up a few more things for the trip as gifts!
Because I am a little neurotic & concerned about the strict weight requirements for the luggage, I brought back an activity that served me well in the past when I was planning what to pack to try to fit 2 weeks of living into a backpack for a trip to Spain & Italy – The Packing Trial Run.
A packing trial run is where I get out all of the items I think I want to pack for a trip and pack a suitcase as though I am about to leave. As a visual learner, I am able to see what goes together for forming outfits, what fits in the luggage and what doesn’t, and what I don’t think I want to take after all. I normally don’t start this process until I am about a month out from the trip, but the concerns about the weight limits & desire to save money pushed it up on the timeline for this trip. I also took the packing trial packing run a step further & weighed everything on a kitchen scale! Okay – I know that is a bit extreme, but it was also very informative, and helped me narrow down our packing list a little bit.
Want to see what we plan to take to Tanzania?
Check out our TANZANIA PACKING LISTS!
Dive Shop Correspondence
Timeline: September 17, 2020 (10 months out)
The packing trial run & weighing everything out made me immediately start thinking about how I was going to handle my desire to scuba dive while in Zanzibar & Pemba. So the next step for me was to contact the dive shops in Zanzibar & Pemba to find out their pricing and what dive equipment is available to rent. I own my own dive equipment, but do not always travel with everything. I do at least like to take my own mask & regulators when I travel. I have small head and having a leaky mask sucks, and I like putting my mouth on my own gear. I know they sanitize it, but still. Unfortunately, with the strict weight limits I am under for the bush flights, that will not be able to happen for this trip.
Or will it?
Upgraded Luggage Weight Allowance on Domestic Flights
Timeline: September 21, 2020 (10 months out)
After the packing trial run, I was even more stressed out about the limited weight allowance for the domestic flights. But I knew I made it work for the Spain/Italy trip, and was willing to try to deal with it. But the more I thought about it, I realized that when I traveled to Europe with only a backpack, I didn’t yet have my new camera or zoom lenses & I didn’t go scuba diving. Both photography and dive equipment add a good bit of weight to the equation.
I contacted my travel agent, Murielle with True Africa, and told her my concerns. While she did a good job of giving me some packing tips, which included some tips from her son who is a scuba diver also, I was still curious about our other options.
She reached out to the domestic airline I was using for the bush flights, Coastal Aviation, and was able to secure an upgraded luggage allowance at an additional cost.
Next, I had to reach out to Coastal Aviation myself to see if I could get the same upgrade for my final flight from Zanzibar, since the availability varies from flight to flight based on total weight.
Success! The upgrade was available on all of my flights. I decided that the luxury of being able to pack a bit more weight was worth the additional cost.
Typically, I try not to be high maintenance, but I must admit I am super excited about being able to add in some additional luxuries to my packing list that I long ago scratched out to save weight.