Plan With Me!
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 our 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 – Surprise for Chris Planned & Paid For (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, we're 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 we had to do to get ready for our 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 our itinerary for Tanzania. She put together an amazing PDF itinerary highlighting all of the accommodations for our trip & all of the amazing attractions we would get to experience.
Once we finalized the itinerary, we knew the price of the safari & everything that would be included in that price. In general, the price included our lodging, in country transportation (air & ground), park permits, most of our meals, & laundry at a couple places. To hold our reservations, we put down a 30% deposit. The balance will be due 10 weeks prior to trip.
We didn’t have any time to waste before we started saving for our 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 we 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.
Surprise for Chris Planned & Paid For
Timeline: February 2, 2020 (17 months out)
After I had already finalized our itinerary with True Africa, I came across a reason to want to add a few extra days to our trip to Tanzania. And even though this trip is for my 40th birthday, I decided to keep it a secret from Chris and surprise him on the trip. I did eventually have to let him in on the fact we were staying a few extra days so he could pack enough clothing, the details are still under wraps. So, in case he happens to read this, it will have to remain a surprise to all of you as well!
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. Chris and I were both deemed essential employees, so were fortunate enough to keep our jobs, but the hours were greatly reduced in an attempt to social distance. With that change came a reduction in pay.
At first, I thought we were going to have to cancel the trip to Tanzania. We sat down and look a hard look at our finances. We 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 (ourselves included) had to cancel 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 we got creative to further reduce expenses. We took advantage of lower interest rates by refinancing our mortgage, RV, and student loans. We also sold a few things & further cut back on our spending. What we were spending we put on credit cards to earn travel points while being extra careful to make sure we didn’t spend more than we could afford to pay off each month. Slowly, but surely we 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 we started looking into international flights as the airlines started to post their flight schedules. Our credit cards did not post the flights as soon as the airlines dropped them, but we were able to figure out the delay and make sure to check the flights the day they were posted with our credit card. We wanted to book through our credit card travel programs in order to use points to save some money.
We knew that we really wanted to fly first or business class since the flights would be long. We got spoiled when we were able to book flights on Delta One to Paris on skymiles a few years ago and were 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 we splurge on for shorter flights, but being a long one & my 40th birthday, we wanted to make it work. But we were also prepared to make it work on regular tickets if it was the difference between getting to go on the trip or not since our financial situation wasn’t where we expected it to be.
I don’t know if it was because we purchased the flights the day they were posted, but we ended up finding an amazing deal for the flights. We 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 we finally decided to go ahead and use the points on Chris’ travel credit card to purchase our outbound flights, and wait to use the points on my travel credit card to purchase our return flights. It was too good of a deal to pass up, and splitting the flights meant we could use more of our points.
We are traveling Tanzania on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and will be flying business class thanks to an amazing deal & travel points earned on Chris’ Capital One Venture Card. We 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 hour 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, we 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 we are waiting too!
Added 1 Day to the Front of the Trip
Timeline: August 12, 2020 (11 months out)
While booking our outbound flights to Tanzania we realized that the flights were substantially cheaper if we left one day earlier than we 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 we pay more for a shorter vacation when we 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 still 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 our case, we were able to be flexible and it worked out in our 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 Chris 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 our trip with nothing planned in case I do get sick again. Plus it will help us adjust to the time difference and (if I am feeling up to it) get to see a little more of Arusha than we 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 our airport pickup with our safari guide! Win!
Booked International Flights: Return
Timeline: August 24, 2020 (11 months out)
Again, paying attention the date we thought the flights would post to the credit card reservation system, we were online the day flights for our return trip posted. We got such an amazing deal on the outbound flights to Tanzania, I was worried we wouldn’t be as lucky again. I told myself that if we 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 for us to fly business class back home, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Well, folks, we got lucky again!! We are 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 we 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, we will have about 7 hours in Dar es Salaam, a place we have never visited before, to have dinner and explore. The domestic airline has a luggage check at the airport, so we plan to drop our main bag & do a little sight seeing on our last evening in Tanzania! In my opinion, that is a much better way to spend the last night of our trip than hanging out in airports or on a plane.
Initial Packing List / Wish List Development
Timeline: September 2020 (10 months out)
With our 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 Chris and I shifted gears and started thinking about what we wanted to pack for our trip to Tanzania. Another way that we thought we could save some money would be to take inventory of what we already owned that we could use on the trip, and create a wish list of things we would like to purchase for the trip. This would help us save money in a few ways.
First, we would know what we already own that would 100% work for the trip. Plus, we could get creative and see if there were other items that we already own that could be repurposed or changed to meet our needs for the trip. We could also start narrowing down our packing list and remove anything from the packing or wish list that we don’t really need. And we would not run the risk of purchasing something, only to realize we had something similar in our closet.
Second, we could keep an eye out for clearance sales, and pick up a few items off of our wish list as they went on sale. We could work a few items into our monthly household budget here and there instead of being stuck with a huge purchase (that we likely won’t be able to afford & therefore wouldn’t happen) right before the trip.
Finally, we would be ready with some ideas when our family started asking us what we wanted for Christmas, and possibly pick up a few more things for the trip as gifts!
Because we are both a little neurotic & concerned about the strict weight requirements for our luggage, we brought back an activity that served us well when we spent 2 weeks living out of a backpack in Spain & Italy – The Packing Trial Run.
A packing trial run is where we get out all of the items we think we want to pack for a trip and pack our suitcase as though we are about to leave. We are able to see what goes together for forming outfits, what fits in the luggage and what doesn’t, and what we don’t think we want to take after all. We normally don’t start this process until we are about a month out from the trip, but our concerns about the weight limits & desire to save money pushed it up on the timeline for this trip. We also took our 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 us 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 we were going to handle our desire to scuba dive while we are in Zanzibar. So the next step for me was to contact the dive shop in Zanzibar to find out their pricing and what dive equipment is available to rent. Chris and I own our own dive equipment, but do not always travel with everything. We do at least like to take our own masks & regulators when we travel. 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 we are 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, Chris was even more stressed out about the limited weight allowance for the domestic flights. While I agreed that it is not ideal, I knew we made it work while we were in Europe, and was willing to deal with it. But the more we discussed it, Chris made some valid points. When we traveled to Europe with only a backpack, we weren’t lugging our good cameras with extra lenses & we didn’t go scuba diving. Both photography and dive equipment add a good bit of weight to the equation.
I contacted our travel agent, Murielle with True Africa, and told her our concerns. While she did a good job of giving us some packing tips, which included some tips from her son who is a scuba diver also, we were still curious about our other options.
She reached out to the domestic airline we were using for our bush flights, Coastal Aviation, and was able to secure Chris 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 Chris for our final flight from Zanzibar, since the availability varies from flight to flight based on total weight.
Success! The upgrade was available on all of our flights. We decided that the luxury of being able to pack a bit more weight was worth the additional cost.
I’m not going to lie. At first I was a little annoyed with Chris for being so high maintenance about some dive & camera gear. But now that we have the extra weight allowance for one ticket, 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! It has not escaped Chris that I upgraded his ticket, so anything I add on over my 33lb/15kg weight allowance will go in his bag for him to carry. Birthday privileges!