Travel to Botswana: The Real Deal with Stephanie Holdenried
Ready to travel to Botswana? Here are the activities and sites that Stephanie Holdenried recommends for your trip.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to your most recent destination?
I am fortunate to live in beautiful Marin County, California (just north of San Francisco) where a 20-minute drive in any direction puts me at a beach, a world-class city, or tall redwoods. When I’m not traveling, I help people feel better through the food they eat (I am a nutritionist), and I also help people connect to a deeper part of themselves through working with horses. I find connecting to nature very grounding (hence the work with horses) so I seek destinations that help me do that in my off time and get out of the constant stimulation in everyday life.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
My first trip to Africa was 26 years ago. A girlfriend and I backpacked through Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa (when it was still under apartheid) for three months. It was an amazing adventure, and once home, I knew I had to get back to Africa ASAP. It was simply where my heart was…
From there, I went to work in the adventure travel world for 20+ years and have been back to Africa many times. Botswana rose to the top as my favorite place: it has some of the best managed wildlife parks in the world. It is there that you get a feeling of the true wild Africa. You can get lost in the bush, have views that go on forever and that have no signs of man or civilization. Wildlife is plentiful. And there are the best lavender-colored sunsets.
I have done both camping trips there and stayed in deluxe-tented camps and lodges. Both are great ways to experience the area.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
Staying in my pup-tent while an elephant ate the tree above it throughout the night. I couldn’t leave the tent so I just laid there and hoped a branch would not fall on me and that the big guy watched his step.
After spending two weeks camping and sleeping on the ground throughout Botswana, I ended up in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and checked into a hotel eager for a shower and real bed. But, I couldn’t sleep that night – I missed the sounds of the bush and the discomfort of the ground!
In the Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway wrote: “Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.”
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I knew Africa would be more difficult to travel in than Europe, but I had no idea how difficult it would be until I got there that very first time. And I’m glad I didn’t know because it might have put me off. Granted, getting around is much easier and better now than it was nearly 30 years ago.
My last trip to Africa was to Ethiopia (which was about my seventh trip) and I was happy to feel that the magic of Africa was very much still there.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to your destination?
As always, be aware of your surroundings. Use the same street sense that you would use in any large city in your home country. Don’t flaunt your wealth through jewelry, cash, etc (yes, you will be considered wealthy if you were able to afford a plane ticket to get there and by any developing world standard, you are). Dress conservatively. Don’t go for a run in shorts and a skimpy top and not expect to get harassed. Don’t wander off with men unknown to you. Listen to your gut – if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not.
I realize all of the above doesn’t sound like very much fun, and I certainly do NOT advocate sitting in a hotel room and never leaving. However a healthy dose of being safe and sound goes a long way.
I make a point to patronize women-run shops and stands. If there’s a choice, I head to the woman’s.
Photo credit: Jim Frost