The truth is, I planned the honeymoon way before we really hit the ground running with wedding planning but hey can you blame me? Now how does a travel blogger decide where to go for a big trip like this? Being in the “industry”, we're inundated with incredible stories and photos daily. It's sensory overload and you know just as well as I do that there are an endless number of places to travel to. In the end, we decided put together one of our most ambitious trips. This is a little bit of an inside look into how the planning process worked for our honeymoon to South Africa and Seychelles.
- 13 top places to visit in Africa
- What is a safari in South Africa really like?
- Kruger National Park for first timers
Where to stay in the South Africa and Seychelles?
Why Seychelles and South Africa?
The big question we asked ourselves was, if we could go anywhere in the world and we weren't restricted by a blogging gig, where would we go? We then thought about where would we be unlikely to go in the foreseeable future. That is to say, where is a place we could go that would be “once in a lifetime” in that it would be difficult to go to. That helped narrow down the destinations.
Another big aspect to a honeymoon is that you want an itinerary where you can just relax. Having done it myself, I can confidently say that planning a wedding a lot of work and is stressful. The honeymoon is meant to be an escape, a celebration, and a time to rejuvenate as a new married couple. I knew from the start that while I want to make sure we get in my fix of outdoor adventure, there'd have to be an R&R component so we wouldn't be saying “oh we totally need a vacation from the vacation” which happens so often with trips. Am I right?
The other aspect to making a decision was whether we could afford it or not. For anyone that knows us, we're one of the most frugal couples out there. I'm a deal hunter at heart and we are careful spenders. So an epic trip like this still had to be within our budget. And how do you cut down costs for a trip? Well, flights and hotels of course!
Hacking flights and hotel for the win
Ok, I admit, this is going to seem a bit more complicated than you think but was totally worth it to end up with the trip that we ended up with, without the massive costs. Now the real deal is that I knew I had over 200,000 Aeroplan points in the bank and 100,000 and 500,000 Hilton Honors points. Being the pragmatic romantic I am, I had saved these for a future honeymoon all this time so there was no reason to hold back. Starting with the R&R part of the trip, what aspirational property could we go to in Hilton's portfolio. We shortlisted:
- Hilton Moorea in French Polynesia
- Conrad Bora Bora Nui
- Conrad Maldives
- Hilton Labriz/Hilton Northolme in Seychelles
I was a bit partial to doing the Conrad Maldives even though we had gone before because everyone still says that they're the best property but wanting to do something a little different, we were looking at either something in the Pacific or Seychelles.
It was like a complex sudoku puzzle where the process of elimination is key except there isn't a right answer.
Now the Pacific Islands pair well with say Australia and New Zealand or Southeast Asia. Seychelles, for those that don't know, is located north east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and because of its proximity to Africa, pairs well with anywhere in that continent.
Well sufficed to say, Seychelles won out as somewhere really unique and was going to be the perfect match to the safari experience we've been longing for.
Once that was figured out, it was a matter of doing some sleuthing around flights. Without boring you with all the details, the key was figuring out which Star Alliance airlines ran routes through Africa, which ones intersected with places where we could do an amazing safari, but also had a way to get to Seychelles. It was like a complex sudoku puzzle where the process of elimination is key except there isn't a right answer.
While Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all looked incredible, it was really South Africa that was set up perfectly for this kind of combination of safari and island getaway. And that is the full story of how our honeymoon itinerary was born.
Planning for a safari, a famous cape, and a speck in the Indian Ocean
As experienced as I am with trip planning, I have to say that this was possibly one of the most challenging ones I've worked on.
Why was it so hard?
For our trip to Japan, things were tricky because of the language barrier but there were outstanding guides to help plan the trip. For some reason, figuring out “how to safari” at Kruger National Park was a whole other animal (pun intended). Kind of like what I've said before about trip planning being a pain in the ass, it was hard to find one single place with all the information I needed to plan a safari. I searched for something out there but it was such a scattered mess that I threw my arms up in the air on more than one occasion. The only reason I was able to figure it out was with my good friend, Andrea, of Wandering iPhone. I'm going to leave the meat of it for a future super guide article but the main things that I had trouble grasping were:
- With limited number of days, how do I make the most of Kruger National Park?
- Within Kruger National Park, which rest camps should I go to? How about the various bungalows? What's the difference between them?
- Alternatively there are the private reserves surrounding Kruger. There are a TON out there. For someone that's wanting to splurge but also keep things reasonable, which ones should I be looking at?
- What's the difference between doing Kruger yourself or at a private reserve?
- How do I plan an itinerary between self-drive and private reserves?
- Does one make your own food at Kruger?
- The list kind of goes on and on…
Sufficed to say, I bugged Andrea A LOT. Thank goodness for her expertise because our whole trip to Kruger, and to a large extent, Cape Town is molded to her recommendations. So yes, having good friends that are seasoned travellers counts for A TON.
Again, I'll spare you the details but I'm thankful that I started planning in February for a November honeymoon. Turns out November is the start of summer (a bit of an adjustment for us northern hemisphere-ers) and thus high season. By the time I booked the private reserve, Elephant Plains, there were barely any rooms left and I actually had to re-arrange the trip so that we did the reserve first before the self-drive through Kruger. While Kruger's bungalows, huts, and tents were still available, there were already quite a number of dates that were slim pickings depending on the camp and the day. The rest of the trip was pretty easy to book thanks to my Marriott points which came in handy because of the Protea line of properties that mostly Category 2 which only costs 10,000 to 15,000 points per night.
Last minute Aeroplan changes
This was a bit unexpected but over these past few months, Air Canada's been sending me alterations to the flight because airline schedules have changed. There was one email I got where I couldn't for the life of me figure out what had changed. I called into Aeroplan to figure out what had happened. It took the rep awhile to figure out too but eventually we noticed that a whole entire flight was missing. This was because the Seychelles to Istanbul flight was pushed so far back that there was no way it could make the connection. The system basically glitched out and dropped the last leg from Istanbul to Washington.
Lesson learned: Always make sure you carefully check your changes in reward ticket itineraries.
Originally, the rep was going to rebook us on a flight with bonus one day layover. I pushed my luck and asked for more. He put me on hold to talk to his manager and we ended up getting a two day layover. SWEET!
With our honeymoon coming up, we're in the final stages of getting ready to hit the road again. Having done Iceland and Ireland in the past 2 years really helped in terms of forcing ourselves to pack light and also having a well rounded set of gear for all seasons. That is why I didn't really stress about getting new clothing. If anything, it was the addition of all the video gear that has made my day pack incredibly heavy thanks to:
- DJI Osmo+ -> Video camera built into a gimbal + some accessories like the extension stick and tripod
- Joby Gorillapod -> Every vlogger needs one of these right?
- DJI Mavic Pro -> Not new but this definitely adds weight and bulk to the kit
- GoPro Hero 5 -> Was debating about leaving this one behind but I don't have anything else that can go underwater
Aside from all the tech gizmos the only other thing we had to go out of our way for were the meds which included Cipro incase (antibiotic for things like diarrhea, bronchitis, and urinary tract infection), Dukoral, and Malaria pills.
Full packing guide for South Africa and Seychelles
This gives you a glimpse into everything I packed for the honeymoon to help you with your own safari adventure.
What's your dream honeymoon destination? I'd love to hear about where you would love to go to even if it's not South Africa or Seychelles!