How to survive a game drive with a toddler/young child

Game drive vehicle at Gocheganas, the best place for sundowner game drives near Windhoek

Game drives are one of the most fun things to do in Namibia. You never know what you’ll see: maybe herds of elephants or a lion eating a zebra or springbok pronking. Or you might get to have gin and tonics with rhinos. You never know.

However, with a kid, game drives are not always so great.

One of the first things we learned when we moved here was that we needed a solid strategy for keeping M entertained and happy, particularly during guided game drives in an open vehicle. They’re usually 3-4 hours long, and sometimes you’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle. There can be lots of driving without seeing much of anything, and usually the animals are far more interesting to us than they are to him. I could watch zebras all day, whereas M is finished after 5 minutes, max. There are also times when you don’t want your kid making tons of noise. Best case scenario, it scares the animals away; worst case, the animal thinks you’re a threat and charges you. Or, if it’s a carnivore, it could try to eat your kid. This is why Erindi doesn’t allow children five and under on open vehicle game drives.

Game drive tire change at Mt. Etjo

On every game drive, we make sure we always bring…

  • High-value snacks: I’m not talking about apple slices and carrots; I’m talking about brownies, cookies, M&Ms, lollypops, etc. The good stuff. It’s hard to talk when your mouth is full of food. And hangry kids are no fun.
  • An extra camera: preferably a light-weight one with a wrist strap, easy-to-press shutter button, and a big display screen. After a game drive where M insisted on using my enormous DSLR camera himself nearly the entire time (and I asked if I could leave him with the rhinos), I always pack our little point-and-shoot from 2010 for him to use.
  • A water bottle: It’s easy to get dehydrated in an open-air vehicle, and sometimes we fill it with juice when we worry that M isn’t drinking enough liquids.
  • A jacket or sweat shirt: Especially on the evening game drives, it can get cold surprisingly fast. Or it might rain. Open-air vehicles in the rain are also no fun.
  • Kindle/iPad/etc: We went on a game drive at Mount Etjo that took a solid hour longer than expected, and towards the end it was freezing cold and raining. Luckily we had M’s jacket and he was warm, cozy, and happy playing a game on his kindle while the rest of us sat there shivering and miserable.
  • Close-toed shoes: All of us always wear close-toed shoes on game drives. You never know what you’re going to have to potentially walk through, whether it’s animal poop, rocky terrain, or thorns. M calls his sneakers his “safari shoes.”

Lastly, follow the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If your kid is happy doing one thing, don’t make them stop because you think they should be doing something else. We took M on the carnivore feeding tour at Na’an Ku/se and instead of looking at the caracals, leopards and cheetahs, he wanted to stay in the truck and play a game on his kindle. Was I annoyed? Yes. But it was a hot, miserable day and he was happy, so I let it go.

Zebras! But M just wanted to look at his Kindle, which was fine.

This list will morph as M grows and changes (and is allowed on the Erindi open vehicle game drives) during our three years here. But for now, this is what we’ve got and it’s working pretty well so far!

Riding in style at Na’an Ku Se

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