Trips to Africa, particularly wilderness safaris, have become quite popular among American tourists these days. I like to discuss travel, and every week someone I run into tells me of their plans to visit the beautiful continent.

A lot of folks worry about traveling to Africa because of its distance, the political stability of the countries there, and such issues as diseases. But the truth is that a properly planned trip to Africa is just as safe as visiting Europe or Asia.

Sure, there are African countries with serious issues. But there are many more that value tourism and understand that a safe and happy tourist breeds more visitors and tourism dollars. Plus, tourism is a positive force in motivating a few countries to combat wildlife poaching.

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So what are the steps to creating a safe and meaningful vacation in Africa?

First, decide what you want to see and do while there. Do you want to see the most amazing wildlife? Experience interesting historical sites and cities? Climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Enjoy beaches?

All of these are available in Africa, and the internet is a great resource. Do your homework. TripAdvisor.com is very useful and lets you read about the experiences of recent travelers. Lonely Planet puts out great travel books. My personal advice is to take an August (African winter) trip to Kenya and Tanzania to see the animals there, including the “Great Migration” of 1 million wildebeests as they cross the Mara River. This is an annual wonder in the Masai Mara and Serengeti parks.

Second, don’t try to book an African vacation on your own. Logistics in Africa are complicated, and an experienced travel agent can make the vacation plans in an easy, seamless manner. You might be able to book your own hotels, but the transportation connecting your stops isn’t a task for amateurs.

Wendyperrin.com, the brainchild of a former Conde Nast Traveler editor, includes hand-picked travel agent experts for every major African destination. I have used her recommended agents often and find they bring tremendous value, and their cost is borne by the destination hotel or camp. Alternatively, book a structured tour. Many tour providers are available and rated online.

Third, book a trip early. The best wildlife camps book up from six to nine months in advance. Use TripAdvisor.com to see the reviews of thousands of previous travelers. Africantravelresource.com has wonderful photos and reviews of animal camps, hotels and beaches.

Fourth, decide what medicines and vaccines may be required. Malaria is an issue in a few areas, mostly in the cities and not the bush. Taking Malarone daily is a simple preventive measure. This medication causes very few side effects. A few countries suggest vaccines. This information is available from your travel agent as well as the website of the destination country. For what it’s worth – over two trips and 24 days in eastern and southern Africa – I only had mosquito bites one day. One sees very few insects.

Fifth, buy travel insurance within seven days of booking the trip. Medical and evacuation coverage should be bought. Purchase at least $250,000 worth of coverage for emergency transport back to the United States. This coverage is pretty cheap, but insurers won’t sell it to you if you wait too long after booking.

Lastly, book flights early as well. Stopovers in Paris and Amsterdam are very doable.

So enjoy and send me a note afterward and let me hear how visiting Africa was the best trip of your life.

Top photo: On an African wilderness safari (Photo by Scott Rifkin)

Scott Rifkin, MD, is publisher of Jmore.

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