If you love travel, you need to experience this

Travel, to me, is people. It's cities. It's culture. It's weird, hilarious, organic interactions with citizens of other places, it's learning about the way the world works, learning about where I come from and why I think the way I do.

Travel is long mornings in cafes watching people go past. It's strolls through village streets or wanders in the neon jungle. It's good meals at friendly restaurants. It's drunken conversations with people who don't speak the same language as me.

Travel is a train shooting through the countryside. It's the metro rattling between stations. It's lost-in-translation moments of human-led confusion. It's hangovers and hotel beds and mysterious new friends on Facebook the next morning.

And yet, my single favourite style of travel involves none of those things. The one type of holiday I'm going to tell you that you have to go on is not about people, it's not about culture and it's not about beer or coffee or even decent food.

The holiday you have to go on? Safari. African safari. Traditional safari. Budget or high-end. Walking or driving. Guided or self-led. North or south, east or west. You have to go on safari, even if you don't really think it will be your thing.

Safari is the best. There's this deep sense of romance to the entire experience, this charge that runs through your body from dawn until dusk, this feeling of anticipation, of the unknown, of connecting with the world, of adventure and danger and pure unadulterated joy.

You wake up before dawn on safari, something I usually hate doing. You gather around the embers of last night's fire and get a pot of coffee going, try to warm up as the sky begins to colour. You pile into a vehicle and make your way out as soon as the sun cracks the horizon, your eyes peeled for the big guns – lions, leopards, elephants – but also for the tiny wonders, for the birds, for the beetles, for the millions of amazing things that exist in an African game reserve.

You eat breakfast on the go, stopping in a clearing and digging into sandwiches and hot tea. You search again for game. You go back to camp to rest in the middle of the day, the same as the animals do. Then you head back out in the afternoon, looking for more. You stop at sunset to drink a gin and tonic and toast the day. You go back to camp to cook dinner and stare at the stars and swap tales of the things you've seen.

There's an element of danger in Africa that piques the senses. There's an air of adventure there that I absolutely love. There's the pure joy of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. There's the indescribable pleasure of watching a herd of elephants play together at a waterhole. There's the thrill of hearing lions roar in the middle of the night while you huddle up in a sleeping bag and convince yourself that you're safe.

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There's the landscape, so stark and beaten and beautiful. There's the accommodation, which can range anywhere from a small tent to a huge luxury room with private plunge pool, all of which provide an experience unique and memorable.

I love a safari. Go in South Africa, where game parks end and world-class cities begin. Go in Namibia, where the plains are dusty and the population sparse. Go in Botswana, where you camp right in the middle of a reserve, no fences, no rules. Go in Zambia, where leopards await. Go in Zimbabwe, where you'll have the place to yourself. See gorillas in Rwanda. Sleep in a bed under the stars in Kenya. Experience Chad. Go to Ghana.

I urge you, if you love to travel, commit yourself to the safari experience. You may think it's too expensive, but it's really not. Fly to Johannesburg; drive yourself around; camp each night. That's an affordable holiday. You may think it's not your thing either, but it will be. Picture that camp fire, that sunrise, that thrill of anticipation.

There is, of course, a cultural, human element to the safari experience. You will meet plenty of fellow travellers in safari camps. You will get to know guides – invariably charismatic, knowledgeable people. You'll find out about the locals, about their customs and their history.

This is all good stuff, and I love that too. But the beauty of safari, to me, is that first ray of sunlight, the first cry of birdsong, the rumble of a car engine and the sight of your breath clouding in the cold air.

I don't dedicate my travelling life to the safari experience. I still find so much joy in cities and towns, in cafes and bars and everything else. But if you too love those things, I would encourage you – give a safari a go. You'll be hooked.

Have you been on an African safari? Did you enjoy it? Where did you have your best experience? Were you surprised at all by what you found?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: This may well be Africa's best safari

See also: If you take one trip in your life, this should be it

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