Our philosophy at Passported is take your kids everywhere. So when we connected with Niels and Emma van Gijn via their gorgeous Instagram feed @silverless, we immediately loved them. This UK-based couple managed a luxury safari camp in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and honed their photo skills documenting a six-month drive from Botswana to the UK. When they had children, nothing changed, apart from a bag of nappies. Now based in the UK running their branding and marketing company (yes, they are superstar entrepreneurs as well as travelers!), the family still hits the road frequently, with adorable Inigo (now four) and Oriel (now two) along for the ride. Read on for their smart take on why a 10-month-old is no reason to skip a trip, and to see Niels’ beautiful photos.
Even intrepid parents feel intimidated when it comes to planning a safari with kids. How old were your children the first time you took them on safari, and what inspired you to undertake a big family adventure?
Inigo was 10 months when we took him to Vietnam, and Oriel exactly a year when we first took her to Kenya. When they’re that young it’s almost easier—they were both still breastfeeding, and they can't run away too quickly!
When we had the opportunity to go, it never occurred to us that we couldn’t do it because of the children. We just went. People say they don’t remember anything that young; they almost certainly don’t, but we’re convinced it shapes their characters and broadens their outlook.
What are must-pack extras that you wouldn't have thought of when traveling without children?
Nappies is the big one. Our next trip will be the first without, and we can’t wait. They take up so much room and are so heavy! Apart from that, books, crayons and toys to amuse them on long journeys. We’ve got better at remembering those. Em’s bag is now stuffed with emergency wipes, plasters, nappies, spare pants, spare knickers, spare jumpers, biscuits, socks, toys, poo-bags, hair-bands and tissues. The list is endless.
What was the high point of your trip, and what's something you'd like to avoid repeating? Any travel fails?
High-points? There were so many...looking out over the Ngorongoro Crater in the early morning chill, sitting in silence as a herd of elephant brushed past our open vehicle in Tarangire, Oriel startling some inquisitive hyena cubs with a loud ‘Ello!’ at the worst time, frequently watching the children utterly engrossed in what our guides were telling them. Flying over the Serengeti in a tiny plane, stopping our bed-time story to listen to lion in the distance...
And a few lows...
We did a three-week road trip across Namibia when Inigo was just one. In many ways, it was wonderful, but driving in 40ªC heat, air-con broken, for hours on end with such a little guy was tough. We had a few breakdowns and managed to drop and smash my wide-angle lens in the country where you would most want a wide-angle lens!
And the new constant niggle? Leaving anywhere. Doing anything quickly now is impossible. Getting the kids dressed, re-dressed, re-dressed again, packing (above-mentioned) Mary Poppins bag, and all getting into the car to find Inigo stopped twenty meters back to poke a preying mantis.
What do you look for in a safari lodge when traveling with kids?
A swimming pool is such a bonus, even a tiny plunge pool. Between morning and evening game-drives is often a long stretch during a hot part of the day. A pool keeps us all from getting irritated. Staff are, in our experience, overwhelmingly fantastic with children everywhere we go—special meals, ad hoc babysitting, furniture shuffling for sleeping arrangements—so every lodge has tended to feel family friendly.
You travel with serious photo gear. What do you recommend to the amateur who doesn't know much about photograph but wants to capture some special moments?
Spend a little time getting to know your camera before you go—on the plane’s a good time. Even if it’s just one or two auto-settings, it will let you think more about what you’re shooting, and less about how to shoot it. Think of angles—try holding the camera up high, or really low. Try to keep it steady, too. A tripod is heavy to heave around, but use a table, or a window sill if possible to lean on. Think about your shot—what are you focusing on? What else is in the picture and what is it adding or maybe even taking away from the shot.
Where are you headed next?
We are off to New Zealand for a month over Christmas—our first time and we can’t wait. It’s a mixture of sightseeing and seeing friends. Oriel wants to see penguins, while Inigo is desperate to see whales, kiwis and most of all a kakapo! I don’t particularly rate our chances of stumbling across any of them, but if we do, it’ll certainly be photographed.