You might imagine visiting Africa in a more traditional Safari context, spending action-packed days searching for the illustrious “Big Five” – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino – and slow nights sipping cocktails against a blazing pink sunset. This stage is always set with the finer comforts of home inside spacious white canopies and feasts aplenty. At least that’s how I saw it.

Traditionally expensive, that kind of luxe safari experience seemed limited and reserved only for the wealthy. I was looking for something bigger, more authentic, and further beyond the boundaries of the national parks. If I was going to go all the way to the other side of the world, I wanted to see how people lived. And that’s just the kind of adventure I went looking for when I set out for a camping road trip through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa on Intrepid Travel’s 9-day Vic Falls to Kruger tour.

I wouldn’t call myself a camper. I have camped. I like camping. But in no way would I define myself as such. I don’t even own a tent. But on day one, I was thrown right into it. In quick sequential fashion, I walked off the plane, zipped through customs, got a transfer to the campground, and was ushered to my new home – a thick brown, weather-proof, bug-proof tent named Zebra. Once the dust settled from 36 hours of travel, I wondered, out loud, what the hell am I doing?

If I’m being completely honest, I was pretty scared. Traveling solo always incites the butterflies in me and on this particularly stormy afternoon, alone in my tent, they were going nuts. As my fellow Intrepid travellers arrived one by one, I started to relax. They were cool, interesting, diverse; I knew this little family of then-strangers would make a great team.