Last year I went on an incredible trip around Zambia and Tanzania. I got showered in the spray of the Victoria Falls, I canoed down the Zambezi River, went on a three day safari, attempted to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, spend a night in a luxurious tent hotel at the edge of Ngorongoro Crater and found paradise on Zanzibar. I didn’t do any of this on my own though – I traveled with my dad.

We were glued together for three weeks, much longer than we had ever spent time with each other as just the two of us. I probably don’t need to tell you that it almost drove me insane – at times, at least. But it was also an incredibly amazing experience and I value those three weeks as one of the most important trips of my life.

Traveling with my dad was not always easy, but it was rewarding and like with every challenge that you overcome in life, I learnt quite a few bits about life, travel, and of course my dad.

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

To be honest, I think my dad’s initial reaction to my announcement of my travel plans to Africa was more motivated by old-school fear than massive wanderlust. ‘I’ll come with you,’ from my dad who has never too openly feared for the safety of his little girl, not even when I was a teenager. I enjoyed a lot of freedoms when I was younger, and my solo travels around the Americas and Europe were never considered to be too dangerous by my parents. For some reason Africa seemed to be different. I wonder how much prejudice inspired my dad’s request to come along. But in that first moment, I didn’t care about that – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My dad wanted to come on a trip with me? When can we leave?!

We started planning right away, and I immediately realized that if I wanted my dad to enjoy this trip, I couldn’t do it the same way I would have done it on my own. I dropped the idea of criss-crossing Eastern Africa by bus and train, or focusing on one country only, and adjusted our itinerary to his needs and wishes. He often said, this might be the only time he will ever travel to this part of the world, while I knew I could come back at any time, so I didn’t mind a compromise.

Aside from that, the major stops my dad wanted to include didn’t sound so bad to me – the Victoria Falls in Zambia, a safari, and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Add some time on a Zanzibar beach and I was happy. Creating the itinerary together with my travel buddy in advance not only taught me how to make concessions to another person’s wishes, but also how to see the world through someone else’s eyes – in particular, someone who has traveled lots, but not far; someone who is 32 years older than me; someone who has a completely different image of the world. The most important lesson though was that going to a place which you would not have necessarily chosen can turn into the most magical experience.

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

In the beginning I held on to that initial thought of tackling my dad’s potential prejudices. While my parents live in a multicultural city and are exposed to many different ways of life among their friends and acquaintances, they are pretty old-school when it comes to imagining the ‘other’ – I think particularly my dad. Often he will say things without even considering that they might be offensive or stereotypical. I understand that there is a generational barrier to some extent, but I thought that by traveling to such foreign places as Zambia and Tanzania, my dad would be more open to learn about the local culture, rather than looking for confirmation of his stereotypical knowledge. It sounds a bit naive, but I thought one trip could change his mind.

Of course it can’t though – this kind of thing takes more than a three-week trip around Africa with your daughter. First of all, it takes the will to change, and I don’t think that my dad came of this trip for a personal epiphany – and that’s OK. At least I had one, which is that the first step to a more open mindset is to want a more open mindset.

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

One area where I think my dad was way ahead of me was his will to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. While I would have been fine with a day hike at its foot, my dad was convinced that we had to reach its summit of 5,895 meters (19,341 ft) above sea level. Even though he would be 65 at the time of the trek, he was super confident in his ability to reach this goal – I wasn’t so much. Not about my dad – I come from a family of stubborn beings and when a Kamleitner sets their mind on something, they usually get it in the end. No, I was worried about my own performance. But my dad’s eyes sparkled whenever we talked about this mountain, and so I agreed to give it a shot. I didn’t have much time to prepare properly and managed to do just a couple of hikes before our trip. I’m still not sure whether I consider my memories from the trek happy or frustrating – probably a bit of both – and in the end I did not make it to the top. But my dad did, and to be honest it showed me that sometimes enabling others to achieve their goals feels even better than doing it for yourself.

Maybe I will return one day and tackle this monster of a mountain again, but I will certainly never forget the excitement in my dad’s tired eyes when he returned from the peak long after sunrise.

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

Traveling with my dad gave me the opportunity to connect with him in a way that no conversation at home could have ever enabled. It is not easy to spend 24 hours a day with your dad for three weeks, just like it wouldn’t be easy to spend this amount of time without any breaks with any other person. The hardest part was surely translating everything for him from English to German – often simultaneously as our tour guides were explaining things. What I learnt from this was that my decision not to study languages and translation studies was the right one. 

One of the moments I anticipated the least, was what role my dad would play when I was chatted up by random guys in hotel bars. To be fair, most commonly people would simply think we’re a married couple – never mind the 32 years of age difference… Whenever some guy started chatting to me though, my dad’s protection radar came on – and while I don’t think I need anybody to look out for me like that, it was actually quite useful when I wasn’t interested in the conversation. I could simply get my dad involved, which often meant having to slow down everything for translations, and I could hint at him to suggest we’d retreat to our rooms. Problem of an annoying guy solved.

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

The most amazing lesson my dad taught me on this trip though, was that you have to face and overcome your fears. Life will reward your with the most beautiful experiences – like a microlight flight over the Victoria Falls. Never would I have gotten on board such a vehicle if it was up to me. But my dad’s encouragement and persistence made me buckle up after all. The views were amazing, and the feeling of gliding through the air when my pilot turned off the engine over the Zambezi River was just incredible!

Can you imagine to travel have way across the world with your parents - or just one of them? Well, I traveled with my dad to Africa...

Traveling with my dad has enabled us to make memories together that will stay with us until the rest of our lives. I learnt a ton about life, and I hope he took away some new thoughts and skills as well.

For another field report of traveling with your dad, check Annika’s post about her trip to the La Reunion with her dad!

Have you ever traveled with your dad? Share your best stories in the comments!

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.