When Owen Coffey and his wife, Margo, decided they were ready to take a bucket-list trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta in 2019, Owen started researching tour options. But nothing he found quite fit the idea they couple had in their heads.

“There were certain things we wanted to see, and some we didn’t,” Owen says.

The thought of following a specific, pre-scripted itinerary to a T just didn’t appeal to them. For instance, “one trip we found included two days in Victoria Falls, but we knew we’d rather be in the bush looking at animals,” he says.

Although Owen and Margo knew what they wanted from their first African safari, they didn’t necessarily how to go about creating it. So, they worked with a Nat Hab adventure specialist to create a private, custom trip just for them and four other friends.

Owen and Margo Coffey

Owen and Margo Coffey in Botswana.

“This wasn’t the kind of trip we could organize ourselves,” Owen explains. “We stayed at four different camps and there were a lot of flights, a lot of logistics.”

As a result, they had a private adventure they’ll always remember: unforgettable wildlife encounters and game drives twice a day. “Being close to lions, giraffes and elephants was amazing,” Owen says “They were just there—they pretty much ignored us.”

The experience was so great, they’re already set to go to Africa again! Next May, Owen, Margo and four of their friends will again travel together to different camps in Botswana, with an itinerary that they will help craft with their adventure specialist.

Private, Custom, Unforgettable

Private trips and customization go hand in hand, and both are trending in adventure travel. An increasing number of globe trotters don’t want a cookie-cutter itinerary, and particularly since COVID, the deal is made sweeter still if they can travel with only their family and friends—their “bubble.” Private family trips and adventures with small groups of friends are more popular than ever.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you get there,” says Patrice Garnier. For that reason, even though she and her daughter Kelley had traveled extensively all over Europe, organizing their own trips, when they decided to go to Africa in 2019, they turned to a Nat Hab adventure specialist to customize the trip. It was clear that their planning had paid off when they arrived.

“As we pulled into the camp, a giraffe walked right in front of us,” Patrice says.

Family herd of giraffes Botswana

© Richard Avalino

The magic was only beginning. In addition to safaris, there was time to explore Cape Town, rigorous hiking up Table Mountain, and days spent in wine country. The pair returned to Africa last year, visiting Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Patrice says their time at Victoria Falls was a particular highlight.

“We hung over the waterfalls while someone held our feet,” she says, excited by the memory.

Patrice still marvels at how their adventure specialist made their every wish happen. “He should have ‘dream maker’ on his bio, because he makes dreams come true,” she says.

Patrice and Kelley will take yet another trip to Africa this fall, this time to Kenya to see the great migration and then to Uganda to see gorillas and chimpanzees.

Patrice Garnier and daughter Kelley[24]

Patrice Garnier and her daughter Kelley in Cape Town, South Africa.

What Is Nat Hab’s “Make It Private” trip option?

Our private tours offer travelers the best of two worlds: You get the carefully crafted itinerary of an existing group trip, but you get to enjoy it with just your circle of family or friends.

To get started, you simply look at the upcoming departure dates of the trip(s) you’re interested in, identify the ones that would work for your group, then reach out via phone, email or chat to connect with an adventure specialist to find out which of those departures can be made private.

One caveat: “The trip can’t already have people signed up for it. It must be empty in order for you to book it as private,” says adventure specialist Corrin LaCombe. “So, if you want to make a trip private book early!”

A magical experience shared by Nat Hab travelers stargazing in Madagascar

A magical experience shared by Nat Hab travelers stargazing in Madagascar © Richard De Gouveia

LaCombe also explains the difference between Nat Hab’s private trip options and our custom itineraries. “While you can sometimes build a custom trip with Make It Private, you generally take over a trip that was already scheduled and follow that itinerary,” she says. (Nat Hab offers a variety of custom trip options, including Southern Africa, East Africa and  Costa Rica.

Our Make It Private trip offerings include exclusive occupancy at small luxury camps and lodges, your own private naturalist Expedition Leader, your own vehicles and private meals whenever possible.

Does Private Equal Pricey?

You might think traveling this way would be prohibitively expensive, but think again! Although the cost is sometimes slightly higher than our regular small-group trips, the pricing is tiered.

“Say the trip typically includes 14 people, and you’re a group of 6. We’re not going to take the cost for 14 people and divide it by six. Instead, we adjust the costs. For example, given the smaller size, you’ll likely only need one Expedition Leader and one vehicle,” points out Don Martinson, director of travel and industry relations. Because of this, the Make It Private option is often available at little (or sometimes even no) additional cost.

The bottom line: The price of private travel can be surprisingly affordable.

Why Choose Private Travel?

Simply put, says LaCombe, “Private is intimate. That time together is memory making at its finest.”

She adds that the two years that people didn’t see each other much (or at all) during the pandemic has them craving solo family time more than ever.

“What better way to reconnect and refortify relationships than with a trip, especially one where you don’t have to worry about logistics, since we’ve got that covered?” she says. “You can simply focus on each other and enjoy the great outdoors.”

A couple enjoying an intimate encounter chimps on Nat Hab’s primate adventure in Uganda

A couple enjoying an intimate encounter with chimps on Nat Hab’s primate adventure in Uganda © Richard de Gouveia

Another big advantage of private travel is flexibility. With a regular group trip, you usually have to stick pretty closely to the schedule. With a private adventure, even if it’s not a custom trip, you can tell your Expedition Lead that you and your family or friends would prefer to spend more time doing X, and less time doing Y, based on your interests, energy levels and whatever else is important to you.

“You dictate the highlights. Maybe you want to make a particular hike longer, for example, or spend more time looking for a particular animal,” Martinson explains.

When traveling this way, “it feels like the trip was curated just for you. Sort of like when you have a private room in a restaurant. The menu is the same, but the personal attention you get, and being by yourselves, it makes it more special,” Martinson adds.

Then too, with COVID still a concern, a lot of people feel most comfortable traveling within their own small group.

Make It Private is especially ideal for multi-generational families who may want or need to travel at their own pace. Generally, those who want a bit more flexibility also find this a great way to travel.

A group of women travelers friends spotting wildlife in Zimbabwe southern Africa

Friends enjoying a private wildlife view in Zimbabwe © Court Whelan

Which Trips Can You Make Private?

Almost all of our Nat Hab trips are able to be made private for family or friends. Some of the most popular trips to make private are those to U.S. national parks, the Galapagos and Africa.

The one challenge, jokes LaCombe, is that “you’re only traveling with family and friends, so if they get on your nerves, it’s hard to separate from each other!”

But mostly, private travel strengthens the bonds that tie.

“Three couples traveling together for 13 days could be challenging for some, but we all got along great,” recounts Owen Coffey of his group’s private trip to Botswana. “We enjoyed spending time with each other in such a wonderful place—so much so that we decided to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip and do it again!”

Ready to Make It Private? Learn more about Natural Habitat Adventures’ private trip offerings