Introduction: The Surprise Trip Of A Lifetime (Hopefully?)

Filed Under: Travel

Hello and welcome to my next trip report! I just wrapped up the trip report for my recent review trip, along with five days in Greece with Ford. I decided to try a different trip report format than usual for that trip.

In the past I’d typically share my initial thoughts during the trip, and then I’d write a full trip report afterwards. I fully recognize that the timeline with which I actually published trip reports slipped. So I tried something new during the last trip — instead of publishing my initial thoughts during the trip, I just published the entire trip report more or less “live.”

The feedback has been positive, so let’s do it again. This time it’s an even more special trip, though.

This might actually be the trip of a lifetime

In general I’m not a huge fan of the concept of thinking of trips as being “once in a lifetime.” It creates too many expectations, and I tend to think that by using miles and points properly, just about everything can be repeated.

The exception is that you can’t recreate the circumstances around a trip, whether that’s an engagement trip, a honeymoon, a special birthday, or whatever else. To me that’s that can make a trip “once in a lifetime,” as it’s all about the people you’re with and the memories you create.

I’d say the most memorable trip I’ve ever taken was when I took my dad on a surprise round the world trip for his 70th birthday.

Some people may not like the concept of a surprise trip where they don’t know where they’re going, but my dad absolutely loved it. It’s not just that he didn’t know where we were going before we left, but rather during each segment of the journey he had no clue where we were going next.

While my dad may have enjoyed that it was a surprise trip, his excitement made me even more excited than him, I’d say.

So it’s time to repeat the concept, except I knew I had to do it a bit differently.

We’re celebrating my dad’s 75th birthday!

Ford and I are taking my dad on a 75th birthday trip. I can’t believe it has been five years since the last surprise trip… time flies.

What makes this fun is that my dad has absolutely no clue where we’re going. Little does he know we’re just flying around the country until he figures out Southwest’s boarding process… just kidding!

I won’t fully share our itinerary here yet, but rather will be reviewing every portion of the trip as it happens, and will also have my dad chime in with his thoughts on the trip. We are eventually going on safari, but there’s a lot more to it.

So while my priority is to spend quality time with my dad and Ford, I hope I can make this fun and interactive for you guys as well.

This trip isn’t cheap

I’ll share the price breakdown and details in the individual installments of the trip report, though let me acknowledge up front that this isn’t entirely a miles & points trip, and it’s costing me a lot of money.

For my dad’s 70th birthday we flew some of the most incredible first class products in the world using miles & points. I knew I had to try something different this time around. I wanted to make it unpredictable, and I tend to think that you can’t top your first Emirates first class experience.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to not only give my dad an experience he has never had before, but also to do something that has been on my bucket list and Ford’s bucket list for quite a while — a safari.

This is the most I’ve ever spent on a trip. I struggled to actually pull the trigger and pay this much for the trip. So I just want to emphasize that up front, and also say that this wasn’t chump change to me. I also don’t take for granted that I could pay this without taking out a second mortgage.

With that in mind, I tend to think that money spent on experiences like this is well worth it, if you can swing it. After all, who knows how many more amazing trips like this I’ll be able to have, Ford will be able to have, or my dad will be able to have. Life is short and unpredictable.

The timing of this trip…

We planned this trip late last year, and unfortunately the timing of this wasn’t ideal. My mom was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. She just finished her last round of chemo, and has surgery in a few weeks.

So on the one hand I was almost ready to throw in the towel on this trip with my dad and just give up our deposit. I just didn’t feel like being “festive” given what’s going on.

But then I looked at it differently:

  • My mom wants us to take this trip and have a good time
  • I also don’t know how many more awesome travel opportunities I’ll have with my dad (he’s in great health, but you never know what will happen to anyone, including me)

So we’ll maximize the quality time we can spend with my dad now, and maximize the quality time we spend with my mom when we get back.

When I thought about it more, it actually made me feel better about the amount of money I spent on the trip as well. This is going to be damn special and unforgettable, and later in life I don’t think one of my regrets will be having spent too much on a trip for my dad.

While my mom is happy for us to go on this trip, Winston isn’t. This is his “why did you just take the suitcase out of the closet?” face.

Bottom line

Stay tuned, as this should be an incredible trip, and hopefully a fun review. I’ll have my dad chime in every so often with his take on the trip, and will even make a few videos. If you have any special requests from him, please let me know!

In the meantime, if you didn’t read my dad’s surprise birthday trip for his 70th, you can start reading that here.

  1. I saw something earlier about you taking your dad on QSuite? If that’s still happening, I regret to say that Doha Airport is now…what’s the word? Right. Crappy.

    QSuite is still great, though there’s something to be said about having a hub lounge with dysfunctional WiFi (I transited a few times this year) and no spare seats.

  2. Sounds amazing! This entry brought up many questions for me, which I’ll bring up in a future comment, but most importantly — where’s Winston staying while you’re gone?

  3. Two things —

    1. I thought it was “chump change.”

    2. Good for you and your family! Make the most of life, and spend as much of it as you can with “ze vuns” you love.

  4. @ Ben — Winston is so adorable, it make me want a dog again. I just can’t imagine dealing with a dog given our travels. Our newish kitty makes a similar face, but not as cute.

  5. @ james carr — My dad doesn’t know how to do read the blog, so don’t worry about that. 🙂

  6. Safari ..
    Aah the Migration at Masai Mara during July and August …

    Clue … clue…
    Air Tanzania / Rwand Air – Reviews coming up ?

  7. Really looking forward to this trip report. But fair warning: the “once-in-a-lifetime” safari my wife and I did last year had us thinking about the next one almost as soon as we got back. At least I managed to convince her to do a new European destination for a big birthday next year instead…

    Also Skukuza is probably my favorite airport anywhere

  8. @ Ben, this is what makes your blog stand out among all the others and keeps us coming back. Excited to read about it (safari with my parents eons ago is one of my greatest memories as well).

  9. “Life is short and unpredictable.” That’s exactly why I started traveling more – in 2012 my mom died at 87 (dad had passed in 2005), and right after I was done cleaning out her apartment, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer & had surgery & chemo (all clear going on seven years now!). You never know what life is going to throw at you – enjoy it while you can.

  10. @ Kathleen — Thanks for sharing, and congrats! My mom has the same, and hoping for the best…

  11. Please tell me we’re gonna get more adorable videos of your dad addressing you as Bennie every five seconds!

  12. Ben, we went on safari almost exactly a year ago. We booked and planned for an entire year. I totally get the sticker shock, it’s just a whole lot of money compared to other amazing trips. But I can safely say that trip turned out to be some of the best travel dollars we’ve ever spent. You and Ford are great planners so I know your experiences with your Dad will be incredible! Can’t wait to read about them. – Jack

  13. Just lost a loved one to cancer myself; I’m glad she’s been communicating her wishes to you, including a green light for this trip.

    Whatever wonderful things I’ve seen the world over (and incredible airline products I’ve flown, largely thanks to this blog), at the end of the day, time shared with loved ones is the most important.

  14. Your first trip report with your dad was the best posts you have done to that point. Looking forward to this, particularly any videos and reactions.

  15. The safari trip we took for our 15th anniversary last May was similarly the most expensive trip we’d ever taken, and it was big numbers coming out of our bank accounts. Still, having done it once we plan to do it again as soon as our schedules allow. I’m sure you’ll have the same feeling. The whole safari experience is really extraordinary in a way we hadn’t experienced before!

  16. More Winston!! Give him his own blog! I’m probably not the only one here who wants to dog sit the little fella. Love the travel stuff. But those puppy dog eyes….

  17. Really looking forward to ghis and your dad’s cliche german accent 🙂

    And: This blog needs more Winston pics

  18. Can’t wait to read about this trip! And I totally agree, if you have the ability (even if it’s a stretch) some things are just worth it. After wanting to do it since I was a teenager, I’m finally going on an expedition to Antarctica with Quark this January! Definitely giving me sticker shock… I wish I could bring my Mom, but it’s just too much money.

  19. Really looking forward to this! Ben, keep up the good work. Your site is, by far, the best one out there and these new trip reports make it even better 🙂 I too do my best to travel with loved ones as much as possible and feel that money is way better spent on a journey than at the bank. I’ve had some truly amazing experiences traveling with family, close friends (current and past) and my fiancée – and I haven’t regretted a single spent dollar so far. I really wish you an extraordinary trip 🙂

  20. I love your special trip reports Ben! Your style of writing (where your reader shares your travel experiences) is what make your blog unique in this world of commercial drivel. You have personally impacted so many people positively including myself into spending more time with far flung family and friends, taking vacations with them, miles/points etc.

  21. We went a couple of years ago to Sabi Sands. Our three nights there far exceeded the cost for the other two weeks including going to Victoria Falls before coming home. It was my wife’s #1 bucket list trip. For me, not so much. It was the best trip I’ve ever taken by far. Nothing like watching giraffes walk by the outdoor shower or having a leopard on the back deck or being so close to lions and elephants. Totally wonderful. Enjoy!

  22. Dear Lucky ! Use and abuse of your father’s good health and thank you of sharing this candid moment with us all. I used and abused of my Father’s last years to take him back to places where he had been happy. My late Father was an MD and was perfectly aware of his health limitations, but the first time was the most complicated one. After that, he could’t care less and the smile in his eyes was like a child when he receives a fabulous candy. Please enjoy … and all the best to your Dad and your very courageous Mum. What at Lady !

  23. Ben, I think you have totally the right attitude towards this, life is short. Hope the three of you have a ball, look forward to the reports and all the best to your mother in hopes of a full, speedy recovery. Bon voyage.

  24. If I remember correctly you are going to Singita in South Africa. Enjoy Kruger Park. You will absolutely love it. You are going to get a bunch of people saying you pay how much for that room?! Then they will bash you for not staying at a points safari hotel. Needless to say, don’t mind them. You will absolutely love Singita. They are like Amans but in Africa. When your mom gets well, take her to Angama Mara in Kenya. The scenery is quite different from South Africa and yes you will have to pay up to see migration river crossing in July/ August. And yes, part of the movie Out of Africa was shot right onsite at Angama Mara (go ahead and wash Ford’s hair). Oh and yes, I’m sure during your Singita trip, you will be looking for flights to Kenya/ Tanzania in the near future. 😉 Be very careful if you do decide to do a bush walk. This will truly be a trip of a lifetime. It’s indescribable the first time you encounter a wild elephant, a lion, a leopard, etc.. You will love every minute of it.

  25. Don’t underestimate how beat up your body gets being bounced around a Jeep for hours at a time on the safari drives! Aspirin and a nice hot bath at the end of each day helped!!

  26. Bon voyage! I had aspirations of doing similar things for my father, unfortunately he passed away suddenly. Lucky, this is a wise and wonderful investment!

  27. Great! I’m going home for Thanksgiving because my mom is 80. AND you only get so many Thanksgivings. I’ve missed a lot of them. We won’t be traveling in style cause my points balance is low, and the trek will be painfully long. I’m taking my 13-year-old. We did upgrade our 11-hour flight to extra space economy to get rid of our Amex Plat airline money for 2019. woot woot!! I don’t want Amex keeping my $$$.

  28. Ben, no one is judging you for what u do with ur hard earned money (no should, at least). Enjoy this trip to the fullest, you leave this earth with the memories you made, not with the cash u have in the bank. Cant wait for the reports, you’re my favorite blogger/reviewer! 🙂

  29. @Ben/Lucky, I hope you are video taping this and put it on YouTube. The 70th birthday trip was great fun to watch! 🙂

  30. Lucky, Next time you go on a long trip, I’ll puppy sit Winston for you. But I’ll also teach him some bad habits like going off his dog food so you will go get him McDonald’s. My princess Buffy does that. She has a love for Mickey d’s cheeseburgers and small fries.

  31. Hey Ben,

    The first time I went overseas, I traveled to Western Europe and TBH was a bit disappointed. But thirteen years, 6 continents, and 30 countries later, I’ve learned to appreciate each trip for what it is. Sometimes it’s a weekend Amtrak trip to NYC, and other times it’s a 5 week trip across Asia. Some trips are alone, some trips are with friends, others with family, and a few with my ex. And you know what? They are all special/memorable/exciting in their own right. It’s hard for me to pick the “worst” trip, and it’s hard for me to pick the “best” trip.

    I have some miles and points specials that I’m extremely proud of and look back on fondly for the “coup” I pulled off. But I think I can say that some of the most memorable trips cannot be booked on M&P, and for which cash must be paid. Those tend to be nature-y types of things: A live-a-board on the Great Barrier Reef, parasailing in the Himalayas, “budget’ Safari in South Africa (we just stayed in Kruger National Park, but it was memorable nonetheless) and staying in the lodge for three days in the Danum Valley Conservation Area (Malaysian Borneo) seeing wild orangutans was something else.

    If there’s one thing I’ve found: Long, marathon trips are just that. They sound exciting (and they are), but they’re friggin’ exhausting. I recently took a two week trip to Spain just for kicks, and for some reason, it was a lot more fun that I thought it would be.

  32. I believe Ben and family are going to Sabi Sands (Singita Boulders would be my guess), but!…despite the density of the game in Kruger ecosystem, it’s rather tame…you’ll know what the real safari is after you have visited Botswana or Zambia…no worries…safari is so addictive…I also thought it would be my “once in a lifetime”, and five safaris later I am currently having two in the planning stages…enjoy!…and well be enjoying vicariously 🙂

  33. I took my Dad on a surprise trip a few years ago in his 65th birthday. They lived in Frankfurt/Germany and I’ve lived in Berlin. The only thing he knew was that he needed a passport. I flew from TXL to FRA where we met. There I handed him a book about Paris, our first destination. In pur last morning there I presented him a book about San Francisco, there a book about Hawaii, there a book about Los Angeles and finally a book about Las Vegas. Amazing and unforgettable three weeks with great First Class flights (Lufthansa and United) and facial expressions that were worth evey Cent.

  34. @Ben

    Forgot to mention, I must be the only person whose dog actually likes it when the boss travels. When I go, he gets to stay with his two Ho’s and has the time of his life (no joke, he stays with two females and has the time of his life). He actually doesn’t like it when I come back.

    And he knows when it’s time to go, because I only touch his food bowl when we’re packing up for his overnight stay. And he only stays at one spot.

  35. Hi Ben
    Here’s a suggestion on the Safari from a Bush fanatic. The private Game Lodges are often fabulous and virtually guarantee you see the Big 5 as they know where those animals are. I’ve always enjoyed the luxury of them yet my best experiences have been in the Kruger National Park driving myself, coming back and lighting the Braai with a bottle or 3 of wine! Most of the Camps have larger houses on them although they are often booked up well in advance. Happy to let you know more if you wish.

  36. looking forward to discovering the places you’ll bring your dad to, and I keep my fingers crossed for the recovery and well-being of your mum.

  37. @Ben/Lucky – I didn’t realize that was the type of cancer your mom had – I’m happy to connect if you and/or mom want to “talk,” feel free to email me & best wishes to her. (and pats to adorable Winston!)

  38. My Dad is 79 and has really started to decline with his health. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s this year, which explains his past few years of decline. My 14 year old son and I just took him along on our annual baseball outing, this time to LA to see the Dodgers and the Angels. We were lucky that we were there only to see baseball, getting him around was hard. And luckily we brought his handicap car placard, that made a difference at one of the two stadiums. But in the end I’m glad we took him along, there clearly won’t be many of these trips left in him and we need to get in as many as possible!

  39. Lucky,

    In 2010 my husband and I took a three-week ‘once in a lifetime’ trip into the African bush. It cost a fortune. It was also the most fabulous trip I’ve ever taken in 50 years of traveling around the globe. We have since returned to the bush three times and have a fifth trip booked for 2021. Our favorite camps are:

    Shumba, in Zambia’s Busango Plains
    Royal Malewane, in S.A.’s Kruger National Park
    Linkwasha, on Zimbabwe’s Ngamo Plains
    Duma Tau in Botswana’s Linyati Reserve
    Little Vumbura Camp, and Abu Camp, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

    We book through Wilderness Safari’s, which Ford will know about as he’s affiliated with Virtuoso.

    Which ever camp(s) you stay in, you’ll have a more fantastic time than you can even imagine! I look forward to your reviews.

    Best wishes to your Mom –


  40. Life should be lived, not endured. And a big part of that is enjoying it.

    We’re in the middle of building a house that we probably shouldn’t be affording. Even though we can afford it it’s going to push my retirement out at least a decade. But we’re getting the exact house we want, one that we can welcome sons and daughters in law and grandchildren to. Our oldest is nearly done with high school and I look at this and wonder why we didn’t start sooner. Live life with your family to the fullest, there’s no point in hoarding resources just to hope to use them tomorrow vs today.

  41. Hi Ben –

    As I think you know, my wife, my niece, her husband, and I just finished a similar trip with my Mom, in advance of her 94th birthday. Over the past four years, we’d had three previously aborted attempts, primarily due to health concerns, one of which was canceled just 36 hours before our first flight, because Mom went into the hospital. This time, we made it!

    QSuites, Al Safwa lounge, the silly happiness of feeding long-necked friends at Giraffe Manor in Kenya, Victoria Falls, the sacred magic of seeing elephant herds — 80+ strong — from the Zambezi Queen on the Chobe River (the border between Botswana and Namibia), lions and leopards and kudu, oh my, at Singita Boulders, her first private jet, Emirates A380 First, Burj al Arab, and finally Etihad Apartments back to NY. (Then, with just a few hours on the ground, I headed back to South Africa via Frankfurt (thank you Jimmy at Points Pros), where my wife was waiting, and we continued alone to Madagascar, and The Maldives, where we still are.)

    We weren’t able to go to any of the camps in Bots — where my most profound Wildlife experiences have been — because if Mom had had a medical emergency during the night, we wouldn’t have been able to get her out until sunup, and I was unwilling to take that risk, but…

    The bottom line is that this was the greatest gift my mom has ever received (well, maybe not as extraordinary as the great grandson born on her birthday, but close.) She sounds and acts like the woman she was 20 years ago, filled with vim and wonder and joy, and with a first-time, life-altering appreciation of the natural world. (I just got off the phone with her, and she said, “I was in the city, today, with all those cars, and all I can think is, ‘I want to be on a game drive.’”)

    I hope that you and your dad had as wonderful and soul-filling trip as we did, and I hope the heart of it stays with both of you, for the rest of your lifetimes. That’s what happened for Mom — and the rest of us — and I am more grateful than I can ever describe with words.

  42. Thanks for sharing Ben. Totally agree with your outlook here, have a great time with Ford and your dad. Can’t wait to read the reviews.

  43. Your mum is just doing what all mums do which is say what ever will make you happy. She’s got cancer and until the surgery, there is no way of knowing how bad it is, and what her prognosis will be. Obviously she would want you to stay but at the same time, she wouldn’t want to ruin your trip. The fact that you have decided to leave you mum when she’s got life changing surgery in few weeks is frankly appalling in my opinion. No trip is once in a life time, but each day you spend with family is

  44. Hey Emily… you’re a judgmental busy-body bi**h.

    How dare you make a stupid hurtful attack on someone who is going through heartache and pain ?

    Also he travels constantly. It’s his job. What the F has it got to do with you anyway? People like you sicken me the core.

  45. I am flying first class lax to Paris on the 380. My seat is 1A how is that flight? Does Air France have their our first class lounge yet?

  46. I look forward to hearing about your trip! And you’re absolutely correct that “I tend to think that you can’t top your first Emirates first class experience!” That was and remains one of the highlights of my life.

    Please give your mom my best regards, and I hope you all have a safe and exciting trip!

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