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"Inspire, Educate, Raise Awareness, and Transform": Q&A with the Founders of Epic Road

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Mark Lakin and Marc Chafiian believe that travel can not only change a person, but the world. Longtime friends and world travelers, Lakin and Chafiian saw a major hole in the luxury travel market: High end packages that combine philanthropy with luxury. Together, they created Epic Road, a New York City-based luxury travel boutique that creates customized holidays combining adventure travel with charity and conservation work in Africa and the Arctic.

We sat down with the Lakin and Chafiian in their photography-filled gallery in Greenwich Village to talk about distributing solar powered lights to locals in Africa, transformative travel, and running from wild elephants.

What makes Epic Road different from other travel boutiques?
We try to blend experiences. Our clients will go on an incredible safari, and then on top of it they’ll have a humanitarian or conservation experience that’s meaningful for all parties. We find that people get very excited about it. Our real hope is that our clients' trips become a catalyst  for understanding, for empathy, and that we can create a movement for the issues we’re addressing when clients come home. Our thing is about positivity. It’s about going into a place and having fun, having an adventure.

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Trip Doctor New Year’s Resolution: Saving for a Safari

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In 2012, I crossed one major dream trip off my list: a gluttonous tour of Italy, focusing on agriturismos throughout Emilia Romagna. And while it may take more than a year for me to save up for the next dream trip, I’ve resolved to start planning—and more importantly, putting aside the cash—to make it happen.

The destination and length of my trip are to be determined—but I know I want to safari in good company, particularly with friends who call Zimbabwe home. We’ll likely spend a few relaxing days in Harare before taking off on a game-tracking adventure, likely in nearby Zambia or South Africa. I've already started mining our recent safari planning guide to get a sense of cost, but even with friends on the ground, I know this vacation won’t run cheap. Here, a few tools that will help me start saving.

•    MyTab.co: The Italian getaway was only possible with the help of my honeymoon registry. I won’t be getting married again in 2013 (phew!), but birthday and holiday presents can still go into my travel fund. MyTab.co serves just this purpose, allowing users to collect money (from gifts and from personal savings) that must be used for travel. The best part? A “match my cash” program that earns users discounts on flights and hotels.
•    Mint.com: My husband and I have used Mint.com since merging bank accounts, but I’d love to maximize its potential in the new year. The tool, which analyzes where your money goes, can help me pinpoint areas where I can spend less (taxis, mid-week lunches)—then, it’ll show me how much leftover cash I have at the end of each month.
•    Miles, miles, miles: Getting to southern Africa will represent a large fraction of my total trip costs. I’ve been collecting miles, and will continue to do so, but if you’re not, check out this handy graphic from NerdWallet.com, which outlines the great sign-up bonuses that travel cards shell out for new users. Signing up for a card can earn up to 40,000 points—almost half of what you’d need for a long-haul flight on most airlines.

What trip are you saving for in 2013? Do you have tips we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments!

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Micato Safaris

Did You Check That Camel's License?

Did You Check That Camel's License?

Good news: Camel safaris have entered the 21st century.

The Times of India reported the other day that officials in Jaisalmer, in India's Rajasthan, are implementing a user-friendly way of booking one of the popular, days-long camel safaris in the neighboring Thar Desert: pre-paying beforehand, the same way you would pre-pay for a taxi at a train station.

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Don’t Pet the Animals: Planning a Family Safari

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When I began to plan a trip to Kenya, I knew my elegant “Out of Africa” fantasies would have to wait. We were going to Kenya as a family, and traveling with two boys, ages seven and eleven, pretty much precludes “elegant” anything. Still, I had hopes for close encounters with big cats, and sundowners with my husband while we gazed over vast expanses of savannah, perhaps with a picturesque giraffe in the distance.

And in fact while we did not attain Baroness Von Blixen levels of sophistication, we did manage something almost as wonderful: our family safari bridged that sometimes painful gap between “family trip” and “vacation,” and resulted in what our older son described as “the most epic vacation ever.” 

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Just Back: Exploring South Africa with World's Best Winner Micato Safaris

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We here at T+L know that our readers are the savviest around. So when I decided to go to South Africa essentially on a whim with three weeks’ notice, I decided it would be prudent to leave the trip planning to the experts. And if Micato Safaris’ impressive showing in our annual World’s Best Awards is anything to go by—they were voted Top Safari Outfitter for the ninth year running in the 2012 survey, out in the August issue—they must be the best.

The Micato experience begins before you’ve even boarded your flight, with the delivery of a mammoth safari bag filled with a bound itinerary, helpful packing list, and some gifts (a handy flashlight and a stylish passport holder), all wrapped in animal-print tissue paper to get you in the safari spirit. But even for someone like me, who likes to plot out every detail on my trips, it was nice to surrender myself to someone else’s expertise for a week and let them handle the logistics.

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Wake Up (and Tune In) to Wild Africa

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It's one thing to watch a herd of wildebeest thundering across an obscenely large, 3D flat screen dangling precariously from your living room wall. It is quite another to witness the Great Migrations in the flesh, accompanied by the sweet smell of your morning coffee swirling with the kicked-up dust from the Serengeti plains as the high-pitched trumpets of young elephant calves (or grunts from those numberless gnu) waft into your bedroom.

Toss away that remote. Two new properties, new to Tanzania and Kenya, obliterate the "Channel" and key in on the "Discovery" of the African wild.

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Contest Watch: $9K Safari, 12-day Euro Vaca + More!

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March comes in like a lion (luxury safari anyone?) and out like a lamb (a wool beret from a Parisian boutique!) with this month’s globetrotting Contest Watch.

Kenya: iExplore.com Photo Safari Contest
Enter by April 22, 2011


The frequent T+L Best of the Web winner, iExplore has kicked off a new contest for shutterbugs. Simply visit http://photocontest.iexplore.com/, register, upload your best photograph, and then spread the word. Site visitors can vote for their favorites, advancing a group of 20 photographs to the finals. A panel of nine award-winning travel photographers and media writers will pick the winner.

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Real Safari Chic, or Why Only Tourists Wear Khaki

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My friends Lopoyan Lemarti and Kundari “Boniface” Pasulan each have one foot in the modern world while the other remains firmly in the manyatta. (Kiswahili for village.) Conveniently, these two safari guides wear the open-toe sandals fashioned from recycled rubber tires that Kenyans call Thousand Milers. Lemarti is a Samburu; Boniface belongs to the neighboring Laikipiak Maasai tribe. During the hot, dry months before the spring monsoon season brings welcome rain to equatorial Africa, both wrap kikoi, a striped cotton sarong, around their waists. They also stack elaborately beaded necklaces and bracelets on their spare, muscular frames. Even here on the arid plains below the Laikipia Plateau, in this outmost region of northern Kenya, tribal styles change quickly--just proof that wearing last year’s look is social death in every culture. That’s why the three of us recently climbed in a Trooper and jolted overland from Lemarti’s Camp on the Uaso Nyiro River to a neighboring village on the Koija Group Ranch.

After completing their morning chores, Maasai women often gather under the shade of a drought-toughened acacia to bead and sell new jewelry. On this visit, they laid out on the ground magpie-bright belts, bangles, chokers and tasseled collars. I noticed that iridescent beads imported from India have come into vogue. While beadwork has been a favored personal adornment in Africa for thousands of years, more recent trade with the Far East and Europe has influenced accessories beyond indigenous traditions. As I negotiated for a beaded cuff and cow hair fly whisk, Lemarti choose a carved rungu club for his collection.

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Then Boniface invited us into his mud-and-wattle house, where his wife Josephine brewed chai with fresh milk from their herd of goats. A cooking fire kept the communal room warm and slightly smoky, so carrying my tin mug back outside, I was immediately surrounded by children who grabbed up newborn lambs to show them off. They bowed shaved heads for me to touch their crowns with my palm in a formal greeting and then skipped away, giggling at the unadorned mzungu woman. Just then, honey bees swarmed my faded blue jeans. (Khaki is the default color for tourists on safari because it doesn’t show dirt or attract pesky insects, but since I look awful in tan my new whisk came in handy.)

Once the others finished their morning tea, I asked Boniface to show me how he wraps kikoi so that it doesn’t accidentally come undone and flop to the ground when trotting full tilt, iron spear in hand, through thorny scrub. “A warrior always shows his chest,” he claimed, pointing to an abdomen notched with ritual scars. (Before becoming a guide, Pasulan earned a college degree in AIDS counseling.) He untied a striped swath and then wrapped it round and round again on his narrow hips, folding the tasseled edge and tucking a corner behind his back to fasten it. Joining us, another warrior named Meggis Lemanyass showed me the pheasant feather in his ndarasha headdress and a plastic hand mirror stamped “made in China” strapped to a bicep sling. The metal charms on his chest bands jingled softly. Meggis’s kikoi was flipped over a beaded belt to expose a lethal-looking machete.

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Back at camp, I talked tribal fashion with Lermarti’s wife, designer Anna Trzebinski, who embellishes her own line of suede coats and pashmina shawls with African bead patterns at a studio workshop in Nairobi. “When you are a warrior, your job is to adorn yourself and protect the tribe,” she said. “These men really are peacocks and will use whatever they come in contact with, from white ash for body paint to plastic flowers for their headdresses.” Or, in Lemarti’s case, pairing his everyday beads with stunning crocodile wrist cuffs and a Gucci jacket for occasional forays to the Explorer’s Club in Manhattan. (Former members Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt, both safari junkies, never looked so good in their rumpled khaki.)

Then Anna explained that the pepper-red checked wool cloth called shuka, which has become a Maasai trademark, was originally introduced by Scottish missionaries. It seems the tribesmen just picked apart stitches from kilt pleats, and then knotted the tartan like a shawl around their shoulders. That’s superplaid.

Shane Mitchell is Travel + Leisure's special correspondent.


Photos by James Fisher

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