MEET THE WRITER
Michelle Gross is a San Diego-born, New York City-based travel, food, and lifestyle reporter. When she’s not on the road she’s happiest on a paddleboard, with her pugs or slurping up soba noodles wherever she can find them. In addition to Thrillist, her words and photographs have appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, Travel + Leisure, Robb Report, The San Francisco Chronicle and Playboy. You can follow her travels on Instagram @Pinktravelproject.
When was the last time you were in Zambia?
My husband and I traveled to Zambia this past October, one of the hottest months of the year there. The camps we stayed in were eco-friendly -- meaning no air-conditioning. So when we weren’t out on game drives, we took advantage of the open-air bathtub on our patio, which we shared with a family of elephants and inquisitive baboons who loved to sneak sips of water when we weren’t looking.
What was the most surprising thing about the place that you didn't expect?
It’s hard to explain without sounding cliché, but there’s something really powerful about being pushed so completely outside of your comfort zone. For me it was everything from getting around the country in teeny-tiny planes to coming face to face with big wild animals, bugs... and bush snakes.
What's a favorite memory from your visit?
One memory stands out, inspired out of fear and sheer terror. The first was on our first domestic flight on a tiny plane from the Zambian capital of Lusaka, to Jeki Airstrip in Lower Zambezi NP. As much as I travel for work, I still get nervous at the slightest turbulence. I was a wreck, but as we started our descent, I saw the Zambezi River come into view and hundreds of elephants and buffalo and zebras. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen and my flight anxiety quickly turned to exhilaration.
Number one can’t-miss recommendation for a visitor?
Don’t miss the chance to take that canoe ride down the Zambezi. Also, absolutely try the Zambian cuisine including a traditional braai barbecue, which pairs best with Zambian beer, Mosi -- a “thunderous refreshment,” especially after a day in the bush.
How easy is it to get around the city/country for English speakers?
Tourism is big business in Zambia and most people you’ll meet speak English with ease. People are also very friendly and open to talking to foreigners. It was easy to get around, though we really leaned on our tour company who arranged transport and transfers in advance. Make sure you have cash on hand for incidentals. There is a visa on arrival which was $50 USD at the time we were there in October 2019. USD is widely accepted, however it’s advisable to also carry Zambian Kwacha, which can only be exchanged in the country. It’s always best to tip in local currency.
What’s your top piece of advice for someone going for the first time?
Working with a reputable tour operator is so important, not only for the logistics of your trip, but even more vitally for the sustainability of the local ecosystem. Really read through the safari camp's website -- see what their sustainability policy is and what they’ve done, or are actively doing, to achieve those goals. When in doubt, reach out to them by phone or via email ask them how they’re involved in the local community. Other than that, I would say don’t forget to live in the moment when you’re out on game drives. Put the iPhone down and appreciate where you are. It’s incredible.