For my son's high school graduation gift, I decided we would travel to Africa. When we vacationed together in the past, we visited national parks in the United States and Central America because we wanted to experience wildlife in its natural habitats. What better way to culminate our adventures than a safari in Africa?

The planning began. I desired a remote setting in a safe and progressive country that respected its natural treasures and worked diligently to protect them. Also, I longed for a camping experience where we lived in tents and ate outside by a wood fire.

We realized our dream in Botswana. This amazingly beautiful and friendly country in southern Africa fit the bill. Our group of seven visited the Chobe National Park, the Linyanti Reserve, and the Moremi Game Reserve, traveling between them by single-engine plane. We lived in 13-by-13-foot Meru-style tents with bucket showers. We enjoyed our early-morning breakfasts by the fire, and dined alfresco by candlelight. Lions roared at night and elephants chomped away on tree branches right outside our tents. In our 10 days traveling together, it was just our group, living in and surrounded by the wilderness.

An extremely courteous staff accompanied us. Our leader, an ex-member of Botswana's elite anti-poaching force, entertained us with both funny and harrowing stories of life in the bush. Emmanuiel constantly reminded us of the dangers, but we still felt safe with our experienced guides.

How to describe the safari? Daily early-morning and evening drives fascinated us because we never knew what we would see: elephants with their youngsters crossing the dirt road, an African fish eagle perched high in a tree, dozens of baby baboons leaping from tree to tree, making us laugh out loud. In addition to seeing these spectacular animals in their homes, we felt the vastness of the land, and experienced the sights and sounds of Africa with our hearts. And the African light, especially the sunset, was breathtaking.

We saw giraffes, water buffalo, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, hyenas, and many colorful birds. Each serendipitous meeting, whether noticing a mother warthog and her two little ones scurry through the underbrush, observing the king of the jungle poised regally by a kill, or following the sleek, calm, and determined female leopard as she tried to elude us, was awe-inspiring. Our favorite sighting was arriving on the restful scene of a lioness and her two tiny cubs.

Realizing the world is diverse and full of beauty was the message I wanted to share with my son on this trip. Stepping out of our familiar world and into a different one reminds us that, although life contains sad and bad events, it is also an adventure.