You walk out of your room to see baboons leaping across rocks. A giraffe sleeping under a peaceful sunset. Hippos in the distance, splashing through water. An aardwolf making its rare appearance. Where are you? South Africa.

By going paperless with AAA Living, AAA Member Mickey Matson won a trip to South Africa, where he and wife Sonya saw all of the above—and so much more—and came back with these three takeaways:

1. Conservation efforts come in many forms

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Matson’s family knows all about conservation—one of the main reasons he didn’t hesitate to go paperless with AAA Living. They already take small steps in their own lives—like conserving water and avoiding straws—and even embark on mission trips with their kids to help communities in need. But when the couple traveled to South Africa, the extent of conservation efforts wherever they turned was still nothing short of refreshing—and reinforced what Matson and his family already do.

“They’ve had a water shortage for quite a while, so there’s still a lot of verbiage about conserving water in different ways,” Matson explains. “Even in a luxury restaurant in the Shamwari Game Preserve … It was nice to see. They seem to have taken on the no-plastic-straw rule, too.”

“Something small like this, if everybody does it, can really make a difference.”

Exploring places around the world where there’s a clear effort to better the environment has influenced where Matson’s family decides to go next, too. He prefers to visit places that put an emphasis on minimizing waste and maximizing the existing environment—making a stop at the Shamwari Game Reserve a no-brainer.

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In the middle of Shamwari lies the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries—an organization Matson is already familiar with. Born Free helps ensure the survival of threatened cats—in return, conserving the species and protecting their habitat. And to Matson, this was inspiring to witness.

“We went there to check it out, but it was really windy, so [the animals] were all hanging out in their enclosures,” he says. “But they have two 3-acre enclosures where they have these pens because they’re not able to go back in the wild. A lot of them are older, too.”

Matson continues: “It was nice to see. They’re at that next level of helping take care of animals that need that extra help.”

2. You can always find a piece of home wherever you go

Participating in Scouts is a major part of the Matson family’s life. All three kids have participated, and Mickey Matson and his wife, Sonya, have accompanied them on many mission trips around the world. So when they saw the Scouts headquarters in Cape Town, they had to stop by—and with the help of their concierge, it was easy to get a private tour.

“My boys and I used to do Scouts together, but now my wife and my daughter have been doing Girl Scouts for years,” he says. “They actually just went to Costa Rica before we went to South Africa. They had already learned a lot about conservation and other things from Costa Rica, and some of those same things came through in South Africa, too.”

Matson’s biggest takeaway lies with his travel partner: his wife. With three kids, they don’t get a lot of time to themselves. But by embarking on this trip together, it reinforced that they really do enjoy spending time together.

“We’re pretty excited about the next phase of our life,” he says. “Because our kids are in their teens, they’ll soon be in college. So it was nice to know that we can travel around, do stuff together and we’re still friends.”

“We had a great time, just the two of us. It was really nice to reinforce our relationship.”

They’ve already begun planning their next trip—this time with the whole family—to Norway to explore their family’s ancestry and roots.

3. Embrace the food, sights and culture

The Matsons have traveled all over the world—so trying new things in new locations isn’t, well, new to them. During their trip to South Africa, they tried it all: abalone, ostrich, eel (which they found out about after the fact), braai (barbecue), bunny chow … but the most memorable was the venison—or more specifically, antelope.

“While we were talking with a ranger, he asked us what’s our favorite venison,” Matson explains. “Where I grew up, there was deer hunting, so I’ve always considered venison to be a while-tail deer … but it made sense that they would have these different types of antelope. It was an interesting question with an interesting perspective.”

Explore the possibilities for your own trip to South Africa.

Discover the Sights and Sounds

On Saturday night, the resorts at the Shamwari Game Reserve serve braai and even provide entertainment. During the trip, the family enjoyed tribal-style dance with several dancers and a drummer.

“It was really cool to see some of that,” he says. “And it was a nice opportunity that not everybody who visits gets to see.”

The Matsons were also able to learn more about the culture wherever they went, through their tour guides, concierge and even servers. For example, their concierge took them through his own neighborhood on the way to the Scouts headquarters—and he knew the perfect restaurants to recommend since he’s a local.

“He was really excited to explain [things] to us,” Matson says. “To talk to people about what makes their place unique, interesting and fun—and to have that dialogue with him and then enjoy it … We thought it was awesome.”

See What the World Has to Offer

Speak to a local AAA Travel Advisor today to discover where you can go—and how your AAA Membership can add value to your trip.

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