Asheville, NC, July 15th– Fifteen years ago, Jody Cole did what most of us only dream about doing. She turned her childhood passion into a full-time career. This week, as she ventures through Africa with guests, Cole celebrates the 15-year anniversary of her tour company, Wild Rainbow African Safaris, an incredible feat for an LGBTQ American woman.
As a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, Jody Cole was fascinated with animals. While other children watched morning cartoons, Cole was mesmerized by the wildlife and birds featured on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and in her backyard. She was fearless around animals, regardless of how big or small in size they were. From bulls to bugs, she loved them all. Whether or not she realized it at the time, Cole was destined to work with nature and the animal kingdom.
Following high school, Cole took a path all-too familiar with most high school graduates. She went to college and sought a career in a stable field in which she excelled – economics and accounting. She spent several years fundraising for foundations, and although fulfilling, something inside her yearned for more.
After the passing of her father in 1998, Cole found herself in a dark place. She felt lost. Her best friend encouraged her to live her life and to say “YES” to any and all opportunities that came her way.
In that moment, Cole decided that it was finally time to say “YES” to her lifelong dream of visiting Africa.
Shortly thereafter, Cole connected with a travel company in California and booked her first six-week-longAfrican Safarito Tanzania, which included a visit to the Serengeti and a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.
“My life was changed. I fell in love with Africa.”
Cole returned to Africa several times over the next few years. She developed relationships with local African tour guides, studied the regions she visited, and soaked up lessons from natives on humanity, nature and the culture that ties it all together.
The leap into her safari career was eventually spurred on by friend and travel agent, Alison Hawthorne. In 2004, Hawthorne asked Cole to assist her in planning a 50thbirthday safari to Africa. What began as a small celebration with a few friends led to a successful 20-person safari and the start of an official safari company.
As Cole’s company grew and her trips to Africa continued, her skills and knowledge improved as well. So much so, that several African tour guides partnered with her to create unique tourist experiences. Others mentored her, encouraging her to study for specialized certification tests so she could expand her company’s service offerings and enhance guest experiences in ways she had never dreamed possible. Cole realizes that the unconditional support received by friends both near and far is key to her success today.
Cole is one of very few women who are a Level 2 Field Guide qualified through the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. She has also earned additional certifications that allow her to accompany guests on foot into the bush and on backpacking experiences as a Trails Guide.
Over the past fifteen years, under Cole’s leadership, WildRainbow African Safaris has accompanied over 400 people to fourteen different African countries. Although she has guided tours of all sizes, her ideal tour group is comprised of 8-10 people and her upmarket vacation experiences are curated with the individual in mind.
While most tour companies provide cookie-cutter itineraries that center around the iconic animals of Africa (rhinos, elephant, giraffes, etc), Cole takes added time to point out the small creatures and their roles in Africa’s ecosystem. This attention to detail means better guest experiences that cater to the client. Cole emphasizes, “The personal touch is the key that enhances your experience to Africa.”
It has been an exciting and fruitful 15 years for Cole, both as a business owner and fulfiller of dreams. Looking forward, Cole hopes to “continue changing lives one safari at a time.” She has big plans in store for Wild Rainbow African Safaris, including future bush experiences (less time in the vehicle and more time backpacking or hiking) as well as corporate leadership retreats to Africa.
When asked what she would say to those thinking about an African Safari, Cole replies, “Say ‘YES!!’ It is a life-changing experience for all ages.” To learn more about Wild Rainbow African Safaris, visit www.wildrainbowsafaris.com.
Florida Travel Tip: We suggest flying out of Miami, where flights are cheaper and stops are fewer.