In my last blog post I was discussing how to organize a self drive safari in Africa by yourself. I mentioned you could also enlist as little or as much help from a tour operator or travel agent as you wish. I usually plan everything by myself and then just use a tour operator to handle all my bookings and payments, that way I can just pay once with credit card, and also get additional support if anything goes wrong. Sometimes I get better prices as such companies have better deals and pass on the savings to their customers. Also I am not really a fan of incurring extra costs by paying each accommodation, campsite and activity individually when no credit card processing facilities are available – wire transfers can be quite expensive! You might want to have a company plan and book everything for you, especially if it’s your first time self driving or you are not a planning addict like me. You might also just need assistance with portions of your trip. A well-chosen tour operator can help you no matter your circumstances.
- Tour operators recommended by guidebooks have usually already been vetted for quality of service so that is a good starting point, but do not solely trust what the guidebooks recommend as things change quickly, there might be some bias, and many very good operators often get left out.
- Research online about your shortlisted tour operators. Look for them being mentioned in relevant forums and blogs and note the experiences that people have had with them. If there is no recent information ask for advice yourself in the forums.
- Do they have experience in organizing tailor made self-driving tours and do they organize them on a regular basis?
- Assess your interactions with them. Do they respond quickly and courteously? Are they flexible if you ask for specific things? Do they pay attention to detail? Will they tailor to your budget and demands or push you towards specific routes and accommodation? Are they knowledgeable? Are they able to answer all of your questions? Have their staff actually visited the places you want to go to? Trust your gut feeling!
- If the quoted price is too good to be true compared to others be wary!
- The tour operator should not necessarily be in the same country you are planning to travel in. Many companies in South Africa and Namibia for example organize trips all over Southern Africa so make sure you widen your search.
- Are they insured/bonded? This is not an indication as to how good or bad a company might be, some very good small local tour operators are not, but it is still good to know that beforehand and decide whether or not you are willing to take the risk.
While you can use the services of a more generic safari travel agent that also does some tailor made self-drives there are also companies whose main focus is organizing self drive safaris. Some will even guide you on your self drive or you could also join a tour group of self drivers. These companies will tend to be the most knowledgeable to help you organize your self drive and may have even purchased those hard to get campsites in advance for their clients, so these companies are really worth investigating especially if you are trying to book late or need a lot of detailed assistance.
I hope you are finding these blog posts useful – I would love to hear from you if you do! And also if you have questions and suggestions. In the next blog post of this series I will be discussing route planning and navigation in more detail.