So you’ve decided on South Africa for your next adventure, but the offers and ads that Google spits out from travel websites, airlines and tour companies are quite overwhelming.
We might be able to help with some inside advice. Read on to find out how to choose the right travel agency while avoiding tourist traps.
Most of us know the feeling a few weeks before going on vacation. We have a vague idea of which part of the world we’d like to visit but everything else is still up in the air. Which city should I fly to? Where is the best accommodation? Which airline should I use? Do I need to rent a car? What are the local attractions? You get my point.
Organizing a vacation can be immensely stressful, which is exactly what you’re trying to get away from. So what happens when you’re planning on volunteering on your travels.
With technology and growth in the tourism industry, it’s increasingly difficult to find a vacation that includes everything you want to do. Famous “touristy” cities overflow with attractions, activities, and accommodation. You’ll need to go through a lot of offers from hotels, guest houses, Airbnb, self-catering apartments and so much more. Not to mention going through hundreds of reviews making sure the place is clean and actually looks like the pictures. And then there are the endless booking websites offering different rates, while all of them claim to be the cheapest.
There is a way to save you from the sea of vacation choices, would-be rhino rescuers. Travel agencies spare you the stress, research and decision-making of going on your dream vacation. Think of your travel agent as your personal trainer for holiday planning. They’re there to support you, make suggestions to meet your needs and help out when you feel like giving up. Essentially, they do all the heavy lifting for you to become satisfied travelers.
Travel agencies offer you the complete package. You tell them where you want to go, how long you want to stay, what your budget is and the purpose of travelling. Whether it’s for business, adventure, relaxation or to volunteer abroad.
There are different kinds of travel agencies. There is the network travel agency with branches all over the world offering you the more traditional escapes, where you can sit down and speak with an agent face-to-face. Then there are online travel and tourism companies. They’re convenient and solutions-driven. Just click through their offers, find the one you like, and book a package without dealing with a salesperson. Simple as that.
The agency representative will contact your destination and organize your whole journey from arrival at the airport to your return flight and everything between. Everything is covered. Your online travel agent will send you a package with all the necessary information. You just let your credit card take care of the costs.
It is if you find the right travel agency to work with.
The bigger the tourism industry grows and agencies develop their online offerings, the more scams you need to be aware of.
Fortunately, you probably won’t be the first person to encounter these fake companies. You can find lots of free advice online on tourism forums. Scams can actually be easily detected if you do a little research.
1. First found, first booked:
Don’t settle for the first agency you find. Compare many different options. Ask your friends and family what they think. Heck, why not put a post out on Facebook to ask your friends for advice. Every travel website will have a different approach to what type of packages they offer and trips they specialize in - from VIP luxury to backpacking, business to family, vacations to volunteering.
2. Avoid last-minute vacation stress:
This should be self-explanatory. A last-minute booking might be fine when going through a travel agency than when organizing your trip yourself. It’s never the best choice though. While there is a chance of an amazing last-minute discount, the downside is you may miss out on early-bird discounts. Visas, flights, hotel bookings - there’s just too much to arrange last minute. No one likes a scramble, and no matter how good your travel agent is, they might also miss some of the finer details when under time pressure.
3. If it’s all about the money, it’s a little worrying:
Make sure the agency offers a free consultation, either via email, Skype or phone. If you have to pay to simply speak to someone, something is definitely off.
Also, be extra careful if their rates are a lot lower than their competitors’. Once you have agreed and are asked to make the payment, only do so after they’ve provided you with all necessary information, documentation and most importantly, a contract.
4. Who needs reviews?
Everyone! Make sure they are legit. Ever heard of Bangladeshi Click Farms?
Some companies pay people for positive reviews. Now I’m not saying that’s always the case, but make sure to keep an eye on credibility, compare comments and read the negative reviews as well to get a full picture of what to expect.
Most agencies are focused on those ‘must-see places and sites”. These include popular destinations, well-known hotels. Places where a camera is more important than the experience. In other words, the holiday hotspots that you might want to avoid when you’re looking for an authentic adventure.
The fact is, growth in the tourism industry the past few decades gave rise mass tourism. Destinations are overrun by travellers eroding the local culture and plunging locals into poverty - the more tourists, the richer the city, the more overpriced living expenses become. On the other side, the prices for tourists, e.g. accommodation and excursions, are getting cheaper because of competitive price wars, which brings even more travellers.
The typical “mass tourist” trip offered by most travel agencies are visits to an all-inclusive hotel resort without seeing most of the country. Or travel via busses where you’re able to hop off at spots as soon as the previous bus has left. These resorts and packages don’t offer you a truly personal or deeper experience than the sanitized commercial version. They seldom deliver memorable experiences. It’s just more of the same.
However, you do have the opportunity to organize your travels independently. Individual tourism is becoming more and more popular. Travellers don’t have to go through an agency but instead, contact the accommodation or program organizers directly, and book their stay without the middleman or the added fees.
This allows you to organize each and every detail of your journey exactly to your liking to stay off busy tourist paths and rather explore untouched nature and sights for a unique adventure.
Independent tourists prefer getting to know a country from a different angle. They want to connect with locals, taste the local cuisine and immerse themselves in the culture. These people often get involved in volunteering projects to give back to the community while on their travels.
Volunteering projects can vary from working with children, helping the environment or supporting animal sanctuaries.
If you feel like voluntourism is your kind of thing, then get in touch with us.
We invite you to not only touch a rhino but touch the lives of.
We’re one of the biggest private rhino conservations in Africa with over 300 rhinos in our care. And with your help, we can save a species from extinction, where it matters - on the frontline.
On average one rhino is poached every 8 hours in Africa. Which is why we at Rockwood are doing everything we can to save the species from extinction. But looking after over 300 rhinos is no small feat. We need your help.
*Please note, saving the rhino is an expensive undertaking, that’s why participating in projects is subjected to a registration and participation fee. It’s one of the ways we generate funds to keep doing what we do.