Steering Clear of Mediocrity: Grill Your Agent Before You Get Burned

Travel agent under pressure from client

If you are considering a safari in Africa, don’t go any further until you read this.

Have you started dreaming about the adventure of a lifetime? Hopefully, my website has provided you with inspiration, but you might still be weighing up your options, you may have questions:

“What makes this Andy bloke so different from the rest?”

“Can’t I use that mainstream travel agent I’ve used in the past for package tours to the Med?”

“You know, the big company with the famous name and (believe it or not) a high street store? That must mean they’re good, right?”

I think I’ve answered those questions well enough elsewhere on this website, so in this article, I’m going to cover what you should be asking next. No matter who you deal with, be ready with this list, fire away and see what they say.

The responses you receive will make it easy to decide where to invest your hard-earned money. As you know by now, a safari is not cheap. So please, do not take this stage lightly. It could be an expensive and hugely disappointing mistake.

Let’s get into it.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask, and the kind of answers you might expect from a travel designer (i.e. me) versus a traditional travel agent. You might assume I’m just joking about the replies from the latter, but you’d be surprised. I’ll admit, they might not put it quite like this…

Question 1. How specialized is your knowledge of African safaris?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “I live and breathe Africa while I’m awake and dream about Serengeti sundowners at night. African safaris aren’t just my job; they’re my passion.”
  • Travel Agent: “Africa, right? Yes, we book there too! Let me just pull up Google Maps real quick…”

Question 2. Can you tailor the safari to my unique interests and budget?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Absolutely. Whether you’re a bird enthusiast or in pursuit of the Big Five, I’ll craft a journey that caters to your dreams, down to the finest detail.”
  • Travel Agent: “Sure, we have a variety of packages. One size fits all, right? You’ll fit into one of them, hopefully.”

Question 3. What about accommodations? Can you book something beyond the typical tourist lodges?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “From treehouses to tents under the stars, I have access to exclusive lodgings that offer an authentic experience aligned with your preferences.”
  • Travel Agent: “We have a lovely list of partner hotels and lodges. They’re pretty standard, but there’s free breakfast!”

Question 4. How do you handle transportation logistics?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Every transfer is seamlessly planned for comfort and convenience, ensuring your journey between destinations is as extraordinary as the safari itself.”
  • Travel Agent: “Minibuses, rental cars, maybe Uber? We’ll figure it out. It’s part of the adventure, right?”

Question 5. Can you provide detailed budgeting advice, including hidden costs?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Expect a comprehensive breakdown of costs, with no surprises. Your adventure will be priceless, but meticulously budgeted.”
  • Travel Agent: “Well, there are the basics, plus a few extras. Oh, and don’t forget tips. And souvenirs. And… well, it adds up.”

Question 6. What’s the process for visas, vaccinations, and health preparations?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “I’ll guide you through every step, ensuring you’re prepared with all necessary documentation and health precautions for a worry-free adventure.”
  • Travel Agent: “Oh, right, those. Just check the embassy website, and maybe visit a travel clinic. You’ll be fine!”

Question 7. Are the safari activities customizable, or are they set in stone?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Your safari, your rules. Want to track rhinos on foot or enjoy a bush dinner? Consider it done.”
  • Travel Agent: “We have a standard itinerary, but hey, you might get lucky and see a lion from the bus window!”

Question 8. How do I ensure my safari experience is both ethical and supports local communities?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “We partner with lodges and operators committed to conservation and community benefits, ensuring your visit makes a positive impact.”
  • Travel Agent: “Uh, choose eco-friendly sunscreen? Honestly, not sure, but that sounds important!”

Question 9. How do you ensure my itinerary reflects a genuine understanding of Africa’s diverse ecosystems?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Having traversed the continent’s vast landscapes myself, I’ll ensure your itinerary is a tapestry woven from the rich biodiversity Africa offers. Each destination is chosen not just for its beauty but for the stories it tells.”
  • Travel Agent: “We have a lovely brochure that covers the main spots. The Serengeti, that’s in South Africa, right? Lovely pictures!”

Question 10. How do you support local communities through my safari?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Every booking contributes to local initiatives, from conservation projects to schools. Your visit isn’t just an adventure; it’s a handshake with the community.”
  • Travel Agent: “Oh, the lodges probably hire are few local people, I guess? And buying souvenirs, that helps, doesn’t it?”

Question 11. Can you break down all potential costs, so there are no surprises?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “Expect a detailed itinerary with details of all inclusions, from park fees to your sundowner drinks. Transparency is key to trust and enjoyment.”
  • Travel Agent: “There’s the basic package price. Other bits and bobs might crop up, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Question 12. What accommodation aligns with my ethical travel values?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “I’ve personally selected eco-friendly lodges that champion sustainability, ensuring your stay contributes positively to the environment.”
  • Travel Agent: “Eco-friendly, you say? I believe there’s an option with ‘green’ in the name… or was it just the colour of the brochure?”

Question 13. What unique activities can you offer that I won’t find in a brochure?

Responsible safari travel ideas - mountain biking safari

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “How about a night under the stars with a Maasai warrior, or a conservation experience with rhinos? Biking in the bush? Your safari will be as unique as you are.”
  • Travel Agent: “The usual really. Game drives, maybe a boat trip? We’ll see what the brochure says.”

Question 14. How do you approach the need for visas and health documentation?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “I’ll guide you through the visa process and health requirements, ensuring you’re fully prepared well before your departure date.”
  • Travel Agent: “Check the government website, I suppose. And maybe pop by a travel clinic? Best to be on the safe side.”

Question 15. Regarding health precautions, how comprehensive is your advice?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “From necessary vaccinations to malaria prophylaxis, I’ll provide detailed health advice tailored to your itinerary and destination.”
  • Travel Agent: “Just the usual jabs, I think. Maybe something for malaria? It’s all in the leaflet somewhere.”

Question 16. Can you provide insight into currency, payment methods, and managing finances while on safari?

African money

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “I’ll ensure you’re equipped with knowledge on local currency, where to exchange money, and how to access funds safely throughout your journey.”
  • Travel Agent: “Most places probably take cards now, right? Just bring some cash, just in case. And maybe tell your bank you’re going away.”

Question 17. What packing advice do you offer to ensure I’m well-prepared?

  • Travel Designer (Andy): “You’ll receive a curated packing list tailored to your destinations and activities, ensuring you have everything you need for a comfortable safari.”
  • Travel Agent: “Lots of khaki? Oh, and those hats with the flaps on the back. Can’t go wrong with a good hat.”

Choosing the right professional for your safari planning is the single most important thing you can do if you are serious about having the adventure of a lifetime. A travel designer offers tailored advice, deep knowledge, and personal touches, while a travel agent provides a broader, less customized service – which is fine for a regular holiday.

But this isn’t a regular holiday. The choice is yours, so choose wisely.

Join Me in Zimbabwe in May 2025!

A unique adventure through Africa’s untamed beauty in May 2025. On this 9-night itinerary we will start with a stay in Victoria Falls and then explore two world-renowned areas of wonderful Zimbabwe: Hwange National Park and Lake Kariba.

Staying at two legendary camps, Bomani and Musango, we will get to experience the thrill of the wilderness in two very different ways.

“This small-group safari, limited to just six guests, is designed to ensure a truly immersive adventure for those with limited time but very high expectations.” – Andy Higgs

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