Published: May 20th 2009May 20th 2009
A lot of people ask me how I ended up traveling in Africa with a group of 19 other travelers, none of whom I had previously known. So let me explain. But first, let me tell you a little about the 20 of us.
Of the 20, nine were male, 11 female. Four were from the UK, four from Ireland, four from Australia, six from Germany, one from New Zealand, and me from Canada. Ages? A German couple in their 50s (as am I), a German man in his 40s, four in their 30s, six between 25 and 29, and six from 18-24. It was a bit younger group than is typical with a Dragoman Overland trips, which claims to average 42 yrs. old and regularly has people in their 60's (according to our leader). Of the 20, five were traveling in pairs, three were together (Mom, Dad and 26-yr-old daughter), and seven of us were by ourselves.
So how did we all connect? I guess the simple answer is that we all booked a tour through our own travel agencies, that was run by Dragoman. Actually, half of them booked a tour with Intrepid, but Intrepid and Dragoman are working cooperatively for a year, "code-sharing" to fill their trucks. Dragoman and Intrepid are just 2 of hundreds of companies out there that do all manner of tours around the world. And so, instead of simply planning a tour on your own, you book a pre-set tour through a travel agent (or online) with whatever company is doing a tour that matches your interests.
It seems many aren't aware of the plethora of travel options through these types of companies. I learned about it some years back when, responding to a newspaper ad, I attended a "world-in-a-weekend" adventure travel show, put on by Trek Escapes in Vancouver. They do this every February, and I've gone probably every year. It's grown to where they now have 42 presentations over a 2-day period, put on by representatives from 7 or 8 of these companies. Of course, every presentation is filled with awesome photos. Some of the companies they feature are Dragoman Overland, Exodus, Peregrine, Geckos, Imaginative Traveller, Tucan, Explore Worldwide and Sundowners.
I highly recommend this way of traveling. It saves tons of time and energy researching and booking your own activities, and gets you into places you would never be able to find on your own. These companies have the experience and knowledge and they aren't that expensive (depending on the nature of the trip, of course). Plus, you get to meet so many other people from all over the world, people who are in many ways, just like you, because they're doing the same thing you are.
There is a travel culture out there, and I love it! Most of the people on our trip had traveled more than me. For eight of the 20, this was simply one leg of a much longer trip, as long as nine months. All eight continued with Dragoman on the next leg from Vic Falls to Nairobi. (Dragoman actually does a 48-week trip from Helsinki to Beijing to India to Turkey to Egypt to Kenya to Capetown, broken up into many segments, all of which can be done as individual trips.) One client, a travel agent, had been on an assortment of six different trips last year, one of them, ironically, the same one I did in Costa Rica with Tucan (but not the same dates). The most common question, as we neared the end of the trip was "So where are you going next?" It was the same universal question last year on my Costa Rica trip.
A pleasant surprise
I call him "Mr. Africa." He knows everything about everything when it comes to traveling in Africa. He represents Exodus every year at "World-in-a-weekend." And his pictures are amazing--I'm convinced he must work for David Attenborough on the side. I've sat in on a number of his presentations, and chatted with him a bit. He's the one who judged Etosha as in the top 2 or 3 best game parks in Africa, and who strongly affirmed my decision to go with Dragoman.
Sitting in the boarding lounge at Heathrow Airport before that last leg of my trip home, I looked up to see a tall gentleman, with a familiar unique gait, pass right in front of me. "Andrew," I blurted out. He spun around. Sure enough, it was Mr. Africa. He was headed to Vancouver on the same flight as me, then on to Kelowna, for a presentation that very night. And yes, he recognized me, too. We sat and chatted for about 20 minutes before the boarding call came. What a nice little treat to inserted into the long, boring trip home!