We always hear of cheap holidays you can find online, advocated by our more technologically advanced friends or colleagues, but Google anything with the words “holiday, cheap, flights, accommodation”, or even the desired destinations, and you will be left with a conundrum of search results. Half the websites that come up in the search results will be overseas sites (watch out especially for the sneaky American travel websites which pop up windows at you faster than you can close them), and the other half will be tour operators with names you have never heard of, so how can you trust them to take you on holiday? And what exactly do you book: a full package or do you find your own way around discount flights and hotel specials?
Planning a holiday in the days of the Internet can be stressful because there are just so many options and so many seemingly good deals. That is why booking a complete holiday package from a reputable travel agency offers travelers the stress-free option, other wise you’ll definitely need the holiday once you are finished planning it.
Here are a few tips on holiday planning. First, determine whether you are budget conscious or an experience seeker. If budget is a concern, it’s worth being flexible on the destination. Set your limit and search for holiday packages within that budget. You will often find equally great destinations offering better deals, either because of seasonality or just plain Murphy’s law. Visit your local travel agencies (Sure Travel & Harvey World are a couple of big names to try) and get them to sniff out specials for you, or simply send in a request form you find on most travel websites. If budget is not such a big concern and you are more set on a destination or have a particular experience in mind (for example, a Trans-Siberian experience, a hike to Machu Picchu, etc.) then choosing an experienced travel agency that specializes in adventure tours would be a good option. (Take a look at Unique Destinations; Led Tours; or take a look at this list of Adventure Travel Agencies). You would be surprised at the variety of tours available and what you get out of experienced coordinators.
Shopping around for a travel agent or tour operator is important and worth doing homework for. When browsing an agency’s website, you should be able to get a lot of information, such as contact details, itinerary breakdowns, and destination information. Search for recommendations; websites with reviews help in giving you an honest picture of the agency, destination and establishments (Try: Hello Peter; Review Centre). Also check if the travel agency is accredited with industry associations. It helps if the travel agency has offices in your city, other wise find out who you can contact if you run into any problems. Note how soon they get back to you on queries, and their level of enthusiasm in planning your itinerary; these are all good indications of how they value their customers. The great advantage of having a tour operator plan your trip is that you have someone to answer your questions; having said that, you should be suspicious if they don’t seem to know any more about the destination than yourself.
If you have the time, shop around. Tours are usually organized by tour operators, meanwhile travel agents just sell them, so shop around for the same tour and one travel agent might be able to offer you a better price than the next. Packages can cover just the basics or include everything from drinks to slippers. You can request tailor-made tours for special itineraries or group bookings. You should always specify if you have babies/children, handicapped, or elderly persons in the group. Have many conversations with the consultant; ask about their policy regarding taxes, deposits, changes to travel plans and cancellations; and always read the fine print!
Depending on your own travelling preferences, your tour operator should be able to customize a tour for you. If you like meeting new people and having a fast-tracked holiday, a guided coach tour would maximize your holiday time, making sure you see, hear, learn as much about the destination as possible, without time wasted in finding your own information and/or getting lost. But for some, getting lost is part of the adventure of being in a new place. If you are one of these people who like exploring a new place on your own, book self-catering tours that only include transport and accommodation (although suggested activities may be worth looking into).
Exploring South Africa’s own backyard also offers many tour options. We have world famous hiking trails, wine tasting, historical or cultural tours, natural wonders (such as the Namaqualand flowers each spring), bush getaways to see the big five, deep-sea fishing, trout fishing, scuba diving, skiing and snow boarding… South Africa really is a land of endless opportunities, and there are many experienced tour operators who will handle all your travel details, the hard part is deciding where to go! (For South African tour operators, try: JB Train Tours; African Sky; SA Places; Uyaphi; Peak High Mountaineering; SA Adventure Trails; Thompsons Holidays; Africa Shark Dive Safaris; Oceans Africa; South Africa Touring Operators).