updated on May 16th, 2019
We’re back with another article from my dad, Tom. He and my mom, Dayna, have been all around the globe and are the most adventurous retired travelers I know. They may be retired travelers, but his advice applies to everyone venturing into the world. This week he’ll cover how to pick an Africa overland tour company. – Amy
My first trip to Africa was in 1996. It was three weeks in Botswana and Zimbabwe with a few days of transit through South Africa. We were a group of eight acquaintances on a preplanned trip in which we flew bush planes between mid-range safari camps. Our group saw more animals than you can imagine: by canoe, houseboat, 4 x 4, foot and horseback. And on almost no occasion did we interact with the local indigenous population. Africa was just a view out the plane window between our game park stops. We missed out on culture and experiences. Never again!
What is an Africa Overland Tour?
When my wife, Dayna, and I reignited our world traveling flame about 7 years ago (not including US, Mexico, Caribbean, Canada and 20 years of Air Force excursions), we vowed to SEE the world- not just visit the tourist sites. In Africa our preferred method of traveling is “overlanding”. That, in short, is traveling by truck. (NEVER call it a bus! Your truck guides will make you walk the plank for uttering that word!)
How to Choose an African Overland Tour Company
First, you’ll need to pick a company. Back to the internet. Try Googling “African overland tours” or “budget African tours.” Plan on spending a few hours educating yourself.
You’ll see Africa tour companies like Intrepid Tours, G Adventures, African Overland Tours, tourradar.com, Peregrine Tours, Overland Africa, African Budget Safaris, and Nomad Africa Adventure Tours to name only a few. All these tours are great. But some of the above are what I call “Third Party Bookers”. That doesn’t mean they are bad. That just means you are sending your money to somebody other than whom you are traveling. They are travel agents. Don’t panic! We were so dumb on our first trip that we were practically at the airport before we realized we had booked through a third party. And it all worked out beautifully.
How do you tell the difference between a third party booking agent and the real overland company?
First, look for their “About Us” tab on the website. Most will simply tell you if they’re a third party if you look. I didn’t, my bad! But if they don’t say they are a third party, short of e-mailing them, how to tell? One easy way is to look for their trucks in their picture gallery. Most reputable companies are proud of their equipment. For example, Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, the company we went with on our first trip (through an accidental third party booking) is so proud of their trucks that they have a YouTube video of them being built in their own factory in Cape Town. We went with them again on our second trip but booked directly. If the company doesn’t have photos of their name splashed all over the sides of their trucks, you may be using a third party agent. (By the way, Nomad names each of their trucks individually after dead rock stars like “Sid” or “Janis”.)
Pricing Your Africa Overland Tour
If a company interests you but doesn’t quote prices right up front, you should keep looking. As they say in a Rolls Royce dealership, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” You’ll typically see additional pricing for the “activity package” and “single supplement” when you weigh the costs of the trip. Some companies will quote you “camping”, “accommodated”, or “special” pricing. What does this mean? While others in your group are camping, you will be cuddling under a warm blanket in your room.
“Accommodated” usually means two star lodging with en suite western style bathrooms. Clean but possibly rather basic. It can also mean a large safari tent with real beds and attached full bath. Some may be very nice. “TIA”- This is Africa. The best companies will show you the itineraries including links to their lodging selections. They may also offer special affordable upgraded nights. For example, you may be able to upgrade to a two night fly-in to a very upscale lodge in the Okavango Delta while the rest of your truck enjoys their two nights in a more basic camp at the edge of the Delta.
Lonely Planet is a great place to start when you’re beginning to research your Africa tour. Use our coupon code BOLDTOURIST10 to get 10% off at checkout!
Nomad, and some other companies, have added a new level of service called “small group” travel. If you are at all uncertain about overland travel, I would suggest you take a hard look at these southern Africa trips. They include 3-4 star accommodations instead of two star, upgraded trucks with on-board lavatory, air conditioning, swivel leather seats, individual electronics hookups at each seat and overhead lights. A little more expensive but still very affordable. More companies may be following suit.
Consider the Age and Target Demographic of the Group
Many companies cater to certain age groups. The 18 to 39 age group is a huge segment of this mode of travel. We have seen these groups all over Africa. G Adventures and Intrepid Tours are examples. If companies specialize in small tent camping, it’s a hint that they cater to younger travelers. On the other hand, many companies require only reasonable health and evidence of blood pressure. You will be dragging your own backpack or duffel and putting up your own tent if you’re camping. At age 70 this Fall, I will not be the oldest on our next tour.
Finally, what about kids? Most companies prefer not to book children. Certainly not little ones. But our upcoming trip to Namibia will have two sub-teens for the first week. We have been assured they are good kids and every booked client had to agree by email that they were OK with that. We can feed them to the lions if they are naughty!
I know you’ll find a good tour. Check for reviews in TripAdvisor and the Lonely Planet. Next, we will cover what you need to do before you leave on the trip. You don’t want a good case of malaria or to get stuck at a border without a visa!
We also highly recommend (and many Africa tours require) proof of adequate insurance. Your health insurance at home does NOT cover international travel. Many credit cards offer a level of travel protection, but it is not enough for an adventurous trip such as an Africa overland tour. Our favorite company for this is WorldNomads. Should you need to cancel your trip due to unforeseen emergency, you become ill or injured during your Africa tour, or you lose bags to damage or theft, travel insurance offers a safety net.
See more posts in our Africa series!
- Part I: Thinking of Going to Africa?
- Part II: Traveling to Africa? Where to Start
- Part IV: Vaccinations and Health Tips
- Part V: Africa Passports, Visas, and Cash