I’ve been thinking about the planning process that goes into preparing for a trip or holiday.
Some people enjoy planning a prospective trip, and others think of it as something of a chore. Folk like my friend Fat Mac don’t do it at all. When he’d decided to go on the trip to Sikkim with us, back in 2016, and I told him that I’d just booked with Exodus for Lindsey and myself, without looking at the brochure or website or anything else he simply phoned the people at Exodus, and said to the sales operator “Hiv yeez jest goat a booking fer somewan called Roddy MacLeod goin’ tae Sikkim in India? Yes? OK, Ah’ll hiv exactly the same fer masel, wi a sungle supplement.” He then entirely forgot about the whole process, including paying the amount outstanding when it became due. As he was away on a hermit retreat at the time in question, and his booking would have been cancelled, including the loss of his deposit, it was left to me to pay the remainder of the bill. Fortunately, he eventually paid me back, in used tenners.
I’m sure that most sensible folk at least look at a brochure, guidebook or some websites, before booking travel. If you book a package holiday, due to product bundling, most things will be taken care of by a tour company, and nowadays all you really have to do is print out some e-tickets (if the trip involves flights), and/or just turn up at the departure point. That’s about as simple as it can get.
Package tours date back to the mid-nineteenth century, and by the 1960s they’d become extremely popular. They’re still pretty popular of course, and particularly suit people with limited time for both the planning process and the vacation itself. However, with the advent of cheap flights we’ve seen a massive growth in independent travel. You book a cheap flight, and somewhere to stay using one of many online booking sites, and go for it. There are numerous websites that give advice. This is one of many: 15 Helpful Tips for Planning a Trip you’ll love (step by step guide) and while some of the points made are fairly obvious, I think it is quite helpful.
The last few years have also seen a growth in adventure travel, and with it companies, like Exodus and Explore, who cater for the demand. When you think about it, many adventure holidays are simply package tours with various activities thrown in. The companies do all the organising, often including a local guide, and tourists like you or I join a group.
At the other extreme is something like this:
Above is a film of an adventure trip, undertaken in 1959 by a group of tough characters, to what was then Dutch New Guinea. Can you imagine the preparation needed for that trip, and the planning that went into it? Despite that, they had no real idea about what would happen and what they’d find. There were no guidebooks to that part of the world in those days. I found the film fascinating, especially so when you realise that it happened in my lifetime.
Over the years, like most folk, Lindsey and I have been on various trips of different kinds. I’ve often done a certain amount of preparation planning for them, and have usually enjoyed the process. Fortunately, nowadays I have more time for all of this. I’m not sure where all the ideas for a trip come from – I expect sometimes from travel literature, articles in magazines or papers, or just from talking to other people. In the case of the trip to Sikkim in 2016, which I mentioned above, it all started with me attending a presentation in the Edinburgh Book Festival, given by Andrew Duff, which I’ve previously written about.
Before the days of the Internet, the planning process for me normally started with a guidebook, and I’ve kept most of the ones I’ve used.
Africa: The Nile Route was published in 1982, and helped us on our first big adventure, our attempt to go overland from Cairo to Malawi where I’d arranged a two-year contract, in the early eighties. I’ve written about this trip before, here and here. Kim Naylor’s book was useful to us not only in the planning process, but also as we travelled south. It got quite dog-eared through use.
What I’ve been finding recently when thinking about and planning future trips is that there is now so much information available in different places that it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s a definite case of information overload.
I can’t always resist picking up travel magazines in the newsagents. This can be the beginning of a long planning process! The Travel Africa magazine started me thinking about a future possible trip to Namibia. Namibia looks like a wonderful destination, but it’s quite an expensive place. I wouldn’t feel confident, nowadays, of taking off in a 4-wheel drive by ourselves in such a vast, sparsely populated and potentially hazardous place as Namibia and getting to all of the places I’ve identified as being worth the effort. Personalised trips in Namibia seem to be really expensive, so a group venture would appear to be the answer, but there are so many to choose from!
I came across a website by SafariBookings, an online marketplace for African safari tours, and looked up Namibia – 140 trips in Namibia are listed which are run by an even larger number of tour operators. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate what SafariBookings have done, they’ve provided a great shop window for safaris, but when I went through their lists I ended up feeling a bit lightheaded, because there were so many possibilities, and I wasn’t familiar with any of the locations described.
I then reverted back to a couple of old favourites – Exodus, and Responsible Travel. Lindsey and I have booked with both of these companies in the past, and we’ve been very satisfied with the results. Exodus offer several trips to Namibia, and Responsible Travel have 26 matching holidays. Then I looked at some more alternatives, G Adventures, Explore, Intrepid Travel, Wild Frontiers and Audley. More possible choices!
For another angle, I glanced at Pinterest, which amongst other things suggested numerous Namibian itineraries. Then I looked to see what things to do in Namibia that TripAdviser suggested, and after that a few blogs, such as this one, and this one, and this one.
With so many possibilities, my head started to hurt! So I had a cuppa tea, and suddenly realised I was going through this whole process in the entirely wrong way.
I should not be looking at all the offerings like a kid in a sweetie shop selecting some goodies. That sort of thing may be OK if you’re simply looking for a quick break away from home, but that’s not what I need. There’s a much better possible approach.
So, instead of scanning all of the trips on offer, I started again from the beginning. What, exactly, was the sort of thing I was really after, and why? After some thought, I realised that I was primarily interested in visiting the Caprivi Strip area in the north of the country, mainly because I’d read some books about the Angolan Civil War, and some of the activity for that conflict took place in and around the Caprivi Strip, and also, I remembered that I’d read in various places that this is a pretty interesting part of the country in other ways. Added to this, I continued, should be some adventure, perhaps a route from one point to another, which passes through the Strip. Etosha National Park should not be missed. But Namibia is a long way away, and expensive to get to, so what else might be of interest? Kaokoland, in the far north west, would be something to aim for.
So I went back to the trusty guidebook, which is probably where I should have started in the first place, and read the entire section on Namibia. This confirmed a few things – that the Caprivi Strip is a fascinating area, that Kaokoland looks like a wonderful destination, that Etosha shouldn’t be missed, but also that it would be impossible to visit all the main sites of interest in Namibia in a month or so.
Then something else cropped up. My son Jamie suggested that I looked at Ethiopian Airlines flights, because he said they were comparatively reasonably priced. This added a new dimension. Flying to Windhoek direct from the UK is costly, but if you go via Addis Ababa it’s cheaper, and Ethiopian Airlines have other possible destinations in sub-Saharan Africa. Plus, if we went via Addis, we could stop over there for a while, spend time with Jamie, and maybe get to the Simien Mountains National Park, something we failed to do on our last visit there due to the state of emergency at that time, and then on to Lusaka (where Ethiopian Airlines flies), bus down to Livingstone, join a KE Adventure trip through the Caprivi Strip to Etosha and on to Windhoek, spend a few days in central Namibia and then join a Gane & Marshall group going to Kaokoland.
This possible trip was beginning to take on epic proportions, with considerable financial implications, but anyway I drew up a draft itinerary with rough costings taken from various of the websites mentioned above.
And then…and then…and then it all fell flat! It turns out that Jamie is not yet 100% certain that he’ll be in Addis near the dates on the various flights and group trips in my itinerary. He may not know for sure until April. So I’ve had to shelve the trip in the meantime, until Jamie’s situation becomes clearer…and after all that effort!
But I now feel rather thwarted. I’m up for some big trip, somewhere, anywhere. Hmm, Vietnam – now there’s a place! Look, there’s all sorts of interesting websites. Hainam Travel Company have some excellent suggestions. Look at The Adventure People’s 10 day Vietnam Active Adventure, and also Exodus have a good looking trip, and there’s another Vietnam holiday list at Rickshaw Travel.
Wait! Stop! Have I not even learned anything from my own blog?
Let’s be sensible this time. Let’s start with the guidebook.