By John Spence with Heather Mundt
Editor’s note: Both Erin and I met Aardvark Safaris President John Spence last fall when we attended the Family Travel Association‘s Summit at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Emigrant, Mont. (just 30 minutes from Yellowstone National Park). I was on crutches at the time, and he called me peg leg, which I found hilarious and endearing coming from an affable Englishman like Spence. Here he answers OFM’s questions about family-friendly safaris.
- What are clients’ common concerns?
Usually people are really excited when they contact us, but they do want to know which countries are best and why. I believe passionately that some countries are better than others for families, depending on the travelers? ages and abilities, and desired activities and budget, to name a few. So it’s my job to get that information and tailor itineraries accordingly.
Clients also want to know where the animals are, discuss any perceived dangers (real or imagined) from animals or people, and how their children’s ages affect what they can do. My clients are investing a lot of money going on safari, so it’s important that I allay all those fears and address their family’s needs. We also give them all the vaccination and packing info they’ll need, and hold their hand every step of the way.
But we’re lucky that about 80 percent of our business comes from word-of-mouth. So when we meet people for the first time, they typically have faith that we know what we?re doing. That makes it easier for us to plan the right vacation for our clients.
2. What about animals?
Naturally, most clients are desperate to see animals. One thing I can guarantee is that you’ll see plenty! For families, however, it’s actually more important to think beyond animals. You need to consider how you plan to see them, whether by boat, vehicle, canoe or on foot. Some areas in particular are really strong for animals, and it’s our job to ensure that given that these trips are often real investment and bucket-list vacations a balance exists between everyone getting to see what they want but with plenty of rest and relaxation.
- What are the keys to a successful family safari?
In my experience, the key to a successful safari is to find out about the family and each member in detail before I start the planning process. After all, even kids from the same family can be very different, so I consider each individual. For example, determining how adventurous they are will feed into what accommodation will suit them. I also want to know what they wish to see and do, and what their best vacation to date has been and why. All of that information, in addition to choosing camps that encourage instead of simply tolerate families, helps us plan the ideal safari for each family.
44 Why can a safari can be life-changing/memorable/meaningful for children and families?
It’s hard for a safari to not be amazing because Africa has incredible wilderness, stunning scenery and abundant wildlife. The one thing that is so often undersold, however, is the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people you’ll meet. They’re not only delightful but often come from large families themselves, so they truly understand the needs of family travelers. Really, there’s no reason not to do a family safari in Africa; there’s something for everyone.
Also, we need to remember that what suits most adults on safari will not suit kids, especially young ones who can be bored to tears on long game drives. Further, Europeans tend to take kids on safari starting around age 6, while Americans prefer to take older kids, so we take that into consideration. As well, most of the Aardvark staff has traveled to Africa with kids of their own, so they generally know what to expect on family safaris.
But surprisingly enough, our family safaris tend to deal less with tiny tots and more with teens and above. As well, a (rather lovely) trend we’ve noticed is that more and more older parents are traveling with children in their 20s, 30s and even 40s. For instance, we recently had a father/son duo take off on safari to indulge in their shared passion for photography, and a daughter who took her 70-year-old father trekking.
In other words, the concept of family travel is just so broad. Often people think about making memories at the beginning of our lives. But then when we get older, it is just as important.
For more information, call 858-523-9000 or click here to visit the company’s site.
John Spence with his daughter, Lily, in Livingstone, Zambia. He lives in Del Mar, Calif., with his wife, Emma, and two kids, Jack (16) and Lily (13).