Anne (a member of our Wicked Good community) recently sent us a report of her sea kayaking misadventure in Belize, leading us to consider the important questions you should ask an Adventure Tour Operator before booking a trip.
Anne had read our article “Lodge to Lodge Kayak Adventure in Stunning Belize” and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to learn to sea kayak in a warm climate and beautiful setting. Unfortunately the adventure quickly unraveled due to a moody and impatient guide, pounding rains and dangerous winds. To Anne’s credit she had done careful research about the tour company in advance and was able to get some compensation after her return, but regrettably it still didn’t save her from a disappointing and physically exhausting experience. Here are some lessons we can all take away from Anne’s grand misadventure:
1) Look at that glossy brochure with educated eyes!
- What you see is probably not what you’ll get. Those gorgeous pictures of the adventure tour were taken on a ‘picture perfect’ day in optimal conditions with smiling stand-ins who are in prime physical shape. The reality is, weather is never predictable and the chance of you getting a full week of ideal weather conditions are slim.
- Don’t worry be happy. Know your own physical and health limitations – most tour companies say ‘don’t worry you’ll be fine’. As you and your fellow travelers will most certainly have a range of capabilities and stamina, be sure the tour company is accustomed to (and has plans for) dealing with a wide range of physical conditioning.
- Where the wild things are. By its very design, an adventure tour means interfacing with nature AND the creatures who inhabit remote landscapes. The pictures will never show mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, jelly fish and other potentially menacing creatures. Consider the positive aspects of the area you are visiting as well as the menaces. Do some advance research about the best time of year to visit and tune into the local media (via internet) for about a month prior to your trip to be aware of local changing conditions.
2) Important Questions To Ask Before Booking Your Trip
- Company profile - How long have they been in business, what industry memberships to they hold, what certifications do they have, what do they offer for consumer protection, what is their safety record, client satisfaction record?
- Guides Qualifications – What is the certification/training profile for their guides, will language be a problem, how many times has the guide that will be assigned to your trip conducted the tour before, do the guides work directly for your company or will we be in the hands of a local operator?
- Tour Conditions – What physical strengths are needed to complete the tour, what levels of ability are accommodated for on the tour, what is the ratio of guide to participant, how large is the group, what safety equipment is provided, what special equipment would you advise me to bring, how do you accommodate for dietary and physical limitations, are vaccinations recommended for travel to this area, what are the appropriate age parameters for this trip?
- What Others Say – May I speak with a past tour participant, do you have written references available, what are they saying on travel review sites like TripAdvisor, IGoUGo, etc, what does BBB say about them?
- What If - Do guides maintain communication with the company at all times, what if I’m having difficulty on the trip, what if I’m injured (what procedures/facilities are available), what if I have to leave the group mid-trip, what are your cancellation policies?
3) Know your rights, contacts, and have an advocate on your side
- Be self-aware - All of us have gotten into situations where we’re ‘over our heads’ in a situation that’s demanding more of us physically than we can comfortably or safely perform. Let your tour leader know and insist on an accommodation that will make you safe! If at all possible, have a means of communication with you (cell phone) and a contact number for the home base of the tour operator. Many tour companies outsource all or part of tours to a ‘ground operator’ – if the local company is not performing as expected you should try to contact the company you booked with asap.
- Insurance Can Make All The Difference – When taking part in an adventure vacation, you’ll be doing activities that are outside your normal day and so the chance of mishaps is greater. Be sure you review your home health insurance to determine if you are covered or not. More importantly, it’s a good idea to take out some extra protection from a travel insurance company so you have an emergency advocate to contact in case of injury. You can easily obtain policy quotes and explanations of coverage at Insuremytrip.com and Squaremouth.com
- Spread the Word – After returning from your trip (hopefully with rave reviews) share your thoughts and experiences with others online. Post a trip report on sites like TripAdvisor, IGoYouGo, Fodors and Frommers.
- Letters of complaint – If you should encounter a less than satisfactory tour, write to the company’s customer care department as quickly as possible on your return. Recount carefully (and as emotionlessly as possible) what the exact discrepancies were between what was promised in the tour literature (or verbal conversations) vs what was actually delivered. Keep copies of all pertinent documentation (never send originals until specifically requested), and ask for a timely response to your communication.
The vast majority of adventure tour operators are in business because they love the activity they are engaged in and want others to appreciate it as well. Most genuinely care whether you have a good experience or not and are interested in improving their tour product with targeted customer feedback. Remember, listen to your instincts when you are out adventuring and make keeping yourself safe your top priority!
Let us know what other travel precautions you take before stepping off on a grand adventure.