Camel trek in the Erg Chebbi dunes
If you followed my recent trip to Morocco on Twitter or read Morocco Family Adventure on Mother of All Trips last week, you know our experience in this North African country was tremendous. International trips that include multiple stops in remote locations, however, require meticulous planning. Add kids to the trip and there’s a new layer of vulnerability and complexity to consider. There are things we (parents) did while traveling solo that we would never do with our precious offspring along.
For example, on our last trip to Morocco (pre-kids), a flight cancellation resulted in a snap decision to say “yes” when an airline representative (who never asked our name) put us in a random diesel Mercedes with a driver who spoke not a word of English for a 4-hour drive to Fez that began at 1 AM. We took turns staying awake to “watch the road” and thought for sure we’d end up on CNN the next day. We had no phone. Nobody knew where we were or who we were with … A “travel don’t” for sure.
UNESCO-protected Ait Ben Haddou
Tour Operator Beauty Pageant
The moral of this tale is that in places that are utterly foreign in every way where you don’t speak the language, it’s essential to have “known” local resources in place, particularly for logistics-intensive short trips (versus extended travel where you have the luxury of time to figure things out). The exception is if you are just heading to a single urban destination like Marrakech where you can rely on a hotel (needs to be well-run option) to manage transfers a and hire guides.
Just for Mom. My “Berber Tattoo” courtesy of our guide’s wife
Given that Morocco is one of the world’s “hot” destinations right now, I found a somewhat surprising lack of credible content around family travel. I found an even slimmer list of tour operators who cater to families in a meaningful and high-quality way. This is not to say that there’s not a long list of people offering tours through Morocco — there are. Once I looked under the hood, the list shrunk rapidly.
I interviewed operators who marketed themselves as kid-friendly but after one discussion it was clear they had no clue. I spoke to local operators who were qualified, but the planning communication (even with my close time zone in Switzerland) was too challenging. We didn’t want a group trip which eliminated other possibilities. And finally, gone are the days where an operator can rely on “black box” resources and pricing — i.e. they don’t tell you exactly what you are doing or how they arrived at price points that seem inflated — they just stay “trust us.” My answer to that is quite simply, NO.
Kensington Tours-sourced driver was with us for the entire trip
I discovered Kensington Tours 18 days before our departure. I was down the road with a few other operators but the team at Kensington captured my attention as they scrambled to put together an itinerary to meet our needs. Last minute planning requires extra effort but they didn’t hesitate to tackle every request. Yes, I’m a blogger, and yes, they wanted to work with me; however, this was more than that. Other operators made excuses when I asked them to do the “impossible” and make the 20-hour trip to the desert kid-friendly — not Kensington Tours.
Nothing usual about this family travel experience
Our planner, Aurelie Gilles, worked tirelessly to structure the trip in a way that would be appealing for an 8-year-old. Moreover, she had experienced everything she recommended (hotels, excursions, drives — all of it). I can’t tell you how disconcerting it is to find that your trip planner tries to sell you on something they don’t really know about (the crime is not saying so at the front end).
Four days prior to our departure, we were still fiddling and confirming components of the trip. I work on media rates for hotel stays and at this point, it was simply too complicated to figure out pricing. Rather than throwing up their hands and quoting me list pricing for accommodations or asking me to do that leg work, Kensington Tours decided to host the bulk of my tour. This was an unexpected treat to put it mildly, but it’s important to note that I decided to work with Kensington Tours before they told me they would be hosting so much of the trip. Here’s why:
Why I Selected Kensington Tours for our Morocco Family Holiday
These takeaways are specific to my trip, but at a high level, these are considerations for any tour operator beauty pageant. (See Dana’s tips for planning a trip with a tour operator for insight related to her recent Costa Rica vacation).
US/Canada Office It’s much easier to plan a trip with native English speakers. UK-based operators are an option, but as an American parent, there’s comfort in working with a team that plans trips for many American families as they understand general bits about our needs and expectations. Americans don’t get six weeks of holiday per year — we’re picky!
Knowledge An operator must have extensive first-hand knowledge about their destination. They’ll be outsourcing guides and drivers from local operators, but that is not an excuse for not having tried and tested anything and everything they recommend.
Flexibility Many tour operators work with inflexible itineraries, meaning, you must opt for a pre-selected list of hotels and services. This is one of Kensington Tours’ huge differentiators. Every item on your itinerary is flexible and interchangeable. This chinese menu approach is ideal for those of us who are independent travelers at heart and are used to 100% customization.
Price Kensington Tours is not the least expensive tour operator by any stretch as they specialize in upscale and luxury tours. That said, since their clients have the ability to swap in different accommodations, there is the ability to bring down pricing accordingly. You pay a premium for what’s important — best-in-class drivers and guides — and balance this with value-oriented accommodations.
Credibility I had never used Kensington Tours nor did I have a direct reference (with more time I would have asked for this). Their media page is full of press from the world’s most coveted travel journals including Travel and Leisure and National Geographic Traveler. They’ve won awards, not just secured article placement. Yes, their PR team has done a good job, but this kind of recognition means there is real quality behind the operation. Of course, I didn’t know that I’d love my trip so much until after the fact so this didn’t play into my decision. But it can impact yours! Stay tuned for all the juicy trip details and photos over the next few weeks.
Dispatch from Marrakech,Morocco
Meander through Tangier, Morocco
Adventure travel with kids, tips for planning a family safari in Africa
Tips for planning a trip with a tour operator
Tips for healthy travel with kids
Topics: Adventure Travel, Africa, Blogsherpa, Morocco