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Focused Escapes

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by Gail Clifford MD (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and photographer traveling the world, often following my daughter. Visit our site at and follow us on Instagram @ABLETravelPhoto
Published April 1st 2022
Why you need a strong tour operator or travel agent
lost luggage, missed flights, delay, disruption, tarmac, airport, travel chaos
"I Can't Even

On my recent milestone birthday trip to a bucket list destination, I discovered all the ways things can go wrong and the incredible importance of having someone back home to help you fight your travel battles.

All because of an hour delay at my home airport, the last place I thought I'd have trouble.

We learned of a Tanzania safari that stretched across my daughter's birthday to mine with Focused Escapes, a great tour company that plans trips for photographers with teams on the ground ready for the patience needed for amateurs and experts alike to get just the right shot. I'd always expected to go on safari "when I was older" and realized, suddenly, this must mean now was older. So, I signed up, purchased the travel insurance for the expensive flight, but never quite got around to finding independent travel insurance for the entire trip, and enjoyed the anticipation of the trip.

Since I commute to work, I decided I may as well have a fun United States home base and chose Disney World. Sadly, I've yet to have a flight leaving MCO (Orlando) that's gone smoothly. But I didn't know that then.

Our flight from Orlando was delayed just a little over an hour, but it was enough to cause the cascade to miss every subsequent connection, from Atlanta to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro.

Global view, map, tanzania, amsterdam, africa, europe, flight
Map showing flight between Amsterdam and Tanzania

After more than two hours in line at the airline's customer service line to re-book our flight, the best the airline agent could come up with was "we'll get you to Amsterdam and you can leave 48 hours later for Kilimanjaro."

No bueno.

That's when we turned to the amazing Lori Allen from Focused Escapes. It was Sunday night and she immediately told us about other airlines that would have flights to Kilimanjaro in time to pick up our safari. She was quick to act, made calls to the other American carrier, which we were too late to make, then her favourite for traveling to Tanzania, Qatar Airlines, which allowed us to purchase tickets from Amsterdam, with a tight connection, and flight insurance, just in case we couldn't quite make it.

We purchased the Qatar Airlines tickets from Amsterdam to Doha, then Doha to Kilimanjaro at our own expense (finding out later that the KLM passenger with the same itinerary got her ticket purchased by KLM).

Lori warned us about the challenges we'd face. We'd have to get through customs in Amsterdam with our luggage and over to the Qatar check-in counter in time to re-check the luggage and run for the flight.

Then, once we arrived in Kilimanjaro, we'd have to get through customs, Covid testing, and visa applications in time to make the hour drive (at breakneck speeds) from Kilimanjaro to Arusha, from which we'd leave on other flights to get out to the Serengeti where the safari began.

The "best part" with the best chance of catching great and sweeping vistas of migrating zebra and wildebeest, giraffes and elephants, and the animals that followed them, including lion, leopard, and hyenas.

On high alert and high adrenaline, we didn't rest well on the re-booked flight on our original carrier to Amsterdam. We made it to customs and you guessed it half our luggage was missing.

Between our discussion with the local agents, use of our airline app, and most of all, Lori Allen's assistance, our luggage was finally located back in Atlanta!

Lori instructed us to take the luggage we had and make a run for Qatar.

She wasn't kidding. We ran. Technically, it was 5 minutes too late to check our bags, but my gorgeous daughter approached the agent and he generously helped us get my bag checked and told us which gate to go to.

Once again, we ran. Of course, the European equivalent of TSA slowed us down again. Even begging to advance the line was sternly declined.

But we made it to the gate just moments after the flight had departed.

Dejected, but not quite willing to give up, I searched the boards and saw a flight listed for Doha at a different gate, at the end of our terminal, and said, "Let's go!"

My daughter is a great traveller and didn't even question it. We ran and made it on this other plane as the last two passengers to Doha.

Doha, tarmac, Qatar, jet engine, middle of the night, flight disruption, Africa, Amsterdam, Europe
Middle of the Night in Doha, Qatar

I still don't know if it was really the "right" plane, I was too grateful to challenge or question our luck.

We did rest on that flight, the exhaustion at this point was just too great.

While we were flying, Lori worked for us to track the luggage, get it forwarded to us on safari, help us NOT lose our return flights on our original carrier, and ready the team on the ground, Top Guide Safaris, who she'd already prepped to have additional supplies to help us have what we needed until our bags arrived: toiletries, clothes, thoughtful things for our comfort.

Doha is an interesting and busy airport, even over the midnight hour. I really look forward to visiting it someday if you have the chance, they offer interesting "layover" deals so you can spend 3 days exploring that area.

As we flew through the night, Top Guide Safaris were fairly certain we wouldn't be able to catch our flight. They'd set up a hotel for us, just in case, but then also kept going when we landed and were still interested in making the run for it.

Once again, Lori stepped in, communicated with all her great connections on the ground and managed to get them to hold the flight from Arusha, if needed, for up to 15 minutes. That little bit of cushion was enough to give us hope.

We were the last to get through our Covid testing after landing in Kilimanjaro, but not the last to leave the waiting area. John Bingo, from Top Guide Safaris, helped with our luggage and made the fastest run you'd ever imagine for the "hour" drive to the next airport.

When we arrived in Arusha, Elena, one of the Top Guide Safaris administrators, handed us the bag of clothes and toiletries, gave my daughter a reassuring hug, greeted me with a smile and pushed us in the direction of the airline check in to give up our bags, recheck our Covid tests and start our safari.

We'd made it!

JRO, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa, safari, beginning, do-over, bucket list trip
Very Late But IN Kilimanjaro!

Exhausted and overwrought, and with little recollection of the first or second flight, we'd made it.

It took three days to get our luggage. And a month has passed, and we still don't have reimbursement for the additional plane tickets (from our travel insurance, not the original carrier).

And I learned, in a faraway country in an exotic locale, I could never have made it had I not had a tour operator like Lori Allen at Focused Escapes.

In summary, she was able to accomplish what I couldn't have done:
1. Knew the right airlines to call to find a replacement flight
2. Knew the procedures to get through each level of customs and Covid checks
3. Spent the hours on hold with our original carrier to track our luggage
4. Had the luggage safely delivered to us hours from the Kilimanjaro airport
5. Knew the right people on the ground to give us the best chance of joining our expedition
6. Checked on our comfort and safety as a virtual hug from home

If you're a photographer, I highly recommend checking out the Focused Escapes trips. I hope you never need Lori as much as we did this trip.

Without her help, we would've missed A LOT!
tanzania, safari, zebra, wildlife, migration, africa, bucket list trip
Zebra in the Serengeti on Safari

We saw all of the big 5, though the rhinos only from a great distance. My favourite were the zebras, especially the babies.

The majestic lionesses and lions certainly had their fill. Enough to mostly ignore us when we drove by.

safari, tanzania, lioness, sleeping, rest, siesta, bucket list trip
Lionesses Need Their Rest ...

Lion, rest, sun, safari, Tanzania, Bucket List trip
This well fed lion still got agitated when tourists got a little too close!

We saw as many as 5 giraffe at a time and never got over the thrill of spotting one staring out over the trees.
giraffe, safari, Tanzania, bush, Serengeti, Bucket List trip
Wild Giraffe Never Fail to Amaze

If you're not a photographer, and go to an exotic locale, by which I mean one where you don't speak the language, are unfamiliar with the local air carriers and safety information, be sure to have a trusted travel agent or travel operator that you can rely on as much as we unexpectedly found we could with Lori Allen.

We're awfully grateful we did.

Land Rover, Serengeti, Safari, Tanzania, Migration season, Mother Daughter Adventure
The Author and her daughter have a little fun on safari
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Your Comment
It sounds like you have had quite an adventure
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|6196) 309 days ago
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