My mother and I were sitting in the open restaurant of a lodge in Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.
Pointing in delight, we sat and watched it in silence as it continued to nose around, inquisitively waving its trunk.
It felt like a moment in a movie, which was pretty apt as I’d spent our whole dream holiday feeling like I’d stumbled into the starring role of a comedy film.
At the age of 30, I found myself on a Saga holiday to Kenya and Tanzania.
It had always been my mother’s dream to travel to Africa. She wanted to see wild animals in their natural habitat since she watched Born Free and Daktari as a kid. But, for one reason or another, she’d never made it there.
Then, in 2023, thanks to her retirement and me becoming my own boss, we were finally in a position to book it.
For almost a year, Mum searched for the best value-for-money trips that visited all the places she had dreamed of seeing, before ultimately landing on Titan Travel’s ‘The Great Migration Tour’.
The Titan Travel package included everything we wanted, including visits to Amboseli National Park, which is known for its elephants; Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its elephant orphanage, where we’d see young elephants being bottle fed, and The Olduvai Gorge, which is referred to as the cradle of civilisation.
The trip also included the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, where we could see the Big Five and enjoy African wildlife and nature.
The accommodation was luxury camping and lodges so we’d have an authentic experience in comfort – perfect for Mum, who has some health concerns and couldn’t spend 10 days on a blow-up camping bed.
With our excitement brewing, we wasted no time in paying our deposit – though, in hindsight, I wish I’d paid more attention to the Saga logo at the bottom of the payment form.
Saga, for those that don’t know, offers exclusive holidays for those over-50 – although companions over 40 are welcome, too.
I remember thinking it was strange that their logo would be associated with this tour, which seemed to be for everyone. But a quick Google search explained that, though Titan Travel had been bought out by Saga back in 2009, the two companies still operated separate tours, so I thought nothing more of it.
Before I knew it, November 2023 arrived, and Mum and I were headed for Africa.
When we arrived at Nairobi airport, our tour guide was waiting for us amidst the sea of tour operators and hotel pickups. He was easy to identify thanks to the Titan Travel sign he held – though somewhat confusingly, the other side of his sign said ‘Saga’.
I reasoned that, as the logo had featured on all the paperwork, it was just another way for folks to identify this as their trip.
But as our group of 16 slowly began to gather, I realised that, at 30, I was the only person under 60 on the trip.
Some people explained that they’d noticed the trip was available through both companies and weren’t too bothered that younger people may be included.
But others critically eyed my nose ring and tattoos, as well as Mum’s wonderfully pink hair.
Things didn’t exactly get better from there, either.
At the hotel, the receptionist asked if I was part of the Saga group during check-in. When I reluctantly confirmed that I was, they must have presumed I was the tour guide as, giving a kindly smile to Mum, they gave me the keys and the paperwork.
And I cringed later on that night as I made my way to the long, pre-assigned dinner table with a large Saga sign on it.
I hadn’t really known who to expect on this Titan Travel trip when it came to my fellow travellers. I knew safaris were often associated with ‘retirement holidays’ – and I knew it wasn’t going to be full of twenty-somethings partying all night – but I thought we might be a little more mixed, age-wise.
That first night, I felt like I was at a job interview, rather than making small talk on holiday.
I was quizzed about how I could afford the holiday, why I was travelling with my mother, and why I had chosen not to marry and have children.
I could tell many in our group immediately were wary of me, and I had to prove to them I wasn’t a petulant teenager, or the drinking-and-dancing stereotype often depicted in Ibiza weekender horror stories.
I could see the shock on their faces when they found out I read classic literature, was well-travelled and listened to music from the 60s.
Of course, the main question was whether I knew I would be on a Saga holiday with an older demographic. ‘Definitely not!’ I assured them.
However, everyone on the trip had to overcome their judgements of the others to get along, and the more I spoke directly to people, the more they warmed to me as a fellow traveller and I saw their fun, jovial sides coming through.
Once home, my friends asked me how my holiday had been. ‘Well, it turns out that turning 30 has some unexpected side effects,’ I laughed. ‘You can even go on a Saga holiday.’
But in all seriousness, I messaged Titan Travel, expressing my disappointment at the lack of warning about the trips. I’d already combed through both companies’ pages, and nowhere on the marketing material did it indicate that the two tours would be combined.
I’d also spoken to our tour guide before we left, who confirmed we were not the first travellers to find themselves accidentally on a Saga tour. On the tour before us, a couple had been similarly grouped with people decades older than them.
Titan Travel did respond, saying that ‘although Saga customers are now travelling with those who have booked with us, the tour provided by both brands is highly complementary, and there should be minimal impact on the level of service provided’.
It felt pretty dismissive to me. While I didn’t want any compensation, they didn’t seem to want to acknowledge that they hadn’t been totally upfront in their marketing. It just leaves other people open to taking a trip that is wrong for them.
Granted, accidentally ending up on a Saga tour didn’t affect my enjoyment of the trip.
I’ll never forget seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and the thrill of seeing my mother finally live out her dream.
It was incredible to look out of our hotel room’s bathroom window and see a zebra grazing. Nothing will spoil that.
Yet, we could have avoided a few awkward dinners, and it would have allowed Mum and I to relax and enjoy every moment from the off, if we’d been made aware.
Still, at least I’ve learnt that you are never too old to go on an adventure.
A Saga spokesperson said: ‘It’s lovely to hear the customer thoroughly enjoyed her holiday. Our tours are designed and operated by Titan, and we do our best to communicate that to all customers as many book through other companies. Our commitment is to inclusivity and transparency for all those who travel with us. We welcome customers from all high street retailers as well as through Saga, our sister company, and have no age restrictions for adults.’
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