The best way to travel is plan ahead. Your trip will be easier, safer and more enjoyable.
First, get the tiresome but important admin bits out of the way. Check your passport isn’t about to expire and whether you’ll need visas. Organize travelers’ cheques well in advance as well as travel and medical insurance.
Check and double-check your travel details and don’t forget to confirm your flights – including onward connections and returns. Put in your order for special meals on flights, or children’s meals, if necessary.
What to pack
Given our moderate climate, you’ll be comfortable during the summer months in light, summer-weight clothes most of the time, but do pack a jacket, socks, good shoes and a rain jacket. Pack sunscreen – lots of it – as well as a hat, sunglasses and beach wear. Make sure you have at least one cotton shirt, with a collar, for sun protection. Stock up on insect repellent and, if you’re planning to be in a malaria area, plan to wear long sleeves and long pants for evenings. Bring good walking shoes.
If you’re visiting in winter, pack warm clothes, including a fleece, as it can get nippy in mornings and at night. South Africans don’t generally use central heating and the cold can take visitors by surprise.
Pack a bandanna or cotton scarf as well as a versatile wrap, sarong or kikoi. If you’ll be watching game, aim for reasonably neutral colours but it’s not compulsory to look like an extra on the set of Out of Africa. Pack something warm for game drives: a windbreaker or hoodie is ideal. South Africans are relatively casual, but you’ll need something more formal to change into on the Blue Train and at exclusive hotels.
Drugs and medication
If you are on any pharmaceutical drugs, or medication as it is known here, bring them along as well as a spare prescription. Custom regulations allow you to bring in one month’s supply for your personal use. It’s a good idea to get a letter from your doctor, confirming your medication. Drugstores are known as “pharmacies’ here.
Make two copies of all your important documents, such as your passports, itinerary and emergency contact information. Take one copy with you, packed in a different bag to the original, and leave a copy at home with an easily contactable person. Try to memorise all your important details – passport numbers, credit card numbers, etc. If you lose your bag, this information will be very useful.
Can I use my hairdryer?
Electricity is generally 220/230 volts, 15 amps, and is supplied through either 15- amp three-prong or 5-amp two-prong plugs, in both cases with round pins. If you’re bringing anything electrical, bring an adapter – or buy one here. Generally, 110V video chargers work safely on the 220V supply. Television is on the PAL system.
Spectacles, contact lenses
Bring spare spectacles, and/or a copy of your prescription so that they can be easily replaced if lost or stolen. If you wear contact lenses, consider using disposables for a short holiday, especially if you’re planning to river raft, dive or such. Don’t forget your spectacles though, as the dry, dusty environment of some game farms may irritate your eyes.
Pack a camera – you’ll want to save your wonderful adventures. You can buy camera batteries in any city.
Bring along your mobile phone (called a “cellphone’ here) or rent one when you arrive. South Africa uses the sophisticated GSM network and most phones will work here, as long as they are not locked.
Many car hire companies rent out phones. It is possible to buy a SIM card at airports, supermarkets and many other outlets. Make sure you have your passport and an address of where you will be staying if you do, as the network operators are legally required to capture the details of all SIM card holders.
If you’ve forgotten anything – don’t panic. This is not the back of beyond, and you can buy whatever you need – probably at a good price.