Johannesburg - Whether you’re an international globetrotter or a homebody braving a journey within South Africa for the first time, travelling can be an overwhelming experience. How many bags should you pack – and what should you pack in them?
Oonagh Shiel, travel expert at Cheapflights.co.za, says that scouring the internet for tips from experienced travellers is a great way to prepare for your journey, particularly if you’re looking for advice about new destinations. “However, there are loads of quick hacks that experienced travellers know that can help make the journey quicker, easier – and importantly, cheaper too.”
1. Find free money
Maybe calling it free money is a bit of a push, but make sure that you understand all the loyalty programmes you belong to, and play them to your advantage. Smart banking behaviour can earn you rewards ‘currency’ that can be used to purchase flights or pay for accommodation. Many banks also offer credit cards linked to airlines’ rewards schemes, earning you ‘miles’ towards the purchase of flights. Be aware of the trade-off on the potential cost of paying off your bill – and, if you can, settle at the end of the month so you don’t incur interest fees that might wipe out your loyalty saving.
2. Focus on flexibility
Be flexible – with your dates (and your destination!) if you can. Look at times and dates when other people are less likely to travel – like “shoulder season” for example (the time just before or after peak season) – but check the weather patterns for that time before you book! If you can, avoid events like school holidays when prices invariably go up. If your first choice of a beach holiday looks expensive, then research similar lesser-known areas; this can be a great option for grabbing family bargains.
By extending or shortening your trip by a day or two, you can often save some money on flights. Similarly, look at different ways to get to your destination – it may be cheaper to fly to London via Doha than it is to fly direct from Johannesburg – and if you plan your flights carefully, you could add to the experiences of your trip by overnighting somewhere relatively unexpected. Also look out for secondary airports – you may save money by travelling to or from Lanseria, for example, instead of from OR Tambo International Airport - just make sure that you factor in taxi and additional transport fees so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised by unexpected costs.
Bonus tip: Red-eye flights (late at night or early in the morning) are often cheaper than those at a more ‘civilised’ hour.
3. Set up some snacks
Most low-cost carriers charge extra for food and beverages inflight – and let’s be honest, sometimes you wish you could choose something other than the ‘chicken-or-beef’ that regular airlines offer. Ask your local butcher to vacuum pack some biltong to snack on (although remember it’s against the law to take meat products into many other countries – so eat it all before you disembark!). Another trick is to take an empty water bottle with you, and fill it once you’re on the other side of the security controls, where fluids are limited to 100ml per container. If you’ve got lots of small goodies to take with, you could always wear cargo pants and a jacket with lots of pockets too… just remember to leave your pen-knife behind!
4. Pack properly
The South African Civil Aviation Authority recently changed regulations to say that carry-on luggage may not exceed 7kg. Choose the contents of your inflight luggage carefully: travel with a tablet computer instead of a notebook if you’re travelling for work, and pack your Kindle instead of your epic book. Buy snacks and drinks (if you’re not hacking the water bottle trick) once you’ve gone through security. If you’re taking your toiletries on-board with you, pack the absolute minimum, and include miniatures of your favourite cosmetics – or decant into smaller bottles available from most supermarkets.
If your day-tripping luggage is bigger or heavier than the 7kg allowed on South African flights, you could always pack your day pack into your main luggage. Look for a bag that is soft enough to do this, but that will still be strong enough for your daily needs.
Bonus tip: Don’t fold your clothes when you pack them – roll them! They take up less space that way, and are less likely to crease.
5. Do it digitally
There’s not yet a digital substitute for the South African passport, but it’s worth scanning yours, along with your identity document and driver’s licence and emailing the images to an address you can access wherever you are. If you have an iPhone, save it and any other travel documents to PassBook, and you’ll be able to reference them should they get lost or stolen.
Many airlines offer digital boarding passes, saving you the hassle of carrying around (or losing) a slip of paper. You can often get these by booking in online up to 24 hours before take-off.
6. Dabbling with data
Data roaming is expensive – and if you’re going somewhere particularly exciting, there may not be data at all! Download the Google Maps of your destinations to your phone before you leave. You may not be able to use geolocation, but you will be able to find your way – and the maps will be in the language of your choice. If you really need to access the web, look out for restaurants that offer free WiFi – if you’re travelling abroad, MacDonald’s and Burger King are the best bet for those (and for always-clean toilets).
7. Talk to locals
Whether you’re day-tripping in Davos or wandering around Woodstock, take the time to chat to the locals about the best spots to eat, the best attractions to visit, and for advice on getting around. There’s no point in travelling if you’re going to eat at the same fast food chains that you support at home – and you might as well not leave your own country if you’re not going to find out how people live elsewhere!
8. Accommodation alternatives
If it’s the cost of accommodation that’s putting you off travelling, remember that there is more to sleeping out than hotels. You could swop a home with someone in another country, giving you both the chance to experience day-to-day life in another land, while staying in owner-run bed-and-breakfast establishments will give you that home away from home feeling, along with some great advice on local attractions and restaurants. ‘Hostels’ might evoke images of drunken students (which if you’re a drunken student is great…) but there are many hostels that offer family rooms in good areas – and they’re a great place to meet travellers from all over the world too.
9. Carrying cash (alternatives)
If you’re travelling to any developed country, there’s no need to ‘buy’ lots of currency before you leave – you’ll just spend money on exchange commission, and you will be a target for theft. It’s a good idea to have a small amount of local currency on you for that all-important coffee when you land, or for your first taxi fare from the airport, but you can use your credit or debit card almost anywhere in the world. If you’re going to use these cards to pay, ask your bank what it charges for international transactions and withdrawals, and balance that against what it would cost to buy cash before you leave.
If you’re worried about the security issues surrounding cash, rather, load your travel money into a travel wallet card, which allows you to purchase your FOREX before departure. The issuing bank loads your money onto an EMV-secure payment card at a fixed exchange rate, allowing you to manage your travel funds separately from your day to day expenses, with the convenience of a debit card.
10. Research, research, research
If you haven’t worked it out yet, the key to keeping travel costs under control is research: ask your friends, ask Twitter, ask anyone you know who has travelled for their advice – and then pick and choose which tips you use. There are many sites that give you the power to search for and compare flight costs, accommodation and car hire. It’s worth spending some time on these sites, well in advance of your trip, so that you’re sure to get the best deal when the time comes to pack your bags and head off into the wide, wide world.
Also remember that different airlines have different pricing policies, with some offering last minute deals, while others offer cheaper prices for bookings made far in advance of flying.
Bonus tip: Follow airlines on Twitter and Facebook – they often offer special deals via these platforms that are not advertised anywhere else.