Travel can be daunting. If you’re soon to be boarding your first international flight or exploring a sho’t left here in Mzansi, there's no more need to worry. Here are 7 FAQs from first-time travellers, answering everything you need to know.
While many South Africans think they can’t afford to travel, the reality is different.
Affordability is often a concern for first-time travellers. While many South Africans think they can’t afford to travel, the reality is different. According to South African Tourism, only 2.9-million South Africans out of the 8.9-million who could afford to travel in 2018 actually did. The good news is that this seems to be changing. SA Tourism says for the first few months of 2019 local holidays are up 59.7% compared to the previous year.
So how do you get in on that action?
Start with travelling locally. Staycations and local or regional micro-cations (holidays shorter than five nights) not only give you bang for your buck but also make the most of your precious time.
Depending on the Ts and Cs, and the season, of course, Flight Centre offers local self-drive breaks from R900 per person for two nights, a four-night trip to Zanzibar from R9000 per person sharing and packages to Mauritius and Thailand from R12 000 upwards per person sharing.
There are many ways you can save to make your travel dreams come true, from taking advantage of the power of group buying, such as investing in a Flight Centre Travel stokvel, to booking early and travelling in a cheaper season (off-peak travel is getting increasingly popular).
2. How do I prepare for a long flight?
Let’s be honest. No one loves the long-haul flight itself – unless you’ve scored a seat in business class or need to catch up on your movies. But there are certainly ways to make the experience pleasant.
Consider carefully if you want a window or aisle seat. It’s personal preference, but for anyone with long legs, we’d recommend the aisle or paying a bit more for a seat with extra legroom.
Pack essentials such as medication and hand sanitiser and anything you need to be comfortable, such as an eye mask, fluffy socks, book and iPad or phone pre-loaded with entertainment just in case the onboard entertainment doesn’t appeal. Add a scarf (planes are generally chilly).
Stay hydrated and bring along a good dose of patience and excitement. After all, how often do you get to relax and be served drinks, a meal and entertainment in your seat?
3. I’m nervous about being outside of my comfort zone...
Start locally with a staycation or weekend getaway, then work your way up to a short regional trip (perhaps to the Indian Ocean Islands, Zanzibar or the like) and then, when you feel comfortable, take the plunge and embark on an international trip.
“Guided holidays and cruises are great choices for first-time, solo and young travellers,” says Divan Viljoen, marketing campaign manager at Flight Centre’s Youth and Adventure brand. “They offer incredible peace of mind for travellers who may worry about being out of their comfort zone.
“You will be travelling with like-minded people and have the added benefit of having experienced guides, tour leaders or crew to help you along the way. Cruises and guided holidays usually include all the on-trip essentials so it’s one less admin thing for first-time travellers to worry about.”
“You can join a guided holiday or cruise in almost every corner of the world too,” advises Viljoen.
Tick off the iconic sights of Europe, cruise the Med, enjoy Oktoberfest, St Patrick’s Day or other famous festivals or head off the tourist trail exploring the Amazon. The world is your oyster.
4. How do I decide where to go?
First, decide what you want. You don’t have to follow the crowd. Just because everyone is going to Paris to see the Louvre doesn’t mean you have to if art and museums don’t interest you at all.
Once you have all the answers to these waxed, next up is the fun part. Choosing the destination. However, the choices can very quickly get overwhelming so ask for recommendations and consult a travel agent. Often the Instagram appeal of a specific destination may not match up to its reality or your holiday wish list so an expert can help ensure your expectations are met. Popular international destinations for first-time South African travellers are Thailand, Mauritius, Zanzibar and Europe (particularly Western European countries where English is more widely spoken).
5. How do I plan my holiday?
The short answer? Ask an expert travel agent. They can advise on everything from where to shop in the destination to visas, insurance and health requirements.
6. What do I do if I get lost?
If you have a local sim card, use the maps function to put in a location (always save your hotel’s address on your phone and write it down and keep it with you at all times). If you don’t have mobile data, try to find a spot where you can access Wi-Fi or ask a friendly local.
Sometimes the beauty of travelling is getting lost. If you’ve got nowhere to be, are safe and have time, wandering around a city is a wonderful way to stumble across many hidden treasures you simply wouldn’t have found if you had stuck to your itinerary.
7. Will I be safe?
Safety and security are valid concerns. At least 16% of travellers reported that they were concerned about travel safety in 2019, according to an international Global Rescue travel safety survey conducted in January and February 2019. However, only 6% of the respondents said that these concerns would have an impact on their travelling.
After all, millions of travellers travel around the world each year without incident.
Be wise when planning your travels. Consult your expert travel agent about recommended destinations – they have access to on-the-ground information in countries around the world, so can offer you advice on the real situation, not just relying on sometimes sensationalist media reports.
Book with reputable operators or providers, check-in regularly with loved ones at home and research the destination before arrival, so you’re aware of any specific customs, guidelines and laws to ensure you’re not only being respectful, but also safe.
Ensure you have saved all important numbers (including the local embassy details), as well as documents such as copies of your passport and travel insurance, backed up electronically in the cloud so you can access this from any computer terminal.
Travel insurance is always vital. No matter where you’re travelling, you need comprehensive travel insurance for peace of mind. Ensure you know exactly what you’re covered for so ask the questions and speak up if anything is unclear when you’re reading the policy wording.
And don’t forget to take those South African street smarts with you and trust your instincts.
The time is now. With all your queries ticked, the only thing left to do is get travelling. You’ll soon ask yourself why you didn’t do it earlier!