I’ve been wandering the globe for 31 years, and I still haven’t got my packing procedure and checklist nailed down (my husband will have just sprayed coffee out of his nose if he’s reading this; let’s just say we have a different flow when it comes to travel prep). I’m currently “going around” in South Africa and Botswana, as they like to say here, and seeing how in my last-minute bag stuffing I grabbed my trusted traveler (Nexus program) card instead of my permanent resident card, I’m kind of wondering if America will let me back in later this month. Ah well, in the meantime, here are some info bytes for this incredibly hospitable region.
If you’ve got an unlocked cell phone (or one that’s eligible for unlocking), rather than buying an international plan at home, just pop a local SIM card in when you arrive. The carriers around South Africa and Botswana are slick, and it’s nothing to find a shop and get set up. The cost for a SIM card, enough minutes to call taxis and local booking offices, and 400-500 mb of data is between 13 and 25 USD.
- Don’t bring old money. When you get cash out of the ATM or from the teller before you leave for your trip, sort through it and exchange any bills that were issued prior to 2013. Many countries treat currency as though it has an expiry date. I forgot about this, and was turned down in Gaborone when I tried to exchange a perfectly pristine fifty from 1996. ATMs remain the simplest currency-exchange solution.
If you’ve booked lodging and services online, you may encounter places that insist on taking an old-fashioned imprint of your card and getting you to sign it once you’re there face to face. The problem? The new style of American credit cards doesn’t feature embossed numbers (or they’re only just barely raised). Twice already I’ve had to stand around and wait for 15-20 minutes while they fiddled with my card, and a (major name-brand) car rental agency first said they might not even be able to complete the booking.
- Shared mini-van taxis are the cheapest way to get around in this part of the world, but if that seems like less than fun, then never fear: Uber is in South Africa! (In Botswana, a similar app is called Hello Cabs. It functions like Uber, except you still have to pay with cash at the end.)
For a South African safari, Kruger Park ain’t the only game in town. Based on a recommendation from an SA friend, we decided to try Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (if you don’t sound like you’ve had 8 gin & tonics when you say it, then you’re pronouncing it wrong). It’s less built up, less crowded, and equally full of animals. It’s also the second-oldest reserve in the world, after Yellowstone. What I found to be a plus is that it’s only a 2.5-hour drive away from the nearest urban center/airport (Durban), whereas Kruger is a 5.5-hour drive from Johannesburg (though you can also now fly right in and out of Kruger).
I can’t help but throw in a clothing discovery. When the staff at the Seattle ExOfficio store told me last month that their underwear was a bestseller, I was skeptical. Though pricey, I bought a pair to try, as well as the even-pricier men’s version for my hubby. Well, I’m here to tell you that those folks weren’t exaggerating when they bragged about their knickers. They wick. They sink-wash and air-dry fast. They retain their shape. Best of all, they actually hold everything in place without hurting you. I will be buying more (when they go on sale).
Have anything to add? Don’t hold back!