Yesterday, we returned from South Africa. I learned a lot from the trip both good and bad. I do promise a summary of some of those lessons in the future, but it has been over a week since I last put up a blog post. So I thought I would share with you the travel tips I gave the students BEFORE we went to South Africa and then offer a couple of lessons from these tips.
Some of these tips are for South Africa in particular, but some of these might help you if you are traveling abroad.
- Copy of Passport. I don’t anticipate that any of you will lose your passport, but just as a precaution (and I do this) I would recommend all of you make a copy of your information page on your passport (e.g. your picture, passport number, etc) and put that page in your suitcase. Keep it separate from your normal passport. You might even make a copy for your parents.
- Money: We always get the question how much money should I bring. Well that is really up to you. Remember the South African currency is really cheap against the U.S. dollar (current exchange rate: $1 is worth about 13 Rand), which means that things will be fairly inexpensive. However, you should bring enough money to buy extra things like drinks, souvenirs, any kind of shopping, etc. Remember, your food, accommodations and the like are already paid for. However, if you want more or would prefer other items you will need to provide some dinero for that.
- ATMs/Cash: The best way to withdraw money from your accounts are at ATMs. ATMs are readily available at the airport when we arrive in Durban or in Durban itself and/or Cape Town. Remember, both cities have millions of residents so they have plenty of banks around. Your regular debit card should work, particularly if you have a chip card. If you want to bring some American money and exchange it there that is fine, but you get the best exchange rates from ATMs. If you bring a credit card you might want to get a PIN code for it.
- Carrying money around with you. I always recommend to students that they NEVER carry all of their cash and/or cards with them. Leave some behind in your suitcase, in your shoes or whatever. And if you do travel with cash and/or cards I always separate them out. For example, I always put a credit card in my front pocket, in addition to my wallet. Just in case my wallet is stolen I have at least some cash and/or means of paying for things. As they say don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
- Make sure you contact your banks. Before you leave for South Africa make sure you contact your bank and let them know that you will be using your accounts abroad. Travel alerts are fairly easy to do. If you don’t do that they might suspect fraud and you might have your card suspended.
- Haggling/bargaining. One of the great things about travel is trying to find great deals and/or bargains if you are shopping. Obviously we don’t bargain in large department stores, but if you are in an open air market feel free to bargain. People, particularly when they see you are tourists, will naturally inflate their prices. So feel free to try to lower it. However, be nice about it. Don’t get into shouting matches or anything with vendors (not that will be a problem, but I have seen it happen).
- Be flexible and adaptable. One of the things we have to remember is that South Africa isn’t the United States. Things in South Africa are different. Food is different. Climate is different. Accommodations are different. You will definitely have the comforts of home, but they will definitely be different from what you are used to. You know the old saying about When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Same thing applies here.
- Travel together. I can’t stress this one enough. I am sure there will be no incidents while we are there, but if you guys decide to go out for food, drink, shopping, whatever make sure you STAY together. Our primary job is not only to make sure that you have a great educational experience, but to get you home safe. Part of that means being vigilant, aware of your surroundings, and helping each other out. Watch out for each other.
South Africa does have public transit: kombis (minibus taxis) and buses work best during the day in Durban, and Cape Town also has a decent rail system. At night, you should take a private taxi (In Prof. Healy-Clancy’s experience, Eagle is good in Durban: http://www.eagletaxicabs.co.za/; Rikkis is decent in Cape Town: http://www.rikkis.co.za/). Uber has also come to South Africa, in both Durban and Cape Town. Prof. Healy-Clancy has not experienced Uber-South Africa, but they are committed to safety there as here (https://newsroom.uber.com/south-africa/improved-safety-features/), so Uber should also be safe to take at night.
On the obsession with “at night”: you will notice that South Africans do not walk much after dark, due to concerns about crime, and women especially avoid walking alone at night. You should follow suit: travel in groups at night, and use private taxis or Uber to get to and from your destination.
- Pack/Dress smartly. Remember, South Africa will be in the middle of their summer, which will mean it will be warm and humid. Pack appropriately. Bring summer clothes. Also bring clothes that are light fitting and the like. We are going to be doing a lot of walking. Bring clothes and shoes that you can exercise/traverse around in. Remember, one large suitcase that you will check and basically one carry-on.
- Bring a laptop/tablet with you. While we want you to see and experience a variety of things remember this is a class. We expect you to take notes, to write down your experiences in a travel diary. Maybe you bring a voice recorder with you, but this is an academic experience. You don’t need necessarily to take notes all the time, but when the day is done and you are thinking about things make sure you try to put some things in a diary/journal entry that you can use for your final presentation.
- On the plane make sure to get up. A number of you have been abroad before. However, most of you have probably not traveled this far before and/or been on a plane for this long. Make sure that every 3 to 4 hours you get up for a few minutes. Walk around. Go to the bathroom, whatever. Trust me. Your body will thank you. Stretch out. It will help.
- Check with your provider about specific phone/data plans for abroad. South Africa, like practically everywhere on the planet, has tons of smart phone users. However, because you have carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or whatever, you might find that your data plans don’t work as well in South Africa. You can do a couple of things. First, you could buy a South African sim card while you are there. They are cheap and will make your cell phone more adaptable. Additionally, you can/should contact your provider about any international plans for your phones. It might be an extra cost, but might be worth it for minutes and the like.
- Download Whatsapp. I suggest all of you download the texting app Whatsapp basically works on Wifi depending on where you are. It is a texting application that is free. You won’t have to pay for text messages, as you might have to do if you are abroad. I would like us all to have Whatsapp because it allows all of us to communicate with each other on a much easier basis.
- An electrical adapter. Normally, I would tell all of you to buy just a universal electrical adapter to travel to most countries, but it seems South Africa might be a bit different. Because of that I actually bought an adapter that works for South Africa specifically. You can get it here on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/OREI-Grounded-Universal-Adapter-Africa/dp/B005JK61MW/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1438998930&sr=1-1&keywords=OREI+Grounded+Universal+2+in+1+Plug+Adapter+Type+m
Financial Lessons After the Trip
I do hope that we can do this trip again. However, I would add a couple of things that I learned from this trip.
First, I would DEMAND students bring ATM cards. I became the banker for many of my students on this trip. A couple of students only brought cash in AMERICAN currency and changing from American to South African rand was a long proposition. And a couple of other students didn’t want to accept a fee for getting cash out of ATMs. So to ease the time I took my students currency and gave them rand. I left the U.S. with only about $40 in cash and came back with over $500 in cash because of students.
Second, students should BUY a data plan. Today’s students are SO connected to social media and their phones and there was almost an apocalypse when we had students do homestays and their families didn’t have WiFi. You would’ve thought the world was coming to the end. Generally, I would suggest to students to just deal, but because of safety concerns and the need to communicate I would suggest students buy a limited data plan.
Finally, NO fast food. Many of my students apparently don’t have very adventurous palettes. Some of the food in South Africa was too spicy. For example, we went to a place that was famous for its Bunny Chow (see here). It is a spicy dish, but I thought it was amazing. I loved it. Of the 17 plates we ordered at this place, at least 6 of them weren’t eaten by students. It was a waste of money and food. Instead, students insisted on going to KFC (which is everywhere). Next time, I am going to insist on as little interaction with fast food as possible. It just ruins the trip to a foreign country.
I have lots of other lessons, but these are some of the financial ones. The trip was a good one (aside from the hospitalization of two students). More on my travels later and lessons learned. If you want to see pictures of the trip go to our Facebook page.