Road Tripping in South Africa

Road Tripping in South Africa

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Imagine: you have just booked your plane tickets to the lovely South Africa. You are already thinking of what to pack and what to see, the car is booked but what now? We hope that after reading this post you are as prepared as us to hop in to your car and explore this beautiful country without any hidden problems :)

Where are you going?

First and foremost you need to check want you want out of a road trip. Are you a nature freak, a city night-owl or somebody who wants to see the highlights.
When you have established this you can start planning.

If Nature is what you want, you are in luck. South Africa has nature reserves all over the country and caters for nature lovers on every level. Make sure you do some research before hand: can you drive around in your own car in the park you are visiting? is the park suitable for 2x4 cars or are most roads 4x4? If there is no self-driving allowed or the roads are limited, would it be affordable to book accomodation that offers drives or walks?
A very important thing to also keep in account is the season and the type of wildlife you want to see. Are you going to the coast to see whales? Make sure it is the right season to avoid dissapointing yourself. Are you going to do game drives in the middle of summer, make sure you can stand being in a hot car for roughy 4 hours, if not, go in a milder season. If you have had your share of the big 5, try to avoid the big lodges, rather go to a smaller one as you will have a bigger chance of having a guide that will search for all the other things you would like to see.

If you are coming to South Africa to enjoy all the cities, a roadtrip might not be the best option for you as all the major cities are FAR apart, we suggest flying from one city to another as this will save you lots of time and will roughly cost the same as your fuel price.

Does a mix of both sound good? then this is the country for you. In a few weeks you can see the most beautiful cities and breathtaking scenery and have a good balance between the two. 

Along with this advise keep in mind that traffic in the big cities can be very hectic. In the mornings you will have big traffic jams going towards the city and in the evening the traffic goes away from the cities. Keep your head with it and relax, you are on holiday, so why stress and worry in a traffic jam? Turn the music up, act like an idiot and make it into a live concert featuring yourself.

What must you pack?

South Africa is a very divers country, from beach, to mountains and savannah. So be sure to be prepared for those different climates. The seasons are opposite to the Northern hemisphere but some places have their own micro-climate. therefor it's good to check the area's you want to visit in advance.

1 word is enough to make sure you are packed for every possible scenario: layers.

It might seem a bit silly to pack a light jacked, a long sleeved shirt and a hoodie when you can just bring a thick jacket and be done with it. but the mornings can start very cold and gradually warm up so when you layer up you can go through this gradual stage withouth even the smallest shiver.

one very important we can give you is to blend in. If you arrive in South Africa dressed ready to go on a safari you might as well wear a big target on your back. scammers know exactly what a "tourist" looks like and they will pick you out of a crowd. So keep the safari clothes and hiking boots packed until you are doing that activity and just wear something casual and comfortabel for the rest of the trip

Transport and safety

When you are on a road trip there is a few easy things that can make your (rental) car in to a real road trip machine! First of all you need a killing playlist to get you all excited during those long hours in the car. Choose for up-beat songs and sing-alongs to ensure a maximum party vibe at all times. we actually have a special road-trip playlist with lots of happy songs and Disney music. 

Invest in a car charger for your phone, you don't want to be in the middle of nowhere and have no idea if you must turn left or continue straight. the same goes for a good aux-cable. Like that you mmake sure you are always ready for the next road trip.

We always have a spare universal plug in our car. many hotels onlly have 1 universal plug point in the room and if you want to avoid the well known who-get's-to-use-the-plug-first-fight  you know it's an unmissable item living in your car.

When you are standing at traffic lights you will notice there are always people selling random bits and bobs. A very common trick is that a person like that will point at something under your car. Do not open your window when this happens because before you know this person will try to snatch anything they can out of your car. Just ignore it until you can proceed driving.

Keep in mind that South African roads are not like European or American ones. There are lots of roads works going on all the time and some roads, even though in great condition, don't allow you to drive at a high speed so keep this in mind when calculationg your driving time. We suggest always adding 2 hours to your initial trip-time. Like that you have ample time to make bathroom-breaks, check out a cute road-side stall and take some pictures at a view point.

This may seem like a weird tip but when thinking about which snacks to pack consider some pre-cut melon pieces (or buy a melon and cut and pack it yourself). We know it sounds a bit weird but if you are driving your throat tends to get a bit dry (the Disney playlist might be to blame). You don't want to stop every hour for a bathroom break, so melon is a great snack! it's delicious, keeps your mouth hydrated and it's bite-size.

The last transport-tip we have for you is to always have some cash hidden in your car. Just in case there is a toll-gate you didn't know about, a car guard that washed your car or any other cash-needing emergency.

Planning or winging it?

In our opinion a mix of both is best. If you are driving short distances to well-known towns and cities you can book your accomodation the day itself.

When you have a long drive ahead of you it is best to book your accomodation in advance, you can do this along the way but the last thing you want is to arrive in a dark town you don't know and still need to find a place to spend the night.

What we usually do is to look up a few hotels, hostels and backpackers in the places we want to go and write them down. while driving we contact them and check for availability.

When we arrived at our destination we usually go by ear for most of the time. it gives a more relaxed feeling when you just explore and visit things as you go. Look up what there is to do at your destination, choose one thing and then see from there. This is quite a good formula for travel as it allows you to enjoy what you are doing right now instead of worrying to be in time for your next activity.

Weigh what is most important for you. Do you really want to see all the museums Johannesburg has to offer? Or are you perfectly happy just browsing the stalls and artisanal markets a little longer? When making this choice stay with your gut feeling. Do you feel like you are being dragged from an experience you are enjoying at this moment to go somewhere else? then don't go. Simple as that.

Local insights

1. If you are staying in the same town for a couple of days get yourself a "personal" taxi driver. Ask your taxi driver for his personal number and if he is available for the next few days. lots of taxi drivers rely on tips so if you found one and you tip him a fair amount he will basically on call for you whenever you need him. no more taxi searching for you and a nice tip at the end for him.

2. Skip the tourist info center and ask your hotel instead. Many hotels have special deals with local tourist attrackings in the area. So ask the receptionist what there is to do in the area. They can usually give you some form of discount, make the reservation for you and point you in the way of truely special experiences where you don't feel like a sardine in a barrell full of other tourists.

3. don't contribute to CONservation. We know it might be very tempting to cuddle a lion cub, ride an elephant or walk with a cheetah, believe us, we've been there, done that and gotten the t'shirt before we knew better. But most often these animals are exploited for the sake of the perfect selfie. we will be publishing a post on how to find ethical animal "encounters" but if you are doubting if a place is good or not just think to yourself: "Would this be something I would enjoy going through if it happened to me every day?" if the answer is no, you know enough.

4. blend in. we already covered some of this in the what to pack part but a lot of it is also in how you act. South Africans also take picture with table mountain in the background but after taking that picture then don't whoop out a huge map of Cape Town. So if you want to check your map or travel guide, go sit down and have a drink at a local bar and check where you want to go in peace with a nice glass of South African wine at hand. Also look as if you know where you are going. Look confident and pretend you come to this place every week. If you are looking around like a lost orphan somebody will notice this very quickly and force their "help" on you and ask for a huge tip afterwards

5. Local is lekker. Try staying in a small guesthouse, go to a small, unknown restaurant and most importantly have a braai (South African version of a BBQ). Lots of places have little braai-areas so go to the shop, buy a delicious looking steak and throw some coals on the fire. Worst case scenario you still end up at a restaurant after burning your meat. Who knows you might just end up befriending some locals and have the best night of your life.

Happy travels 

Sarah and Stuart

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