first time to South Africa_Travel tips and tools

First Time to South Africa – 7 Useful Travel Tips and Tools

When you finally commit to sitting down and actually planning any trip for the first time, it’s rather overwhelming. When that destination is the far away land of South Africa it can seem even more so. Where to start, how to do it all in a few days, what to see, will it be safe, what to do, where to stay?

South Africa is rich in diversity, both in culture and scenery. From the beautiful views of the oceans, mountain and vineyard’s of Cape Town, the sunny beaches in Durban, the fast-paced big city of Johannesburg to the bushveld for the ultimate African experience, a safari. There is much to see and experience across the country. Here are few travel tips and tools that will make planning your first trip to South Africa a little easier.


Finding a place to stay: is an easy to navigate, accommodation booking website that not only lists places within all the regions of South Africa but also a few other “tourist friendly” African countries (Namibia, Kenya and Botswana). The great thing about Direct is that it lists mainly boutique hotels, apartments and cosy B&Bs, not only the big hotel groups. The website allows you to filter by neighbourhood, city and region as well as budget, type of accommodation and must have facilities – making your trip planning and booking effortless. My favourite function on the site is My Wishlist, a tool that allows you to heart properties as you are searching, keeping your choices in a separate little list to reference back to. If you are anything like me, this helps to eliminate losing track of the multiple open tabs in your browser whilst you cross reference location, property reviews and pricing.

Finding your way:

Google Maps – Offline, if you haven’t already discovered this unbelievably handy feature be prepared to have your travels revolutionised. When you are not in wifi range, don’t have a GPS device and in the good old days would have to use a paper map or just get lost, you can now use Google Maps offline. Before you embark on your journey, download the area/ neighbourhood you will be visiting and then you use it as normal. It is super helpful if you are taking a self-guided wander through a city or need to quickly get you bearings of an address.

The App that has it all: 

Awesome South Africa is a free to use mobile app available for both Android and iOS. Simply allow the app access to your location and then you can select from an extensive list of things to do, restaurants, shops, events and a bucket list of places to check out in the area. This convenient app even has a currency converter and emergency contact details.

Ryan Cape Town

Travel Tips – from a local

Is it Safe:

The number one question almost everyone asks when visiting South Africa for the first time is, is it safe? Honestly, if you use your common sense and take the normal precautions you would with your own safety and your belongings, as you should anywhere in the world, you’ll be fine. Ensure you stay out of unsafe areas/ neighbourhood if you are alone, avoid walking on quiet streets (especially at night), do not leave valuables unattended (this includes the seat of a locked car) and don’t wear your flashy jewellery out and about.


It’s customary to tip 10% of the total bill for good service at a restaurant and bar.

Drive a stick shift:

Manual/ stick shift drive cars are the norm in Southern Africa. If you are unfamiliar with stick shift drive, ensure you select an automatic drive car when renting – which often means selecting from the more high-end vehicles. Public transit across South Africa is almost non-existent. Thus renting a car is the most viable way to see the country, otherwise, consider using Uber for shorter trips.

African Time: 

It is important to note, that one does not go anywhere in Africa to simply rush about ticking items off a bucket list. Everything happens on African time, this means that the world turns at a slightly slower pace, and rarely are things on time. As Africa is not run with the accuracy of a Swiss watch or as efficiently as a German transit system. Knowing and accepting this fact will vastly improve your overall experience.

But most importantly you don’t go merely to see Africa you need to feel it! It is about stopping to absorb the sounds of the birds or crickets or frogs, appreciating every sundown and witnessing the diversity of the nation.

*brought to you in collaboration with but as always my opinions are my own

Tracey Pictor

Tracey is a South African expat living, travelling and working her way around the world with my dear husband and cat.

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