Tips to Navigate Online Booking

Hi fellow travelers,

R here, thought I’d deviate a bit off the established path of this blog to bring you a post all about the murky underworld that is online booking. With everything online these days,  it pays to be cautious – as I learned the hard way just last night.

I’ll begin with what happened to me:

My best friend is getting married in America at the end of the year, and this little lady over here has been squirelling away money to put towards a trip (working 6 hours in a preschool while doing Uni doesnt exactly pay very well). And so finally, after searching out deals, persistently checking my bank account and being incredibly anti-social (saving all the dollars i could), I finally felt ready to take that huge step and actually buy a ticket. EEEP!

So, with the resolve to part with my hard earned moolahs, I sat in front of a computer and prepared, with my father at hand, to purchase a trip in a flying metal tin can that would take me to my destiny. Or America. Whatever.

So sitting ready to go we began searching – I’d seen a really well priced ticket but then we realised that I’d have to change days to avoid the Thanksgiving rush, and so we began our search a new.

And VOILA, we found an AMAZING deal, not to be missed, OMG how could we walk passed it?? So we clicked select to find out more, put in our details (expecting at least 3 “you sure you want to pay” prompts” in order to see the final amount, and suddenly- money was taken from my account. Too much money. The Bastards.

I started getting really nervous – they hadn’t asked about special meals (which I need because I’m super special), they hadn’t confirmed baggage or anything – they’d just processed the payment and that was it. So my gut (which is usually reliable)  was yelliing “GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE” as loudly as possible and I reviewed. Which brings me to tip 1:

ALWAYS REVIEW YOUR WEBSITE BEFORE YOU PURCHASE ANYTHING: because every single review (bar one) was negative to the point of “they’re a scam” and “do not use them, they constantly deduct money” and “they don’t actually have a deal with airlines, they lie about prices and then leave you high a dry”.

Which brings me to tip 2:

ALWAYS READ UP ON THEIR REFUND POLICY: Thank goodness this website had a four hour full free refund after booking. It had only been 10 minutes, so we jumped online – finally contacted them and organised a refund.

Which brings me to tip 3:

ALWAYS PRINT OFF ALL DOCUMENTATION INCLUDING EMAILS, PRINT SCREENS OF ITINERARIES, RETURNS POLICIES: This way when they question your actions and motives, and you can be like BAM (and the dirt is gone… sorry, couldn’t resist)It keeps all your cards close at hand, and means you can notice things like even though your Itinerary Reciept says NON-REFUNDABLE in scary bold black letters, the website promised a four hour grace window that you could cancel it for full refund and no charge.

So that’s what I did. It’s going to take at least a week to process through (DAMN THEM) meaning that for the moment my travel plans are on hold – I’ve been bruised but not scarred and I am now far more savvy when it comes to booking online.

So to recap:

1. Stick to reputable websites that have good online reputations – generally Websites that are well designed and not bombarded with weird cheap advertisements (you know the ones I mean)

2. Do your research – re: prices, and what added extras might pop up once you hit select – ie a ticket that claims to be all inclusive then added another $90 due to “unexpected taxes”; airlines may charge extra for baggage and what not

3. Read up on their refund policy – always make sure you have a way out that will be relatively easy and won’t do too much damage to your bank account.

4. Print off all documentation and screen shots for future reference.

With these things in mind and a good deal of common sense (which I was clearly lacking – it’s just been one of those days), you should be ready to enjoy your trip hassle free (or as hassle free as travelling, airports, customs, visas, lost baggage, missed flights, and cancellations can be – it’s all part of the fun isn’t it?).

Bon Voyage, Safe travels and Good luck!

x R

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South Africa – Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth!

Addo Elephant park- South Africa

 

 

Hello! R here. Like many Australians, I was not in fact born in the sun burnt country down under. Rather, I was born in the culturally vibrant country of South Africa- in the city of Johannesburg (Jo-burg) to be precise. I moved across with my family to Sydney, Australia when I was 6 years old. Since moving, my family has been back twice – the first time was about 6 years ago, when I was 14/15; and the second was back in April this year (2013).

It’s impossible to describe a country and everything it offers in one blog post, so I’m keeping it simple and focussing on the two cities that mean the most to me:
– Johanessburg
– Port Elizabeth

Safety First: I do not want to put you off with this next tid bit, but it has to be said: be very vigilant with both your personal safety and that of your belongings, both in the car, place your staying and out – lock what can be locked, keep your valuables at home and do not to walk around at night (unless in safe areas for short distances). There are high levels of crime in South Africa, but that should not put you off from visting the amazing place that it is and everything that it offers. It pays to be vigilant, but it shouldn’t destroy your trip. That said, on with the fun stuff!

Transportation:

There is no such thing as public transport in South Africa. That is to say – there are not city buses, and the Taxis mottos are “squeeze as many people into this 12 seater as possible and drive faster than the speed of light ignoring every single road rule possible” and therefore not a very safe or reliable option.

There is the Gaut Train in Jo-Burg, it is my recommendation to simply hire a car. The roads are incredible, and it is quite easy to get from one place to another. As with any major city, avoid high traffic times, but really the rest of the time it is not a problem.

To get from city to city, you can drive easily (the speed limits are more like speed suggestions, just be careful you dont get caught!), or you can fly.

Johanesburg:

International flights land in Jo-Burg, so its a good place to start your trip to settle into the country, look around and get used to the South African way of life. Johanessburg is a big city – so big that the gap between it and the neuighbouring captial city of Pretoria is now a staggering 20 minute drive. They’re practically the same place now!

It is not necessarily the most beautiful city in the world – it has nice houses but they’re all hidden behind three story walls, but it offers a lot in terms of culture.

Weather:
It is interesting to note that the weather in Jo-burg is quite predictable – the seasons follow clear patterns!
Winter: It’s incredibly dry. Not a drop of rain. All the grass goes that beautiful golden-brown colour that we usually associate with the African plains. Temperature wise, it’s pleasant during the day and freezing at night.
Summer: Hot, hot, hot! But here’s the fun part. Every afternoon there is a storm, which will be there for about an hour around 4 o’clockish (give or take) and then it’ll disappear again. At this time of year, the surrounding countryside is beautifully lush and green!

To do:
Situated in the middle of the country, naturally Johannesburg is land locked – no beaches or seas. However what it lacks in beach side frolicking, it makes up for with its enormous shopping centres and malls. If there’s one thing South Africa does really well, it’s their shopping. Coming from Australia, where $1 buys you R10, you are guaranteed a could time! Head over to Sandton, or Eastgate try stores like Truworths or Foschini? Or the cheaper warehouse chain Meltz! There’s even the odd Aussie favourite Cotton On dotted around – its quite funny to see its prices in comparison to what we pay here! For department store shopping at bargain prices, head over to Woolworths – in Australia is a supermarket chain, in South Africa it’s clothes.

Must see: You have GOT to check out their hyper markets. These are literally Coles on steroids! They’re HUGE, and sell everything from food, to fresh baked goods from their in store bakeries, meats from their shop butchers, etc. They also sell pots, pans, utensils, crockery, appliances – including large appliances like fridges and ovens and stoves! But that’s not all! They sell homewares and bedding and linen and beds and cushions and quilts and medicines and clothes. Televisions, iPods, phones and phone contracts, radios, tools, in store florists, and thats only in the one half of the hyper market I managed to walk through!

Port Elizabeth:

About an hour’s flight from Johanessburg you land in this little terminal airport optimistacally named “Port Elizabeth International Airport”, probably named so for when the Soccor World Cup had some events there in 2010. Port Elizabeth is a small little suburban place that is too big to be a town, and a bit too small to be a city. But it’s lovely!

Weather:
The weather in PE is not as predictable as Jo-burg.Dubbed South Africa’s “Windy City”, the weather is cold during winter and warm in the summer, with high winds that caused our plane this April to rock A LOT during landing. As a nervous flyer I was petrified! But the pilots are more than qualified to land in these conditions so have no fear!

To do:

There’s a lot to do in PE. Crime levels aren’t as high as in Jo-burg, so you can go for walks with friends in the park, but be very vigilant.
There are numerous stadiums with shows and games being played, so why not see if you can get tickets?
Once again, shopping! The centres aren’t as big as those in Jo-burg but they offer amazing variety for even more amazing prices!!!

Must See:

The boardwalk – ach I love this place! If could have a destination wedding, this would be where I’d go! The boardwalk runs along with bay, with beautiful views. The Boardwalk offers a lot:

* The Sunday Markets – every sunday a long the boardwalk market stalls are opened, and here you can do all your personal and gift shopping for your trip momentos, for incredible prices! Everything from African wood art, to traditional style paintings, to bags and clothes, to jewellery and more!

* Little tip: Go up to any of the wood or painting vendors and ask them if they sell Zimbawean dollars – the currency of Zimbabwe up until it was dissolved (they now use $US). The numbers are extraodinary! Haggle them on a good price – I got two notes ($200 billion, and $1 trillion) for a grand total of $4! How crazy is that??

* The Casino – Across the road from the boardwalk, is The Boardwalk Casino, an open air shopping compex and Casiono. Even if you’re not interested in gambling, go and have a look – it’s breathtaking! There are little restaurants and vintage stores that can keep you occupied for hours!
* The Hotel – The Boardwalk Hotel – a newly built 6 star hotel connected to the Casino. Remember my imaginary destination wedding? This would be where I’d have it. It’s BEAUTIFUL! Walk in and have a look around. It is so elegant and sophisticated, and aboslutely – to use a South Africanism – “stunning”. If you have stayed there or plan on staying there, I would love to hear what it’s like upstairs!

Addo Elephant Park – about an hour out of PE, Addo Elephant park is a MUST see. For this you will need a car. In the park there are elephants, lions zebras, warthogs, buck and so much more! This is a day trip, and totally worth it!

Head to one of the watering hole around 11.30 to see all the elephant herds gathering to drink. If you get there and they aren’t there, wait a while. We waited half an hour and ate lunch thinking they’d gone already, and then suddenly 12 elephants appeared and started bathing and drinking. It was incredible!

Also – when buying a ticket, DO NOT MENTION IF YOU ARE FOREIGN. They ask if you are South African, just say yes. They’ll charge you triple if you say you arent – this is not urban legend, this is fact.

There are other game reserves in South Africa, such as Kruger National Park which is perhaps the most well known. There’s plenty you can do at them, besides for driving around which is really fun! You can also see if they have an lion cubs, which some parks keep in separate areas for them to grow and to ensure they are healthy. They might even let you go inside for a little play (for a fee of course)!

Of course, there’s lots to do in South Africa, more than I can fit! I hope this has done a little to pique your curiosity!! South Acrica truly is an extraordinary place!

Safe travels!

Rivka X