Category Archives: Practicalities

Going over the expenses

Reading over your credit card statement is part of the ritual of overseas travel for South Africans. With your currency in long term decline against everyone else’s, forcing yourself to come to terms with exactly how much you spent requires both fortitude and a commitment to living on baked beans for the next few months. Continue reading


The importance of a traveling companion

Me and Chris, Anzac Memorial

This has been my less stressful overseas trip ever. I’m not especially well-travelled – I’ve done the US and Canada, the UK, France and Germany a couple of times, but in my somewhat limited experience this trip has been by far the best. Partly because I already know my way around Sydney having lived here, but also because, for the first time, I’m travelling with a local.

Travel companions make all the difference. Australia is relatively easy for South Africans, of course: they speak English, drive on the left hand side of the road, and being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are more or less the same. But it does make a huge difference when you’re travelling with someone who knows how to use public transport, where to find good restaurants, and can drive you from place to place so you’re not always reliant on buses. (Chris did all the driving from Melbourne to Adelaide.)

Chris points at beer

I first met Chris back in 2009 after he read one of my Thought Leader blogs about my loneliness in Sydney. We remained friends once I returned to South Africa, and this trip was our first meeting in four years. He’s between jobs, so the timing was great: he didn’t need to take leave to show me around. We’ve certainly made up for all those years of Youtube links and distracted Facebook messages.

Scratch kangaroos

Chris grew up in Cape Town and, for various reasons, emigrated to Australia at around the same time I did.  He’s incredibly bright, a walking encyclopedia and, in a complete overturning of so-called gender norms,  talks more than I do. We have similar interests – cute animals, lolcats, design, architecture, military aircraft, cars (we talk a lot about cars)  – and he knows an enormous amount about movies and music. But for a gaping hole in our knowledge of sport, we’d make a pretty good quiz team.

Chris with dog

It can be intense being with somebody almost constantly, especially when for budget reasons you’re sharing a room (yes, it is possible for a straight man and woman to just be friends). But we’re both affable, and even when I get terse and moody from time to time (Monday’s kangaroo petting exercise was not a great success for me), we make it work. We know each other well, but not so well that we aren’t polite to each other – and maintaining a level of politeness is essential if you’re going to live on top of one another for two weeks.

Chris challenges me in ways that are good, always showing me something interesting and new. The quality of his thinking is always good, and he has rejected many aspects of our sanitized, credit-funded,  overmarketed culture in ways that I find interesting. He’s always worth a good conversation. If I’ve come to enjoy a trip that I’d been dreading, much of that credit goes to him.

Us with a koala

How friendly are Australians?

When I lived in Australia, I didn’t find the locals especially friendly. My theory was that it was something to do with being an immigrant in a city full of them. I found the Kiwis nicer, to be honest. The Sydneysiders, I felt, were friendly on the surface, but there was no substance to their niceness. To be fair, though, Australians in service roles are pretty friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Almost every single concierge or cashier I’ve encounteredhas been incredibly friendly. Chatty, wonderful sense of humour, interested in where I’m from – I’ve enjoyed almost every interaction.

Here’s the guy behind the desk at the motel where I’m staying in Portland:

Motel concierge

“How’re ya doin?” he said in the standard greeting. After establishing that I’m South African, he mentioned that a South African doctor, an anesthetist, had just started working at the local hospital. Was I a doctor, he asked? Yes, but only an academic one, I said. The only way I put people to sleep is with boring lectures. “Ha!” he laughed. “Good one.” He informed me that he needed to get a cold beer and told me where Chris and I could find one.

That’s all you need really: a smile, a friendly exchange, a little bit of interest.

I am a Camry driver (almost)

Ten days ago or so I was being rude about Camry drivers on Twitter. I’d seen one on Rivonia Road and speculated that Camry drivers are all men who wear socks in bed. There can’t be a more sexless, boring car on the road except a Nissan Sentra, and those are popular with cash in transit heist robbers in Kwazulu-Natal because the boot fits four cash boxes, so they have an intriguingly dark side.

Most of the people who responded to the tweet agreed with me, but one guy pointed out that his mother drove one, so I had to back down.

When it came to select a hired car for my trip to Australia, I wanted to do the truly Australian thing. Generally speaking, screaming green V8 Utes are not available for hire from Europcar, so I went for the next best thing, a Holden Cruze.  If you don’t know, Holden is an Australian brand, though most of its vehicles are from General Motors, so we’d know them either as Opels or Chevrolets. Obviously, the universe had an opinion about this, because despite my request, the car Europcar supplied me with is… a Camry.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 2.30.33 PM

It’s not bad looking at all. And because it’s built in Australia, it’s almost as Australian as a Holden. Though I invested in an international driver’s licence, Chris is the designated driver and has judged it decent enough. It’s very bland but very comfortable and the fuel economy is good – twice as good as the old RAV4 he drove us around in Sydney. It had better be, given that on Friday we start our 12-14 hour drive along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide.

Melbourne has excellent public transport so a car is more of a hindrance than a help here, but getting around between cities means a car is essential. The Great Ocean Road is one of the great drives of the world – I’m looking forward to it.


Packing strategy

I’ve always been something of an obsessive packer. I’ ll start days beforehand, experimentally piling underwear and tops and bottoms into whatever receptacle I deem fit for the purpose, then iteratively extracting and adding until I’m happy with the result. Invariably, I’ll pack things I end up not needing and end up regretting that I didn’t pack the things I left out.

Such is life.

This time, I’m trying to pack light. To save money on the flight to Melbourne and from Adelaide, I’ve tried to stick to the 10kg weight limit imposed by Jetstar. (Any more and you pay extra – the Australians charge for everything. Absolutely everything.)

So my aim is an ambitious one: to pack light enough that I don’t need to check in any luggage.

To do this, I’ve schemed up the following:

1. No dressing up. Going to restaurants is not only expensive, but if there’s a dress code, it adds to the weight. All clothing to be light and practical. Dress in layers. Jeans and long sleeved shirts (which can be rolled up) only. Luckily, the weather in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide is almost exactly the same as the weather in South Africa at the time, so there will be no unpleasant surprises.

2. Wear all my heaviest clothing on the plane. You can’t get penalized if you’re wearing stuff. No matter how much they weigh your luggage, the airlines still don’t actually weigh you. (Though that would be an incentive to go on diet.)

3. Borrow shampoo from your friend. Since I’ll be staying with a friend, I’m banking on sharing some of his stuff. Shampoo and sunblock just adds to the weight. Also the Australians make you pack everything in ziplock plastic bags, and bringing too many liquids (which could be used by terrorists to blow up the plane) is liable to get you turfed off at the gate.

4. Resist the urge to buy souvenirs. In all seriousness, is there anything that anyone wants from a destination they themselves haven’t visited – unless it’s a world famous specialty you can’t get from Pick n Pay on Nicol? As I type this, I’m wearing the souvenir shirt I bought when I visited Berlin in 2011 to remind of of, well, visiting Berlin in 2011. There is nothing more pointless and skaam than wearing a shirt from Byron Bay when you’ve never actually visited Byron Bay. I may stock up on Tim Tams in Duty Free on the way back, but that’s as far as it goes, and even then, you can buy the best Australian brands in South Africa now (Tim Tams are available from most Pick n Pays and I’ve spotted Darrell Lea licorice in my local Engen), which rather defeats the object of the exercise. The reverse also applied: Ouma rusks used to be available in Franklin’s supermarkets, but that was back when they were owned by Pick n Pay, so perhaps that’s no longer the case. (I shopped at Franklins Mosman when I lived in Sydney.)

Tim Tam

PS No, I won’t be visiting Byron Bay.