For this month’s Trailing Spouse blog crawl, we were asked to consider what sort of advice we would give to newcomers to our current location. In fact, we were asked to blog about our travel secrets. Well, when you have only been in a country less than a week (as I have at the time of writing) then you don’t really have any travel secrets. In fact, you don’t really know very much at all!
However, the advantage to this is that I am still at that stage of discovering other peope’s travel secrets, and where to find out more about Pretoria, the surrounding state of Gautang and the neighbouring states of North West Province, Limpopo and Freestate, and other parts of South Africa. As well as Mozambique, Namibia, Mauritius, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho….yup, there are certainly going to be plenty of places to see around here!
But because there is so much out there to see, it’s actually all a little overwhelming. The guide books have page after page of places I have already bookmarked as places I would like to visit; my laptop is similarliy bursting with bookmarked pages of safari parks and moutains and wine routes and beaches….and yet there is only so much time (annoyingly, other people in my family have boring things like school and work most days, making non-stop travel a bit of a non-starter!).
So where to start? Well, one piece of advice I give in my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, is to find a blog (or blogs) from the country where you are moving to and start reading the archive as soon as you know you are going there. If possible, try and find a blog written by someone who has similar interests to you, or whose family situation is the same (following someone who writes about day trips with the kids isn’t going to be much use for singletons who want to know more about nightife).
For me, the first such blog I found was Joburg Expat, which I particularly liked because blogger Sine’s children were a similar age to mine when they were here so she has some great tips for family trips. But more than this, I also love that she doesn’t sugarcoat family life – I was sold when I read one of her posts about a visit to Capetown which included various tantrums, disputes, whines and fall-outs – in other words, a totally normal family trip where you know that you are never going to be able to please everyone, all the time:
True to character, Sunshine and Jabulani take off their shoes and go play in the (freezing cold) waters of the Atlantic, while Impatience and Zax give us an earful as to their suffering on this horrible and boring beach. We are almost convinced that we are practically torturing them. For Impatience, all memory of the gift shop and the earrings seems to be wiped out. I have her repeat “I shall be grateful for the earrings I got at the gift shop” for the next 5 minutes to buy myself some peace and an opportunity to consult with Noisette about lunch plans, since the other truth in our family is that the best answer to whining is food. We settle for a nice late lunch at Zenzero on the Promenade in Camp’s Bay, where the kids are somewhat mollified with Virgin Daiquiris and Spaghetti Bolognaise.
I’ve dipped in and out of Joburg Expat many times and I am sure I will continue to do so, but I am also slowly starting to discover other blogs with further information. For example, there is Expatorama, a blog by a British expat who lives in Johannesburg and has also started a Facebook group for local “trailing spouses” (which I have also just joined: another great way to tap into local knowledge); The Average South African (which has lots of yummy posts about places to eat) and 2Summers, another Joburg dweller who blogs about life in that crazy city.
I am sure I will discover more blogs like these (including, hopefully, some Pretoria-based ones) as our time here goes on, but I just wanted to give an example of some of the sorts of blogs that are out there – and literally bursting with fabulous information.
So, other than blogs, where else am I getting my information from?
One of the things we were most excited about when we heard we were coming to South Africa was the wildlife and so, as soon as my parents decided they would come out and see us for the Christmas period this year we booked a few days at that most famous of South African parks – Kruger. Where, hopefully, we will have plenty of chances to see more of these:
But to start with, booking the park was as confusing as a chicken in a pillow factory. In other words, the more I read, the more baffled I became – until, hurrah! I found the Sanparks wesbite. And here I was able to work everything out that I needed to know – including exactly which date I needed to book our accommodation in order to make sure of getting in during what is probably the busiest time of the year (hint: it’s a year in advance!) and which camps best suited our needs. We were also able to view maps, accommodation details, hints and tips for game drives and even live webcams of animal activity. Oh, and the ever-useful forums where you know you will always be able to get an answer to pretty well any question you ever have.
In a similar vein, I have always found Trip Advisor to be a good site for general travel advice – a sort of overview of a country, region or city and then more specific reviews of restaurants, hotels and activities. Whilst you need to take some of the reviews with a pinch of salt, I have usually found that if you read enough of them you get a good idea of whether somewhere is worth visiting or not. And for South Africa-specific advise, a couple of people have already recommended WhereToStay.co.za – I can’t say if it’s any good or not as I haven’t actually used it yet, but it’s certainly a site that looks like it will be full of good accommodation options.
Finally, for more day-to-day activities (as opposed to the wonderful trips away and holidays we are planning), I have also started having a look at a website aimed at parents – Jozikids. Most of the information seems to be based on Johannesburg, but as we’re only 45 minutes drive away at least we know there’s plenty to do just up the road.
So that’s my lot for now. As I said at the start, it’s early days for me still and I am pretty sure I will soon discover more and more websites chocca with information. This country is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, with accompanying food, wine, scenery, beaches, sport, wildlife…..I know there’s no shortage of things to do. Now if only I could pursuade the rest of my family not to bother with that boring work/school stuff…..
Check out other #TrailingSpouseStories in this month’s blog crawl:
Yuliya of Tiny Expats lists down the top info sites, blogs and directories for expats living (or planning to move) in Czech Republic.
Didi of D for Delicious reveals her bookish nerdiness with her go-to resources about Dubai and the US.