This post is inspired by a great article I read on the Getaway Blog: How NOT to behave on a game drive. You’d be surprised at some of the antics that I’ve seen from tourists on game drives and as a part of our tours. Yes, I know that you paid for your tour, but that doesn’t take away the need for good etiquette!
So here are a few tips from a well-seasoned (my girlfriend would say crotchety…) tour guide on how to be a great tourist.
- Smile and have fun. This is the most important and made it to number one on the list. Leave your problems at home, it is free to smile, you are on holiday. Nothing like a beautiful smile to lift the spirit. Have fun, this is why you came here.
- Respect the locals. You are a visitor in another country. You are in South Africa, the rainbow nation; we have many different languages, religions and cultures; respect this. If you do not understand, ask your guide, but don’t make assumptions. South Africa has a very interesting history, be sensitive about this, ask questions, be open minded, visit museums and educate yourself to better understand.
- Ask plenty of clever questions. Don’t just sit there and wonder about things. Ask the guides. They have plenty of interesting facts and stories to share with you. If the guide does not have an answer, there will always be Google.
- Be punctual. Don’t always be the last one on the bus. We know you are on holiday and everybody wants to have fun and sometimes we stay up a bit late and have a few extra beers, the wine is awesome and the booze so cheap, but please be on time. Your guide and fellow travelers woke up early as well and the other guests are never happy if they have to sit in the car waiting for that one late guest. The guide plans their itinerary carefully for the day and you do not want to be the reason why others miss out on an activity.
- Phones & wifi. This is the first thing clients ask when walking into a restaurant or into the accommodation. No, I refuse to put Wi-Fi in my vehicles, look out the window at our beautiful country, talk to the other guests, listen to the guide, this is why you are here! Things have changed so much, less talking, more social media, there is nothing more anti-social than social media around a dinner table. I understand you dived with sharks, saw the Big 5 and did a bungy jump and you would love to share this all on Facebook, but at least make some time for socializing with your group. When traveling in South Africa it is all about good food, good company a cozy fire and a great atmosphere. Make use of this. Get your face out of your phone. Talk to the people around you, there are plenty of interesting people that traveled all over the world and did all sorts of things. Wi-Fi is widely available, use it, share your experience, but be sensible and sociable.
- This is not a zoo! When on safari you are driving through a natural habitat where animals roam free. (Except if your tour operator decides to take you to one of these private zoo-like Game Reserves). The rhino is not tied to a tree or in a cage. If you want a guarantee to see everything, go to the zoo, watch Discovery channel or stay for a month. Be patient, be alert, help the guide look, you will see plenty of spectacular animals.
- Be sensitive. You will be traveling with other clients from other nations. Some countries are at war, some countries have a president you don’t like and some countries do things differently than you are used to. Be sensitive and open-minded about these things. Take the opportunity to get to know someone whose life and nation is different from your own.
- Speak the language. English is the language of business in South Africa. Most mixed group tours are conducted in English. Yes, sometimes it is strange to speak English with your German boyfriend, but with other guests from other cultures and other languages on the same tour and in the same vehicle it is just good manners to speak a language that everybody can understand. Most South Africans speak English as a second language, you will be able to communicate. Please enquire for a tour conducted in your mother tongue should the English be a bit rusty, Dutch, French, German, Spanish and Chinese guides are widely available! Also not a bad idea to learn some of the local words before you go to a country.
- Your guidebook can be wrong! Don’t be obnoxious and interrupt your guide all the time. You are not a safari guide; you did not grow up in South Africa. If you are an expert in any field, share your knowledge in a humble manner. Yes there are many different stories about where Knysna got its name from. Why do the whales come to Hermanus? Ten different possible answers. There are different opinions on things. Do not sit with your head in your guide book all the time and double check all the facts your guide gives you, rather become part of the conversation and say what you heard or read and make it a discussion point.
- Try the local food and drink! We love our food and wine in South Africa. Food is fresh, local plentiful and prepared with love and passion. The food is part of your travel experience, be adventurous. You are only here once, stay away from Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants and McDonald’s, you can have that again when you go back home! Do not leave South Africa before you had a braai, potjie, bobotie, bunny chow, biltong, pap and off course our excellent selection of local wines.
- Be a responsible tourist. Use reusable water bottles, our water is safe to drink. Make use of recycling bins provided. Support local tour operators, locally-owned accommodation, local communities and businesses. Abide to rules in National parks, do not feed animals, swim in between flags on the beaches and listen to lifeguards. You can also buy a tree to reduce your environmental impact of your travel. See our partnership with Greenpop.
- Be safe. Listen to the locals, if they tell you not to go some places after dark, don’t! You can have a great time in South Africa, just be clever and take precaution like anywhere else in the world. HIV/AIDS is real in South Africa! Enough said, look after yourself!
- Pack light and sensibly. Don’t be the guest with the biggest heaviest bag that breaks your poor tour guide’s back whenever he has to take it out the van. What do you have in that bag? Your sister?! You do not need all that stuff you move along every day and it is a nuisance to load and off load all your belongings. Pack light, you will make your own life and the tour guide’s life much easier.
- Tipping is not a town in China. Tip when in a restaurant, these waiters work for a low wages and most of their money comes from tips. If you enjoyed your time in the Cango Caves and your guide was a rock star, show him/her some appreciation. 10-20% tip is acceptable in South Africa. Also the other way around, if you are not happy, do not tip!
- Review your experience. I was one of them, never reviewed anything, but since I’ve been using review websites for all my travel needs I’ve started to review most experiences. This is just fair if you use review websites to also share your experience. If you had a great time, tell the world, if you had a not so great experience, contact management or your agent and then share your opinion with the world. This will take 5 minutes of your time, but can change another travelers whole travel experience and keep all companies on their toes!