Travel is going to be a big part of CHICA coz I love it so much and I think it’s the coolest thing anyone can do! Whether local or international, it teaches you so much and opens up your world to a bunch of new and different things!
For our first feature on CHICA Travel we chat to traveller of note, Rethabile Ramaphakela who is a Creative Director at Burnt Onion Productions. Now grab a cup of coffee, relax and we promise, after this you’ll be saying you want her life!
Lelo Boyana: Hey Rethabile! Please tell us about your first trip & what about it got you to enjoy traveling?
Rethabile Ramaphakela: I was fortunate enough to be able to travel overseas for work as a KTV presenter and my first major trip was to Los Angeles with a quick stop to New York. I remember the words of the producer at the time, “You’re screwed because now you will always want to travel.” And she was so right. I was not impressed by Los Angeles but New York was something else and I wondered about the rest of the world and the other cities that I needed to experience.
So I planned my first trip in honour of my 21st birthday. It was to France, Croatia and Germany. I wasn’t really excited about Croatia but I was going with a friend who was Croatian and she had a grandmother with a house there which meant that I didn’t have to pay for accommodation. So it was a no brainer. We started off in Paris and then jetted off to Zagreb in Croatia and took a long bus ride to the coast, we thought it would be a 6 hour journey but we only arrived In Dubrovnik 14 hours later.
The trip included crossing into Bosnia and driving back into Croatia. It was so trippy and yet interesting because we were travelling with locals as well. We went from Dubrovnik to Hvar and I have literally never had such an amazing holiday but the thing that really got me about Croatia was the reaction to the fact that I am black. The men worshipped me and would call me “sunce” which apparently meant sunshine. Kids would stare in bewilderment. Some would even come up to me and try touch my skin, thinking that I had spent too much time in the sun. It was crazy. And that’s what got me about travelling, we live in a bubble when we are home and when we step out into the world we get to see how other people think, feel and do things.
When I get my passport stamped I love knowing that nobody knows me in that particular city. It’s a liberating feeling.
LeloB: Oh man, what an experience that was! So now how do you decide where to travel next?
Rethabile: I like to travel around my birthday as a gift to myself. The destination usually depends on who is available to travel with me. My travel list is long and there isn’t really an order but I try to go somewhere, anywhere, at least once a year. What I have learnt is that I can travel on my own and I did in December of 2014. When you wait for people to confirm if they will travel with you, you may wait forever, so now I just go.
LeloB: Hahah I know all about that! How do you budget for your travel?
Rethabile: I budget 1-2 years in advance, depending on where I want to go. It’s literally about putting something away each month. The main thing that you have to do is research. Start looking at the cost of the average flight and accommodation. Look at not staying in the main cities so that you pay cheaper rates. For a good year, I research. I alert friends a year in advance so they can start planning. Usually, the more of you that there are, the better.
Airbnb is also your best friend. It’s a great service and self-catering is always the best option when you are on a budget. If you book hotels, try get a meal inclusive package.
A big tip (which I always use) when looking for flights/accommodation online is to make sure that you clear your cookies when you search. Just go to your delete history option and ensure that you delete cookies every time you search. When you search they track what you searched for and store that in the history so when you search again the prices are usually higher because the Internet knows that you have searched for this item before. So deleting your cookies helps. (This is obviously not a very technical explanation.)
LB: That’s a great tip, I didn’t know that, thanks. What do you spend the most money on when travelling?
Rethabile: The flights are usually the most expensive. I think I’m good at finding accommodation deals but that’s because I do stupid things like search for deals at 1am. I will specifically wake up at those kind of hours to try find cheaper flights. It’s a long process but when I’m actually travelling, food and alcohol is where my money goes. And then I come home and eat two minute noodles for a month. 😉
LeloB: Hahahah oh my word! So besides saving to avoid Noodles, what Do’s and Don’ts would you share with first time travellers?
Rethabile: Do all your research.
- Don’t just go with what the travel agent gives you, do your own search based on the itinerary that they gave you.
- Don’t spend all your time at the hotel/resort. Go hangout with the locals.
- Do make friends with the hotel staff, they know a lot about the city and can give you tips and ideas on things to do that don’t cost tourist prices
- Don’t be afraid to travel alone.
If you are booking accommodation via a booking.com or similar, ensure that you email the accommodation spot to confirm that they received your booking. This is NB!!!!! I have arrived at places and they have had no knowledge of my booking.
- But the most important thing is to never convert the money in your head. Ever.
LeloB: Or else you’ll be miserable the entire trip! What do you absolutely have to pack?
Rethabile: The one thing I always have and have to have is my iPad with all my movies and TV shows for the layovers and flights (when the inflight entertainment is no good). I also do recons and keep up to date with my budget on excel on my iPad. I’m a geek.
LeloB: Yhuu the Admin! What has been your best trip/travel destination and why?
Rethabile: This is like asking me to pick my favourite child. Each place has such epic stories.
Croatia sits on top because of the reasons I listed above and then I think Zanzibar is next. I travelled alone for the first time, it was epic. I think Namibia sits up top with Zanzibar because of the locals. We always make friends with the staff and they end up taking us into the villages and the townships. It’s here where I get sad because of the negative view the people have of South Africa because of the Xenophobic attacks.
Mexico is another favourite. This was just an interesting experience because literally no one spoke English (we didn’t really stay in the major cities) and so we needed Google translate a lot. It was hilarious. We also pretty much drove across the country. The long drives made me think that rural Mexico is like rural South Africa — it reminded me of Segwelane.
Then there is New York City. Urgh. This place. It has all of my heart and soul. Every time, I go there it’s different. I even went to go study there just so I can live there. I’ve been there 4 times and every time has been completely different. I think everyone has to put NYC on their travel list. EVERYONE.
LeloB: Tell us a bit about your worst travel experience. Where did you go & what was so horrible about it?
Rethabile: I have never had anything bad happen because everything always ends up being an adventure. But the most frustrating tri was Zanzibar once my friends joined me.
One of the accommodations we had booked was suddenly “overbooked” and they transferred us to the lodge next door that was like a one-star place. The fact that it had many rooms available in December was a big indication of what we were in store for; there were holes in the mosquito nets (that time I’m paranoid about malaria), no aircon in the rooms (and then you have to be covered because of the holes in the net) and bugs in the bathroom.
(DISCLAIMER: The staff at this place was what made the stay worthwhile. They were amazing and accommodated our every need and took us partying and drove me back to the lodge when I was practically dying on New Years). But because that accommodation was so bad, we had to find different places to stay at every day (it was December and everything was booked so we took one night anywhere we could) and that caused us to travel all over the island which was actually the best experience.
I think on that trip we stayed in 5 different accommodation spots. A new one each night. It was a trip. The worst was on new years eve, there was no room for us at all anywhere else and we ended up back at our original location and it ended being the best night. (Minus the fact that I got an ulcer in my eye and had to wait to get to Dar Es Salaam to treat it and I cut my toe badly on new years and had to clean it with vodka. War Stories that I will treasure).
Another place I didn’t like was Paris but with bad comes good. AirFrance kicked me off a flight because I was apparently the last person to check in, even though my friend didn’t get kicked off and we checked in at the same time. We sat at the airport for about 6 hours waiting for the flight to Croatia, the staff said they were calling my name over the intercom the entire time. Imagine French people trying to say Rethabile Ramaphakela. But in the end they put us up at the Hilton and gave use 300 Euros each?!?!?
This is why I travel. For these stories.
LeloB: And they are amazing stories indeed! So money being no object, what is the one place you’d still love to go to?
Rethabile: The CARIBBEAN. I’m an island girl and I want to go to Jamaica and party with locals… I don’t know why it’s so expensive. But one day.
LeloB: One day! If you could pick anyone in the world to go on that trip with you, who would it be & why?
Rethabile: All of my single besties because we know what happened to Stella.
Thank you Rethabile for sharing these incredible stories with us!
You can catch more of her travels through Twitter & IG —> @Retini