Don’t let the excitement of heading off for a break stop you taking precautions to stay safe on the road and at your destination.
1. Plan your trip
If you’ll be staying at new places, research them online – read traveller reviews about the safest neighbourhoods and the best accommodation for your family’s needs. Send a copy of your itinerary to a friend or relative who can keep tabs on where you are, and check in with them regularly. Also send them scanned copies of your ID and driving licence, in case yours go lost or get stolen.
2. Check your vehicle
The AA advises checking not just the engine oil and water levels, but brake fluid and the water for your windscreen washers. Check your car battery (“if there are leaks or the battery looks swollen, replace it”) and windscreen wipers (“if they’re streaking, skipping, slipping or squeaking, it might be time for new blades”).
Make sure that the windscreen, windows and mirrors are clean; that the tyres are the correct pressure and have enough tread (at least 1mm); and that all the lights work (get someone to watch while you run through them). Also check that your spare tyre is in good condition, and you have tools to change it and emergency triangles.
3. Have an emergency breakdown kit in the boot
It should include jumper cables, a torch, a multitool, energy bars, bottles of water, paper towels, tissues or a roll of toilet paper, a notebook and pen (‘you never know when you will need to take down someone’s details or give yours out’, says the AA), an umbrella (for rain or sun), a blanket, maps (in case your GPS or phone battery dies), a USB mobile device charger, and a fire extinguisher.
4. Stay safe on the road and in unfamiliar surroundings
Keep car doors locked and windows closed. At your destination, keep your rooms locked, store valuables in the safety deposit box, and if someone knocks, check who it is before opening the door, cautions the Department of Tourism.
When out, don’t flaunt jewellery, cameras, cellphones or other valuables, or walk around talking on a phone or listening on earbuds. Keep your eye on personal belongings at all times, and be wary using public wi-fi (hackers may access your data, including credit card numbers). Be alert for staged mishaps – if someone bumps into you or spills a drink, it may be to divert you and steal your bag or phone.
5. Have a medical kit
Stock it with sunscreen, insect repellent, plasters, dressings and burn-dressings, gauze, tape, bandages, scissors, tweezers, latex gloves, paracetamol tablets, rehydration sachets, a thermometer, eyedrops, and any prescription medicines you or the family may need.
“Remember spare face masks and sanitiser to keep not only coronavirus at bay, but many other viruses (we are entering flu season) and bacteria. Think shared public toilets!” says Dr Albie de Frey of Travel Doctor (https://traveldoctor.co.za).
6. Stay safe from malaria
The season runs from September to May, and malaria is endemic in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and eastern Mpumalanga, says De Frey.
If you’re going there or to neighbouring countries (Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe or Zambia), wear clothes with long sleeves and long pants from dusk to dawn; choose accommodation with bed nets and fans or air conditioning (to keep mosquitoes at bay); get the family to apply mosquito repellent to all exposed skin; if possible remain indoors after sunset; and take preventive malaria medications (ask your medical professional or travel doctor to advise which type).
Nothing is 100% effective, so if you experience flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, shivering, sweating, headache, muscle pain, stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting) from about a week to a year after being in a malaria area, tell your doctor and insist on a laboratory test, says De Frey.
“The early diagnosis and correct treatment of malaria is a medical emergency and mustn’t be delayed, especially for children. Untreated it will be fatal – and malaria has been misdiagnosed too often as ‘just Covid-19’ in the last two years.”
7. Remember Covid-19 precautions
Coronavirus and travel are inseparably linked, De Frey says. “If you have not been vaccinated against coronavirus yet, or it’s time for your booster, do it now: many countries will not allow visitors who have not been fully vaccinated.” Yellow fever vaccine is still compulsory when going to or returning from yellow fever-affected areas, he adds.
“While you’re at it, update your childhood vaccine boosters and consider special risk vaccines such as rabies, especially if you plan to cycle or jog at your destination. Don’t forget that you may need a negative Covid PCR or antigen test to cross a border or board a cruise liner. Timing is critical as it must be less than 24-72 hours old when you depart/cross the border, and you have to be sure that you get the result in time.” The Travel Doctor can assist with this.
8. Get travel insurance
Finally don’t forget to obtain comprehensive travel insurance for both domestic and international travel by road or air. “Not having any can be a costly mistake, and even cost a life,” says De Frey.