When Tarrin McGhee decided to embark on her 20-hour flight to South Africa, she saw it as only the beginning. She was turning 35 years old and wanted to celebrate it in a special and memorable way.
Her two-fold dream had been to travel overseas, particularly to Africa, which she described as, “Going home for the first time.” She locked in on South Africa as her destination.
“This trip was an escape from my real reality,” said McGhee.
McGhee didn’t travel alone. A close friend, Andrea Barbour, decided to journey along. The plan was to travel to Cape Town and Johannesburg without any expectations to prevent disappointments.
“I wanted to think what it would be like, and it exceeded all of those,” said McGhee.
In preparation for the long trip overseas, McGhee and her traveling companion stayed up the night before departure so they could sleep on the plane. When the plane landed at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, McGhee said she felt “comfortable and at home.”
After going through the process of getting their luggage, the next move was to get a ride to their hotel. There were lots of drivers and guides in the airport eagerly extending their services to arriving tourists.
“There was a young man, his name was Mike. He was a driver and guide,” said McGhee. “He instantly spotted us and immediately got us under his wing. He could tell and sense we needed some guidance.”
Mike drove them to their hotel, African Pride Melrose Arch, and served as their primary driver and guide during the four-day stay in Johannesburg. Thanks to Mike’s resourcefulness and insight, they visited local spots not featured on tourist paths and did so in a timely manner.
A must-see stop was the home where Nelson Mandela stayed from 1946 to 1962. The home is now an enlightening museum.
On the Atlantic shore, they visited the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, finding themselves amid a mixed-use development of commercial and residential property, dining, leisure and entertainment spots, hotels and retail stores.
In the Maboneng residential district, they mixed with the young black creatives who live there.
After Johannesburg, the next destination was Cape Town, where they stayed in Hilton City Center for five days. Signs throughout the airport signaled a water shortage in Cape Town, which took the traveling pair by surprise.
“Try to familiarize yourself with what’s happening there so you can plan accordingly,” said McGhee, sharing a traveling tip learned through experience.
Accounting for the water-shortage challenge, the two pushed forward, visiting destinations such as Table Mountain, which overlooks the city, and Langa Township, the oldest township in Cape Town.
Home to beautiful wildlife and lively lions, which McGhee and Andrea wanted to see the most, was Aquila Safari.
At Boulders Beach, McGhee and Barbour marveled at the endangered African penguins in the only sheltered environment in which to view these beautiful creatures.
“Everything was so nice, everyday. It got to a point where we started to become immune to how nice everything was,” McGhee said. “And even the things that weren’t textbook beautiful, were beautiful to us.”
In the spirit of getting in touch with the community, McGhee made it a point to talk with locals. At the Guga Sthembe Arts & Culture Center in Langa Township, she interacted with the director and several of the artists.
With her maiden voyage overseas completed, McGhee is poised to see more of the world. In July, she is heading to Jamaica and in November comes a visit to the Dominican Republic. Haiti is also on her bucket list.
Of the trip to South Africa, McGhee said, “I wanted to have an experience that would allow me to see the rest of my life in a different way.”
TARRIN’S TRAVEL TIPS
• Find a good guide in advance.
• Have no fear or expectations so you won’t be disappointed.
• Research the place you’re traveling to. What’s happening there currently?
• Apps to consider downloading: Whats App, which allows you to text internationally. XE Currency Converter (U.S. Dollar to South African Rand. 1 USD approximately equals 13.61 ZAR)
• Have receipts because you can get taxes back if you travel overseas.
• Don’t ask for ketchup in Cape Town. Instead, say tomato sauce.
• Rely less on public transportation, you’ll learn more from tour guides.
• Sleep the night before for a long flight.
• Consider where you want to stay based on amenities you need. EX: Wi-Fi, TV, valet
• Weigh your suitcase beforehand so you won’t be overcharged if the airport scales are wrong.
• Don’t plan for every moment of the trip.