A few months back I put my workmate Paul onto Ashanti, the best backpackers in Cape Town. “Where to stay?”, “Ashanti”, “ I want to swim with sharks”, “Are you mad? Take a cable car up Table Mountain much better idea. Go to Robben Island see where the great man Mandela was incarcerated in a criminal waste of life and time. Or better yet go on a wine trip to Stellenbosch and can you get me some Cap Classique whilst you’re there? I’ll settle for Simonsig but my sister knows the one I like … ask her when you book in at the reception at Ashanti. Don’t be shy; a case will be fine.”

Paul absorbed my random pieces of wisdom and went and booked his flights for May. (link to earlier blog)

Paul came to see me at work the other day. He is at that quietly excited stage of “I’m going to Africa”. You know where you haven’t started singing every Miriam Makeba Song you know but you are warming up. You just mentally bogeying to Wimoweh.  When I get to singing “Happy happy Africa.. .take a boat to Africa ..” we are just a day out….

So Paul was asking about how to stay safe at a backpackers in Cape Town and how to take cash. I put him on to a couple of options. I think I bewildered him with my multi money options strategy which has evolved from various hiccups over the years.

1. I always take a visa and a master card. (I average an overseas trip each year so my credit cards are always the most friendly ones for travel). My first time in Europe they only took visa in one place and MasterCard in another. BEWARE call your bank – tell them you will be where and when, and double check if your pin number changes. I spent a fortune in Italy calling my bank in Australia trying to establish why my pin was suppose to be six numbers and not 4 and what the hell it was in Italia just add 00!?!?!;

2. Also I take a travel cash atm card thing. (There are heaps of options – I have taken a cash passport, used the Qantas card last time) but I take something that I can transfer funds from my savings account at home into via the internet. As with travellers cheques, I always have this in Australian dollars. Limit the number of times that you change from currency to currency. You lose money each time you change. The only exception is when you know your currency is crashing and you want to lock it down before you are completely poverty stricken. These cards will all have a charge or a hit somewhere.. research it.

3. Then I also take a atm card for a savings account that allows me to take cash out overseas. BEWARE this is not always a good option, on mine the exchange rate is rude and there is a charge each time this is done. But it is a good back up.

4. It’s been a while that I have used them but there are always travellers’ cheques. They are very secure. Always double check with a guide book/goggle/thorn tree if you are going somewhere a bit more off the beaten track. You won’t find an ATM at that overland camp in middle of Tanzania so you may have to take these.

5. Take some cash. It is so much easier to have some Rand in your pocket when you arrive at J’Town. It means you can grab that bottle of water you are dying for without being shafted with Airport exchange rates.

6. Unfortunately the one thing I know to be true is that there is always a catch with exchanging money and charges each time you cash in a travellers cheque or take money out. Look around for the one that limits the sting. Google for a comparison on the various options but for Aussies here is one http://www.finder.com.au/travel-money
Record numbers of all the above. Leave a copy at home with Mum/Dad/Great Aunt. Take a copy and keep it separate. (Also record your passport number, photo copies even better).

So Pauli I hope that’s as clear as mud. Enjoy backpacking in Cape Town. I hope you tear up when the pilot says to the passengers in that lovely local accent “Howisit? It’s a lekker day in the Mother City and we are touching down in ten minutes.” Get your rear end to the bar at the top of Ashanti and have a Savannah for me while you watch that table cloth come off and on.

Contributor : Allison Finley-Bissett