South Africa is generally safe to travel with children but you will need to do your homework.
My son has been traveling overseas with us since the age of three. When flying from and to South Africa you should be prepared for a really long flight. The key is to anticipate specific situations that you have to make provision for.
Packing for the long trip
- Make sure that you know exactly what your travel insurance covers and what you need to do in case of an emergency as well as who to contact.
- Take additional medicine with, for example, for fever, ear pain, eye infection, antibiotics (for general illnesses among children), and an emergency kit containing scissors, plasters, etc. Also take a medical doctor's prescription with, so that you can show it to customs officials if needed. Remember to pack the additional medicine in your suitcase and do not take it with your hand luggage.
- Always search on the Internet where all the closest stores to the hotel are and bookmark them on Google maps.
- Take copies of all your passports, tickets and other important documentation with.
- Make sure that you at least have some food with you until you are able to eat or to buy food on arrival in South Africa. I, for example, take with us cereal bars and some hard biscuits. There are restrictions on taking food into South Africa, so make sure you know when you will not be trespassing.
- Plan every excursion in advance to ensure that it will be child-friendly. Although this makes the trip less spontaneous, I do not mind as I feel more comfortable taking my child with when I am prepared.
- When my child was smaller, I took a stroller with us as one can be be severely restricted if you have to carry your child everywhere you go. Excursions can be tiring, and your child will not be able to walk every where.
- Consider booking an extra night at the hotel, so that you will not be "homeless" when you have to check out and wait for our trip back home. You could then check out about three hours before your flight and arrive at the airport fully relaxed and not too tired. Many hotels want guests to check out at 11:00 or 12:00 in the morning, but booking an extra night gives me accommodation until our flight departs (usually after 22:00 in the evening). I personally have never regretted paying for an extra night as I know how tiring it can be to wait that long at the airport with a small child.
- Always pack an extra carry bag for all the things you will need during excursions.
- Taking off and landing can cause ear pain in small children. Always ensure that you have gum or sweets that he or she can chew to avoid aching ears. If you have a small baby, make sure that he or she is drinking some milk during take off or landing.
- Although there are movies we can watch on the airplane, I always take a portable DVD player with us so that my son can watch his favorite movies any time. Just make sure the DVD is fully charged as you will not be able to recharge it during the flight. There are also other portable video game consoles that you can bring with to keep your young child entertained during the flight. The only time that I did not need the DVD player was on an Airbus A380 flight as these airplanes have touch screen movies for all passengers. A portable DVD player can also come in handy when you have to wait at the airport for long periods of time. There are many alternatives to DVD players these days, especially for playing games.
- Your small child will also need a tooth brush, tooth paste, comb or brush, wipes and an extra pair of underwear and clothes in your hand luggage. Babies will need enough diapers, wipes, clean clothes and blankets.
- I always pack in my son's favourite cereal (in a bag) which can be made with milk powder mixed with water, his own special bowl and cup (for in case he does not like the breakfast on the airplane). Make sure that you pack in more cereal or other baby food than you will actually need as you have to make provision for possible delays.
- I always take with us his favorite small toy which can keep him busy when he gets tired of watching DVDs on the plane. Some airlines hand out coloring books and pencils to their smaller passengers.
- Consider packing a travel pillow as sleeping in the airplane on a long flight can be really uncomfortable for small children.
- I always have with me motion sickness pills or syrup for just in case, pills or syrup for diarrhea and syrup for pain. Check with your airline if this will be allowed on board but I have never experienced any problems so far.
- Before your trip, read about South Africa and child-friendly places to visit as well as for child-friendly restaurants. See also my post on fun train rides for children in Pretoria.
- Things to consider are the transport that you will be using and what kind of food you will be able to give your child. I use Google Earth to investigate the areas around a hotel to see how it exactly looks like.
- Keep in mind that South Africa does not have the sophisticated travel system that other countries have. Make sure that you know what kind of transport will be suitable for your child and also what transport is available.
Know the surroundings close to your hotel
- Make sure that you know the surroundings close to your hotel. Generally it is not safe to walk the streets of large cities in South Africa after dark.
- Also make sure that you know which areas to avoid in the cities that you are going to visit.
- Contrary to many countries, parks in South Africa are not safe, except for those where you have to pay an entry fee.
South Africa is really a very beautiful country with many things to offer any visitor. Bringing your child here will be an enriching experience for him or her.