Destination of the week: South Africa
Time to call the bluff of airlines and hotels that have been hoping to make big profits from demand for fans keen to travel to South Africa for the World Cup (the month-long tournament begins next Friday, 11 June). Research by The Independent Traveller has revealed some excellent deals for short-notice trips to the Republic.
Analysis of a range of suppliers suggest that a lot of capacity has been put back into the market at much lower prices that have prevailed for many months. We checked prices for departure overnight to Cape Town on 10 June, arriving the day the tournament starts. England's game in the city against Algeria takes place on 18 June. The test bookings were for a fortnight, returning on 24 June (the day after England's game against Slovenia), and allowing plenty of time to visit the fan's perfect peninsula, the Cape of Good Hope.
Through Expedia, you pay £1,869 per person (based on two sharing). This includes flights on Emirates from Gatwick via Dubai and a two-week stay (including breakfast) at the three-star Avenue in Fish Hoek Bay, a southern suburb of Cape Town.
For people who want to be at the heart of the city, Opodo has a fortnight at the four-star Cape Milner, very close to Company Gardens in the centre of Cape Town, for £2,565 including flights on Turkish Airlines from Heathrow via Istanbul; for just £5 more, you can fly from Manchester.
If you prefer to find your own accommodation, or intend to travel around, fares for non-stop flights have slumped. Fans who can fly out from Heathrow to Cape Town on 7 June, back on 24 June, will pay just £870 return on British Airways – little more than the usual high-season fare. BA promises World Cup flights will not be hit by cabin-crew strikes.
Once you reach South Africa, there are many threats to cope with – including the possibility of "An increased risk of opportunistic crime countrywide during the World Cup", according to the Foreign Office, beginning as soon as you arrive at the airport:
"Passport theft is common. It is usually opportunistic and non-violent, and increasingly occurs at airports on arrival or departure." On an average day, three lost or stolen passports are reported by British travellers. The Foreign Office warns about several specific areas: the Berea and Hillbrow districts of Johannesburg, with "a high level of muggings around the Rotunda bus terminus in the Central Business District" of that city. Durban city centre is also risky, day or night. In Cape Town, "There have been attacks on hikers and tourists on Table Mountain".
Much more likely, though, is that fans will be targeted by a financial scam, particularly involving credit and debit cards. The foreign-exchange provider, Travelex, reports that one in 12 of cases of fraud reported anywhere in the world by customers takes place in South Africa. Four out of five of those involve skimmed or counterfeit cards. Always ask to have your card swiped in front of you, and – when withdrawing cash - try to use ATM machines inside secure locations. "If your card gets swallowed at an ATM machine report it immediately."
Internet banking is a favourite target for villains according to the Foreign Office: "Avoid using public terminals (such as internet cafes) for online banking. Be aware of the risk of interception through wireless connections. Do not open other websites while internet banking – have only a single browser window open."
The US is expected to send the highest number of overseas fans. The State Department warns of strikes and protests in poorer communities in South Africa, and says "Large-scale public events like the World Cup may present a wide range of attractive targets for terrorists. There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa."
Finally, says the Foreign Office, "Fans who appear inebriated may be refused entry to the stadium."
Bargain of the week: High-speed London-Leeds for £10 return
East Coast Trains is filling spare summer capacity by offering very low fares on off-peak services between London King's Cross and Leeds. This high-speed link connects the two cities in around 2 hours 20 minutes. A limited number of seats on some trains are available for a flat fare of £5 each way, if you book by 6pm on Monday, 7 June, on a dedicated website, eastcoast.co.uk/five. You must also print off the special voucher and take it with you on the journey.
The trains you can use are highly specific. The deal applies for journeys in either direction between 24 June and 26 August, and is time-restricted. All trains on Saturdays are eligible, but none on Sundays. On weekdays, departures are allowed roughly between 10am and 3pm, and after 8.30pm (going north) and 6pm (heading south). East Coast Trains says at least 144,000 seats are available. Travel is also allowed to or from Wakefield.
Tip of the week: Words of advice for travellers
Daunt Books was established in London 20 years ago with a mission to be different – and to enhance the experience of travellers seeking advice. Until now it has avoided selling books online, but is now entering that market with a different approach to many retailers through its website, www.dauntbooks.co.uk.
"Unlike our competitors, this website isn't an exhaustive list," says Katie McCalmont, who runs the operation. Less is more: "It's a carefully designed, lovingly produced selection of the best books to take away with you, from the most relevant guide to the most evocative, gripping fiction."
Warning of the week: Nepal
"There are frequent bandhs (shutdowns), rallies and demonstrations, which can be violent and cause widespread disruption," says the latest Foreign Office bulletin.
During such strikes, "Roads and highways could be blocked. In the event of planned strike action, you should allow extra time to return to Kathmandu if you have an international flight to catch." To help travellers unwittingly caught up in a bandh, the Nepal Tourism Board lays on buses between Kathmandu airport and the city centre.
In the Banke district, at least, the strikes may have little effect: the Himalayan Times reports that about 300 Maoist activists "have fallen ill due to diarrhoea, gastritis and headaches".