Tips for long journeys

The most beautiful, secluded and unique horse riding holiday destinations are usually a bit of a hassle to get to. Even though these long flights, taxi rides or bus journeys might seem daunting at first, they usually allow you to see more of the country and culture. In this post, I’ll be telling you all about how to survive those long hours while traveling to your destination, and how to arrive somewhat refreshed and energized. 

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Examples of long journeys I have made and thoroughly enjoyed

Two journeys of mine really stand out in length and difficulty, and it might be helpful to hear how I did them either if you are ever looking to make these journeys yourselves or if you’re preparing for another long journey. 

Malawi

While traveling to Ruarwe in Malawi, I was on an airplane, in a tuk tuk, bus, taxi, ferry and the whole trip ended with a 1 hour hike to get to my final destination. This is definitely the most remote place I have ever been, but so very worth it. 

Itinerary for traveling to Ruarwe

  • Flight from my previous destination to the capital Lilongwe - 5 hours.
  • Tuk tuk to my hostel - Book a well known and busy hostel to connect with other travelers who might be making the same journey, or to ask the staff for help. This took about 10 minutes and I was thoroughly ripped off as I had no idea about the exchange rate and just took it as it is (always check how much your money is worth). Normally it would cost less than a dollar, and I paid a whopping 30USD. However, I definitely made the tuktuk driver’s day.
  • I spent one night in the hostel and woke up early for a bus ride to Mzuzu, which was supposed to be 5 hours but took over 9 hours. At this point I was used to ‘African times’ already and just enjoyed the journey. 
  • As I planned to arrive before sundown, I wanted to take a shared taxi to Nkhata bay. However, I arrived about 3 hours after the sun went down so I opted for a private taxi for safety reasons as I was traveling with all my belongings. This took another 1.5 hours.
  • Then I arrived at my hostel in Nkhata bay where there was a power cut, and my phone had died somewhere in the late afternoon. However, there were some really fun and seasoned solo travelers at the hostel, so we chatted for a few hours, had some drinks, and discussed tomorrow morning’s ferry journey. 
  • The next morning at 4am, I made my way to the Ilala ferry to go to Ruarwe. Getting on the boat is quite the experience, as people are coming on with entire refrigerators, hundreds of bags of maize, and people are climbing the massive ferry from all sides trying to get a good spot. I finally made it on and spent the next 5 hours at the bar on the top deck of the ferry, and had some terrific chats with the locals traveling back to their families and a few tourists that were going to Likoma island. The ferry is such a great experience and I recommend it to anyone visiting Malawi. 
  • When arriving in Ruarwe, the ferry stops quite far from the beach and you are brought to shore with small boats. It’s very hectic to get in the boats on time so be prepared with your backpack already on and ready to push through some of the crowd! Then, last but not least, take off your shoes on the small boat and hang them on your backpack as the last few meters you’ll probably have to wade through hip-height water. As I said, it’s quite a unique experience!
  • Then, there’s a 45 minutes to 1 hour hike to the beautiful Zulunkhuni River Lodge.
sunset on the mv ilala ferry on lake malawi
The sun sets into lake Malawi while traveling on the Ilala ferry.

Mozambique

Traveling from Johannesburg to Vilanculos in Mozambique was slightly shorter and a little bit less hectic. There are 2 options to get there and I’ve done both so will tell you all about it.

Itinerary for traveling to Vilanculos

  • Fly into Johannesburg, then fly into Maputo.
  • In Maputo I stayed for a night as the bus leaves very early in the morning. 
  • Then I arrived at around 5am for the bus, only for it to finally leave around 10am. On the plus side, I got the best seat on the bus as I sat there waiting for all the locals to arrive. This bus takes a good 12 hours to get all the way to Vilanculos as it stops very often, but it’s a great way to speak to locals. The whole way, I was the only tourist on this bus but managed to find a few Mozambican guys that spoke a little bit of English.
  • Tuk tuk to Baobab beach backpackers. During the day you can also easily walk this distance as it’s 20 or 30 minutes. It might be better to take a tuk tuk if you are carrying lots of luggage. The backpackers is a lovely hangout spot with a very cozy bar and lovely, helpful staff. 
  • The next morning, I took a boat to the San Sebastian peninsula and finally arrived at my absolutely beautiful accommodation: Dugong Beach Lodge.

A quick itinerary (option 2)

  • Fly into Johannesburg
  • Long distance shared taxi all the way to Vilanculos. This is very, very long, but it takes the hassle out of it as you don’t have to change modes of transportation anymore. It takes a good 20 hours on a small, private taxi bus. I’ve done this once before and didn’t actually hate it. The bus was comfortable, the driver was friendly, and the other tourists on the bus were all old couples from Europe and the US, so it was a very easy-going journey. 

A quick itinerary (option 3)

  • If you have a little bit of a larger budget than I had at the time, you can also opt to fly directly to Vilanculos from Johannesburg. Or you can take a flight to Maputo, and then fly from there to Vilanculos. You’ll then only still have to take a taxi to your hostel, and take the boat to the national park/one of the islands. 

Some helpful tips

Airmiles or flying blue miles and credit cards

If you fly a lot, make sure to sign up with a program that allows you to save up miles. I personally use Flying Blue as I often fly KLM from Amsterdam. Make sure to have a look at which program suits you best and start saving up miles for free flights, cool gadgets or cash! There are also lots of other benefits to these programs such as priority boarding, first selection of seats and meals or discounts on flights. It might be useful to purchase a credit card that fits your program, if you don’t have one yet. It doesn’t cost you anything besides the usual administration costs  of the card and it allows you to save up miles while spending money on groceries and other things you’d have bought otherwise as well. It’s also useful to have a credit card while traveling as they are likely to work almost everywhere, while Maestro cards almost never work in more rural parts of Africa and parts of China. 

Sleep when you’re supposed to

I used to make this mistake quite often, and it took me a while to figure out that it doesn’t work to sleep as much as possible as you’ll be more tired and your rhythm will be off. If you’re on a long flight or bus drive, try not to sleep during the day, but only after the sun goes down. It might be hard to stay awake if you’re on a bus for 12 consecutive hours but it’s definitely worth it, as you’ll be less tired and more refreshed when you arrive the next day. If you stay awake the whole day, you’ll be able to get a much better rest during the night and you don’t mess with your internal sleeping rhythm. 

Passing the time 

If it’s during the day and you’re trying not to sleep, but you’re having a slightly hard time staying awake, try not to watch a movie or read a book. This usually makes you even more sleepy. If you really feel exhausted it’s completely fine to take a 20 minute nap, but make sure to set an alarm after 20 minutes just in case you accidentally sleep through the day. To pass the time on a bus or flight I usually play games with others, so I always bring a deck of cards as it’s lots of fun and will keep you awake. It also allows you to get to know others, whether they are tourists or locals. It’s also lots of fun to learn to play different games from different countries or some local games. When you’re in a taxi, have a chat with your driver! I met one of my best friends in South Africa this way, as he was driving me to my destination for about 4.5 hours. We talked the entire way and have been friends ever since, and this was over 4 years ago. It’s also a great way to ask questions about culture and lifestyle as the taxi drivers are usually locals. 

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