DIY: How to book your own European vacation from South Africa with flights and Airbnb
So you’re thinking of booking a holiday to Europe? The first thing that you might do is visit a travel agency like Pentravel or Flight Centre to get a quote on the whole trip. Which is the easy way to do it and everything is planned for you including accommodation, flights, and transfers.
But that can be much more expensive than planning it yourself. So if you’re on a budget, there are ways how you can book a European trip that will cost you way less than going through a travel agency.
All you need to do this, is the internet, some time for research and some money to book it. One nice thing with a travel agency is that you can pay 50% deposit and then pay the rest later. But there’s nothing a small loan can’t fix because all you need to book now is your flights and accommodation. The rest you can save and pay for later like your Schengen visa and spending money.
So here’s what you need to book your own European vacation
- Destination. Decide where you would like to go, how long your trip will be and what the arrival country will be and the departure country. You can figure out the stuff in between later by traveling with trains.
- Passport. Make sure your passport is valid for 3 months after returning to SA and 2 blank pages.
- Flights. You will need to book your flights to and from depending if you’ll be traveling between countries in Europe.
- Accommodation. Book your accommodation with Airbnb.
- Visa. Apply for your Schengen visa a few months before.
1. Decide where you want to go
So the absolute first thing that you need to figure out is where you want to go in Europe, which country/place you will see first and which country you will see last.
This is important because you need to search and book your flights based on this. For example, we decided to travel from Amsterdam to Rome so naturally, we booked from Johannesburg to Amsterdam and from Rome to Johannesburg. You can stress about the traveling in between later because you can catch trains from country to country based on how you booked your accommodation.
2. Make sure your South African passport is valid
There are some requirements for South Africans regarding your passports when traveling to Europe.
South African passports must be valid for at least 3 months after the date of return to SA. You never know what might happen on your trip so governments require you to have a few months left for unforeseen circumstances.
You will need to have 2 valid, blank and consecutive pages in your passport. They must be completely blank without any stamps on them or ink that transferred from other pages and they can’t be damaged.
**NB If you got married, and your passport is still in your old surname, you will need to apply for a new passport. Your plane tickets, accommodation, and visas will all need to be booked in the same name and surname as in your passport and as it is on the system. So if you have filed your marriage certificate and your name has changed on the system, you will need to make sure your password is in exact same name and surname across all applications and tickets.
3. Booking your flights and choosing an affordable airline
So now that you know where you want to go, you can start looking for flights.
My wife and I recently booked our flights with Emirates from OR Tambo International (Johannesburg International Airport) to Amsterdam and then we will return from Rome to OR Tambo. We have connecting flights in Dubai on our way there and back so unfortunately, that’s something that you will need to deal with when traveling on a budget.
We did a lot of research and got quotes from a bunch of airlines including Air France, Kenya Airways, Emirates, British Airways and the cheapest we could get was to book directly with Emirates through their website. All the other travel websites were confusing and more expensive because they add their commission fee to prices. We’re not saying don’t look at the other websites, but at the time we booked they were the cheapest. Sometimes you can get a discount if you have Vitality with Discovery Medical Aid.
So all you need to do here is select the flights on the website where you found a good deal. Make sure you look at the times of the layovers. Our return flight from Rome will have a layover in Dubai of 10 hours. So you can either sleep in a sleeping pod that they have at the airport, you can shop if you have energy, or get a UAE visa to enter Dubai for 96 hours that costs approximately USD 70.89 which is about R939.50.
4. Book your accommodation with Airbnb or a hotel based on your budget
So if you’re on a budget, Airbnb is a great way to travel on the cheap and it’s safe and easy to book.
Note that I have never used or even visited the Airbnb website until we booked our trip for December. I knew what it was and never had the need to use it until friends of mine mentioned that they used it to travel and it worked out great.
So when searching for accommodation on Airbnb, make sure of your dates based on your flights and travel arrangements. You can cancel your bookings but sometimes you won’t get a full refund after the booking was confirmed.
How to decide on the right listing, room or apartment to book on Airbnb.
I’ve been looking at listings for weeks now while planning our trip so after spending so much time on it, I know what to look for.
The first thing you need to look at is the pictures. Make sure the place suits your needs and taste and make sure you filter by the correct dates, location, daily budget per night and number of guests.
Then read the reviews. People are quite honest about their experience at the particular listing and will point out things that they didn’t like and things that they did like. Users who stayed there can leave a review based on the accuracy of the listing, how the location was, communication with the host, how they experienced the check in process, cleanliness and the value for the price they paid per night.
So just by reading the reviews, you can get a good understanding of what to expect and if the listing will suit your needs.
Some users also have a badge on their profile that looks like a medal. That means that they have had good reviews, they are verified and they have a “good-to-go” type of listing.
Just keep in mind that there are cases where hosts have canceled bookings just a few days before. But with Airbnb, it’s always easy to find a new place quickly. You will get a refund when a host cancels.
What is Airbnb?
Airbnb (I think you must know this already) stands for Air Bed and Breakfast. Air meaning it’s either a room or a small apartment you can rent for a short period of time with a self-catering area, bed, and bathroom.
Most of the places have a minimum stay of 2 nights and on each listing, you can read reviews, see if the user is verified which means Airbnb actually went to the apartment on the listing and checked that it’s real and as advertised on the photos and details given in the listing.
You can then make your booking for the dates required and the person managing the listing will then need to confirm the booking before a payment is charged to your card. The listing will state how the cancellation will work and if you will get refunded if you cancel. Most of the time you can cancel 72 hours before the booking date and get a 100% refund, else if you cancel before 3 days of the booking you will get a 50% refund or within 3 days of the booking, you will get no refund. So just read that before you book and make sure your dates are correct based on your flights.
5. Apply for your Schengen visa
As a South African, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa to visit all the different countries in Europe.
Visa requirements to apply for a Schengen visa from South Africa
- Ensure that you have a valid South African passport.
- You will need a visa if you’re visiting one of these countries – “Austria, Belgium, Czech-republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.
- You will need to apply for a visa to the country that you will visit the longest if you’re visiting more than one.
- You will need to have the following documents ready – Valid passport, Schengen application form, color ID photos x 2, travel insurance, proof of accommodation, proof of transport, proof of payment, proof of funds, proof of employment and letter from school/university/college if applicable.
Must be valid for at least 3 months after the date of return from your trip and not older than 10 years. At least 2 valid blank pages (marked VISA).
South African Temporary passports will not be accepted for an S.A passport, Original and Copy of valid S.A permit stapled with a copy of the ID page of the passport (permit must be valid for at least 3 months after the date of return from your trip). A copy of previous Schengen visas in last 3 years if in previous passports. Passport needs to be in good shape.
Schengen Application Form
All fields are required to be properly filled out and the form must be signed the by applicant (3 signatures per form). The minors form must be signed by the 2 parents. If you are stating “No Occupation” at the point 19, please add to your file an explanatory letter of your current situation.
Color ID Photos
2 Color ID photos as required by Schengen Standards. Photos can be taken at any photo shop like Kodak.
Travel Insurance (SS)
1 page travel insurance policy certificate to be provided, which shows: name of insured person; policy number; amount of cover which should be for at least € 30,000; duration of cover which should be for the entire holiday period whilst traveller will be overseas; the insurance should cover the entire Schengen territory, therefore the term Schengen should appear on the policy certificate. Also the term repatriation should appear. All persons traveling in CTOM-DOM must provide insurance to be covered in these territories (this is therefore not a Schengen insurance. Coverage must mention Worldwide or the country of destination).
Proof of Accommodation (SS)
All hotel/apartment rental/lodge/chalet/château confirmed bookings for the entire period that the person will be in the Schengen area must be provided. The name of the applicant must appear on the accommodation bookings. If not, Proof of Accommodation Form (Downloadable from Capago Website) must be provided and attached with the ID of the person who made the booking. If the applicant will visit French citizen or temporary resident in France, the original attestation d’accueil and a copy must be provided. This official document will be obtained by your host from the town hall in France. Your host must courier the original document to you in South Africa, before you apply. If the applicant is invited by someone who owns home/property in France but is not resident in France, the title deeds of that property and a letter of invitation must be provided. If applicant owns a home/property in France, the title deeds of the property must be provided.
Proof of Transport (SS)
Round Trip flight ticket from South Africa to France must be provided. All transfers (flight/ferry/train/bus/taxi) showing entry & exit from France and between other countries must be provided. Name of the applicant must appear on all proof of transport. All confirmed car rental bookings must equally be provided. If the applicant is being collected by EU resident abroad, a copy of the EU’s driver’s licence, car registration details and a short letter of confirmation of pick-up and drop-off details will be necessary.
Proof of Payment
Proof of payment of visa & service fees: EFT or receipt of cash deposit at FNB branch. See conditions on the website. If paying by credit or debit card at our premises, proof of payment will be obtained in-home. Please note that Capago does not accept cash anymore.
Proof of Funds
Please provide the latest 2 months personal bank statements or latest 2 months credit card statements showing the amount available in the account. Please note that name of the applicant must appear on the bank statement. Please note that bank statements need to be stamped by the bank If the applicant is being sponsored, please provide the latest 2 months bank statements of the sponsor and a letter from sponsor attesting to the fact that they will sponsor the applicant on their trip abroad. Please note that even if the applicant is being sponsored, applicant’s personal bank statements need to be provided. If the bank statements are in the name of a company or a trust, then the applicant must provide company registration documents or trust documents showing that they are a member of the company or the trust. Please note that all bank statements in Afrikaans must be accompanied by a signed and stamped visa letter from the bank on bank letterhead, in English, confirming the account holder has enough funds to travel.
Proof of Employment
Original letter of employment, issued in the 2 last months, on company letterhead, signed by a manager, showing that the applicant is currently employed by the company and indicating the monthly salary. This letter MUST be an ORIGINAL. No scanned copy will be accepted. If an applicant owns their own company then they must provide the company registration documents CC or CK documents on which applicant’s name appears. If the applicant operates as a sole trader then they must provide a written affidavit declaration to this effect with any other official document related to the business. If you are retired, please provide a copy of your retirement card (SASSA card) or a document related to your pension fund or a certificate (excluding affidavit) indicating your status as a pensioner.
Letter from School / University / College (if applicable)
A signed & stamped letter on letterhead declaring that applicant is still a pupil/student currently registered at the School/University/College. This letter MUST be an ORIGINAL. No scanned copy will be accepted.
Apply here for France visa – https://fr-za.capago.eu/requirements/documents
Apply here for Italy visa – https://it-za.capago.eu/requirements/documents
And that’s it.
Make sure you have spending for minimum 100 Euros per day for 2 people. That should enable you to do everything you need to have a good time.