Lonely Planet Writer

South Africa World Cup 2010: advice for travelling supporters

One slightly excited fan

Excitement was in the air as the World Cup draw was made, and has lingered ever since. I watched the draw from BBC Radio Five Live’s London studio – I was there to provide comment on travel to the tournament as the balls were pulled out of the goldfish bowls .

England and USA get each other, Algeria and debutantes Slovenia. Australia must tough it out against Germany, Ghana and Serbia. Back for the first time since the invention of the Compact Disc, New Zealand fans should get to experience the same crushing feeling everyone else gets when playing them at Rugby against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.

Every country gets a ton of travelling around what is a big country.

What becomes quickly apparent is that this won’t be the cheapest World Cup for travelling fans to follow. Once in South Africa, the tournament be one of the most different and exciting.

There are three big problems facing fans wishing to follow their teams: flights, match tickets and hotels.

Air tickets were already expensive before the draw was made. Now they just look unreasonable. Cheaper economy fare groups have long since sold out, leaving only ‘Y’ class unrestricted economy seats on many routes. Reaching South Africa from the US or Australia involves either several changes linking up with precisely the Europe and Middle Eastern routes other fans will be on, or pricey direct flights. My tip? If you don’t have tickets already, book soon and try transitting through an African hub like Nairobi.

It could be worse. As Sky Sportrs Lashias Ncube notes, Africa-based fans in the west and north of the continent may well have to fly to Europe to pick up connections that are in any way affordable.

Hotels have been block-booked by FIFA for years, and their US$300-a-night three-star rooms don’t look tempting. They’ve gone as far as booking rooms up in Namibia, Botswana and even Mauritius, second-guessing that fans are going to use one place as a base and travel to and from games from there. Mauritius is four hours flight from Johannesburg. The idea of flying in and out for games is an absurdity. Unlike airlines, the hotel situation may get better nearer the tournament as unsold rooms are released back onto the market. The Guardian's Vicky Baker wrote a great piece about alternative to traditional lodging options.

Tickets are always in short supply for these tournaments. If you’re not travelling on an official package – not bad value if you’re following a team like England, but selling fast – then the only option is to join the FIFA ballot and hope. Beware of unofficial agencies offering tickets at a huge mark-up. Not only are there the usual concerns about actually getting your hands on the tickets but you may find the tickets you do get are the cheapest ones, set aside for South Africans. If you’re not a Bafana Bafana fan you may well be refused entry.

Some supporter groups from teams expecting to do well are speculating that many fans will come out for the second half of the tournament. The logic is sound: many fans (including those of the Australia, New Zealand and the USA) will pack up and go home after the first round as they’ll be out. A glance at airfares certainly bears out this theory. But match tickets are more expensive for later stages.

Some fans will be taking unorthodox routes to the final. The Overland Truck rumour mill is buzzing with stories of Dutch fans chartering up to a dozen trucks to carry them thousands of miles to reach the tournament in fine style.

Safety has already arisen as a key concern, and we'll return to it with a separate post nearer the tournament. Seasoned travellers know the risks, but in many ways the advice for South Africa is similar to other places: be alert using ATMs, take taxis after dark and watch yourself travelling between games. England fans face a combine journey of 2480km (1550 miles) for First Round matches alone.

Logistical issues aside, this World Cup is most exciting for keen travellers since 2002’s visit to Japan and South Korea. It may cost the earth but it promises to be the trip of a lifetime.

Tom Hall