How to save on call costs when travelling (overseas calls to/from the UK)

I recently went on holiday to South Africa to see my family and introduce my son to all his aunties, uncles and cousins. I’m quite a thrifty person and try not to waste money so the trip was planned well in advance to try get the best flight prices. We even booked some accommodation in advance to take advantage of a weaker currency (I booked a safari when it was R24 to the pound a few months back, on our holiday it was about R18). I even saved big on currency conversion as I have a credit card that charges no ATM fees or conversion fees and uses a genuine exchange rate.
After all this planning it would be a shame to waste money on calling costs which can be extortionate.  My mobile phone would have cost 80p a minute to make a call!

I needed to call my family to discuss our plans before we arrived and my wife needed to keep in touch with her granny whilst we were away so it was important we found a solution to keep costs down. Here are my tips based on my recent experience.

1)      Call over Wi-Fi when you can. With things like WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime even messenger you can call each other for free. If you both have Wi-Fi (i.e. not using your data allowance) you can use several apps to make calls. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t really an option as my brother and my wife’s granny have no Wi-Fi at home!

2)      Make sure your phone is not SIM locked and get a local SIM card when you are abroad. When you are travelling around whilst on holiday you usually need to make a few local calls (see if attractions are open, hotel information etc.) so instead of using your UK SIM, use a local Pay-As-You-Go one that you top up. You can also use your local SIM to call the UK as it’s sometimes cheaper. In my case my UK SIM would cost 80p a minute to call the UK, the local one would cost about 7p (depending on currency fluctuations).

3)      Save on your mobile data/Satnav hire. Whilst travelling from place to place we needed a Satnav or Google maps for directions. Satnavs are quite expensive to rent with your car hire firm & Google Maps use mobile data (though I think you can save directions offline) which is not too bad if you have a local SIM. My plan, which worked well, was to download the HERE maps app on my android phone, then download the South African map (about 500MB) to use offline. So on our travels around the Western Cape, Cape Town and Garden Route I set HERE maps to offline mode and then searched for directions. Sometimes I needed to go online to find certain less popular places, but we could normally do this when we had Wi-Fi.

4)      Sign up to your mobile providers travel bundle. Now this one is my last choice as it could be the most expensive (depending on how many calls you make). My provider charges a flat fee per day and you can use your monthly minutes/texts/data while abroad.

I hope the tips above help you save your money for something more worthwhile, like a Boerie roll and a bottle of Castle lager!


The amazing potato powered clock! (well, amazing to my 5 year old and me)

A few weeks back I suddenly had an epiphany that my 5 year old son would be really impressed by a potato battery! So after a few failed attempts, last night I finally got a working electrolyte battery to power a clock. It was using a teaspoon of salt in a cup of malt vinegar instead of a few potatoes but was “impressive” nonetheless.

Vinegar solution battery

My first attempts didn’t work and I’m not 100% sure what was incorrect as I didn’t follow scientific method properly but I used:

2/3 lemons (not that fresh)  with galvanised nails and 2p coins
2-4 small potatoes with galvanised nails and 2p coins
sweet potatoes with galvanised nails and 2p coins

None of them worked but I was led to believe that the amount of fruit / vegetables used connected in series would provide sufficient voltage so now I’m pretty sure it was that the 2p coins didn’t contain enough copper. (I should have used pre-1992 coins as these are 97% copper).

Last nights effort was a malt vinegar and salt solution, some zinc plated screws and some copper plumbing scraps I found in my garage. I connected 2 ramekins of the vinegar solution (about 100ml in each) in series which gave me enough volts to power the clock.

The Awesome South African Cook Off

Now that the ‘Great British Bake Off’ is in full swing and even providing some unexpected drama, I thought I’d tell you about some South African culinary delights. Not all of them are baked goods but all of them are pretty awesome!

Cane – a similar drink to vodka which is lovely for cocktails and long drinks. My favourite is cane, passion fruit cordial and lemonade.

Fanta Grape – a variety of fanta not found in the UK (only in South African shops). This is my favourite soft drink in the world!

Potjiekos – this basically means pot food, and is a variety of stews , soups and curries made in a potjie (similar to dutch oven) over a fire. My speciality is the Beef and Beer Potjie which I will be making tomorrow for 30 people! ( here is the recipe I will roughly be following:

Boerewors – this means farm sausage and is a spicy beef sausage often cooked on a braai (BBQ) and served in a bread roll with Mrs Balls chutney (available from some major supermarkets). I highly recommend you buy some Mrs Balls chutney as it is also very good with curries.

Umgqusho  (samp and beans) – this is a Xhosa dish which contains a corn product (samp) mixed with various beans, onions and garlic.  I recently prepared this with a variation of this recipe though I used canned beans instead of dried beans.

 (boerewors and samp and beans, not added Mrs Balls yet though)

Bunny Chow – this delicious ensemble is the perfect takeaway food. Lovely beef, lamb or mutton curry in a hollowed out loaf of bread.

Baked goods / puddings
Koeksisters – these are dough in a twisted braid shape deep fried and soaked in syrup. Careful they are very sweet!

Peppermint Crisp Tart – a heavenly no cook pudding that simply involves mixing cream, caramel condensed milk and peppermint crisp chocolates, then layer it with tennis biscuits. If you are interested in making this there are plenty of south African shops to buy genuine ingredients or you can do it with mint aero and an alternative biscuit (probably hobnobs, but I have never tried).

Rusks – a hard biscuit that must be first dunked in coffee before eating. I believe Ouma rusks are available on Ocado. Or you could try bake your own buttermilk rusks. I do strongly suggest you dunk them before you attempt eating them!

Honourable mentions
Skottle – a cooking device which is like a giant wok, great for cooking breakfasts while camping!

Premier League Predictions

Premier League

After my relative success predicting the world cup earlier this year, I thought I’d have a go at predicting the premier league season which starts on 16th August. Who will finish top and who will be relegated!

I have recently become a player/manager of a local York team so I must have vast amounts of football knowledge, our recent 8-2 defeat was just a fluke (actually its probably because we played a team 4 divisions above us).

First the bad news…relegation!

Historically recently promoted sides usually battle to stay up but I’m really hoping Burnley do, they achieve so much without buying success. That said I just can’t see it happening, purely because they don’t have the resources.  Jamie our office Burnley fan is not going to be happy with this prediction.

Another recently promoted side, but I think they have the same problem as Burnley not enough players with proven premier league experience.

Hull City
I think Hull will probably make it into the Europa league but these extra fixtures may prove to be too much of a strain to get enough results in the premier league.

The top dogs (teams going into Champions league)!

4th Manchester United
My least favourite team should be much better under new management and much fewer fixtures than their rivals. The new players coming in also look very decent.

3rd Liverpool
I try to be objective but there is no way I can have Manchester United finishing higher than my favourite club Liverpool, they almost won it last year but I think it will take a season to rebuild after losing their top scorer Suarez.

2nd Manchester City
They have enough depth in their squad to handle the fixtures and they have a few game winners like Aguero and Toure.

And the finally the winner…

1st Chelsea
Another team with a lot of depth in their squad, but I think their manager is slightly better. Their new signings, Fabregas and Costa are also world class.

Behind The Scenes: World Cup fever at the Simunix office (for some of us at least)

The 2014 world cup will soon be upon us and while some people are very excited by the prospect, others will not be bothered at all. For those not bothered about football you can look forward to some good movies coming out like 22 Jump Street and Transformers: Age of Extinction. If you are a gamer – we have quite a few in our office – you may be keen on trying the new games coming out like EA Sports UFC which features Bruce Lee!
However, for those of you who are interested in football, here are my ramblings on the countries taking part in the world cup.

Interesting fact: The Sahara desert covers 80 percent of Algeria.
Player(s) to watch: Nabil Bentaleb of Tottenham Hotspur FC
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.


Interesting fact: The tango originated from Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century.
Player(s) to watch: Pretty much the whole team! (Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherono to name a few)
Predicted finish: Winners!

Interesting fact(s): The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system. Australia has a lot of venomous creatures like the fierce snake and funnel web spider, though as a South African I’m more afraid of a Black mamba or a Boomslang!
Player(s) to watch: Does Harry Kewell still play for them? Just kidding, Tim Cahill is pretty decent even if he does play for Everton! (Guess who’s a Liverpool fan)
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): There are over 800 kinds of beer made in Belgium and 3 kinds of waffles: Liege, Brussels and Galettes. (Beer and waffles! I’m moving to Belgium)
Player(s) to watch: Vincent Kompany arguably one of the world’s best defenders and Eden Hazard an exciting attacking player.
Predicted finish: Out at quarter finals.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Interesting fact(s): Has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates.
Player(s) to watch: Asmir Begovic one of the premier league’s best keepers and Edin Dzeko a super sub striker for Manchester City.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): Brazil is one of the most bio diverse places on the earth.
Player(s) to watch: Again practically the whole team, but my personal favourites are Neymar, Ramires and Oscar.
Predicted finish: Runners up.

Interesting fact(s): Cameroon is the first African country to reach a quarter final in a world cup.
Player(s) to watch: Alexandre Song of Barcelona and Samuel Eto’o possibly one of the best strikers on Pro Evolution soccer ever.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): One of the longest north-south trending countries in the world at over 4,600km and, only 150km wide from west to east.
Player(s) to watch: Arturo Vidal a tough midfielder from Juventus.
Predicted finish: Out in second round.

Interesting fact(s): Colombia is a land of extremes, with snow-covered volcanoes, rain forest and deserts.
Player(s) to watch: Although Falcao is injured Jackson Martinez is decent.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Costa Rica
Interesting fact(s): One of the highest life expectancies in the world (77 years)
Player(s) to watch: Keylor Navas is one of the top keepers in the Spanish league, which is good because he will be busy!
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Côte d’Ivoire
Interesting fact(s): One of the largest producers of coffee, cocoa and palm oil.
Player(s) to watch: Yaya Toure who’s been on fire in the premiership this season and his brother Kolo Toure who has also provided some entertainment of another sort (quite a few own goals).
Predicted finish: Out at second round.

Interesting fact(s): Dalmation dogs got their name after a South Coastal region in Croatia called Dalmatia.
Player(s) to watch: Luka Modric of Real Madrid.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): Guinea pig is considered a delicacy.
Player(s) to watch: Antonio Valencia of Manchester Utd FC.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web.
Player(s) to watch: Wayne Rooney apparently, but I’m hoping to see some exciting stuff from the younger players: Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): France is the most visited country in the world.
Player(s) to watch: Quite a few good players but Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema stand out.
Predicted finish: Out at quarter finals.

Interesting fact(s):Michael Ballack does not like beer!
Player(s) to watch: Practically the whole team, but Manuel Neuer and Bastian Schweinsteiger stand out.
Predicted finish: Out at semi finals.

Interesting fact(s): The name Ghana means warrior king.
Player(s) to watch: Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan.
Predicted finish: Out at second round.

Interesting fact(s): Greece is home to over a dozen world heritage sites.
Player(s) to watch: Orestis Karnezis a sound goal keeper and Kostas Mitroglou a powerful forward.
Predicted finish: Out at second round.

Interesting fact(s): Platano forest was nominated as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Player(s) to watch: Carlo Costly a tall striker who uses his strength and aerial prowess to good effect.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): Couples that want a marriage license are required to attend an hour long lecture on contraception.
Player(s) to watch: Ashkan Dejagah of Fulham FC.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): Vatican City and San Marino are very small independent states located inside Italy.
Player(s) to watch: Adrea Pirlo the maestro and Gianluigi Buffon one of the best keepers in the world.
Predicted finish: Out at quarter final.

Interesting fact(s): Japan is made up of over 6,500 islands.
Player(s) to watch: Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Korea Republic
Interesting fact(s): The taxis are colour coded, white or grey are more basic than black cabs.
Player(s) to watch: Ki Sung-Yeung one of the best passers in the premier league
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): They have a special Christmas festival to celebrate the radish. (In Oaxaca)
Player(s) to watch: Carlos Pena
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): 70% of the worlds bacon comes from the Netherlands
Player(s) to watch: Robben Van Persie who hopefully gets his form back.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): One of the oldest locations of human existence.
Player(s) to watch: Sunday Mba who came up with some stunning goals during qualifying
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): The Portuguese eat more fish and shell fish per head than any other country.
Player(s) to watch: Christiano Ronaldo obviously.
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): In terms of land area Russia is the largest country in the world
Player(s) to watch: Igor Akinfeev
Predicted finish: Out at second round.

Interesting fact(s): Besides good footballers, Spain produces a large amount of renewable energy including wind power and solar power. Well done Spain!
Player(s) to watch: Just about the whole team, but my favourite is Andres Iniesta mostly because of the resemblance with my brother.
Predicted finish: Third

Interesting fact(s): Swiss women are among the oldest in europe when they have their first child.
Player(s) to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.

Interesting fact(s): It is often known as the heart shaped country.
Player(s) to watch: Luis Suarez a Liverpool FC legend! Also known for attempting to eat the opposition.
Predicted finish: Out at quarter final.

Interesting fact(s): The US has world’s largest economy
Player(s) to watch: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey
Predicted finish: Out at group stage.