Pack up your glider and gear, pop it in a bag or suitcase, and hop off to another flying destination in your country or abroad. It’s one of the best ways to see new places and make flying buddies as you go along. Below are a few tips, many of which you’ll need to start a few weeks before your trip.
Reach out to local pilots, schools, & clubs
Poke around on search engines and social media. You’ll probably find tandem pilots quite responsive (as they quickly respond to customer inquiries) and useful in connecting you with local pilots or schools. Some schools might have day trip outings with students or progression XC courses that could include transport and flying with a local senior pilot.
Solo pilots who fly local sites could be able to help you; I’ve certainly helped and been helped many times. I find them using Paragliding Form and XContest’s feature where you filter for flights flown in a certain place. These flight tracklogs also can indicate things like what time of year a certain takeoff gets popular, the usual XC flight direction, the usual landing spots and so on.
🇿🇦 Foreign pilots visiting South Africa should join both of the Glen Club’s Whatsapp groups (and introduce themselves and ask flying questions).
Get your license & IPPI card
Many authorities, clubs, schools, and takeoff sites will require you to show your valid paragliding license. Most places accept the IPPI card (which you can think of as an international driving permit for paragliding), so get your IPPI card before travelling. It’s also a good idea to keep photos of these documents on your phone or backed up somewhere in the cloud.
🇿🇦 All South African sites require you to have the equivalent of IPPI 3 to IPPI 5 to fly them.
Pay for (temporary) membership
Many countries (and clubs) require you to become a temporary member for the time you plan on flying there. You might be breaking aviation law or be denied flying rights (or insurance claims) if you are flying without permission.
🇿🇦 Everyone paragliding in South Africa needs to be a SAHPA member to legally fly in the country. Discounted temporary membership (two or six months) is available for foreign visitors and includes third-party insurance. The Glen Club welcomes short-term visitors free of charge (come to one of our meetings); longer-term pilots are encouraged to become paying members.
Be sure to read the entire main article: Emergencies.
Make sure you understand what search-and-rescue (casevac) is and if you may need it where you’ll be flying cross country. In 🇿🇦 South Africa and some 🇪🇺 European destinations you technically have free, charity-backed or state-provided evacuation for non-urban emergencies, but insurance might still be the smarter idea. Some clubs, like at 🇲🇽 Valle de Bravo in Mexico, have their own affordable casevac insurance schemes to help get you out of a tree in the jungle.
Make sure you understand the difference between the facilities, price, and availability of state-provided healthcare and private healthcare for the place you’ll be visiting. In many middle-income countries, like South Africa, state facilities are very understaffed and poorly equipped.
Make sure you understand the difference between government-mandated health schemes (like national health or medical aid schemes) and private medical insurance. Make 100% sure you will be covered for paragliding accidents by your insurance or scheme.
Buy a prepaid SIM card, top it up (so that you can make calls) and get some data (so that you can use the internet).
💡 Tip: in 🇿🇦 South Africa as in most other countries you’ll need to show lots of documentation (proof of accommodation, proof of ID, forms to complete) if you try to get a SIM card anywhere else than at the airport. Head straight to the Vodacom or MTN stores in Cape Town or Johannesburg airport and get it sorted right away to save yourself a lot of hassle later.
Some newer phones have e-SIM functionality. The Airalo app (iOS and Android) offers packages where you install the e-SIM (by scanning a code) and your data will be active from the second you land, giving you peace of mind in getting an Uber or otherwise connecting. It often only includes data, depending on the country, but you can still make calls with WhatsApp or Telegram. (Use code WERNER8667 when you sign up or apply it at checkout and we both will get $3 off https://ref.airalo.com/NCkL)
Also depending on the flying you’ll do, consider getting and taking a two-way radio and a satellite communication device like Spot or InReach. Some countries, sites, or schools require these to fly. Make sure you program the radio frequencies and test them. Note that some countries don’t allow you to import two-way radios.
For more info, including how to program your radio to the local frequencies in 🇿🇦 South Africa see Gear.
If you concertina-pack your wing, you should be able to safely check it in your glider bag. Some people prefer to put all their gear in a harder suitcase (which I find annoying).
I fold my harness and tie it down neatly with a strap that goes over the reserve handle. If the airport authorities opened my bags to inspect it, I don’t want them to accidentally pull on the reserve handle or otherwise mess up my tightly-folded kit.
Protect your helmet. I usually wrap mine in bubble wrap, inflatable soft bottles, and other soft things like towels.
You’ll need to keep all electronics (things with batteries like your vario, radio, Garmin, power bank) with you as carry-on luggage.
There have been some reports of airline security not allowing two-way radios in the cabin (but others again where they don’t allow anything with batteries into checked luggage, go figure). Make sure you disconnect the aerial antenna from the body of the radio so that it looks less like a radio when going through the scanners.
If you have really ultralight gear, you might be able to get away by taking all your paragliding gear in carry-on luggage. I know of people who had their karabiners confiscated in Mexico (“they can be used as a weapon” 🤷♂️). Helmets might be tricky at some airport security too. If you go this route, make sure to arrive early and with a plan in case you need to turn back from security and go check your luggage after all.
Get briefings and fly with people
Say hi in a social media group, find and talk to pilots, go hang out on the hill or clubhouse. At the very least you should get a site briefing from the most senior pilot present and rather not fly if nobody else is in the air (they might know of some dangers you don’t).
🇿🇦 Many tricky sites (including Lion’s Head in Cape Town) require a formal sign-off for the first few flights, where a senior pilot signs off that the pilot was given a full briefing and flew their first flight under supervision. Other sites (like Signal Hill) only allow pilots with IPPI Level 5 (Sports licences) to get a sign-off and legally fly.
Some sites require that solo pilots (flying for fun) must always give takeoff priority to tandems (flying as a career, often paying higher site fees for that privilege). This is also why it’s a great idea to get to takeoff early and chat with and get additional briefing information, while everyone is still calm and relaxed before the thermals kick off.
Getting to launch and back to takeoff (or your Airbnb) depends very much on where you’ll be flying. In some places you can take public transport or taxis, in others you’ll need a dedicated driver. If you’re catching a ride with other pilots or tandems to launch, offer to chip in to help cover fuel costs.
In some places (like South Africa) you can get a dedicated retrieve driver for the day, who will follow you (and your flying buddies) via WhatsApp and pick you up when you land. Sometimes it makes sense to arrange and pay for transport with a school that might already be taking students to and from launch and can keep a watchful eye on you if it’s a new site or you feel a bit rusty.
Inform and be informed
Keep a copy of your medical information on you (or in your harness), and email/WhatsApp it to your instructor, flying buddies and/or friends back home. On the day of your flight, notify a friend (or the host of your hotel or Airbnb) of your plans; and do so again after you’ve safely landed for the day, and instructions on what to do if they can’t find you.
Make sure you (and your contacts) have the local emergency numbers available and know what to do if things go nasty.
There is a beautiful spark that you get (and give!) when you meet fellow free-flying pilots, wherever that might be. No matter if you’re out planning to cruise high with the condors in the Andes, fly the sweaty jungles in Southeast Asia, or “just” soar a gentle seaside slope outside a sleepy town, there are incredible adventures out there waiting for you.