Cheap holidays are a myth

When it comes to finding affordable vacation destinations, South African holidaymakers are experiencing less joy than ever before.

For most of us money is the single-biggest factor when making the decision of where, when and for how long to go away. The sad fact is that even traditionally affordable options of holidaying, such as camping and self-catering getaways, are becoming increasingly expensive.

Indeed, the whole notion of a “cheap” holiday has become a myth, with the only truly cheap break being no break at all.

Of course, affordability is relative to your circumstances and to how much – or how little – you are prepared to spend on yourself and your family for that critical downtime.

I always use the following benchmark when I assess the cost of a holiday: how much would it cost to stay at home? What is the cost of food, petrol and other necessities for, say, two weeks? And what about day trips or outings to the local mall, restaurants and the movies?

Work out these costs realistically and measure them against what you would spend on the holiday you really want to take. Break it down into day-by-day expenses so that you can really compare the differences. Spend a little time on the internet investigating the area you want to visit, its accommodation options, amenities, facilities and attractions.

Then examine your options. At the top of your list you should have the optimum – the cost of the holiday you really want to take – followed by any alternatives.

Naturally, if you are taking your vacation during school holiday time, you will invariably pay more, whether it be for a camp site, guest house, holiday home or hotel. School holidays fall in the so-called peak seasons and the prices charged are, on average, 25% higher than outside seasons.

If you choose a self-catering holiday, whether in a tent, chalet or beach flat, you have to factor in food at your chosen destination might cost a little more, that there might be less choice at an off-the-beaten-track place and that it will not really be a holiday if effectively you are simply moving house for a couple of weeks.

Don’t foget you still have to do the cooking, cleaning and washing. I believe a holiday should be a complete change of pace, not merely a change of location.

Reaching your destination is another consideration, especially with the rising price of petrol. Driving, for example, from Johannesburg to Cape Town is not necessarily as cost-effective as flying. If that beach apartment is a three-minute walk to the sand and surf and the shops and restaurants are a 10-minute walk away, do you really need a car for the week? Could you make do with a transfer from the airport to your holiday home? What would this cost? These are all questions you need to consider.

Camping and caravanning might appear appealing, but only if you already have the equipment. Quality camping gear is not cheap and caravans will invariably require financing, much like a car. Then you need a good vehicle to tow either a caravan or trailer packed full of camping equipment. Is this really a cheap holiday option?

Which brings us to guest houses – in my book the best value for money in South Africa at the moment. You will invariably pay a per-person, per-night charge, but you can still find excellent establishments for under R200 a person. You often get cheaper rates for a family suite or if children share a room. Guesthouses usually include a big breakfast for everyone. (What would that cost you, every morning, at home?)

So, while on the face of it the price of a bed-and-breakfast place might seem steep, when you consider what you get for the price, it might be the most affordable option – especially if you do not have to do housework or cart the contents of your house along with you.

What about hotels and, my personal favourite, bush lodges? They always seem the more expensive option, but value for money plays a role here. If the hotel has a babysitting service, lots of activities and things to do, as well as a range of room options, you will not have to leave the comfort of that pool chair – the waiters will bring your drinks, the kids will be off doing something amazing and you will be able to truly relax.

Bush camps and safari lodges are perceived to be affordable only for the elite rich and famous. Not so. At lodges you invariably have all meals, drinks and game activities (such as guides, vehicles, bush walks, boat trips and fishing) included in the rate. What would these things cost separately if you were paying only for the accommodation?

All things considered, what you are prepared to pay for a holiday is entirely subjective and personal. But it pays to make sure that you are getting the best option for your money. Often, paying a little more might give you and your family a better break from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

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