I write this at some 43,000 feet on a flight home after spending a day or two under two weeks in the UK.
The first thing people will tell you is that you mustn’t convert currency with the Rand having weakened to the point where it is, and I completely agree with them – but only to a point because it’s just not possible to avoid doing so with certain things. Go into a department store – any of the well-known ones – and it’s only natural to compare and in cases you could be pleasantly surprised if you look on the “sale rails” as the UK starts to leave winter behind and as we start to approach that time of the year.
Whilst you are unlikely to pick up bargains at ridiculously low prices, you are often likely to be able to buy clothes at about the same prices, or even slightly cheaper than at home. Quality is much the same but what does differ is style of the clothing, simply because the UK is half a year ahead of us so what you can buy off the sale rails as is last season’s fashions will be coming to South Africa in the coming season. Even then the style there is only six months ahead of us.
That is however pretty much where it ends. It is very expensive to eat out in London even if you are earning in pounds and most people in London will confirm that to you but even more horrendous if you are paying in Rand. A perfect example a day of two ago was a fifties style American diner with a fantastic vibe and décor and one of the best hamburgers I’ve tasted in a long time. Trouble is that there were five of us. Three adults and two children. The three adults each had a hamburger and chips and the two children a kiddies portion of the same thing.
The total bill was £55 which is expensive if you are paying in pounds but paying in rands it was just R5 short of R1000 – for five hamburgers and a few cokes!
We complain about our petrol price but in the UK, the cheapest I found was £1.12 a litre.
Accommodation is frightening. An average lodge is around £55 a night for a room. That’s not too bad until you include breakfast at £8.75 a person.
You will hear the argument that “but they are earning in pounds” but when you consider that a pretty average salary is between £25,000 & £30,000 a year and that’s before the taxman takes his share that’s not a huge amount of money. Transport around London is plentiful but travel an hour outside London by train and you are looking at around £26 return. That’s R520 more or less.
A friend of mine has a small two bedroom apartment in West Sussex and it costs £850 per month. Work that little lot out.
Bottom line is that I don’t think it’s a cheap holiday to visit the UK but I am not for a moment suggesting that one shouldn’t travel. Travel is good and it broadens your horizons but with our current exchange rate it’s not a great idea to overspend or to go into debt to holiday abroad.
Let’s look now at being on holiday at home. In my previous blog I spoke about the fact that we have a choice between a touring holiday and a destination holiday. Either way, your first saving is the better part of R25,000 on air fares for two people if you choose to fly economy class with any of the major airlines. By comparison, our low cost carriers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a bad day will cost you R4,000 and that’s a really bad day.
Rent a small car in Cape Town for 10 days and it’s around R400 a day so now on airfares and car hire we have saved R32,000, give or take a Rand or two. Accommodation in Cape Town in an equivalent lodge to that in which we stayed for 10 days would cost you about R10,000, so now our saving is getting towards R40,000 but then you need to eat out and this is where the difference really is noticeable.
Apart from obvious things like our weather and the huge savings between holidaying in the UK and at home, one has to ask oneself “what is it that foreign tourists are seeing in South Africa that we South Africans can’t see?” What is it that causes them to rave about their holiday and how they would like to come back again?
I have travelled around South Africa a great deal and I have seen some amazing things but when I ask many South Africans if they have seen the things I’ve seen they look at me and ask “where’s that”.
I have often been asked if I have seen England’s Lake District and I have. I have been asked if I have seen the hills in the Highlands of Scotland covered in purple when the heather is in full bloom, and I have, I have been asked if I have seen the French Riviera, and I have, but I have also seen the road between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay and driven through Meiring’s Poort and any day of the week those two places alone are as beautiful as anything I have seen abroad.
I have seen whales breach in Hermanus and the flowers in bloom in Namaqualand. I have been to Sutherland and gazed at the clearest skies I have ever seen through a telescope. I have sat in a cave on the top of the Cedarberg mountains and had lunch there whilst staring out at the magnificence of the country. I have seen Huisriviers Pass and very few people I meet even know where it is. I have been asked, as someone who rides a motorcycle if I have been the Ronny’s Sex Shop on Route 62 and what it’s like they ask with a look of excited expectancy in their eyes.
It’s a pub!
This then is the country I call home and there are dozens of other places in South Africa that many South Africans have not seen – and dare I say will probably never see as they are spending a fortune holidaying overseas and leaving what we have to foreign tourists.
I said earlier that I was writing this at some 40,000 feet in a Boeing and I look through the window of the aircraft towards the east and I see something that is pure splendor.
It’s an African sunrise and I’m home.