Earlier this year, I was in a motorcycle accident. Lying in a hospital bed with the possibility of being wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life, there seemed to be little or no chance of experiencing the world the way I’d always dreamt – eating my way through Africa, trekking the hot trails of Arizona in the US, hiking up the Welsh Garth hill, and experiencing rural England as Elizabeth Bennet may have done.
Possibilities previously hindered only by my slow pace of travel savings seemed lost forever but luck, physiotherapy, a dedicated team at a Johannesburg rehabilitation centre and more luck, dragged me out of a melancholy that comes with seeing the silver lining ever so greying. And eight months after that indelible date, I was on a plane bound for Copenhagen, Denmark – and nine days of Scandinavia, Russia and Baltic exploration.
Daunting as it was to board that Qatar Airways plane to lands far and cold, I was set on enjoying this second lease of life. On a very hot Tuesday afternoon, with a hot pink suitcase full of all the winter apparel I could squeeze in, I set off.
Cloying Qatar and a numbers game
Eight hours, 6 240km and many naps into the first leg of my journey later, I touched down in a hot, sticky Qatar. Aerial views were of a city awash in light, of engineering defying the desert lands of the Middle East, and views of an efficient public service machine.
What the eight hours to the Qatari capital of Doha did afford me was time to think of the financial means to afford such a trip, for it is not one to be taken with a light financial commitment.
Flights – +/-R13 500
Accommodation – $1 649 (R24 700) for a cruise liner balcony suite
Shore excursions – $761 (R11 400)
Dining – Complimentary as well as specialty dining for $99 (R1 500) for three meals
Premium beverage package – $891 for nine days (R13 300)
Bottled water – $16.95 (R254) for six 1 litre bottles
WiFi – $105 (R1 574) for 250 minutes
Thermal suite pass – $500 (R7 500) for the entire trip
Total – +/-R73 500
You cannot just throw such figures on a holiday and for the young twenty- to thirtysomethings, it may take many months, even years, to afford.
Luckily, financial journalist Maya Fisher-French has a wealth of savings knowledge and she has advice on how to best plan and execute such a trip.
Fisher-French writes that an overseas trip need not break the bank. She advises on what you must do or have done – at least nine months leading up to your trip.
“I used the time to plan, budget and make sure that when I returned from my well-deserved break there would be no scary credit card bills to deal with. One of the benefits of planning ahead is that you can spread your payments over time.
“This is how I made sure my holiday was booked and paid for before I got on the plane,” she writes.
She advises to “book your airline tickets” at least nine months ahead; “start putting money aside for spending” at eight months; “book your accommodation” at six months; and “book car hire or transport” with three months to go. “Book your tourist activities” a month before you leave and “sort out [travel] insurance” a week before your trip.
What these practical steps give you is a chance to spread the cost and stress of your trip over almost a year.
Travel is strenuous, even for a person who had their itinerary planned by the meticulous Natalie Major of travel experts Big Ambitions.
Out of frying pan into the freezer
Perhaps I exaggerate a little, but the first blast of Copenhagen air felt like shards to my sun-kissed African skin.
October is the middle of autumn in the northern hemisphere, and beautiful as the browning leaves were, the icy blast, rain and wind were a deterrent from my dream of joining the crowd that zoomed past on bicycles, electric scooters, treadle bikes, tandem bikes, parent-child bikes, seemingly oblivious to the incessant rain.
I’d read and heard of the cycling culture in Denmark but seeing the results of a country that imposes 180% taxes on new car purchases to deter prospective buyers made me realise that building a green economy is a national project.
Driving down to the harbour in one of the few cars on the road, I couldn’t help but notice how clean Copenhagen was. There is a sense of respect for the ground on which one treads, of a need to not only coexist with, but take responsibility for, nature and its resources. Granted, Denmark and other first world countries can focus on implementing radical policies to become carbon-free and combat the climate crisis. But the majority populations from countries with economies as divided across the breadlines as ours can barely afford to think beyond the next meal.
The lack of respect for the environment that is shown by many I’ve come across is a shame. A sweet wrapper and cigarette butt here, a gum wrapper there, a man peeing on that tree over there … and before you know it there is hardly pride to be had in a dump of your own creation.
Copenhagen has come far from 1850s days of bad sanitation and poor refuse disposal. And as we go round another pristine corner – barely restraining myself from shouting at the driver for driving “on the wrong side of the road” – what looks like a massive floating building juts from the sea.
Stretching 325.61m from bow to stern and licensed to carry 5 609 guests and crew, the Norwegian Getaway is a hulking 145 655-ton structure softened by murals of Ariel of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Getting on to the ship is a covert operation-level hardship though, and after 16 hours of travel and unloading your bags too many times at security checkpoints, you might want to take a fortifying breath before being scanned, tagged and sent off to a getaway that’s worth every rand.
. Read “An overseas trip doesn’t need to break the credit card” by Maya Fisher-French on mayaonmoney.co.za