Why I Can Afford to Travel

Can I confess something? Every time I admit that I am planning a trip I am overcome with a mass of guilt. Sometimes I know well enough that I have a bit of a guilt complex in general, so acknowledging that helps, but most of the time I honestly feel like I am just a spoilt brat. I sort of am.

Don’t get me wrong. I do work hard to make our travel goals come true. But it’s the kind of “hard work” that is made possible by a whole lot of pre-existing privilege. I have a pretty good knowledge of what things cost because I’m always looking, and I try really hard to make sure that we can pull things off on a very tight budget. I pour a lot of hours into figuring out how to make a small amount of money go as far as possible. A lot of effort goes into what I achieve. And sometimes what I achieve feels like a damn miracle.

I assure you it is not.

Sometimes it’s tempting to take all the credit. Sometimes it’s tempting to say things like “If I can do it, anyone can.”

But calling my travel achievements “hard work” does not take into account one very inescapable truth:

I’m lucky.

  • I’m lucky because I have a husband who doesn’t mind living a super frugal life at home so that once or twice a year we can splurge on an adventure. We keep “extras” to a minimum. Take-aways. Booze. Dining out. New clothes. Electricity. (that last one is only sort of a joke)
  • I’m lucky because my husband’s salary pays for all of our expenses. Ty pays for all of our day-to-day life and there is zero wiggle room there. He juggles it like a pro though! Because he does this, I can put away the small bits of money that I make every month and save until we can afford to use it on a trip.
  • I’m lucky because my husband can take leave at any time of year and isn’t forced to take it in December like a lot of our peers are. December is high season. Being able to travel in low season makes a huge difference to affordability.
  • I’m lucky because I have a mom and dad who have bought me plane tickets before. And who have loaned me money to go on trips and been patient about the time it takes me to pay them back. They understand that I am far better at diminishing debt than I am at saving money.
  • I’m lucky because I have people who will look after my kids for me. My mom, my sister, and Noah’s paternal grandmother are always accommodating when it comes to Noah. Tom and Bridgette’s mother and grandmothers are the same. Without these people Ty and I would not be able to do this.
  • I’m lucky because I have tenants who look after my home and my animals when I am away. If I had to pay for a house and pet sitter that would be quite a huge extra expense and I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
  • I’m lucky because I have a lot of the kind of privilege that is easy to overlook when you’re scrambling to make things happen. It’s there though. And it plays a big role.

 

So, yes. I work hard. I save hard. I plan hard.  I sacrifice some things to make our travel plans work. But very little of what I am able to do rests solely on me. Very often my trips occur because of a cosmic series of fortunate events , and I would be remiss to ever assume that if I can do it anyone can because we all live different lives and we’re all caught up in different circumstances.

I am, however, grateful to myself for making the decision to use my circumstances to my advantage. I’m grateful to myself for finally admitting what I wanted and for having the courage to go after it despite the anxiety issues that I keep triggering because of it. And while I do admit that I am a spoiled princess who is able to travel because of a whole bunch of luck, I also think that I can be used as an example of how we can sometimes look at what we want and see it as impossible when actually it’s just improbable.

Improbable is something that I can work with. It took me a long time to learn that. But I know it now.

5 Reasons We Chose Turkey

Can I admit something daft? I was supposed to go to Italy this year, not Turkey. Actually, even that isn’t quite true. If I take a step back from the idea of going to Italy I have to admit that what I was really supposed to do this year is not go anywhere outside of the borders of South Africa.

And yet here I am. Going to Turkey.

I think I can properly call myself a traveller now, although that still doesn’t feel true. Then again, I don’t feel like “a writer” or “a mom” or “a wife” either. And those things are true. So I’m a traveller now, whether it feels true or not.

This trip to Turkey has evolved from a trip to nowhere, to a trip to Italy, to a trip to Ireland, to a trip to Germany and Italy, to a trip to Israel and Egypt, and finally it settled as a trip to Turkey. It took a lot of ideas to get to where we are now. I feel for the poor folks who had to endure me bouncing all those ideas off of them! I can’t imagine everyone who travels does this, but I can’t be the only one. Am I?

It seems that, when it comes to travel, I have resigned myself to the idea that we will go where we go when we go there. And I’m weirdly ok with that for someone who has a tendency towards control issues.

So this time, we’re going to Turkey. And here are some of the reasons why: (more…)

We’re Going to Turkey

That’s right: We’re Going to Turkey.

I wasn’t supposed to do this this year. Really I wasn’t. We were supposed to stay put this year. Recover a little financially. Travel a lot more locally. And then jet off again next year.

I failed. Yes. I. It was me. And even though we both get to go to Turkey because of it, it is I alone who is weak. The husband would have been happy to tour the back yard with snacks. But no. The wife could not.

But that’s ok, isn’t it? It’s ok to spend too much time on flight apps and Google image searches and to click on Every Single Travel Link cleverly presented by Facebook.

Remember when we went to Zanzibar and our flight home was a nightmare and I said to myself I need a break from airports and flights for a really really long time because I really do hate flying and it will be nice not to be on a plane for a while?

It didn’t last.

And then my silly mom said “I’ll buy you some plane tickets” and now here I am and we’re going to Turkey.

We’re calling it a birthday present to myself.

That’s ok, right?

Oops.

(Ps: I’m aware that my husband should be in this selfie as well but he’s at work and I only took the pic just now so he’s just represented by his passport for now. Maybe I should ask him to send me a happy selfie?)

Update: He sent me his happiness….

The Creatures of Zanzibar

I spoke to you recently of the reasons I think South Africans should visit Zanzibar, and today I thought I’d tell you a bit about their animal life. This is mostly because my Zanzibar photo folder is filled with a whole bunch of photographs that I need to use. Although now that I think of it… Possibly I need a bit more practice and the photographs aren’t that great… The animals, however, are.

When it comes to travel, or actually just life, one of my big draw cards is creatures, because creatures are awesome. A lot of tourism around the world featuring animals can be a little suspect though. I have indulged in “bad” animal tourism in the past, at the time not knowing any better. I like to think that I am getting wiser. I know better than to ride elephants now. I know that jumping into a swimming pool with dolphins is not cool. I know that paying someone to let me take a picture with their gibbon (seriously don’t do this!) or lemur or giant lizard is basically me just putting money into a system that causes pain for many animals, in some instances threatening their entire continued existence.

But there are some instances of animal tourism that I think are ok. I am, of course, open to correction, but I think a lot of Zanzibari animal attractions are kind of cool.

The Monkeys in the Jozani Forest

A nice little walk (with a guide) through the Jozani Forrest will have you meeting a troupe of Blue Sykes monkeys. These are the most chilled creatures you will ever meet. And cute as hell! Unfortunately they have pitch black faces so photographing them (for someone with as limited skill as I have) was kind of tricky. My pics make them look like dark spots with grey fuzz. Not a very good representation of their adorableness.

Zanzibar Butterfly Centre

I have a thing for butterfly farms. They always manage to draw me towards them. Often they’re a bit of a disappointment, but I adore butterflies so for me to be completely disillusioned with any sort of butterfly place there would have to be no butterflies at all. The Zanzibar Butterfly Centre is one of those butterfly farms that actually does manage to delight without disappointing. I love this project. I love that it’s filled with gorgeous butterflies, and I love that it is a sustainable project that has lead to the employment of islanders. I love that it’s a space that is cared for with love and enthusiasm.

 

The Feeshies

Snorkelling is one of my favourite pastimes and Zanzibar definitely does not disappoint on that front. I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to scuba diving, but my dad says he did some of his best scuba diving in Zanzibar as well. The waters are filled with gorgeous multi-coloured creatures, and because of their serious attempts at turtle conservation there is a higher than usual likelihood that you might get to see a turtle in the open ocean.

The Dolphins

If you chat to one of those tourist “helpers” who find you on the beach, you might be offered the opportunity to swim with the dolphins in the ocean. I know that for me this sounded a little dodgy, but I was curious as to what this was about. The thing is, this is a very big “maybe” but it’s a definite possibility that you might find yourself swimming briefly between some dolphins. Now to be honest: that sounds terrifying to me! But I know some people dig it. At first when I watched this dolphin thing in action I got a bit apprehensive. “Dolphins!” shouted one man on a small boat, and then a few kind of herded the dolphins toward the people snorkelling in the waters nearby. And those dolphins did go straight for the people (there’s plenty of space though that water is super deep – I imagine the dolphins just went straight under the people floating at the top) and then they seemed to do a bit of a circle and come back. My instinctive response was to be upset that the dolphins were being “chased”, but then I sort of realised that those dolphins have the whole ocean to play in. If these silly humans on boats were actually upsetting them they’d just go swim somewhere else. All they have to do is go down and they’re no longer accessible as an attraction. So yeah, I don’t know what you think. But it seems pretty harmless to me.

The Turtle Sanctuaries

Ok so I only spent 5 days in Zanzibar and I had flu that entire time so my exact details might be a little fuzzy. As far as I can tell there are quite a few turtle sanctuaries around the island where biologists basically “raise” turtles until they are big enough to be considered safe to return to the sea. It seems as though as a matter of conservation, these Zanzibari conservationists collect baby turtles before they reach the water. This sort of human interference might be met with scorn from some, I don’t know, but the idea is that when the turtles are tiny they are vulnerable to predators. We already know that very few babies from any given turtle nest actually survive, which contributes to why turtles are so endangered. In Zanzibar, these babies are collected to ensure a higher number of survival. Sick turtles are kept in isolation when needed, but mostly the turtles live in a sort of dam, the water of which is continually replenished by the incoming tides.

Do animals play a role in your touristing pleasures?

 

Travel Resolution: Road Trips with the Kids

Last year it so happened that we went on two road trips with our children. They were our first, which in hindsight is a bit weird, but it was only recently that I made the decision that I would like to live my life a little bit more like travellers do, even though I might be limited by my age, gender, marital status, financial status, and the fact that I have three kids.

Well, let me tell you a secret. We have been on a holiday or two with our kids. One where you drive to your destination, stay there for a few days, and then drive home. For me, they were hell. Whinging children. Constant sulking or fighting. No one coping with the idea that everyone can just relax now and do what they like: swim play read nap eat whatever. No. It does not work for us.

So I was happy (you guys: SO HAPPY) to discover that if I take my kids on a road trip instead of a specific destination it all works out MUCH BETTER. And I have on idea why. All that driving and everyone is content? For days? I don’t get it. I LOVE it. But I don’t get it.

I’m going to play with it more though. And we need to hurry up about it to because ol’ Thomas is getting old and he’ll be off to start his own life soon.

We need to get going.

5 Reasons South Africans Should Visit Zanzibar

I haven’t spoken about Zanzibar nearly as much as I should have yet. After our trip in October I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed by it all. It’s kind of hard to write when you’re overwhelmed. You’ve got so much to say that you say nothing. But despite Zanzibar being a complete tourist mecca, I think visiting there might have been one of my more eye-opening experiences.

Yes, I travel because it is fun, but I also travel because I learn so much through it. It tickles my mind in a way that text books and documentary shows could never. It makes me a better person, I think. A more conscientious one, I hope.

Here are some of the reasons that I think you should make the effort to get yourself there:

1. The Flights are Cheap

If you don’t mind travelling with a notoriously unreliable airline, and you’re willing to be flexible with your dates, Fastjet will get you to Zanzibar from Johannesburg for less than four grand per person. And yes, the unreliable thing sounds bad, but if you can just count it as part of the experience and approach it all with a sense of humour you won’t be sorry.

2. Hotel Prices are Comparable

Ok, hotel prices in other places are cheaper. I know this because I spend my life on sites like Booking.com and AirBNB checking how much it costs to stay in cities all around the world. I have a budget (R500 per night) and I often find that I can come out WAY under that budget. So yes, you can stay in other places for cheaper than in Zanzibar. BUT: you can’t really stay in South Africa for cheaper than what it costs to stay in Zanzibar so it’s all good. Plus you’ve saved on airfare so you’ve come out ok.

3. The People

Guys… The people of Zanzibar are so friendly and kind. And every time you see a Zanzibarian you get to shout “Jambo!” which means hello and it’s awesome. And you get to say “hakuna matata” and no one thinks you’re just quoting a cartoon meercat.

4. The Beauty

You’ve seen the pictures. Those pictures aren’t lying to you. The island of Zanzibar really does have that blue water and it is beautiful. The snorkelling is lovely and it has that whole tropical island vibe that we all dream about when we think of exotic destinations.

5. The Africanness

The weirdest and most surprising thing about visiting Zanzibar as a South African is that it feels so familiar. Nothing about Zanzibar looks like home. At all. The Muslim culture is observed in Tanzania, so the women are all dressed in headscarves, even the children. Many of the women, if not all of them, wear saris. The whole place is very rural with bad roads. The vegetation is dense and tropical.

It doesn’t look like home at all.

But it feels like home.

I do very much love that this is not home at all feeling that you get from international travel. I crave it. It is addicting.

But finding that a completely strange place feels familiar? There’s something equally special about that. And I think what excites me the most is that I never considered that as Africans we might have an energy of sorts that connects us.

I do admit that this particular discovery makes the idea of xenophobia just that much more repulsive to me. If I can go to a country thousands of kilometres away from home and still feel like there is an element of belonging for me there, then I certainly hope that any African man or woman who graces our shores can feel the same.

I fear that might not be the case. But perhaps I can hope regardless.

Things to do: Visit Geek World

I’m on a mission this year to write about the fun things you can do around this little city of ours, and a visit to Geek World has been at the top of my list for quite some time now. I’ve just been a little slow on finding my words.

Forgive my bias if you don’t mind, but the owners of Geek World, Leon and Tersia Muston, are friends of mine so I might get a little over-gushy in my enthusiasm for their little store. You see, I’m a massive fan of the little guy and when the little guy does something like quit his job to open up a store that celebrates fandoms, well then I get kind of silly and mushy.

When I happen to be friends with said little guy then I get even mushier.

Leon and Tersia opened up their little piece of Geek Heaven in October last year and my little Harry Potter loving heart just pops every time I go in there. Not only can you find a ton of cool fandom stuff there, from cute trinkets to wear on your person to awesome figurines to adorn your home, but you very quickly come to realise that Tersia and Leon have also taken the time to stock their little store with items sourced from other little business owners around town. From cosplay outfits designed and made locally to crazy beanies that have been crocheted by a retired couple just trying to get by, to books by local authors (me!) and crazy coloured hair dyes from a local entrepreneur, it’s not hard to see that the Mustons care not only about supplying their customers with fun stuff, but also about supporting a lot of the other little guys around town.

I can’t help but love that.

I never thought I’d write about a store where you can buy Ravenclaw scarves and diadems (oh my gosh I totally have one!) on my travel blog, but Passing the Open Windows is all about holding on to those things and experiences that keep you smiling, and Geek World certainly qualifies as one of those things.

Thanks Leon and Tersia for opening up this little spot for us. My little heart that I’ve lost to too many fandoms over the years does a leap every time I peruse your shelves.

And I know I’m not the only one!

More pics: #nayeslovesgeekworld

Staycation: Kragga Kamma Game Park

I mentioned before that this year I want to do a couple of staycations around the city and my husband and I did our first one this last weekend.

How did I make my choice? Well, to be perfectly honest with you, I grabbed my booking.com app and filtered the Port Elizabeth options by lowest price because January means being a little broke, doesn’t it?

Lucky for us, Kragga Kamma Game Park came up as one of low-cost options and I’m so glad it did!

I’ve been starting to get a little bit of a complex lately. My husband and I are constantly “in need of getting away”. Are we broken? We went away to Hlosi in November. Two days of pure luxury. Surely we don’t need to “get away” that often!

But what if we do? (The fact that we totally forgot to take a couple selfie the whole time we were away over the weekend makes me feel like possibly we need to work on our relationship a bit!)

Well, if we do need to get away more often then I think our little staycation idea is actually going to work for us. Luckily, as I’ve probably said before, when it comes to staycations there is little prep work to be done, and even just one night “away” can make such a huge difference to one’s state of mind. No big deal. I feel so clever!

So, back to Kragga Kamma Game Park: You’ve probably been there before. If not on a school trip then you probably took an out-of-towner there once or twice. Or you thought it might be a great place to take the kids at some point. And it was lovely, wasn’t it?

Can I tell you a secret though? Your day trip to Kragga Kamma Game Park was not nearly as awesome as it could have been if you had chosen to stay the night. Guys, there is just something so incredible about early mornings and late afternoons in nature. That’s when all the creatures come out to say hi and you actually just can’t believe how much there is to see.

Kragga Kamma Game Farm is small so no matter when you go you are almost definitely going to see plenty worth seeing.

But trust me, driving around that park in the early morning before it opens to the pubic is a special kind of bliss. Like Nadine staring in incredulity at the spectacles before her kind of bliss.

This weekend I truly had one of the most miraculous and incredible experiences of my life. I’m actually considering taking my kids there for an evening sometime even though I can’t quite afford it just yet.

And you know what? I’m not even going to tell you exactly why it was so incredible. It’s a secret.

You’re going to have to go and check it out for yourself.

Pics: #nayesexploreskraggakammagamepark

Travel Resolution: Stay Home

So I told you last week (ok it might have been the week before…what happened to last week anyway?)  that I have a resolution to do a few staycations around town with my husband this year. Well, aside from sleeping in hotels in a town where I already have a bed, I also want to tour the town where I already live.

A recurring thought to me these days has been this:

Wherever you are is somewhere.

Now I get that sounds a bit obvious, but here’s the thing. To me, Wanderlust is a bug that bites and then contaminates your blood so that you can barely consider life without being immersed in either planning or executing the latest adventure. I do recognise that for others, it might be different, but for me I’m quite enjoying living life between travel plans.

But what happens when there are no travel plans?

One of the most delightful side effects of the exploring that I have done over the last couple of years is that it has really made me find it possible to love wherever I am. And that is such a great thing.

I have gone from:

Oh my gosh America is amazing.

Oh my gosh England is amazing.

Oh my gosh Spain is amazing.

Oh my gosh Thailand is amazing.

Oh my gosh India is amazing.

Oh my gosh Zanzibar is amazing.

To:

Oh my gosh earth is amazing.

So I’m exploring earth. And right now Port Elizabeth occupies the little bit of earth that I’m situated on so I’m going to explore her flat.

She deserves it.

Because she is amazing too.

Things to Do: Food Truck Friday

Our little seaside city is undoubtedly becoming quite the foodie mecca these days and it seems that one of our more quirky foodie events is here to stay. The first Food Truck Friday happened back in November and was so popular that the event pretty much ran out of food. Of course, now it’s running a little more smoothly and more trucks and entertainment have been added. It seems that the tasty extravaganza is here to stay.

The next one is being held on Friday the 20th, and this month they’re running a competition where you can win a whole bunch of yumminess as well as two Nelson Mandela Bay Passes (those things are the bomb, you guys!) so you should probably pop over to Facebook and enter that.

The cool thing about Food Truck Friday is that meal costs are capped at R45 so you can tickle your tastebuds without breaking the bank too much. Seriously: for foodie food this is actually ok. I once paid R70 for a foodie food pork skewer that had like three pieces of pork on it. It was amazing but the only reason I could afford it was because someone else paid for it!

Just a tip though: if it’s possible get there early before the crowds arrive. That way you get to skip the queues and just chill and take in the good vibes.

Travel Resolutions: Staycations

Believe it or not one of my biggest resolutions for this year is to spend more time “away” in my own city. This seems mad, I admit, but the thing is that I cannot help but believe that it can also be a kind of investment in our sanity. No, we can’t go away to fancy places all the time. We can afford neither the money nor the time to do so. But an un-fancy little stay on just the outskirts of town? Or even up the road? We might be able to do that.

Why, you ask? Because it kind of makes a difference. It’s a break without a big commitment, which is a great way to take a proper break.

Planning trips is an exciting endeavour, don’t get me wrong. But SO MUCH goes into them. Sourcing the funds. Finding hotels. Considering possible challenges. The list doesn’t end. And that’s just the list for the trip itself! You also have to organize how your home is going to function without you. Where are the children going to go (if they’re not coming with) and who is going to feed the cats and water the plants and meet the alarm company if the alarm is activated.

So, yes. I want to try this. One night at a time. Two at most. Almost no driving time (and low petrol costs). Just relaxing and exploring different parts of my city and sleeping in a room that is actually tidy for a change. Possibly getting rid of my phone for the duration (can I live without Instagram?) And having an awesome breakfast!

My first staycation is taking place on the 28th.

I can’t wait.

Something to Do: Listen to Untold Stories on a Township Tour

Have you ever been so impressed by something that you don’t actually know how to start talking about it? I’ve wanted to share my experience with the Untold Stories Tour that I took through Calabash Tours a couple of weeks ago ever since I said goodbye to our tour guide, Xholani. I’ve gushily spilled my enthusiasm over my family members, had lengthy discussions about it with my husband, and spent many hours contemplating the brilliant simplicity of it all.

And yet here I sit feeling like I am at a loss for the right words.

So, I’m going to put it to you simply, and hope that my message comes across regardless.

The Untold Stories Tour is one of the most important tours I have ever been on, and it excites me that this is something that is being offered to tourists in our city. Basically, we went on a township tour, which in itself is exceptionally enlightening and filled with important history that all South Africans should be aware of. But, most importantly, the tour included having dinner in the home of Mamma Gwen. Mamma Gwen prepared a very South African (and delicious) meal for us, and while we ate, she told us about her life.

I have to admit this was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I’ve always sort of thought that “tourism” is not a particularly authentic way of getting to know different parts of the world. Oftentimes it isn’t. Often tours kind of show you the fancy sugar-coated parts of whichever part of the world you find yourself in. That’s ok, of course. Because it’s fun regardless. But unless you actually move somewhere for a couple of months, it’s kind of hard to get a real glimpse into the lives of the people who live there. This Untold Stories Tour, however, gives you such a real experience.

Forgive my over-enthusiasm, but I do highly recommend doing this. Even if you already live here. Possibly I recommend it especially if you already live here.

I know some people might find the idea of a township tour to be distasteful. I have felt this way myself. In fact the only reason I even went on a township tour in the first place (I’ve now been on two – both were great) is because I wanted to formulate a more informed opinion on the practice. The thing is, though, that a better understanding of the experiences of our fellow citizens is so exceptionally important. Mama Gwen’s stories are so important! And so I have come to believe that these township tours can be quite significant.

So I’d like to say thank you to Calabash Tours for this experience. Thank you for bringing tourism opportunities to people who might not otherwise think to find their place here. Thank you for showing how important they are to this industry! I truly hope that this endeavour is supported and that it grows to include even more beautiful people like Mama Gwen.

Do yourself a favour and check out this tour. You won’t regret it.