There is something almost deranged about the festive season. People become gripped by an inexplicable mania. Take my average shopping experience during Decembers of late where shoppers hurl themselves at the shelves in similar fashion to post-Christmas sales.
Are they frightened that the shop will run out of items? Has Woolworths ever run out of turkeys or mince pies before? As far as I know, they were selling mince pies on special well into February the following year, so why the fanatical devotion to filling the trolley as if we’re about to be snowed in for the entire season, and then some?
Have you witnessed the length of till point queues at this time of year?
Whatever your theory for the elves-on-steroids behaviour of some, it does pay to avoid shopping centres completely during the period, particularly the day before the ‘big day’. If you’ve run out of custard, well, just do without it, or make it yourself. Trust me, the hazards of joining the rabid throngs far outweigh the joys of custard on fruit cake.
Shopping pointers aside, we’ve put together a list of travel tips to keep you sane during these holidays. The rules of the road are fairly similar to those of the aisles of shopping mall – they’re bound to resemble the wild west in certain parts of the country:
Give peak travel days a skip
This one’s fairly logical. The couple of days leading up to, and just after, Christmas there is heavier traffic on the road as everyone tries to get home at the last minute, to make the turkey-laden table on time. It is also more likely that during this period more people drink and drive. And, it is very likely that the traffic police are out in full force to catch those poor, hardworking and unsuspecting individuals (like me) who for some reason did not manage to slow from 120km/hr to 60km/hr within the requisite 500 metres of road. Leave before the rush, and return long after, if you can. Conversely fly, or take the train.
Get to the airport on time
Missing your flight because you’re famous for leaving everything, including your departure time, for the last minute is guaranteed to up the blood pressure levels. Set the clocks forward by half an hour a couple of days ahead of time, if you have to. And allocate time for the requisite road works / traffic congestion that are sure to occur just as you take to the highway. Oh, and, not to put a damper on things or anything, but take along a gripping book for flight delays…
Be flexible with your schedule
If you’re wise, you’ve pre-booked all of your accommodation, particularly if you’ve chosen to stay in popular Christmas-type places, like Plett or Durban. However, if you’re like me and you’ve chosen to stay a little off the beaten track, like Richmond on the N1, just a few hours’ south of Bloemfontein (I know, I know, but it deserves a look-see) then you can afford to be a lot more flexible, particularly if you’re on a road trip. In these situations, it sometimes pays not to book ahead. Locals tend to know a lot more about a place, and you’ll find great spots just by leaving it all to chance (do not follow this tip if you exhibit even vague obsessive compulsive symptoms).
Talk to the locals
Take the time to chat to the locals in any holiday destination. People love to talk about themselves and their home town, and you will uncover more about a place than even a five-day stay (without the chat to the townies) would reveal to you. If you want to know which restaurants to eat at, which places to visit, who to see to find out more about anything – it’s the locals, not the travel guides, that will pay off. Having said that, it goes without saying that you…
Do a bit of research first
You need to have some idea of where it is you’re going, if you haven’t been there before. The Internet and travel books provide one with a wealth of information that you might miss if you just leave it to chance, and hope that you’ll stumble in the right direction.
Be prepared when travelling with children
I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to remind parents about what it’s like to have a two / six / seven / eleven year old on the back seat of the car. And I’m not talking about packing the usual distractions – books, videos, music, building blocks, and a backlog of games like ‘I spy’. Pack snacks, and not the sugared kind if you don’t want a bouncing rabbit behind you, or worse, in the front row of the aeroplane. And take along one plastic bag at least (need I spell out graphically why?), wet wipes, tissues and a change of clothes. And share the load between parents (I know this sounds anal, but iron out ahead of time who does the luggage and who takes the children, and you’ll prevent those nightmare airport dramas).
Don’t gift wrap the presents if flying
Not sure if this applies locally, but definitely if you fly internationally you will find yourself unwrapping every item you so lovingly wrapped. One is no longer allowed to take wrapped packages as luggage. If you’re fast on your feet, you’ll already have posted them ahead of time. If not, well, buy the wrapping paper on that end.
Pack the first-aid kit
I know that travelling light is a great mantra, but when it comes to sudden and unforeseen illness or injury, in a town / city / country you do not know well, there is nothing better than the knowledge that you have the medicine to make you well – particularly if you are prone to certain medical conditions. Rather leave that extra pair of shoes out of the suitcase, than your own prepared ‘first-aid kit’.
Eat out for breakfast or lunch, and self-cater to save money
Dinners are always more expensive and busier. Better still, if you settle for a brunch, then you’ve covered two meals of the day in one, and only need prepare a light and easy dinner. A lot of restaurants offer lunch time specials with very similar menus to those they would use at dinner, anyway. And self-cater, rather than staying in hotels, B&Bs or guest houses. Not only is it cheaper, but you also get to eat the kind of foods you enjoy.
Slow down, relax
This is, after all, the season to be jolly. So take your time, drink in the views, drive a little slower, savour your meals, love your families, go on long walks, feel the wind in your hair or the sand between your toes, and remember what it is to experience and share Christmas cheer.