The best things in life are free

We don’t go on holiday much ... because we live in a holiday town tourists come to us rather than the other way around. Unlike many, I love “season” as the buzz reminds me of city living, where good hair and great coffee combine. To adequately embrace being a village resident, it’s best to have a paradoxical view on things; savour the quiet and thrill to the busy. The proliferation of that easy-come, easy-go vacation success story, Airbnb, means that more of us probably move between local and international borders than ever before. Spoilt for choice, we have the option of getting away from it all in any guise – five-star delight, or down-at-heel frill-free.
I love that so many of our villagers have joined up, as it brings all sorts of foot traffic to our shores; and gets the rest of us thinking about the importance of taking a break, no matter how laid-back or angst-free our everyday lives are. For me, holidays are a big deal, primarily because they’re so expensive. I’m brooding over arranging one, but don’t have the ready cash to pick and choose.
I was considering options, when quite by chance, I remembered an experience we once had in Port Elizabeth – and how the smallest, simplest things prove to be the best. We had decided to go on holiday in PE because it was close – near enough for a day trip, but far enough away to be considered “going away”. Close enough for a petrol-friendly drive, but adequately distanced to trick the kids into thinking that a car stacked with snacks and suitcases is a sure sign of memorable, holiday-ish things to come. We knew that our seaside jaunt was unlikely to be budget-friendly since, when you have kids, there’s the constant urge to “give them a fun time” and “make some memories” – and the assumption that if it’s good, it’ll cost ya. Funny things, holidays and kids. Just when you think you know it all, you realise, at the tail-end of a wild weekend, that you don’t. During our last holiday, along the Garden Route, we found quality, affordable accommodation – the plus. When we launched our “give them a fun time” activities from this lovely home base, however, we discovered how expensive “fun” is.
At a couple of hundred rands per family for every damn sanctuary, park or restaurant we felt compelled to visit, we clocked up enough minuses to cancel out the plus of our perfectly cool beach chalet. But this time, we got the balance right. And that’s possibly because PE does too – it knows that the best things in life cost zilch. And it knows our kids better than we do. The four-star family unit – winningly named “Abeachcottage” in a nod to its seaside proximity and easier to remember as one word, too – was a four-star experience with dozens of free extras that impressed the kids way more than the stuff you actually pay for, like a zinging showerhead, cloudy, crispy duvets, and Smarties on the pillows. Best of all, the cottage was close enough to all the things that make kids tick – sand, waves, piers, ancient cannons on rocky coastlines and my childhood favourite, Happy Valley: a fantasy jungle full of fairytale and movie figurines, open all day, every day. For free. A Daily Mail poll once concluded what made people most happy. In the top-50 list, the best-sellers cost nothing: country walks, cuddles with a loved one and saying “I love you” were in the top five. And perhaps that’s why we go on holiday – to spend money on things in order to realise that we don’t have to spend money on things after all...

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