Phew, December couldn’t come soon enough!

Although the world won’t magically be back to normal on 1 January 2021, the festive break is the perfect time to put away work-related stress, eat to your heart’s content, spend time with family, get some sun, and travel… Or at least that’s what the festive season was all about before 2020 came along.

As we all know, the rules of the game have changed – and so has travelling locally. Here are some of the things you can look forward (and not-so-forward) to over the next two months as South Africans embark on local holidays.

1. Cheaper holiday destinations

In September, we put together a list of discounted weekend stay-cations, but the savings aren’t over yet! If you like to live on the edge and book December accommodation at the last minute (you daredevil), there’s still plenty of discounted accommodation to go around.

For example, one of South Africa’s most prestigious luxury trains, The Blue Train, is slashing 50% off their prices from 1 November 2020 to 31 March 2021 – so if there’s still space available over December, you’d be paying R16,950 per person sharing instead of R32,152 per person sharing. Hey, we said it was discounted, not cheap.

To find more reasonably-priced accommodation, hop online and look for specials in your favourite hotspots – from fancy hotels to Airbnbs to camping grounds. The tourism industry took a huge hit over lockdown, so if you’re ever going to find a once-in-a-lifetime deal, the time is now.

2. Busier holiday destinations

Because accommodation is discounted and many South Africans are still uncomfortable with international travel, the downside of cheaper local holidays is that you’re going to be competing with the rest of the country for the best bargains in the sunniest hotspots.

Areas like the Kruger National Park, Cape Winelands and Garden Route are likely to be more full of local tourists this year than ever before – so if you’re nervous about the pandemic, or just want a break from people, look into out-of-the-way destinations that have 100% of the beauty with only 50% of the crowds.

3. Traffic, traffic, and more traffic

Owing to their strict health measures and consistent air circulation, air travel is a fairly safe option… But many don’t feel ready to hop on a flight just yet.

Driving makes financial, logistical, and safety sense – by sharing a car with your family, you’re sharing your space with those who you have already come into contact with, therefore aiding in social distancing. While airports and airlines are doing what they can to lessen the coronavirus risks, we all know airport queues or Economy seating are far from ideal spots for distancing.

If you’re planning to drive to your location, plan your travel time strategically so you aren’t leaving with the crowds of holidaymakers. Traditionally, these are the worst dates to travel over the holiday season:

  • 13 December: 16 December is a public holiday, and many companies close over the festive season around this period. Be prepared to face the initial big rush if you leave around this date.
  • 20 – 24 December: The days leading up to Christmas are some of the most congested on SA’s roads, as everyone is trying to reach their destination in time for the festivities to begin.
  • 30 December – 2 January: Depending on which way you’re going and when, you could run into people rushing towards their New Year’s Eve celebration or back home from their New Years Eve celebration. Either way, it’s packed!

So, what’s the solution? Set off as early as possible, try travel on a Sunday, and try plan your holiday for either before or after the December rush. The 25th and 26th of December are some of the quietest travel days, so if you don’t mind traveling on these dates you could be in for a quiet ride.

If you are travelling on the busiest days of the year, go in with a zen state of mind and prepare yourself to queue at toll gates and reach congested petrol stations — nothing will sour your holiday quicker than being impatient, angry, or driving recklessly to reach your destination faster.

4. Things will be weird

If you’re visiting family, be prepared that some people – like grandparents or those with autoimmune disorders – may choose to skip the festivities. Depending on your family, there might be other rules in place like no kissing/hugging, no sharing utensils or food, or family gatherings might be limited to immediate family.

On the other hand, your family may have a more lax attitude to the pandemic than you do – which can also lead to unwelcome tension.

At hotels and lodges, things like breakfast buffets may be off the cards, as may some of the activities they usually offer. To avoid disappointment, it’s best to call ahead and check what their coronavirus measures are.

Wherever you go, it’s likely that you’ll feel the effects of the pandemic. Things that were once normal may feel off – being in a crowded restaurant, beach, or bar may suddenly feel overwhelming. Hugging and kissing family members you haven’t seen in months can feel incredibly strange, especially if you’ve been strict about following social distancing rules.

If you find yourself in such a situation, be gentle on yourself but firm on your boundaries. Wherever you go, and whoever you go with, you have the right to feel like your health and safety are being taken seriously – even if it’s a family member trying to push a taster on you directly from their fork.

Although this festive season will feel different to the ones that came before, it’s ultimately an opportunity to spend time with those you’re closest to and put a rough year behind you.

Go on, enjoy it. You’ve earned it.