As an expat, it's always great seeing family and friends – more so when they come to visit you. And because they are the ones doing the travelling, you're not the one forking out for those notoriously high peak-season air tickets and hotels. That is, if you've not been invited to stay with them. Which could be a blessing in disguise if you are anything like me and value your privacy more than the cost of a hotel.
Or so I thought. I am at the end of a month-long odyssey that included two sets of family members visiting me from the UK and Australia. At the same time.
That smug feeling I had for my "hostie staycation" in the Emirates - and all that money I'd be saving by not travelling - swiftly morphed into horror when I realised that it was going to be a very costly affair. And we were only a few days into it.
If the truth be known, it would have been much easier on my finances if I went to them and braved yet another depressing winter in the UK. Not that I'm complaining (OK, I am a little), but when you think of all the things they want to do - which, invariably, you've already done - the costs start to mount up.
I can't bear to think how much I'm over budget at the moment - and we are only three weeks into January. And yes, I know it's not a great way to kick off the year in these times of austerity.
But as the host, you don't really have much choice, do you? So driving around the block a couple of hundred times while they check out the Burj Khalifa (Dh100 if you book; Dh400 if you don't) on the premise that there's no parking (aka I don't want to pay to see it again) is out of the question. And anyway, they need somebody to take photos of them from the observation deck of the tallest building in the world.
It's a must-see for everybody. But I've crossed it off my bucket list because I've been there, done that. A few times now, as it turns out.
There's desert safaris, Atlantis Aquaventure (Dh250 for one adult; Dh200 for a child just for a day pass), Ferrari World (Dh225 for one adult; Dh165 for a child under 1.5 metres), Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi (at least that is free), trawling malls, shopping at the souq in Dubai and a three-day trip to Muscat (airfares plus hotel and taxis), not to mention more shopping there. I did a lot of driving, too. So my petrol bill tripled in the time they were here.
Then there's all those lunches, buffets and à la carte dinners at hotels. When you have guests in town, it turns out you are eating out pretty much everyday, if not twice a day.
"Let's all try the lobster," my guests chimed in together one evening, perhaps thinking that the most expensive item on the menu would taste different here (it turned out to be imported). "Let's not," I thought. But you're a good sport and don't want to spoil their fun, despite knowing that your budget has taken yet another hit and all that's going up is your weight and cholesterol level, not to mention your blood pressure as you mentally plan your third trip in one day to a cash machine.
After all that eating out, you'd think there would be no need to go to the supermarket to stock up on groceries. But no, because you are trying to be the perfect host you spend an inordinate amount of time dragging yourself through the aisles of LuLu or Spinneys filling up at least two trolleys' worth of groceries because you never know when the hordes, sorry, guests will be hungry, let alone what they like to eat. So you overcompensate - and overpay.
When they finally leave, you shed a few tears and secretly breathe a sigh of relief. You are exhausted after going out everyday and every night. All you crave is a night in, some me time and a serious break from the malls, the shopping, eating out, the Abu Dhabi to Dubai motorway and the spending.
And you know that it's going to take a couple of months for your finances to recover and your bank balance to head back into positive territory. But that's OK. I don't need to go out for quite some time now. And I certainly won't be entertaining any time soon.
It took a while, but my year of austerity has officially begun. And I do have one thing to be thankful for: thatDh387,988 Cavalli Club bill wasn't mine.