x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Getting away from it all at home

The benefits of a 'staycation' in Abu Dhabi.


'Sorry I'm late" has been my catch cry since arriving in the UAE nearly three years ago. I usually blame it on the gridlocked traffic or the wasted hours I spend driving around in circles looking for obscure buildings because there is no formal address system here.

But there's no excuse for being late this time, even if I'd like to think I am fashionably so.

You see, I've just discovered the financial, not to mention the stress-free, advantages of the "staycation", the phenomenon that was born out of economic necessity during the height of the financial crisis.

Admittedly, the staycation has been around for a long time. As a child, I recall watching an odd episode of The Brady Bunch, the American 1970s sitcom that is rolled out to fill empty programming slots every summer, as Mike and Carol, the six kids (remembering their names is akin to naming the seven dwarfs for me these days) and Alice the housekeeper loaded up the faux wood-panelled station wagon and headed off to the Grand Canyon for a week of R&R - and a few predictable mishaps along the way.

But as flights got cheaper and overseas holidays became the norm for the Mr and Mrs Averages of the world, the staycation - or whatever it was called in the not-so-long-ago 20th century - fell out of favour. If I recall correctly, even the Bradys ventured further afield and headed to Hawaii for a week-long special about a year after their financially responsible staycation to the Grand Canyon.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and the staycation is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. In fact, it has become so popular that it has even found a place in the Oxford Dictionary, which defines it as "a holiday spent in one's home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions".

Unfortunately, the Oxford ignored the economic benefits of the staycation in its definition. It's not just our hip pockets that feel the difference, but ailing economies are also being propped up by the demand for local travel. According to the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of British holidaymakers heading overseas last year fell by 15 per cent when compared with 2008, marking the biggest drop in foreign holidays since ONS records started in 1970. From local hotels, to petrol stations to retailers, restaurants and cafes, the benefits are clear when a few million people decide to stay at home for the holidays.

Why I didn't think of this before is inexplicable, especially after our nightmare Christmas holiday last year, when we spent our precious two weeks with family in London and Stockholm.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't family that was the nightmare (and, anyway, they might be reading this), but a series of events outside of our control that left us wishing we'd done nothing more than stay at home, enjoy the gorgeous weather and save our hard-earned money.

The week before we were scheduled to leave, British Airways' (BA) cabin crew decided to go on strike, putting the travel plans of tens of thousands of people - including us - at risk.

After rearranging our flights to leave a week earlier than planned, we arrived in London to the news that the High Court had intervened and there would be no strike after all, at least over Christmas. I have to confess that we don't normally fly BA, but were lured by its cheap flights over the festive season. I guess you get what you pay for, so it's no wonder (I've since learnt) that BA is better known as ABBA - a rather apt acronym for Anything But British Airways.

But the damage was done and the strike threat set the tone for the rest of our holiday. It was cold and miserable and we all came down with the flu; not a good state to be in when you are visiting Stockholm in the middle of winter, where sub-zero temperatures and blizzard-like (at least to us) conditions are a part of everyday life.

This year, we are determined to avoid the freezing weather of Europe - and save some money in the process. It also means that this time of the year is stress-free.

Why? Well, for one, we don't have to hustle for reasonably priced flights - an impossible task during peak travel times, which, these days, is pretty much every week of the year as airlines desperately try to start making money again.

We also don't have to pack and stand in never-ending queues to check in, nor do we have to battle through thousands of people in the arrivals hall of Terminal Four at Heathrow.

We don't have to run around London or Stockholm catching up with friends and spending countless amounts of money on expensive lunches and dinners and hostess presents. And we certainly won't be tempted by the post-Christmas sales in either city.

Instead, our staycation will be a relaxed affair. Thanks to the December expat exodus, we will be able to explore Abu Dhabi and its surroundings in relative ease.

And with all the money we save from our holiday at home, we can splash out on a couple of nights in a good hotel and put money back into the UAE economy at the same time.

There's just one hitch to our plans. Now that we are staying at home for the holidays, our family has suddenly decided that they need to escape wet and dreary London for the UAE, throwing up a whole new ball game when it comes to our budget: entertaining the family on our home turf. But after last year, I guess that is the least we can do.



Felicity Glover is the editor of Personal Finance. Brad Reagan is on holiday and will return next week.