It’s my first week back in the office after coming back from my first “grown-up” holiday — which I planned myself. Somehow, through all the confusion with my visas, and after almost missing our connecting flight, I made it to England and back home in one piece.
After the initial stress of planning my first holiday (which you can read all about here), I was even more in need of a holiday than before! Luckily, somehow, I didn’t encounter too many issues on my travels, so read more about what I learned below.
Make sure you know your surroundings
My boyfriend, his brother and I set off on holiday on a rainy Cape Town evening in June. When we got to the baggage check-in counter at Cape Town International, we had a slight hiccup with an overweight bag, but luckily we managed to redistribute the weight by repacking some of our clothes and wine we were taking along as gifts.
We were lucky enough to score overnight flights to Heathrow with only a quick changeover in O.R. Thambo, where we decided to grab a quick bite to eat while we wait for our connection. After all, we had more than an hour to kill before our next flight… Or so we thought. About 15 minutes before our flight was supposed to start boarding, we headed off in search of our gate… which just so happened to be right at the other end of the airport. When we eventually got to our boarding gate, we also found out that we had misread the tickets and the flight was supposed to depart at the time we thought was our boarding time! The whole plane had been waiting just for us three for about 10 minutes, and we couldn’t even hide our shame, as we were sitting in the very last row and had to walk past literally everyone on our flight, all of them staring daggers at us. Oops!
Plan for the worst
After a mostly uneventful flight, we finally landed in Heathrow, where I was separated from the others in order to go through border control. While I was waiting in line for the better part of two hours, the guys went on ahead to pick up our luggage where they found out that my boyfriend’s brother’s bag had been lost. He had decided to stay and work in the UK after our holiday, so literally all his worldly possessions were in that bag, along with all of the gifts we brought and some of my and my boyfriend’s clothes.
The airline did eventually find the bag after almost two weeks, and luckily they provide a small stipend to replace essential items while they’re looking for your luggage, but it definitely would have helped to pack some essentials and a change of clothes or two into carry-on luggage!
Do & see as much as you can (but remember to relax as well)
Immediately after we left the airport we started sightseeing, stopping at a castle and some other interesting sights on the way to our accommodation. This pretty much set the mood for the whole holiday. Every day was planned out as much as possible — especially the time we spent in London — in order to get as much as possible done in as little time as possible. It was exhausting, but I’m glad we did it, if I had too much free time spent doing nothing, I would have felt like I was “wasting” time, rather than relaxing.
However, after two jam-packed weeks, we were all a bit exhausted and in need of a break. Luckily the last week of our holiday was spent exploring smaller towns, so we could take it a bit slower and spend more time relaxing.
Don’t get stuck in the tourist traps
We spent a lot of our time, especially when we were in London, embracing our inner embarrassing tourists, going to all the most well-known tourist hotspots and taking pictures of everything. Luckily, we spent time with my boyfriend’s family who live in the areas we were visiting, so we had some insider information on places to visit and things to do that aren’t as touristy. This enabled us to get more of a local feel of the areas we were visiting — and save some money, because as we all know, tourist spots can get quite expensive quite quickly!
Embrace the differences in culture
I didn’t experience much of a culture shock in England, as I spoke the same language as everyone there (even though the Northerners can be a bit difficult to understand). The countryside and cities looked very similar to what I see living in the Western Cape, but there were still some notable differences between SA and the UK.
Most notably, everywhere we went I noticed just how clean everything is. There’s little to no litter on the streets, but weirdly there also aren’t many public bins available. I spent so much time looking for bins while we were out and about, I eventually decided to just keep anything I needed to throw away and take it back home where it could be recycled, composted or thrown away as needed. I was later told that this is exactly why there aren’t that many public bins, as pretty much everyone recycles their own rubbish, and in some areas, they even send their food waste to be turned into biofuel! Most people I know in South Africa recycle, but it’s just a whole different ball game in the UK. The one house we stayed in had eight different bins in their kitchen alone!
Another big difference I noticed, especially in London, was how safe I felt. It might be because it stayed light until around 10 pm, or because I rarely carried cash with me, but I never felt like I needed to clutch my handbag in front of me while walking down a busy street — something which I sadly tend to do back home. I also never felt threatened, even when taking crowded public transport (alone I might add) late at night or early in the morning.
Obviously, there is crime everywhere, and I could just as easily have been mugged in the UK as in Cape Town, but somehow I just felt safer wherever I went. It might have been the police presence, or how friendly everyone we came across was, or it might just be that I was incredibly lucky in my experience.
Remember to buy yourself souvenirs
I vowed to buy souvenirs for all the most important people in my life, so I spent a lot of time shopping around for presents everywhere we went. The only problem is that after I got home and unpacked my bags, I realised that I had presents galore, but almost nothing for myself. I did pick up a few things for myself at the Harry Potter Studio Tour I went on, since I’m a massive Potterhead, but I didn’t really buy anything else just for me! Luckily my boyfriend decided to start collecting magnets from each of our favourite places, so we do have a handful of reminders, but the next time I go on holiday I’ll definitely make a point of shopping more for myself.
All in all, my holiday couldn’t have gone better. Although planning my first trip alone was super stressful and we hit a few bumps along the way, things had a way of working themselves out.
Have you got any tips for when I plan my next holiday? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!