Bill Ralston: Get your cheap skates on

by The Listener / 22 July, 2014
Planning a trip? Don’t leave town till you’ve been fleeced by the country.
Cartoon by Steve Bolton.
Cartoon by Steve Bolton.

Having seen an annoying John Key pre-golf game selfie taken through the open roof of his convertible in Hawaii and then heard David Cunliffe had taken a mid-winter break, my first thought was: where is mine? Why am I sitting here in freezing, wet, blustery Auckland when I could be somewhere warm and idyllic, cocktail and cigar in my hand?

An old friend then popped over to brief us about his planned five-week holiday in the splendour of Italy’s Amalfi Coast in September. He kindly insisted on firing up the computer so we could see the beautifully presented villas and apartments he had rented in ancient towns that crowded the hillsides, overlooking sky-blue harbours.

Now, my friend is a very hard-working bloke. He even intends to do some work while on the trip, and he definitely deserves a long mid-winter break. Yet the question came back: where is mine? Why aren’t I jetting off somewhere nice?

Money. Ah yes, it always comes back to cash. “The amazing thing is,” said the man who was rapidly on his way to being a former friend, “I’ve funded it almost entirely out of the money I’ve saved by stopping smoking and cutting back on alcohol.”

When the former friend finally left, my wife told me that another mate of ours is taking off next week for a 10-day holiday. “Oh God! Where? The bloody Riveria?” No, she and her sister are taking a Thelma and Louise tour of Central Otago, complete with a luxury hotel in Queenstown, vineyards, restaurants and cosy country pubs. I sighed that at least it would be cheaper. Hang on! No, it’s not.

I checked on the computer. The airfares were astronomical, the car hire fees cost an arm and a leg and the hotel they were spending their first nights in cost three times the price of the smart Amalfi apartment with the white houses leading down the cliff to the sky-blue harbour.

The computer was still going, so I checked discount international flights and discovered it’s actually cheaper to leave the country if you’re taking a break. The Pacific and Australia cost less than going to the South Island and, if you’re into islands, there was a fare to Bali that beat the full-price ticket to Christchurch. Boy, that’s a tough choice: take a few days off in a tropical paradise or the nuclear wasteland of the Christchurch CBD? A hard call.

To pay for a trip you could simply increase the mortgage, take the money and be sitting on a lounger in Bali or the Amalfi Coast before you knew it. Another globetrotting friend of ours recently lost his job. He took the redundancy money and paid off his mortgage. He then took out a smaller mortgage and used the cash and his airpoints to trot off for six weeks in America and Europe. It was a mind-bogglingly audacious plan and it worked. Although I note he did have to return to working six months or so after his return.

If money, then, is not so much of a problem, the second factor standing in the way of a short vacation is bloody work, that annoying thing most of us do to pay taxes so that other people don’t have to work. If, like me, you work for yourself, the small drawback to taking leave is you also take leave of income. The only way around that difficulty is to work like crazy before taking any time off so as to build up a stash of cash to cover the shortfall. You’re then so exhausted you don’t feel like going anywhere.

I could become a travel writer to pay for it but most of my stories would simply read: got up, lay on beach, had vodka and cigar, repeated the process for the next seven days.

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