by Pamela Maringa

It is often said that, one of the most effective ways to help disconnect and clear your mind is by going on a holiday.

South Africa is a beautiful country, with many tourist attractions. You can have some once-in-a-life-time experiences at the Kruger National Park – seeing many animals in their natural habitats, as well as the possibility of seeing Africa’s big five. The Drakensberg Mountains and all the incredible surrounding landscapes, offer beautiful hikes. You can watch the Atlantic Ocean meet with the Indian Ocean at Cape Agulhas. You can visit Soweto, South Africa’s largest township with all of its anti-apartheid historical sites and activities. We have many different cultures, five star restaurants, and various opportunities for adventure.

It has always been my dream to travel. When I was young my holidays were travelling between Gauteng and Limpopo. I only went to other provinces when there was a need, maybe a funeral or a school trip. So when I started working, I saved up some money for my first holiday. I wanted to start exploring my own country first and appreciate what we have here before exploring other countries.

My birthday is in December and my friend and I have always celebrated each other’s birthdays together. This year we’ve been looking for affordable places to go – without breaking the bank. We decided that we are going to a game lodge in North West province. We both love animals and nature and we would have the opportunity to see them for the first time.

During our research we found that accommodation in a lodge is very expensive. For people to get discounts, they travel in groups. It appears that accommodation is often less expensive in other countries than in South Africa.

A few months ago Tourism Minister, Tokozile Xasa, launched a campaign called “Sustainable Tourism – a tool for Development”. Xasa stressed the importance of domestic tourism to help strengthen the sector. She said that not enough South Africans are exploring the holiday destinations in their own country.

The truth is, we would like to travel more but our economic situations don’t allow for much luxury, so we have no choice but to stay at home. In South Africa we find that there are many people who survive on less than the proposed national minimum wage of R3, 500. There is also a growing number of people who are unemployed. I earn above the minimum wage, but I am still pained by the cost of living. I don’t understand why South Africans have to pay the same prices as foreign tourists.

However, as much as we would like to blame it on finances, I also found that money is not always the problem. Sometimes we don’t have to travel to the next province. We just have to take some time out to get to know the places that we live in. We have the privilege to see many amazing places without having to leave our comfort zone. I realized how ignorant I have been when I passed by Vilakazi Street in Soweto the other day. I didn’t know the place and the old Mandela house. I stay in Soweto and I had never set foot in that place. In some ways tourists know our country better than we do.

In South Africa, there should be realistic holiday packages to suit the average South African’s budget. How does one go on a holiday when just putting food on the table is a challenge? For now a cheaper, yet still fulfilling way of exploring our country, is paying attention to the places around us.

Our townships and cities have many beautiful tourist attractions and much history. If a tourist were to ask me about my province, what would I tell them? How much do I know about my immediate surroundings? How will I explain the Orlando Towers in Soweto to tourists if I don’t know anything about them?

This holiday season, I challenge you: Don’t just sit at home. Make the effort, do the research, explore your close surroundings, and save some money.