In just two days we will celebrate the much-awaited Christmas- a day that means different things to different people. To some, it is strictly a religious day to remember the birth of Jesus. To others, it is time to spend time with family.
Yet others see this as a time to take a vacation. Regardless of how we perceive the day, we can all agree it is the perfect time to wind down and make merry.
It is that time when many of us take the “special utensils” out of their hiding place, google new recipes and entertain guests.
Time to rest
Hosting and entertaining guests can drain the fun out of the festive season. First, you spend the days before Christmas cleaning the house, preparing guest rooms or creating room in the existing bedrooms and dusting windows that were long forgotten.
After all, you have to maintain a good image lest you give people something to discuss afterward. Then there is the endless cooking on the material day and a pile of dishes a day later. And this goes on until the new year.
Before you can catch your breath, it’s time to get back to work and you have to wait again until the next festive season to rest.
Alice Kimanthi, a 58-year-old mother of six, says there is a lot of joy in seeing one’s family share a meal on Christmas day. “Most mothers look forward to spending time with their children on this day,” she says. She has been hosting for years and the festive season is one of her favourites. With everyone working or schooling the rest of the year, this season offers an opportunity to bring everyone together and share laughter, while making new memories.
She, however, adds that hosting guests (besides close family members) can also be financially and emotionally draining. “You want everyone to be happy so they do not hold grudges after the festive season. This means you have to go out of your way to entertain them. You also have to dig deep into your pockets to meet their needs,” she says.
And when there are children involved, the situation is more delicate. Children value Christmas and have many expectations.
And after the sun goes down, some of the guests will want to stick around until new year, and that means you have to create room for them in your house.
Every day you host a guest, your utility bills increase. By the time you’re ushering in the new year, you have overspent beyond your festive season budget. Kimanthi says, sometimes it is better to just have an intimate outing or vacation with family only- so that everyone can rest and enjoys their free time.
The festive season is the perfect time to take a staycation. A staycation could mean two things. Taking residence in a hospitality facility near your home or staying in your home while visiting nearby tourist attractions and treating yourself as a tourist.
That means you will not do your daily chores while on staycation, but rather indulge in self-care. In the past two years, staycations have become more popular, not only in Kenya but abroad.
With last year’s travel restrictions, people began to appreciate their local facilities and even the hospitality industry became more appreciative of domestic tourists.
It is interesting how one can live in a neighbourhood or a country all their life and not know much about it.
Muthuri Kinyamu, a destination marketer and the co-founder of Turn-Up travel, says stepping out of your everyday life and visiting places and people can help re-shape our perspective about things and people.
As a child, Kinyamu grew up watching students arrive as guests at their farm, back in Meru and that sparked his desire for travelling and experiencing different places. As an adult, he has travelled widely and seen much.
On staycations, he says they are the perfect getaways for people who want a change of scene. He adds that Kenya’s hospitality industry has transformed immensely and there are now plenty of options.
“With a mix of devolution, and improvement of infrastructure, different locations have grown as tourist destinations. We also have direct flights across various towns, which makes travelling easier. There was a time when a vacation at the Coast, for instance, meant spending time only in Mombasa, but now all the smaller coastal counties are receiving visitors,” explains Kinyamu. Simply put, wherever you are, whether in Lokichar, Marsabit or Kisumu, there are countless options. The rise of Airbnb and short stay vacation rentals have also created staycation opportunities, which are family friendly.
In an Airbnb villa for instance, the family can easily hire a chef, such that no family member will worry about breakfast or dinner.
The family can then go for a swim if a pool is available within the premises, take a hike in the afternoon and visit a nearby tourist attraction later in the evening. Sounds relaxing, right?
But before you start packing your bags and creating an itinerary, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, everyone will be travelling during the festive season, meaning there is a lot of traffic on the road.
It is important to be careful and if possible, book vacation rentals or stick to activities near your place of residence. Second, schools will be closing on December 23, when there will be more traffic.
Third, the flu season is here, and Covid-19 is still with us. Do not engage in activities that risk your health. Lastly, the hospitality industry is experiencing its peak season.
“By now most facilities are at least 80 per cent booked,” says Kinyamu. The demand is high and so are the prices. You may get disappointed when you try to book anything at the last minute. However, this may also be an opportunity to explore the underserved destinations.
You do not have to flock to popular locations. In his sojourns, Kinyamu has explored some unexpected tourist destinations in locations like north eastern Kenya.
Every place has something unique to offer. “I am always guided by the complexity of a place. If you take a case study of Turkana for instance, you realise that all we see and hear about the place is the ravaging drought but once you land there, you find vineyards, irrigation schemes and tourist attractions,” he says. It is important to think outside the box this festive season and look for novel experiences rather than scrambling for the same old destinations.
Research extensively and uncover hidden gems. Perhaps that resort at a walking distance from your home deserves a chance too.
Finally, before you book accommodation, have an itinerary of activities you will engage in during your staycation. You do not want to spend time away from your home, only to watch TV the entire day.
Staycations are all about escaping the norm and indulging in fun experiences. Kinyamu recommends participatory tourism whereby you immerse yourself in a culture or a popular activity enjoyed by the locals.
If you are in Kisumu, go fishing and if you find yourself in Turkana, participate in their cultural festival. If you are in Machakos, enjoy the abundance of the mango season.
Your itinerary should be full of fun activities that help you forget everyday life. Remember, you will be back to your routine life in less than two weeks. Therefore, make good use of your relaxation time. But while filling up your list of activities, pay attention to the individual needs of each family member. Do not schedule a hike if there are toddlers who will demand to be carried almost all the way. The perfect staycation can turn sour if you are not on the same page with everyone.
The ultimate checklist for a staycation
→If you are booking activities or homestays at the last minute, confirm the legitimacy of the deal. There is a lot of fraud in the travel industry.
→If you will be staying at home, clear your to-do list in advance.
→Re-organise your personal space to create a vacation mood. You may add a layer of dark curtain for a proper movie screening environment. Plan your activities beforehand to ensure the day is well spent.
→Pack the right clothing. You can’t go to the mountain in beach attire. Buy protective clothing and shoes to prevent accidents.
→Invest in evacuation cover in case of accidents. This is relatively affordable.
→Carry emergency money. The car might break down and things may cost more than expected. If you are tagging along as a plus-one, it is important to have money in your pocket. Do not assume all bills will be paid for by someone else.
→Vet the people you are travelling with and ensure they are responsible. Travel brings out the other side of people. Disagreements are likely to occur, especially when you’ve pulled resources, as everyone may want to do different things. Find ways to resolve conflict.
Not everyone makes a good travel buddy. The risk appetites sometimes differ. Do not force travel destinations or activities on your family members or friends.
→Take time to understand the group dynamic. In a family setup for instance, people have different personalities. You might have a complainer in the group, those who never want the fun to stop, risk takers and other personalities. Find common ground to avoid conflict.
→If you are taking a staycation in a multi-generational family, factor in the needs of seniors as well as children. Older folk might want to travel shorter distances. If you have a family member who is wheelchair-bound, consider the accessibility of destinations on your bucket list.
→Make arrangements for next year while at this year’s vacation. Establishing traditions prevents last minute confusion.
→Have a budget and manage your finances appropriately. There is life and bills after the festive season.
→Research on the regulations in every destination.
Know when to use a professional for accelerated visas, tests, quarantines.
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