Expatriates are willing to spend Dh2,500 for a holiday, said one survey, and I thought taking a proper vacation today is much more expensive.
“Look at this deal,” said a friend, showing me an advert that had a picture of a plane taking off. “Take a trip to wonderful ‘Outer Magnolia’ for just Dh1,800, including air travel, three-nights’ hotel stay with breakfast, airport transfer and a guide,” he said.
A Facebook friend who took one such offer, announced it on social media and a map showed a red dotted line — how she would travel from Dubai to her destination.
When I logged in to Facebook the next day, she was already back in Dubai and posting pictures of the travel guide and an enticing blue, empty swimming pool. “Wasn’t that a very short trip?” I asked. She ignored that saying I should visit ‘Tinbuktu’, because the holiday is a bargain and the scenery was well, scenic.
“Travel always introduces us to new cultures,” she said. “But I was dying for a good ‘dosa’ [an Indian snack]. I can never enjoy western foods; there are no spices in them and the portions are too small. Imagine, they use cinnamon in desserts,” she said.
They say that travel broadens your mind, but on my recent trip, which was for both business and leisure, the only thing that was broadened was my waist and the opposite happened to my wallet.
When we leased an apartment in downtown Montreal on Airbnb, it came with all the appliances and a complete kitchen that was ready for cooking.
“Who wants to cook on a holiday,” said my wife, so I went to the nearby grocery and bought pasta (the university student’s saviour) and vegetables for a nice, quiet Italian dinner.
A local Renoir
The vegetables were much bigger than what I am used to buying in the UAE. The red onions were like basketballs and the capsicums and pepper were more lusciously red, yellow and green as if a local Renoir sat and hand-painted each one lovingly.
The groceries came up to $48.75 (Dh135) with both GST and PST, the federal and provincial taxes of Canada included. I quickly whipped out my smartphone that has an app that converts currency.
I was at a loss for words. “For nearly Dh140 I can buy a whole lot more groceries than this back in Dubai,” I told myself.
When I first arrived in the Arab Gulf, buying tomatoes was a heart-wrenching event. It spoilt my appetite after calculating how much I was paying for one tomato in Indian rupees. “No more cooking,” I told myself and subsisted on shawarma and something called broast, which sent my complexion and my gastric juices for a toss and I put on a drooping paunch over my belt.
“Your dad’s come all the way to Montreal and he hasn’t tried Poutine,” said my son’s friend. It is sort of a national dish and is a mashup of French fries, fried curds, topped with brown gravy and various meats. After eating that, everyone forgot about cooking at home.
When my son saw that I was groaning every time I took out my debit card, he downloaded an app for me that kept track of expenses. It was easy and fun to use and I found punching in the numbers was so fascinating that I forgot that we had long ago shot way beyond our budget.
The holiday travel survey said people are more cheap today in spending for non-essentials. “Next summer let’s spend our holidays in Dubai,” I said and immediately took my words back as the humidity rose to 59 per cent.
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ mahmood_saberi.