Dubai: Travel restrictions have started easing in several countries after more than a year of pandemic-induced safety protocols and related restrictions.
This is why many UAE residents planned short vacations, particularly during the long public holidays, while factoring in costs of mandatory safety protocols to their overall travel budget.
Dubai-based Indian expatriate Malvika Gomes shared her experience of budgeting and planning a five-day vacation for two people to Zanzibar, which is a set of several islands lying off the coast of East Africa south of the Somali sea, with her spouse in June 2021.
Apart from preparing the itinerary, Gomes explained how planning a vacation post-pandemic requires careful attention to details and expenses.
“We had to do the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for COVID-19 twice, once in Dubai before boarding the flight and before departure from Zanzibar. Since we did the PCR test via SEHA (Abu Dhabi Health Services Company) in Dubai, it cost us just Dh65 per person.
“But the PCR test in Zanzibar was more expensive, costing Dh295 per person ($80). Being extra cautious we also bought face shields, masks and gloves spending Dh75 in total.” These alone added almost Dh800 to Gomes’ overall travel budget.
What all expenses do I factor in?
From the duration of the stay, flights and accommodation to food, sightseeing and shopping there are many things to factor in while planning a vacation.
Having planned such short vacations prior to the pandemic to destinations such as Georgia and Thailand, Gomes had accounted for an average of Dh4,000 per person for their holiday in Zanzibar.
“We opted for a Dh2,200 (per person) tour package that included round-trip flights on budget airline flydubai, accommodation for four nights and five days in a four-star resort, airport transfer, breakfast, three guided tours and travel insurance.
“And here I must mention that the travel insurance offered a comprehensive coverage for COVID-19 treatment in case of an emergency during the vacation. Also, even though we opted for a four-star resort it had a beautiful sea view, was clean and not very crowded and offered several services such as sauna, massage and more.”
In addition, there were three big expenses that Gomes had to factor in, including food, additional sightseeing plus transportation and shopping. Although one of the main attractions in Zanzibar, the spice tour was included in the package, Gomes opted for three additional tours that cost Dh1,400 in total.
These included a full-day island tour with activities such as snorkelling; a half-day tour of Prison Island and other main city tours; and dining in a restaurant situated on an otherwise solitary island. Alongside the tours, they had to pay about Dh450 ($120 in total and an average of $30 per trip) on transportation to these venues.
“Being foodies, we spent anywhere between Dh130 ($35) and Dh250 ($70) every time we dined out, including beverages. And we dined out at least eight times during our entire stay. Finally, we spent a total of Dh370 ($100) on shopping local, handmade products such as soaps, perfumes as well as souvenirs.”
Total amount Gomes shelled out on a four days and five nights vacation to Zanzibar:
Some tips to budget for vacations
Tip #1: Economise on airfare - When planning for a vacation independently and not part of any package, opting for slightly longer flights with halts is a good way to economise on the airfare. “When I went to Thailand in 2019, I took a nine-hour flight to Manila and then a two-hour connecting flight to Bangkok. By doing this, I saved significantly on the airfare,” Gomes shared. “Additionally, it is always a good idea to book the flights in advance using Miles and credit card points wherever possible.”
Tip #2: Get the most out of sightseeing - When it comes to sightseeing, Gomes feels it is a good idea to seek recommendations from the locals, although it is more convenient to pre-book activities and experiences online. “We realised that the locals in Zanzibar were able to suggest great options and even places off the beaten track. While Google reviews and videos by travel bloggers on YouTube are also reliable, post-pandemic some of the suggested locations could be temporarily closed.”
Tip #3: Bear in mind destination specific requirements - Since Gomes and her spouse went to Zanzibar, which is located off the coast of East Africa, they had to take the Yellow Fever vaccine before travelling. It is a mandatory once in a lifetime vaccine for people travelling to certain parts of Africa. “The yellow fever vaccine can only be taken at Dubai Health Authority (DHA) approved clinics, and it costs Dh280 per person including consultation and the vaccine shot. This was yet another additional expenditure for us.”
Moreover, post-pandemic a lot of countries have issued specific travel regulations even around COVID-19 vaccination and it is important to keep a track of these international guidelines before planning a vacation.
Have you kept track of pandemic-driven savings?
Having lived in the UAE since 2014, over the past few years Gomes has planned at least one annual vacation along with a minimum of two trips to home in India. On her trips to India, Gomes would spend at least Dh3,500 on flights and gifts. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the last time she went home was in February 2020 which in effect helped her to save approximately Dh7,000.
“Although I saved a substantial amount since there was no option to travel in 2020 and the first half of 2021, I did not put that money aside as fund for future travel. That’s something I should have done, which would have helped us to not touch our monthly savings for the vacation,” she admitted.
From her experience, Gomes recommends creating a separate budget for at least one annual vacation. “By putting aside a minimum of Dh350 per month, it is possible to save over Dh4,000 for an annual vacation that reduces the pressure to shell out a big amount in one go,” she concluded.