My friends and I had been toying with the idea of going on a friendcation for almost a year but It was only in October 2020 that we decided to be serious about planning one. As 21-year-olds, we were excited to finally plan our own holiday with our own money. We had all been able to save up some money from our allowances and part-time jobs, and lockdown made it easier to save. The friendcation was scheduled to be from late December to early January. We spent the first few “meetings” trying to figure out where we were going to go. International travel was definitely not an option, given the pandemic. So we decided that Mpumalanga was the best option. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my first friendcation:

  1. Start planning early: I learned that it's best to at least give yourselves 6 months to plan the getaway. We had only given ourselves about 2 months, which meant that decisions had to be made quickly and we sometimes didn’t choose the best option. For example, we rushed to secure accommodation but didn't put much thought into the location, so the Airbnb we chose ended up being quite far from most of the activities that we did, which meant lots and lots of driving.
  2. Start saving early: This goes hand-in-hand with planning early, even before we had finalised the budget, I started putting money aside as early as possible.
  3. Hold each other accountable: Even though we all hoped that everyone is saving for the getaway, we should have checked up on each other to ensure we were all still on track. This would have helped avoid a situation where some people weren't able to make it because they didn't save enough. Making use of a Franc account as a group would have saved us from many headaches.
  4. Secure your accommodation first: We were traveling during peak season, so it was important to book our accommodation ASAP, to make sure that we are not left staying in some dodgy B&B or forced to increase our budget to stay in overpriced accommodation.
  5. Book your car at least 2 months ahead: None of us had our own cars so we had to hire one. But we put this off until the last minute so it was difficult to find affordable cars to hire, as it was the festive season. We ended up having to borrow my mother's car, which was not ideal. While we’re on the topic of car hire, do not forget to budget for the deposit.
  6. Overestimate & budget for miscellaneous expenses: Although we mostly stayed on our budget, we quickly realised that there will be random costs that we didn't account for. Like on some nights, we were all too tired to cook so we had to order food. We had traffic fines to pay and spontaneous changes to the itinerary.  These are not things that we had budgeted for. So overestimating and allocating some funds to unplanned expenses is definitely a good idea.
  7. Have more than 1 driver: Even though we were traveling from Johannesburg to Mpumalanga, which is supposed to be a 4-hour drive, we weren't experienced with long-distance driving so it was important to have two drivers. Also, having more than one driver allowed everyone to enjoy the trip and no one felt like the official chauffeur. However this does increase your car hire cost!
  8. Make sure you have enough money put aside for after the getaway: We ended up spending more than we had planned, which meant that we all went back home with very light pockets. Making for a very harsh return to reality as some of us could not even afford data bundles or a new hairstyle to start the year off with.  So I learned that it's important to put aside some money (that you will not touch under any circumstances) for when you return home.
  9. Last but definitely not least, do not always trust Google maps: On our way to one of our activities, we found ourselves driving at 20km/hr through a misty forest on a muddy road with no signal (like something you would see in a horror movie). It took us an hour longer to get to our destination. If only we had heeded the warnings of the locals.

Note to self: sometimes the road less traveled is not best.

Now that international travel is back, I can't wait to apply these lessons to my next trip and I hope that they're helpful for anyone planning their own friendcation.