Key Takeaways From Our 2-Month US Journey

What did we learn as South Africans travelling throughout the US for 2 months? Here are our top 3 takeaways for South Africans who value travelling abroad and want to do more of it.

Key Takeaways

1. Travel is becoming incredibly expensive for South Africans travelling on the Rand.
2. When it comes to travel value, South Africa is hard to surpass.
3. Choose your seasonality wisely.

Travel is becoming incredibly expensive for South Africans travelling on the Rand.

When we returned from our trip we thought to ourselves, “Gosh, it’s good to pay R125 for a pizza instead of R700 (we actually paid this for a pizza in Lake Tahoe) and R100 a bottle of wine instead of R240 per glass. 😅

It may sound a bit extreme, but in most places, this is what things cost in America when converting your dollars back into Rands. The last time we were in the US was almost 10 years ago exactly and the Rand was approximately R12 to the Dollar. It’s now about R19 to the Dollar. That’s more than a 50% currency devaluation in a decade. 

So unless you earn forex, travelling on the Rand is fast making international travel to countries like America crazy expensive. For a short holiday, one can probably just suck it up, but if you intend to travel more frequently or for longer periods of time, it becomes a bit difficult to justify the cost. 

We fortunately saved well over 80% on our accommodation through the Pangolin Club so that made a massive impact on our overall experience (which was extraordinary). With the general cost of living in the US 2-3 times more than it is in South Africa, we could argue that this made all the difference.

What can South Africans do about it?

For starters, South Africans should find ways to save on accommodation. Significantly reducing this line item frees up the budget for experiences, shopping and dining to maximise enjoyment.

The Pangolin Club is helping its owners save up to 80% on International travel without compromising on quality and location. For example, we stayed in a 3-bedroom golf villa in Austin, Texas, a luxury 2-bedroom apartment in Lake Tahoe, California and another 2-bedroom suite in a 5-star hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada – to name a few. Follow our page on Instagram to see more about our US trip.  

Remember that things have become more pricey after COVID-19 and spoiling yourself and loved ones comes easy when on holiday. So, you’ll likely spend more than what you planned to budget. So whatever you think the trip is going to cost you, add 25%-50% to your budget.

Because we were saving so much on accommodation, we thought we’d be able to live in the US for roughly the same as what it cost us to live in South Africa. Wow, were we wrong about this! 

Also remember that in America, taxes and tips are not included in the price. Tipping for customer service (waiters, bellmen, or basically for anything that someone does for you) is at least 15% but often 20% (some establishments suggest 25%). So on your dinner out you can expect to pay roughly 30% on top of the prices you see on the menu.

When it comes to travel value, South Africa is hard to surpass.

Because South Africa is so much cheaper than most places people are drawn to travel around the world, it puts into perspective just how much value we have to offer. 

We had a few gaps between the destinations booked with the Pangolin Club and popped into a place called Helen in Georgia along the route. It’s an eccentric German-inspired alpine town with a river that runs through the centre, so we thought it would be fun. We only spent 1 night there which cost us $300 (about R5,700) for a super basic motel room. In South Africa, R5,700 per night, perhaps with the exclusion of peak season, can get you a modern 4 bedroom free-standing villa in a resort estate with all the bells and whistles. Like this.

That’s perspective!

Let's talk about food

American food simply doesn’t compare to South Africa’s broad and incredible cuisine options. We found that it’s not only full of sugar but often lacked the wholesome flavours we’re used to in SA. There are only so many burgers and fries you can eat before you start to feel pretty gross. 

My wife is a bit of a health nut (also 3 months pregnant at the time and yes this was planned before we left SA) so we actively sought out healthier options. They are very much there but the cost is exorbitant and you often have to drive into the suburbs to find the really decent spots. When you find them though, they often deliver (at a cost of course). 

This health smoothie cost R350. 😅

Fun.

(We also have biltong. So – enough said).

Let's talk about people.

When you experience different nationalities around the world, it makes you realise just how vibrant South African people are. Yes, we have our challenges but South Africans, for the most part, are a great bunch to be around.

Let's talk about cleaning.

The reality is that services like cleaning, cost Americans a fortune and this cost extends to guests. A holiday letting agency we met in Park City pays cleaning services $44 per hour (about R840 per hour) to put that into context. Accommodation rates are therefore much higher and often cleaning is not included during your stay. Whereas in South Africa, it’s fairly common that cleaning is not only included in the rate, but comes in almost daily. 

For all the Airbnbs we booked between Pangolin Club stays, we actually paid a cleaning fee over and above the accommodation costs. This cleaning fee was not for daily cleaning, but rather to cover the check-in/check-out clean. We were also always asked to strip our beds, wash the dishes or pack the dishwasher and turn it on and take out all the trash on departure from these places.

These things are rarely asked of guests in South Africa.

If you’re booking carefully selected and vetted accommodation like what you’ll find in the Pangolin Collection, basic services like daily/weekly cleaning is included in the rate (varying on the size and location of the property).

Choose your seasonality wisely.

When you choose to travel plays a big role in the experience you ultimately have. So choosing your seasonality correctly is paramount. Summer in Lake Tahoe for example, becomes a sunny retreat focused on water sports and chilling on ‘beaches’ jotted around the lake. Very different to the manic winter ski season. Costs, weather, available activities and the size of the crowds also vary based on the season. 

To get more granular, choosing the right days of the week also plays a big factor. For example, we enjoy Las Vegas the most during the week as opposed to weekends when it’s much busier. You may want to be there on a weekend like we did to catch a big sports game but outside of that, almost anything you can experience on a weekend, happens in the week too and almost everything is cheaper during the week. Random fact – visitors to Las Vegas have now exceeded 50 million people per year. That’s almost 1 million visitors to Vegas every single week – pretty mind blowing. 

The best thing you can do is get the help of professionals who know this stuff. Someone who can understand what it is you’re looking for and use their knowledge to help curate the right trip for you. 

This is a big part of what the Pangolin Club offers to its owners. You can find out more here.  

Final thoughts.

There’s a quote that says, “Travel is not a reward for working but an education for living”. And we’ve got lessons in SPADES.  

As this trip was a proof-of-concept tour for the Pangolin Club and a work trip for our core rental management business, we made great connections and have learned so much about the property market in various American states. We also got to explore a bunch of new places that delighted us in so many ways – as travel does. It made us grateful for the amazing lifestyle we have in South Africa and at the same time awakened us to the importance of diversification in foreign assets from a wealth perspective. These are lessons we would never have learned if we didn’t venture across borders.

It was a good reminder that travel is a necessity for personal and professional expansion. 

It also proved exactly what’s possible for owners of the Pangolin Club and how it can put you in the places you need to be to experience a life you have always dreamt of. 

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