Can our Australian hearts lie in a different country? ...plus my cheap Fiji travel tips
In our life, we've been very fortunate to have had opportunities to live and work in Fiji - one of the best tropical locations in the world. We've also made our own opportunities to allow us to do this. As I type this post, whilst physically located in Australia, the bible verse keeps ringing in my mind:
"For everything there is a season,
And a time for every purpose under Heaven"
Our season at the moment is living and working in Australia (at least until I head over in May to shove some love and energy into my business). We are like any other family of this time and age - living frugally and working to keep our heads above water. I'm not complaining about this though because I know three things for sure:
1) We aren't alone. Money is a big issue for many Australian families, as it is for families across the globe;
2) We were blessed to be born in a country where if we need money, we can go out and earn it; and
3) The situation we are in now, is based entirely on the choices we've made; and
4) Travel is not as cheap and easy as most "wanderlust" instagram accounts tell us (want the reality of Fiji look at mine!)
In the fourteen years and nine months of being married (hello 15 year anniversary coming up!) we've definitely made some bad choices with money, with houses, with businesses and with jobs. We've had ups and downs, as does everyone.
The reason we ended up on the Gold Coast was because we went through a bad situation with a job in Fiji, and when my Hubby was offered a job on the Gold Coast, we took that opportunity. At the time, it felt like our sky was crashing in on us, and we couldn't see clearly with so much going on. In hindsight (isn't that a marvellous thing!) would we have done the same thing? Made the same choices? I don't know.
We've not 'gelled' with the Gold Coast at all, and I often wish we lived anywhere but. Maybe that's why we don't feel settled enough to leave Fiji behind. Or maybe, just maybe it's because our hearts really do lie there.
It has had me pondering lately, can our Australian hearts lie in allegiance with another country?
Someone recently said to me that Fiji wasn't my home. It felt like they had taken a pole and stabbed it through my heart, made me feel sad, empty, a tad embarrassed - as if to say that I was living a lie. I'm sensitive like that, just ask my Hubby and kids - I can cry at Home and Away! They went on to say that we were Australians, living currently in Queensland, and we should 'get over Fiji'.
I thought about that a bit more, and wondered if I should at least try to 'get over Fiji'. It didn't take me long to think NO..No..no..NO.. No.. no..!
If "home" means the place you feel the most comfortable; the place you need to be; the place where even on the worst days, you know you're going to be okay; the place where friends live - the kind of friends who you can call on to help you in a moment, and the kind that you would turn your life upside down to help... Then Fiji is our home, and our heart. Do we have to be born somewhere to feel that?
I could honestly live in Fiji for the rest of my life and be happy. Just happy. Simply happy.
Which brings me full circle and the reason why we are currently living in Australia - unfortunately we, like everyone else in this big beautiful world need to earn cash, need to school our kids, need to stay paddling above the water. I also have some health issues which require me to be here seeking medical attention. So, for us, at this time (in this season) that means living in Oz.
For expats living in Fiji, life isn't as cheap or easy as you would think. For us, my kids have gotten 'over' moving schools as much as we have, so we've promised they can stay where they are for a longer time than usual. This means they've become 'used' to a certain style of schooling. Don't get me wrong, my kids are pretty adaptable - they've had to be (the eldest one has moved schools 15 times) - but as they grow up - I know that young girls need friends, need security of friendships and a certain level of stability. So this is our choice for now. Come May (2 months.. and counting) we will be back in Fiji for another short trip. It doesn't mean that until then our hearts aren't in Fiji.
So, let's get to the original plan for this post, before I got side-tracked in my thoughts via this keyboard.
"Travelling to Fiji on the cheap"... we've done it heaps of times, and most recently was just over a month ago. Come May, we will be back in Fiji for another short trip, so I need to take heed of my own advice. So here are my top tips for travelling to Fiji on a budget.
1) Utelise online booking sites I used Booking.Com for six months prior to this trip. We were meant to be travelling in April 2017, then I had my health scare. We then put it off until August, by which time I was still not well enough. So we made the choice to travel in December. This is when the online booking sites really worked for us. I took advantage of the free cancellation options which many of the accommodation providers offered. My reasoning was that I wanted to make sure we could save enough money (without me working as I wasn't well enough) before committing to paying for the accommodation. And by doing this, I locked all our accommodation in at exceptional early-bird rates. I didn't know our itinerary at this point, so I booked maybe 5 options in various locations - all of which didn't, or weren't going to charge me until 2 days prior to the check in date. We ended up with three amazing options in the Novotel Suva, the Hideaway Resort & Spa and the Tokatoka Nadi.
2) Don't be afraid of 3 Stars
Please don’t be afraid of 3 Star accommodation. I know a lot of travellers to Fiji will book straight into Denerau for it's luxury and ambience. However my friends wanting to travel on a budget, Denerau does not come cheap. Don't get me wrong, Denerau is a great choice if you are a first-time traveller to Fiji because it is a 'safe option' - you know it will be lovely, and it is only 15 minutes from the Airport - you get my drift.
Back to my 3 star spiel - you know it is not going to be luxury, it won't have a 'pillow menu' and it probably won't have a mini-bar. For what it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in affordability. Before booking, check the online reviews for it on a few different platforms (Trip Advisor, Booking.Com, Agoda, even Facebook). There are some real gems which will be a quarter of the price of the big resorts.
And being in Fiji, you can pretty much guarantee the staff in any accommodation provider will be super friendly and smile Big. If you've spent any time on my blog, you will be starting to understand how friendly, lovable and kind Fijians are.
Be honest with yourself as well - how much time are you going to spend in a hotel room when there is a brand new country to explore, and a nice, cool pool to swim in?
3) Budget for the kitchen sink
Budget for everything, including, like we say in Australia, the kitchen sink. Food, transport, souvenirs, tours, and put some aside for anything that may pop up, like washing your clothes. I know this is not that easy for the first time traveller to Fiji and we've got the advantage of knowing the ins and outs of Fiji life.
For our recent trip I was able to budget down to the dollar for everything. For example, I knew in Nadi we’d need around $20Fjd a day for taxis, given the location of our accommodation in relation to town; whereas in Suva, we would need a bit more per day as we planned to go to certain areas each day. So in Suva, I budgeted $40fjd per day on transport. We also set a food budget each day, and no matter what, we just won’t go over it. We deliberately got breakfast included in our accommodation rate at each hotel, so we made sure to eat big each morning, and we wouldn't need to eat until dinner time.
In both Nadi and Suva, we ate dinner in local restaurants, or had bread and butter (fresh long-loaf bread from Hot Bread in Fiji is amazing, as is Rewa butter - yum!), or a "cup of soup" we bought over with us. Eating locally you will not only save cash, you will help a local family with their income - its a win-win. As an example, we had a roadside BBQ at $6fjd a serve. That meant that particular day our total food spend was $26fjd ($18 dinner, $7 coffee with breakfast free). $26fjd is about $16 AUD. For 4 people, in a foreign country, without a kitchen to cook in.
I kept an eye on our cash each day as well, so I knew I wasn't going over our budget. We came home with money to spare - yay! I know people say you shouldn't go on holidays to be 'thrifty', but for us, we wanted to spend time in the place we love most, so it was easy for us. And let's be honest, can you even remember what you ate every day of the last holiday you took? I remember the experiences more.
4) Don't over pack
We are still learning this. On our most recent trip to Fiji, I had pre-purchased two extra bags from Virgin Australia at $55 each bag, one way. I did this because (a) last trip our excess baggage cost us way too much; and (b) I had almost 90kg of luggage full of things I was taking to give to friends (clothes, Tupperware, footy boots, food - you name it we took it!).
You can save some serious cash by packing lightly, or pre-purchasing your excess baggage. But you can also save by packing lightly as your luggage may affect your other travel plans. We ended up having to hire a bigger 4WD whose rate was $250fjd per day (to fit the luggage in) as opposed to spending $140fjd per day on a smaller sedan which we normally would have hired. I was lucky as we had a 'friend' who knew a 'friend' so our rate for the 4WD was discounted significantly. However that was probably a once-off, a very lucky once-off. So next time, we will be luggage-culling before we fly.
4) Be savvy with your souvenirs
We all get caught up in the moment, especially the holiday moment when life feels amazing, and relaxed. But before you buy that brightly coloured skirt and top, which looks fabulous in Fiji, but you work in Sydney CBD - Ask yourself if you need it?
Grab one or two small things as a momento, then walk away from the expensive gift shops.
Instead head to the local village and ask if any of the ladies make shell necklaces you can purchase. Better still, buy a bag of flour, some tea, some sugar and milk and take it into the village and sit and chat with the families there - take memories as your souvenirs.
Every time we leave Fiji, we leave a piece of our hearts there. To the person who questioned me over my allegiance to Fiji - being here now doesn't mean our hearts don't lie there. Mind your own business Girl.
I could write a blog about living on the Gold Coast (the tourist mecca of Australia - I would likely get more hits/comments/shares than"Expat in Fiji" does). However, why would I when I am not passionate about this place - I am passionate about Fiji. I love Fiji. I love it's people.
Thankfully we will be back there again in in a couple of months.
Until then, loving you Fiji XX
PS. Have you left your heart in a country where you weren't born? Please share with me... I would love to hear your story.
Hello, it's SJ here - thank you for reading to the end of this blog post. If you enjoyed it, would you consider leaving me a comment below, or sharing it by pressing the Facebook button below. You can also email me directly if you prefer by clicking Here. There is nothing I love more than reading your thoughts about my posts.
Have a lovely day or night, take care, SJ xx