When You Live at the Tip of Africa, Everywhere Is Far! How a Dinner Party Led us to Emigrate.

An elegant dinner party was the catalyst that caused us to emigrate.

For years we talked about leaving Cape Town, South Africa, and starting a new life. This was hardly an original thought. Many of our friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and people in our greater social circle had already undertaken the Big Move to Somewhere Else. 

We, however, weren’t quite there yet. With successful business careers, a newly built dream home, two young children, and—most importantly—family and friends, we couldn’t quite take the final step. 

About a year before the fateful dinner party, and knowing how long the relocation process takes, we started taking small steps, mainly research that could just as easily be set aside. 

Hours vanished as we discussed possible destinations. Pro and Con lists grew quickly and were just as quickly tossed in the rubbish bin. 

Regularly, disturbing incidents occurred within the country, but nothing galvanized us into action—until the dinner party. 

The night of the party was no different from any other of the casual suppers or posh parties we had enjoyed in our gated community. It was a small get-together; six people, five of whom we knew very well.

It was around the dessert course when the topic turned to overseas vacations. One guest shared how he was struggling to decide where to go for his next European trip. 

Let me provide context: when you live at the tip of Africa, everywhere is far! The continent from north to south measures 5000 miles (8000km.) For perspective, the USA from the west to east coast is 2000 miles. When South Africans travel overseas, it is far, expensive, and time-consuming. Simply flying the length of the continent, say Cape Town to Cairo, will take you over 11 hours! And, unless you plan to visit Egypt (charming, I’m sure), you still have hours and hours of travel time ahead. 

Anyone wishing to travel needed to set aside both money and time. Trust me, you don’t fly Cape Town to New York or Cape Town to London for a long weekend. 

Back to the dinner party gentleman: he explained that he was unsure about his destination because there were many more choices than opportunities to travel. He went on to say he had “run the numbers”: given the demands of both time and money, he was able to go overseas approximately every four years. He would save up vacation days and cash, then go for a month at a time. Given his age (early forties), he calculated he had about eight trips ahead before he was in his mid-seventies and probably not willing to sit on a plane for the better part of a day. 

Everyone else nodded wisely, but I looked over at my husband, who was looking right back at me.

Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Eight trips? Only eight trips!

When the dinner was over, we walked back across the green to our home and dropped onto a garden bench. As the stars littered the sky, we talked and talked.

When you live at the tip of Africa, everything is far!

One of our great passions is travel. We were both fortunate to have parents who stimulated and nurtured that love. We had made several trips when newly married, but then being in our thirties, we were tied down with young children and work. 

We thought we would resume our long-haul travels when the children were older, but deep down, I think we both knew it would never be at the level we wanted.

Before the weekend was over, we knew we had stumbled on the catalyst. To live the lives we dreamed of, we needed to live north of the Tropic of Cancer. 

Portofino, Italian Riviera.

Of course, it wasn’t only our love of travel that caused us to leave behind everyone we knew and give up everything we had; those hard conversations had been covered ad nauseum in the preceding years, but somehow it became our rallying point. 

We’ve been fortunate to enjoy many trips overseas, and still today, we still run the numbers—but now it has an added urgency; we are older.

We list the things we love to do and then look at how frequently we actually indulge in them. If you love your local Botanical Gardens but only visit them once every few years, you may figure out you have far fewer visits ahead than you assume. 

Running the numbers can be eye-opening, but for us, it still inspires us to pack in all we can. 

The dinner party man will never know he was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but we have never forgotten him. 

Eilean Donan Castle, western Highlands, Scotland.
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8 comments on “When You Live at the Tip of Africa, Everywhere Is Far! How a Dinner Party Led us to Emigrate.
  1. Joanne Nesi says:

    Love this Jane! I never knew how your decision came about and it was great to find out. And so eye opening also. Crunching those numbers are scary but so important to truly plan for what one really wants to do in the years ahead. Thank you for this thought provoking, insightful read! xx

    • Jane Paterson says:

      I’m so happy you enjoyed it. Yes, the number-crunching has helped us quantify exactly how we spend our time.

  2. Martha Megill says:

    This is so interesting. You’ve broadened my horizon/perspective/knowledge just by reading how far everything is when you live in South Africa. I think we have this on a smaller scale in US. Europeans can be in so many countries much more quickly than Americans. It’s great advice, too. The time ahead of me is certainly less than that behind me. Yikes! Now where did I put my bucket list…?!

    • Jane Paterson says:

      Thank you, Martha. Combine your bucket list with actual time available & it will definitely give you the impetus to use every minute thoughtfully.

  3. Bev says:

    Hi Jane. Your perspective and decision here are valued and one that is made by privileged, mainly white South Africans. I too, emigrated north to the US with my family, but the catalyst was being caught in the crime and violence perpetrated by those unfortunates who had streamed into SA, from the north where they lived in poverty, in war-torn countries. It was their only way to survive and when your 2 year old and nanny are locked in a bathroom for hours, whilst these ‘invaders’ ransack your home – an energy arises that wants to overcome!
    So sad so many South Africans are living elsewhere….
    Unfortunately I’ve not been in a position to take trips and that was not my motivation for my info away from my beloved homeland.
    Take care.

    • Jane Paterson says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am so sorry to hear about your ordeal. My blog is a light-hearted angle on a very emotional topic. As I said toward the end, “Of course it wasn’t only our love of travel that caused us to leave behind everyone we knew and give up everything we had…”

  4. Maria Oskwarek says:

    I also was unaware of this factor in your decision to emigrate, but knowing you it makes perfect sense. I think we can resist looking ahead and recognizing our time is finite, but it would be worse to look and wish we had done more of the things we wanted to do. Thanks for the reminder!

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