Don't believe hype about New Year's Eve

On New Year's Eve, as thousands of people across the country were screaming the countdown to 2010, I sat at home alone wasting time on the internet.

Sarah Lazarovic for The National
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On New Year's Eve, as thousands of people across the country were screaming the countdown to 2010, I sat at home alone wasting time on the internet. Then I put down my laptop and read for a while, just as the clock struck midnight. Meanwhile, some merrymakers in a nearby flat started cheering. Part of the reason why I was home alone on New Year's Eve was because I hadn't been invited to spend the evening anywhere else. On any other evening I would not have let this get in my way. I would have gone out on my own, as I have discovered both here and in the UK that there is plenty of fun to be had without company. But I stayed in because New Year's Eve is the worst time of the year to have a night on the town.

Everywhere is packed, you cannot find taxis, and worst of all, prices skyrocket. Venues that never charge entry fees suddenly decide they can ask you for cash just to stroll through the front door, while those that always levy a cover charge decide to double, triple or quadruple it. And for what? So you can spend the evening squashed against a wall, chewing on second-hand smoke? With my wallet firmly shut, I was not too disappointed to be seeing the New Year in at home, with nothing but a cup of tea, my laptop and a book for company. I barely ever go out on the last evening of the year, so this time around was nothing new.

Indeed, in the interest of saving on the pennies, I always do my best to avoid peak times. That meant that rather than going back to England for Christmas, I stayed in the Emirates. Instead, I'll be flying home for a visit later this month. The fares over the festive period are colossal. Expatriates are always puppets that the airlines can play about with. Why does it cost more to fly from the UAE to London and back than from London to the UAE and back? And these differences in fares are even more pronounced at the end of the year.

As a result of my staying in Abu Dhabi over the festive season, I avoided having to make separate visits along with my parents and brother on Christmas Day to my two sisters, who have managed to fall out again. And I saved probably a couple of thousand dirhams on the airfare in the process. My return flight from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, via Bahrain, cost about Dh2,100, which was around half what I saw some airlines charging for late December. And I pretty much always try to avoid the busiest season when going on holiday. You save money and keep away from the crowds (although I have to say a December trip to Hungary, which was freezing, was perhaps taking things too far). There is, however, a particular case where I have been considering making an exception to the off-season rule.

One holiday I have been meaning to do for years, but have never got around to yet, is island-hopping in Greece. And after recently whetting my appetite by spending a few days on mainland Greece, and also watching a soppy Filipino film called For the First Time, which was partly set on the island of Santorini, my keenness to head for the Aegean has only increased. Imagine it: dazzling white buildings perched on cliffs above a sparkling deep blue sea. It certainly looks irresistible in pictures and on celluloid.

So when should I go? Apparently the islands are dead in winter, but of course that means that accommodation is easier to find and prices plummet. Ferries might not be so frequent, but at least you have the place to yourself. In summer, on the other hand, you can enjoy the sun and perhaps laze about on the beach when not sitting in trendy cafés watching the world go by. But you would probably struggle to find a cheap room for less than US$60 (Dh220) a night, which if you go for a couple of weeks adds up to a hefty sum. And summer is when hordes of holidaymakers for some reason feel free to peel off the layers and put all of their imperfections on display for everyone to see. I can already imagine the flabby arms and legs, roasted red by the sun, bouncing up and down as they walk by.

Forget about the cheap accommodation and ferries, the marked down cafe menus and the free-to-enter nightclubs of winter. They don't matter. When compared with the joy of avoiding the summer flab fest, saving a few pennies - or even several hundred dollars - seems unimportant.