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Alternative Holidays

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Scuba diving - an alternative holiday?
Everybody has a summer holiday,
Doing things they always wanted to.

So sang Cliff Richard back in the 1960s. In the classic film Summer Holiday, he and The Shadows play mechanics who, bored with the daily grind, transform an old double-decker bus and set off across Europe.

Planning a holiday, particularly a madcap adventure can make long cold winters and the daily office grind much more bearable. Instead of heading to the same old campsite in Bognor with the extended family or doing the usual theme parks or hotel resorts, wouldn't it be great to throw caution to the wind and try heli-hiking and sandboarding in Australia? Or cruise Antarctica... Perhaps even locate your inner self in India (through yoga - not Delhi belly!).

What constitutes an alternative holiday is a very personal matter. What are run-of-the-mill trips to some, can be another's out-of-the-ordinary-experience. This especially true when it comes to the modes of transport used.

Camping and Caravanning

Take the caravan. For those who prefer a comfy bed in a hotel, the prospect of camping or caravanning and braving the great outdoors can feel like an endurance test, even a step backwards in holiday evolution.

When my husband first came up with the suggestion of going on a caravan holiday abroad I froze, ugh, remembering my childhood where we would sit for hours on the freezing beaches of Heysham in Morecambe pretending to enjoy it!

The arrival of children usually causes people to change their holiday habits. Taking young kids to hotels can mean enforced early nights for parents, or tired tantrums from little ones the next day, if they accompany Mum and Dad on a night out.

It's worth considering camping or caravanning in Europe, where pitches are larger, facilities usually much better, and the wine cheaper. Sites like Vilanova Parc in Spain allow holidaymakers to rent on-site caravans or large tents (already put up), taking much of the hassle out of the trip. A complimentary bottle of wine is often waiting on the camping table too. Apart from comfort, these European sites allow parents more of a social life, without having to pay for childcare.

The holiday went from strength to strength with us being able to socialise outside in the evening with other parents whilst the kids slept just yards away. Loads of like-minded families and happy, not grumpy kids.

While on the road in France, taking a combination of motorways or 'autoroutes' and back roads allows for some sightseeing along the way, (for instance, visits to local chateaux, beaches and museums) while not dragging out the journey too much. A decent map is a must.

The French roads are superb compared to the potholed, jammed up British ones, and are pretty free of traffic for the most part. There are quite a few tolls on the motorways, so I'd advise you to plan ahead and allocate some toll money in advance.

Life on the road makes mealtimes much cheaper than hotel stays. Exploring local shops and markets, while easier on the wallet than restaurants, can be a great cultural experience, and a chance to practise the language.

In America, caravans are called 'trailers' or 'fifth wheels'. But for long journeys, Americans prefer to travel in campervans or motorhomes. Towing a smaller trailer tent is more convenient for city dwellers escaping for the weekend.

I even knew a guy that had a little pop-up that he could tow behind his motorcycle, though the thought of this always seemed dangerous to me.

Road Trips

Road trips can take many adventurous forms and have been immortalised in books and films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S Thompson, and Easy Rider, starring Jack Nicholson. For car lovers or 'petrolheads' - holidaying with a car club is the way to go.

I drove through Europe with my car club, the Mitsubishi FTOs, in Germany we all got to lap the Nurburgring a few times before heading into Switzerland. We blasted through the stunning alpine scenery and roared through the tunnels before the group split in two. One team went over the Stelvio Pass whilst the other blasted down to Genoa and cruised along the Mediterranean coast. Then both groups met up for a couple of days in Monaco, enjoying the casino and a few laps of the Grand Prix circuit before the run home. We then got to stop at Lake Geneva before racing Bentleys on the motorway back through France.

A road trip like that is special and could be done in any country; in North America you could include the Indianapolis Speedway, Daytona Beach, the Baja 1000 course or motor city Chicago. In Africa you could drive sections of the Paris Dakar course. And in Europe you're spoilt for choice with Ferrari at Maranello, the Fiat test track in Turin, the Le Mans course in France, Hockenheim and the Ring in Germany.

Of course the make of vehicle may not be as important as the places visited. Some road trips can be purely whimsical...

This is possibly a uniquely American thing, but my favourite sort of summer holiday is a meandering road trip with stops at every one of the truly-odd tourist sites we can find. For example, 'The World's Largest Palace Made Entirely of Corn' or 'The Volkswagen-eating Troll Under the Fremont Bridge'. I love a trip like this. For one, you're not dealing with the unrealistic expectations and subsequent let-down that people so often experience on a summer holiday to a big theme park or resort. There's a lot of scope for the imagination, and for silliness, and you can get some amazing pictures to remember it all by. Plus, think of all the tourist-trap keychains you could buy with the money you save!

Big, Slow, Wet Pub Crawl

Hiring a canal boat or 'narrow boat' with friends or family and touring the Norfolk Broads in the UK, or Europe is generally thought of as a relaxing holiday. The pace is leisurely, with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery over a few glasses of wine. Kids and pets can pose problems though, so here are a few useful tips for first timers...

  • Book early, with a small but reputable company; start reading Waterways World magazine, they don't have a website, but DO know what they are talking about.

  • Go for as long as you can. Most people take a week to slow down to life at 4mph maximum, by which time you have to return to 'normality'.

  • Take the route you first imagined you would do, halve it, halve it again and you may have a chance of relaxing rather than fretting. Assume the weather may be against you. Rain you can cope with, wind you can't, 70 feet of steel being blown across a narrow canal with a bridge in front of you is not relaxing; far better to play Scrabble.

  • If your crew consists mainly of large healthy teenagers, choose a route with lots of locks. After doing the Tardebigge flight for instance, all thoughts of sex, drugs and rock & roll will be driven out of their mind. They will simply whimper for cocoa and go to bed. Lovely, then mummy and daddy can go to the pub, which of course is where you moor your boat.

  • If there are no hormone-fuelled strong young things, choose a route with few locks, or risk divorce.

  • Dogs and small children always fall in. Use whatever means necessary to ensure kids wear life-jackets and watch them like hawks when near a lock. If they simply drop off the boat and go splash - no problem so long as they aren't near the propeller. They are best stored at the front where you can wearily hoik them out by the time they drift to the back end.

  • Which is where you will be, steering the beast. It's not difficult and best done whilst mildly drunk, which is no problem. This holiday is one big slow, wet pub crawl.

In Australia, a similar holiday can be taken in a houseboat, motoring around the Great Barrier Reef, admiring glorious tropical sunsets and sipping cool Chardonnay. The pace is still slow, food is ferried in from the mainland and fresh fish, lobsters and rock oysters can be caught daily. Just avoid cyclone season (come between May and September) - and beware the other local wildlife...

Swim in the crystal clear waters, but only at certain times of the year, otherwise the Stingers will kill you rather quickly as will the sharks if you slip over the edge at night.

Unforgettable Places

For some, it's not the journey but the destination that clinches the trip. Visiting far-flung places can involve saving up pennies, extensive research and planning, and this can be half the fun. For others, getting as far away as possible from problems at home is the only way to achieve a perspective and solve things.

After I split up with my ex-partner I made a last minute decision and booked myself on an eight-day horse riding trek on the South Island of New Zealand. It was the farthest-flung (by a long way) and best holiday I've ever had. Fantastic weather, breathtaking scenery, wonderful horses, and riding along every day without seeing another soul. Apart from sheep. There were a lot of sheep. On about the fifth day I suddenly felt a sensation I'd never felt before, and realised it was pure relaxation. I'd go back there in a heartbeat.

Some adventures are so hair-raising they may have been agony at the time but make for hilarious anecdotes afterwards...

This is probably better for a winter holiday. Murree is a hill station in northern Pakistan. High up in the mountains, the journey there alone will make your toes curl, especially if you are in an ancient taxi with a driver who says 'Allah be praised' after every hairpin bend. He kindly explained 'Usually people going up meet a truck coming down and the trucks won't give way, so the taxis go flying to heaven.' I spent Christmas day having a snowball fight, bareback on a white horse with an orange tail (henna!) looking across the Kashmir valley at K2.

Good Old Blighty

Of course, there's plenty to do on your own doorstep that is out of the ordinary and adventurous. The weather might tend towards the grey and soggy in Britain, but it's a beautiful country on a good day and if money is tight, try youth hostelling.

The best holiday I've had in England was a couple of years ago, when my husband and I spent a week in North Wales. We stayed in a small village near Betws-y-Coed, up in the hills, with fantastic scenery, and everyday we explored somewhere new. We went to Snowdon, spent a day in Caernarfon and explored the castle, then went to Harlech to explore the castle there, then over to Anglesey. It was lovely to just take in the fact that there are still some relatively undisturbed corners of Britain.

Learn a Skill

If the prospect of booking flights, finding somewhere to stay and then something to do when you get there just adds to the stress of daily life - how about a holiday where all that pressure is taken off your hands? These days, independent companies like Exodus or Explore offer package holidays with a difference. Gone are the big tour groups and coach trips, and instead you join a small, like-minded bunch and perhaps trek in Morocco, sail around Turkey or even learn a new skill...

One of the best holidays I ever had was an Italian cookery class in Siena. We cooked all morning, then ate the wonderful three-course lunch that we had prepared. That still left plenty of time for sightseeing. There are a huge number of cookery courses available in Italy and France, and I'd strongly recommend them as a relaxing way to get a feel for the country.

Help Out

It could be time to give something back and spend your holiday time volunteering for a charity organisation, learning new skills and making friends in the process...

My best holiday (actually I went three summers running) was with a group of around 30 teenagers, some deaf and some hearing (I'm hearing). I learnt a wealth of communication and inclusion skills, quite a lot of sign language (single words and some song phrases), all about the needs, problems and general facts of belonging to the deaf community... plus made tons of friends, got a boyfriend and had a lot of fun!

Fly Me to the Moon

If money was no object, space travel could be the way forward for the truly adventurous. Imagine following in the footsteps of famous astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and making lunar exploration a new hobby. As it happens, this is more than a pipe dream for a privileged few. Virgin Galactic, established by Richard Branson's Virgin Group are attempting to make space tourism available by the end of the decade.

If I could go anywhere I wanted for a holiday, I would take a trip to the moon. It would be the greatest adventure, a journey to a different world! And I'd like to feel the moon's weightlessness.

Certain wealthy individuals have already rushed to jump the space travel queue, making Virgin Galactic offers of huge sums of money to be first onboard their spaceship.

If money was no object, I'd be booking a trip into outer space. Richard and Judy recently interviewed someone who has actually put down a deposit (just over £100,000) for the first space-tour.

Let the Dice Decide

Taking risks can be good for the soul, and with time on your hands and money in your pocket, who knows where a game of chance could lead...

When I was able to take some time off a while back I packed a rucksack and took a pack of dice with me. I simply let the dice decide every choice for the best part of a month. The rules were simple and loosely based on the Luke Rhinehart book The Diceman.

So if this sounds like your kind of thing, this is what you need to do:

  • Never dice for something that endangers your life.

  • Never dice for something that endangers the life of another person.

  • Never dice for an outcome you are not prepared to accept.

  • Once you have thrown the dice act immediately to fulfil the choice.

There were a couple of other rules that I added along the way as I refined the dicing to suit my journey (like stop before I overran my allotted holiday time). At a junction, odd numbers meant turn left, even turn right. The same for bus stops, stations, pubs and cafes. Odd stop, Even keep going. The only time I allowed the dice to be overridden was in the evening if I might have found myself without a bed for the night by not stopping at a B&B. Although I carried a tent I intended it to only be used if the dice took me to somewhere remote, otherwise I would use hotels or similar.
Everyone should try this at least once, you might be surprised where you end up. You might also make some new friends too. I was accompanied by a girl who was waiting to go to university and wanted to join me. We ended up going out together for a year!

Whatever your choice of holiday, be it adrenalin-fuelled, a cultural whirlwind or relaxing on a spaceship, be sure to document it somehow, either by diary, photos - or even a combination of both, in a blog.

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