This Welsh ‘summer camp’ feels like the best of both Going 'On Holiday'

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This Welsh ‘summer camp’ feels like the best of both Going 'On Holiday'

With the holidays upon us, families everywhere are struggling to make plans appropriate for the pandemic. How do we celebrate when we can’t be together as usual? How do we resolve differences of opinion about what is safe? How do we deal with more disappointment and frustration — and help our kids do the same?

We can’t tell you what the right (or safe) choices are for your family, but here are some tips to make the best of holidays during the pandemic, whatever your situation. We asked our experts for advice about ways to minimize stress and help everyone in the family feel as good as possible about this unusual holiday season.

Don’t wait to make plans

Think you’re too busy to get away from work? You might be surprised to find that going on vacation – whether a weekend getaway or a weeks-long break – is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Scientific research has discovered what many of us intuitively know – what we really need is some time away from the workplace, wherever in the world we call home. What is it about going “on holiday” that boosts our well-being, relieves stress and helps us live fuller lives?

“We are energy machines. We have to replenish the energy we expend,” says Joe Robinson, the Santa Monica, California-based author of Work to Live and a work/life balance and productivity speaker and trainer. “We crave them psychologically because our brain neurons want two things more than anything else for long-term fulfillment: novelty and challenge. Vacations provide both in spades.”

And studies show they’re good for what (potentially may) ail us. Consider this: the long-running Framingham Heart Study from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University found that men who didn’t take vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks than those who did. The University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center surveyed nearly 1,400 people and discovered that leisure pursuits – which include vacations – “contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression,” not to mention lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.

Researchers even have found that the anticipation of a getaway can be more satisfying than remembering it once you get home. Psychology and neuroscience Professor Dr. Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Marketing Professor Dr. Laurence Ashworth of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, found that because future events are less certain than those in the past, merely looking forward to vacations “may be more arousing than retrospection about those events.”

For example, they write: “Because there are more ways that a future beach holiday might happen – more beaches one might visit, more sunsets one might see, more books one might read – than ways it did happen, people might experience more pleasure during anticipation of, than during retrospection about, beach holidays.”

On Gladstone’s former estate in Flintshire, this small-scale family event combines crafts, music, great food and a relaxed vibe

he sky is an infinite blue without a wisp of cloud as we make our way through a small woodland towards a lake covered with lily pads. Hayden, a musician-turned-lifeguard for the weekend, swats away rogue dragonflies with a Japanese fan as he delivers a very laid-back safety talk. Then we are all allowed to plunge into the lake’s depths where, according to the little people in our party, any number of “dragons may lie”.

“Can we stay here forever,” asks Jemima, my five-year-old, as she clambers out of the water, having avoided the “dragons” by sitting on one of our paddleboards, and stepping on to the wooden deck.

We are at the Good Life Society’s Summer Camp during a heatwave and the emerald lake has become our salvation from the crispy heat.

Inspired by the wholesome vibe of classic American summer camps, this event in the attractive walled garden of the Hawarden Estate in Flintshire, close to the English border, has a relaxed mini-festival vibe.

Words such as “Grow” in neon-graffiti are emblazoned on red brick walls, providing a bright backdrop to the greenhouses and vegetable beds.

on’t come to Wilderness Wood and expect to lounge around in your lovely cabin all weekend. Lounging was certainly at the top of this townie’s list, until I was informed that guests on the 62-acre site in East Sussex are asked to contribute towards the maintenance and understanding of the woodland by joining a woodworking, woodblock printing or carving session, a tree walk or an outdoor qigong lesson.

I had George, my slightly reluctant 14-year-old son, in tow, so the idea of six hours patiently carving a spoon was never going to, erm, cut it. How about chopping logs into firewood with a bloody great axe? That sounded more like it, so we signed up for a 30-minute taster session. Two hours and buckets of sweat later, we had run out of logs. It was brilliant fun – the silent fall of the axe before the satisfying thwack as it meets the wood is at once exhilarating and meditative. (George loved it so much he’d reduced the pile of firewood logs in our cabin to kindling by the end of the weekend.)

People planning to hire a car abroad this summer face having to pay almost 60% more than they did before the coronavirus pandemic.

New figures for six popular destinations show average car rental prices are continuing to rise, with the average cost coming in at about £565 for a week’s hire.

The figures from iCarhireinsurance.com, which provides policies to cover the excesses imposed by hire firms, show that people going to the Dalaman area of Turkey will pay an average of £461 for a week of car hire in the first week of August – more than 50% higher than last year.

Car hire prices soared in 2022 after companies sold off stock during the pandemic as demand collapsed. When business returned after restrictions were lifted, companies found it hard to replace the vehicles owing to a global shortage of semiconductors.

Up and over the mountains to Italian lakes and cities
Heading to Italy overland from the UK suits those looking to relish the journey and give kids a once-in-a-lifetime geography lesson. The most spectacular route is on the Treno Gottardo, a revamped 19th-century railway line that skirts Lake Lucerne and creeps through snow-capped mountains in the Ticino valley between Basel and Locarno, Switzerland’s warmest town, on Lake Maggiore.

Just seven hours from London via Paris, Basel is doable in a day, though the Alsace town of Mulhouse, with its eye-popping street art and ornate central square, makes a good stopover. Once in Locarno, local Italian trains and ferries provide plenty of ways to explore the lakes. Sipping Aperol spritz or scoffing spaghetti on an Italian lakeshore feels worlds away from the UK. Those with more time can make the most of Italy’s great rail service, hopping down to Milan and even Verona or Venice. From Milan, the high-speed Frecciarossa service takes less than seven hours back to Paris.
Rail Europe recommends buying a one-month Interrail pass for this trip, which costs £260 for one adult (children under 11 travel free, there are supplements on Eurostar and some high-speed trains)

When picturing Bulgaria’s 235-mile Black Sea coastline, most people think of the big party resorts such as Sunny Beach and Sozopol. But head further north towards the Romanian border and past the port of Varna, and the coast is less busy side. Until 2016, the town of Kavarna used to throb to the sound of heavy metal every summer during the Kavarna Rock Fest, but it’s now an agreeably laid-back place with a long town beach and a large nature reserve practically on its doorstep. Hike up the cliff to Chirakman to get glorious views of the coast, as well as a look at the ruins of the Byzantine Bison Fortress.

Discussions about this year’s holidays can be painful, but making plans ahead of time will make the days themselves much less stressful. “I think some people are thinking, ‘Let’s play it by ear. We still have plenty of time before Christmas. Let’s see how the COVID numbers look later,’” says Kenya Hameed, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. But, Dr. Hameed advises, it’s better to work with the information we have now and plan accordingly. That gives everyone time to make good decisions and get comfortable with them, especially if they represent a big change in family traditions kids look forward to – like a shopping trip with grandma or a holiday party with friends.

“The more predictability we can create in this uncertain time, the better it is for kids,” notes Grace Berman, LCSW, a social worker. “By making decisions early, you can really help them be prepared for what’s going to happen.” She suggests outlining for kids what Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate is going to look like this year, and then helping them cope ahead with it — work through feelings they might have and come up with strategies to feel better. If you wait until the last minute to figure out plans, kids won’t have time to deal with any confusion or disappointment, which will make the holidays that much more stressful for the whole family.

Discuss rules in advance

And what do you do when a guest who has agreed to a socially distanced visit comes in for the hug anyway? Time to refer to those ground rules. “You can say, ‘Remember, we discussed this, and so as much as I want to hug you right now or as much as I want to be able to see your face without that mask on, I have to ask you to stick to the rules we set,” says Dr. Hameed. It can also be helpful give kids a script to use if someone isn’t respecting the rules: “My mom says I’m not allowed to give you a hug this year but we can wave!”
“Clarity and directness upfront will go a really long way in getting people to follow through,” adds Berman. “We see that with kids, and we see it with adults as well.”

Setting a clear timeline with guests can also boost compliance with rules, especially if guests are going to be drinking alcohol as the gathering does on. Invitations commonly come with a start time but not an end time, notes Dr. Hameed. “So this year, families might want to think about having a time where everyone is expected to leave.

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Start new traditions
If you’re not going to be able to celebrate in the way your family is accustomed to, be proactive and find new activities to make the pandemic holidays special.

“If you’re not able to share a meal with friends and family, it could be an opportunity to share in other ways, like building photo albums for family members,” suggests de Miranda. Maybe you can cook and swap dishes with nearby loved ones or write letters to relatives you’re not able to see in person this year.

Helping your kids think about ways to be kind and generous to others can make this year’s changes easier to handle, says Berman. For example, try letting your child pick a charity your family can give to. “We know that when we’re dealing with difficult emotions ourselves, doing something for someone else can really help us feel better.”

Give kids a voice
When framing this year as special and creating new activities and traditions, says Dr. Hameed, let kids have a role. What would make this feel special to your kids in positive ways, not just in the negative ways that we’re all aware of? What would they like to cook? What games do they want to play? Do they want to set aside time for favorite movies or listen to special music? “Being part of that decision-making process helps offset some of those negative feelings,” Dr. Hameed explains.

“A lot of times, as parents, we are trying to come up with ideas for things for our kids,” adds Berman. “But really, if you just ask your child, they will have ideas, and that voice that you give them is really important and a strong protective factor.”

Remember that all the changes this year can also be a chance to make the holidays more kid-friendly. Maybe everyone dresses up in a costume. Maybe the kids get to try out a messy new recipe or help stuff the turkey, now that the stakes for Thanksgiving dinner aren’t so high. Maybe it’s a big game of hide and seek that everyone — adults included — participates in. “These might just be simple things that you wouldn’t normally do,” says Dr. Hameed, “but they can still make things more fun for the kids.”

Let kids express disappointment
When children are upset about cancelled trips or not seeing cousins, it’s tempting to tell them that it’ll be fine, and that they’ll have just as much fun at home. But it’s important to validate their feelings by hearing them out. “You want to really pause and acknowledge that you’re disappointed, too, and let them know that it’s okay for them to feel disappointed,” says Berman.

It’s also helpful to model coping with that disappointment in a positive way. Talk to your kids about what you’re doing to feel better (like scheduling calls with far-off friends or making a favorite recipe) and help them find their own ways to do the same.

And if kids are upset or angry about your decisions not to participate in a larger family gathering, it’s important to validate those feelings too. Dr. Berman suggests language like: “I understand that you’re mad right now. It’s okay to feel frustrated. We made this decision because we thought it was the best way to stay safe. But it’s okay to feel disappointed and mad.”

That validation can go a long way in bringing down those feelings, and it gives you an opening to calmly explaining your reasoning. “Sometimes kids get upset because we’re making decisions and not really giving them any information,” says Berman. Keeping your kids in the conversation and letting them know that you hear them can help them feel respected even in situations that don’t go the way they want.

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