Holidays at home: Embrace our weather, eat chipper chips and buy wetsuits

If you haven’t had a holiday at home in decades, here’s how to get the most out of it

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In the weeks ahead, Irish people will be holidaying at home in greater numbers than at any point since the 1970s when shorts were short and hair was permed. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shutting of borders and the grounding of virtually all flights in and out of Ireland, people with plans to travel overseas have had to look closer to home. With that in mind we thought it might be useful to try and conjure up some useful tips for holidaying at home for those people who might not have done it in decades.

1. Why does it always rain on me?: Irish people tend to be just a little obsessed by the weather. We talk about it with enthusiasm and flair and worry about it endlessly. Who amongst us hasn’t spent hours on a grey summer’s day staring at impenetrable clouds wondering if that is a break in the gloom we can see and a sliver of blue sky far, far away. Bad weather and the fear of it is one of the main reasons we started leaving this country in our droves in the 1980s and 1990s when overseas travel became the norm rather than the exception. But we need to recalibrate our national psyche and change our mindset this year if we are to get the best out of whatever the gods throw at us. We need to be more like the Germans and the French and the Americans who come here and love the weather.

So, don’t waste your holiday and the run-up praying for good weather. Don’t even think about it and just accept that it will be mixed. It won’t be horrendous, there are not that that many days in the summer when it rains non-stop, but nor will it be amazing. Whatever it is you will still be able to make the best of it.

2. Appy talk: Staying with the weather, the days of staring at the sky wondering if the end is nigh for the rain have long since been confined to the dustbin of history. The weather app on your phone will be your friend this summer. It will give you real-time hour by hour information on the weather wherever you are in the country. Treat it like your bible. If it tells you that between 2pm and 4pm, the sun will shine or at least the clouds will part briefly, plan your time at the beach or in the great outdoors around that. If your phone tells you it will be nicer in the morning than in the evening, get up earlier and if it is due to be nicer in the evening than in the morning allowing yourself a lie in. And yes, we do appreciate that this makes it sound very much like we are obsessing about the weather. Old habits and all that.

3. Wet, wet wet: When Pricewatch were a lad, beach days were all about weirdly tight and uncomfortable nylon action mad speedos and luridly coloured windbreakers to shield our sandwiches from the savage bite of the swirling sands. It doesn’t have to be like that and you can have a day of fun at the beach and in the water without wishing you were far away. Will the water be lovely and warm? Probably not. Will you spend hours playing in the sea? Not without getting hypothermia. Is a bracing dip in the wild Atlantic waves a wonderfully invigorating way to spend a bitesize portions of your summer? It absolutely is. And Ireland has come a long way since the 70s. Today we have wet suits. You can pick up cheap ones in supermarkets – we understand that Aldi will be selling them in the weeks ahead – and in dedicated outdoorsy shops. While spending €300 on four for an average sized family may seem like a lot, if they allow you to defy the weather gods and frolic in the waves for hours over the course of a fortnight’s holiday it will be money well spent.

4. Indoor amusements: Before you leave do all the research you need into the indoor fun you can have wherever you are going. While the indoor options are somewhat limited this year for obvious reasons, there are things you will be able to do if you have to deal with a miserable day. There will be museums, libraries and heritage centres to visit. There might even be the odd play centre open too. The trick is to work out your options before you leave home so you can have a few things to hand when you wake up to sheets of rain hammering the roof of your caravan or hotel room. By being a bit organised in the days before you leave you will help you to avoid the “Jaysus, what on earth are we going to do now,” moment.

Don’t waste your holiday and the run-up praying for good weather. Don’t even think about it and just accept that it will be mixed. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
Don’t waste your holiday and the run-up praying for good weather. Don’t even think about it and just accept that it will be mixed. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

5. Play schools: Don’t just pack the car with clothes and beachy stuff. Bring board games, jig saws and playing cards. If you were on holidays overseas you would most likely not be watching the telly of an evening so there is absolutely no reason to do so while on holidays at home. If you have children over eight and have yet to teach them the joys of poker, Blackjack or 25, then now is the time. They will thank you for it when they are older and winning money off their friends at late night poker schools or taking the bank to the cleaners in Vegas.

6. Streams of gold: Okay, so, we know we said that a summer holiday was no time to be watching the television, but that does not mean you have to spend your staycation living like an Amish. Decide on maybe 10 movies that you would be happy to watch over the course of your holiday. Bring a laptop or tablet, hook it up to the TV wherever you are staying and then watch them at your leisure. You might want to download them if you are concerned that the quality of the broadband wherever you end up is not up to scratch. Carefully chosen movies are better than mindlessly watching repeats of Reeling in the Years. And we love Reeling in the years.

7. Make rules: There is absolutely no point in banning children from using their devices while they are on their holiday, particularly if you are not prepared to live under the same rules. But do set limits on how and when devices can be used. And then stick to them. This is good for both adults and for children. Just because you are on holiday at home does not mean that you have to be checking your phone every five minutes or answering work emails. There will be times while you are on leave that you might not feel like you are on leave given the familiarity of the surroundings but your are, so take the time off.

Use the weather app on your phone and plan your day accordingly
Use the weather app on your phone and plan your day accordingly

8. Drive: There was nothing that would fill the child Pricewatch’s heart with dread more than an adult uttering the phrase “Let’s go for a drive”. In this scenario, the adults would sit in the front of the car – usually chain smoking with the window’s rolled up against the rain – while the children would rattle around the back with not so much as a single seat belt between them. It was as foul smelling as it was boring. However, we have it on very good account from a colleague who routinely goes on summer holidays in Ireland that drives are fun things to do with children. “Just never describe it to them as a ‘drive’,” this colleague warned us. “It’s a trip to some alluring destination, a mysterious beach, the best ice cream parlour in the west.” That sounds like a fine idea to us.

9. Eat: Take advantage of where you are by exploring all the best food the region has to offer. It might be something simple like new potatoes or strawberries bought off the side of the road in Wexford or lobster pushed straight from the coastal waters off the coast of Sligo. The key thing is to treat yourself this year and, if you can, spend more than you might while at home. You are on holiday at home but that does not mean you have to shop in Aldi or Lidl. By eating the nicest of food you can find from local suppliers you will not only be rewarding yourself, you will be making life a little bit easier for local retailers and food producers who have been absolutely hammered by the pandemic. And while we are on the topic of food, make picnics and include crisps in every sandwich. It is cheap and it is fun.

Treat yourself this year and, if you can, spend more than you might while at home and be sure taste the local produce like Wexford Strawberries sold at the side of the road
Treat yourself this year and, if you can, spend more than you might while at home and be sure taste the local produce like Wexford Strawberries sold at the side of the road

10. Wear sunblock: The routine for a sun holiday tends to involve lathering everyone in sun cream before the day gets going. But we tend to be a bit more relaxed about it when holidaying at home for obvious reasons. But the sun that burns us when we are on a beach on the Costa Brave is the same sun that can burn us while we are on a beach in Connemara. And we have said this before and we will say it again, there is no need to get hung up on fancy brands of sun cream either. Most supermarkets stock their own creams and oils for a fraction of the price you’ll pay elsewhere and according to consumer magazine Which? – they’re just as good as all the rest.

11. Crosstown traffic: When the sun shines in Ireland many of us will decide to take a spontaneous trip to the beach. That is all fine and dandy until you find yourself watching the day pass you by while you are stuck in traffic. So, no matter what part of the country you find yourself in the weeks ahead, before you race off to the beach, take a moment to look at Google Maps. You won’t be looking for directions – you will probably be able to make your way to the local beaches unaided – but what you are looking for is traffic congestion. The software uses some class of sorcery to establish how bad the traffic is on whatever route you fancy in real time. A 90 second look may save you spending two hours of a rare sunny day stuck in traffic jams swearing at fellow drivers and shouting at your children.

12. The tide is high, or is it?: Oh, and in case you forget – like Pricewatch has done far too often – unlike the Mediterranean, the waters around Ireland are tidal and can be dramatically so. So before you race off to the beach for a bracing dip, check where the water’s edge is likely to be. The Irish Tides and Tidal Ireland apps will be able to help you out.

Don’t forget the board games
Don’t forget the board games

13. Keep it fun: “Are we there yet?” “I’m thirsty.” “I need to go to the toilet.” “Juliette scratched me.” “I can’t find my Elsa doll.” Kids are brilliant but cross-country journeys can be long and trying. If you’re taking a road trip with smallies plan some games in advance so you’re not left thinking up things on the fly. Here are three that might work. There is I Spy (obvs) - top tip: ban things that were outside the car for half a second as you sped along a motorway. Road Trip Bingo is always a winner but it takes prep. Print out bespoke bingo cards and give each player a pencil. When they see something on their card, they scratch it out. The more items you have on the card the less time they have to fight. With I’m Going on a Picnic, the first player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing . . . an apple” or something else that begins with A. The second player repeats what the first person said, but adds something that begins with B. And on it goes. Make the prizes substantial to keep interest levels high.

14. Book smarts: If you can’t think of any games to play or if the level of interest is low, download some audio books and everything will be golden. A David Walliams book read by the author himself or a Harry Potter read by Stephen Fry will see many journeys fly by. If you have older people in a car and want something hilarious to listen to, we couldn’t recommend the books of David Sedaris highly enough.

15. Chipper chips: Do a bit of research and find the best chipper wherever you are going. Chipper chips, bread, butter and a cup of tea is a summer meal sorted. If you are really fancy you can throw in some mushy peas some battered cod and maybe even a pint of stout. You won’t get the like of it anywhere but home.

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