Escape to a paradise holiday at home! Set up the hammock, get the barbecue warmed up – and then go on safari (with a little help from virtual reality)
The summer holidays have begun in earnest, along with never-ending traffic jams, cattle-class flights, tatty hotels and bad food. Here, The Mail on Sunday looks at the holiday alternative – a fabulous low-cost home break which does not even involve stepping out of the front door.
Relax – with a garden hammock
The British summer may be brief but when the sun is out there is no better place to relax than out in the back garden.
A deck chair used to be the way to lap up the rays but these days people are turning to hammocks. Not having palms tree to hitch the hanging bed on to is no longer an excuse.
Hammock time: The Mail on Sunday looks at the holiday alternative – a fabulous low-cost home break which does not even involve stepping out of the front door
Hammocks cost from £30 to more than £300 and come in a wide range of colours and sizes. You can also get bars fitted to keep the hammock open like a bed if you do not want it to cocoon you.
Single or double props can be bought from about £150 to tie the ends to if you do not have a sufficiently robust tree in the garden.
Even the weather need not be a deterrent as there are plenty of fabrics that allow your hammock to stay outside come rain or shine. Scott Woodhead, owner of Simply Hammocks, says: ‘Those who buy a hammock rarely regret it and if a neighbour sees you lying on one in the garden they often want one too.’
He says the gentle swaying nature and curves aid relaxation, encouraging users to lie back and enjoy a good read with a drink.
Given the space hammocks take up in a showroom, most are sold over the internet. Traders include Simply Hammocks, The Hammock Store, Wayfair and Hen & Hammock.
You can even make one yourself. Websites such as wikiHow and Ray Mears Bushcraft offer both inspiration and guidance. All you need to do is buy the strong fabric and rope.
For those uncomfortable with the idea of struggling into and out of a hammock, you might instead prefer to build a garden bench. You can buy a bench and table for less than £50 from Wickes. It also offers guidance on how to construct it.
Feast on an exotic barbecue
Fabulous foreign food in a far-flung destination may seem appealing, but you can enjoy an equally mouth-watering experience in the garden by cooking on a barbecue.
With a barbecue you avoid the big restaurant bills that often mar your holiday and your credit card statement when you return.
Toby Shea is president of the British BBQ Society. He says a budget of less than £100 will get you barbecue fit. The real skill, he says, is how you do the cooking.
Burger king: Toby Shea, a father of five from Shalford in Surrey and the president of the British BBQ Society, says £100 will get you barbecue fit
Toby, a father of five from Shalford in Surrey, explains: ‘The secret is not to get worked up but to relax and go with the flow – ideally with a drink in your hand. You must enjoy the experience. There is nothing wrong with burgers and hot dogs but with a little imagination you can make some fabulous exotic dishes as good as any in the world.’
The 42-year-old adds: ‘The big mistake people make is putting meat on flames. They end up with a black and burnt outside but with the meat inside still raw.’
Toby says you should wait until the charcoal has turned white – and the flames have died down – before putting on any meat. A £20 investment in a digital thermometer will assist in ensuring any food is properly cooked before being served up.
He suggests barbecue enthusiasts should try cooking beef brisket, pork shoulders and prawns, while experimenting with homemade salads and sauces. The British BBQ Society offers menu tips and advice – with real time help on its Facebook forum.
A £5 disposable barbecue is a false economy as these can heat up too quickly. Toby believes you should buy a barbecue that includes a lid so that food can be cooked as if in an oven. The Weber Smokey Joe can be bought from just £60 while a ceramic barbecue costs from £200 at discount trader Costco.
Simon Dyer, 54, from Tickenham in Somerset, is a former winner of TV show BBQ Champ. He says you can make a great barbecue yourself from junk. All that is required is a 45-gallon metal barrel and a washing machine drum which acts as a fire basket. He shows how to make a barbecue as well as providing cooking tips – including Argentinian outdoor ‘asado’ techniques – on a series of YouTube video clips.
Those bitten by the barbecue bug can invest the price of a holiday abroad with equipment such as a Primo Ceramic Grill or Big Green Egg.These are ceramic charcoal cookers and cost about £1,000 each. Toby Shea says: ‘You may prefer to use a gas cooker but if you go down this route buy something with two hobs to give you better control over your cooking.’
Get away into a virtual reality
Thanks to computer-generated virtual reality software it is now possible to share in overseas adventures while sitting at home.
Wearing a high-tech headset, a user is able to feel part of a three-dimensional movie clip – and when they turn their head enjoy a 360-degree view. A headset costs anything from £5 to more than £100. Videos are downloaded on to a smart phone for free and then clipped to the futuristic goggles. You can do almost anything and be anywhere in the world – walk with penguins in the Antarctic, go on a safari in Africa or relax on an isolated beach in the Caribbean.
Harry Engels is head of marketing at London-based virtual reality production firm Visualise, which makes interactive videos for travel companies such as Thomas Cook.
He says: ‘Technology is catching up with imagination. You can now feel you are on holiday while still being at home. Some experts believe this technology could overtake TV in the next decade.’
The main players in this fledgling market are Samsung, Facebook and Google – though Apple is expected to join the race by the end of the year.
A Samsung Gear VR headset will cost £120 while a Google Cardboard headset costs £6. Facebook offers an Oculus Rift mask with a built-in console targeted at computer game fans for £480.
When it comes to having a virtual reality vacation, most users only take a fantasy break for perhaps ten minutes – as wearing a headset longer can become uncomfortable.
Thanks to computer-generated virtual reality software it is now possible to share in overseas adventures while sitting at home
Energetic experiences such as going on a rollercoaster can make some users nauseous. Another future viewing option is ‘augmented reality’. This could add imaginary extras to what you might usually be looking at in a garden – perhaps a countryside view or swimming pool.
Another London-based virtual reality firm Mesmerise enables stay-at-home holidaymakers to enjoy exciting activities such as skiing, sailing and driving a supercar without getting up from the sofa. It is also possible to get virtual reality firms to build scenes and storylines that you would like to enjoy on a staycation.
But this might cost at least £10,000 – far more than taking a real luxury holiday.
Enjoy a garden camping adventure
Sleeping under canvas can be fun for the family – and pitching up in the garden is free.
But if you are struggling for space in your own back yard and do not mind travelling, websites such as Camp In My Garden can help you find someone who is prepared to let you pitch your tent in their garden for less than £10.
Travel blogger Monica Stott, 29, from Wrexham in North Wales, enjoys camping in her garden with partner Matt Shannon, and their two children George, two, and eight-month-old Joseph.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club member says: ‘We have a small house but a big garden. We put up a six-man tent for friends to stay in when they visited us earlier this summer.
‘We could not be bothered to take it down and then started to use it as a special family holiday retreat.’
Travel blogger Monica Stott, 29, from Wrexham in North Wales, enjoys camping in her garden with partner Matt Shannon, and their two children George, two, and eight-month-old Joseph
Monica decked out the interior with inflatable mattresses, duvets, blankets, pillows and cushions to give it a degree of luxury.
A toy box was also kept under the canvas to keep the children entertained while solar- powered lights were put around the garden to create a magic night feel.
Monica says: ‘Young children are quick to realise that being outside does not involve watching TV or playing on hand-held computer devices. It enables them to play more creatively.’
To add to the appeal of camping, she organises outdoor games for the children, furnishes them with a magnifying glass for studying wildlife, prepares picnic treats and has a campfire.
For those that do not have a tent or are put off erecting one, a simple pop-up tent requires no skill to assemble and costs from £30.
Alternatively, you might ask family or friends if you can borrow their tent. Most tents spend far too much time stored away.
For those concerned about comfort, an airbed is a shrewd investment, costing from £10. You can also use duvets rather than sleeping bags if you are camping in the garden – and there is no need to worry about the weather or communal toilets as you can always pop back inside the family home.