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Leona O'Neill: A staycation sounds eerily familiar but let's embrace it and have fun

Few families will be taking the risk inherent in travelling abroad for a holiday this summer, meaning a good old-fashioned staycation is the way to go, writes Leona O'Neill

Something like this could be the nearest your kids get to a pool this summer

ALTHOUGH things are gradually returning to normal the thought of planning ahead is a distant concept for most of us.

At this time of year, summer holidays for some would have been booked and eagerly anticipated, passports organised and the countdowns to the adventure would have been well under way.

If the last year has shown us anything, it's that nothing is certain: planning for holidays, or even for activities next month, never mind the summer, is impossible due to the unpredictability of Covid and how it will impact our movements.

Last week there were some suggestions that holidaymakers from the UK may be allowed back to European holiday destinations over the summer and that some of the most popular nations such as Greece, Spain and Portugal will welcome back tourists.

Everyone loves and appreciates a holiday, but despite a fantastic vaccine roll-out scheme here and virus rates heading in the right direction, will many of us venture abroad again this year?

I’m thinking this year will be a write-off as regards holidays for us. Things are so fluid with the virus I don’t think I would like to take a chance flying anywhere to mix with a lot of people and take the risk that it could become a virus hotspot overnight, face restrictions and even quarantine regulations.

I love my family dearly but the thought of being quarantined in a small hotel room with a big loud Belfast man, two freedom-loving teenagers and two perpetually bored tweens fills me with utter dread. So if we are having a break, we will have one here at home, or a ‘staycation’ as this activity is now called.

Back when we were kids, everyone I knew went on their holidays to Donegal or Sligo or Portrush. There was none of this Italy and Spain stuff. It seemed that only the rich people did that type of thing. The rest of us made do with a wet week in a caravan in Bundoran. We were doing staycations before they were even cool.

We visited every county in Ireland. We camped in forests, we stayed in rental accommodation, we booked into B&Bs and we had experiences that we still laugh about today, decades later.

When we get together at Christmas we still talk about staying in an old cottage in Mayo that sounded lovely in the description but would most definitely have breached the product description rules. It certainly was quiet and secluded; it was simply miles from any kind of civilisation at all and looked totally abandoned and also very haunted. It was something directly out of a horror film.

My mother had to cook stew over a campfire while my father reconnected the electricity. My brother jumped on the bed in the premises, propelling a plume of ancient dust right into my face, triggering an asthma attack. Fun times were had by all.

On another staycation, my brother broke his leg and on another he knocked himself unconscious. My sister managed to lock herself in the bathroom of a shower block for six hours and needed rescue out of a window via a ladder. My other brother cut his foot badly on broken glass and required stitches.

Between asthma attacks, cuts and broken bones, one could be forgiven for thinking that we were some manner of freaks who liked to spend our summer holidays sampling the delights of each county’s accident and emergency departments.

I was chatting to a friend about staycations recently and he recalls a horrendous two weeks spent in a caravan in Sligo watching his family of six fall victim to norovirus, one by one, as biblical rain fell outside. They went absolutely nowhere. He only left the caravan to visit the chemist's for medication. They all went home on average a stone lighter. He hasn't stepped foot in Sligo since.

Everyone has a staycation story. And with very little choice in front of us this summer, I’d say that we will all have a few more by the time next summer rolls around.

I say let’s go forth, embrace the madness, absorb the hilarious, vivid and priceless memories that only staycations can conjure up and shake off the shackles of the last hellish year in style. Wherever you go, enjoy!

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