Long Holiday Benefits

Author: Lisa Soeno

Just a quick hello from me this morning before passing you over to my sister in law Mia, who’s telling us all about how you don’t need a year or even a few months to go ‘travelling’: it can be done in the space of just a few weeks. Get writing those emails to your bosses, guys…

We took a longer holiday over Easter. Not quite ‘travelling’ but definitely more than the usual ten days or two weeks. All told we spent nearly four weeks away. I’m personally a bit past long travelling trips as it usually means living in hostels, but since we were going all the way to New Zealand to catch up with my in laws, it made sense to steal a little time in other places. For anyone considering a longer holiday without taking all their leave at once, using unpaid leave or quitting, this is how we have managed it.

We booked our holiday over March / April so it covered both financial years (both our companies tie the annual leave to the financial year) this meant it also covered two bank holidays so two days saved, bonus. Obviously, most companies don’t want you just mooning off for a month at a time, I had to write a fairly ingratiating (creeping) email to my boss before they signed it off. Now, I don’t want to enrage anyone sat in a stuffy office with my out-and-out holiday bragging but below is a short itinerary and travel tips for these areas. (If it helps, we’re now totally skint and won’t be going further than the garden for a good bit).

First week

We landed in the US and headed straight for Yosemite National Park. I have wanted to see this place for a long time and since San Francisco was a layover flight option, it felt like a good chance to extend our layover to form the first part of the holiday. Highly recommend Yosemite if you love the outdoors and a good hike! My best bits were the outstanding views and seeing the giant sequoias in real life. Nothing like being dwarfed by seemingly ageless tree-beings and snow-topped mountains to put my daily problems into perspective. Less fun was being on constant bear watch. It was spring so I was determined not to encounter any grumpy, hungry bears and sang my tuneless heart out whenever we left the populated areas. Ken was initially amused by this but got swiftly tired of it and asked me several times to keep it down (is this what marriages are made of?). Reader, I did not. After Yosemite we drove on through beautiful California, to the completely different environment of Death Valley. Walking on the huge, gritty expanse of the Salt pan that is Badwater Basin was fascinating, the inescapable heat seems to muffle your thoughts even as you boggle at the lifelessness and beautiful silence. This intense landscape is also home to one of my favourite bits, the Artist’s Drive. This is a swooping side road that winds through multicoloured rock formations that manage to blend both alien-smooth and craggy textures. It is nothing short of otherworldly. California is mind boggling in its variety. I understand now why some Americans don’t bother with a passport, who needs one when you have places of this grandeur and scale at home?

Middle bit

We flew out of LA to New Zealand. It’s not our first time here, but it was the first time we have explored Northland on North Island. I had ignorantly thought that anywhere north of Auckland was sort of uninteresting as you tend to hear people mostly praising South Island for its beauty. How wrong I was. The Bay of Islands was one of Captain Cook’s landing points and also where my father in law now lives (lucky him). It is a lush and varied place, green, forested hills connecting valleys and small, filmic towns along the edges of exceptionally pretty coastline. The low period homes and balmy streets feel expensive. In the fading warmth of the afternoons the family parties playing sports on the beaches exuded a preppy healthfulness that made me nostalgic for a Ralph Lauren lifestyle I haven’t actually experienced outside of an advert. Healthy pursuits aside, we both loved the Omata Estate wine tasting in the town of Russell. Self-described as a ’boutique vineyard’ the Kiwi service is typically unstuffy and the wine is almost as breathtaking as the view of the vines which overlook the ocean. If I lived there I would be a regular.

Winding down

After ten nights in New Zealand we said our family goodbyes and headed for the Cook Islands. The flights from Auckland to Raratonga are only four hours (approx) so for New Zealanders, this is a popular holiday destination. We decided to stay three nights in Muri beach and then fly on to Aitutaki for two nights, both on Lisa’s recommendation. The Raratongan culture seems fascinating (from my short acquaintance) and the welcome is warm. Our host at the Hideaway was charismatic and engaging on the topic of her husband’s island pride versus her own. Her attitude and good humour seemed to typify the relaxed confidence of the islands. Contrary to the welcome, the weather did not favour us in Rarotonga but despite the biblical rain we still loved it. It was warm torrential rain which meant that we still walked on the beach and swam throughout it. The only small blip was when a small creek at Muri beach Hideaway burst its banks and we felt the eels swimming between our legs as we waded through it in the pitch black. I had been fortified with some holiday cocktails at this point so I was able to deal with this nightmareish occurrence with surprising calm (one or two shrieks only). The very day we were leaving, the sun burned through and we could see what the place would be like in normal conditions. Wow. If you like rugged volcanic islands, surrounded by turquoise lagoons and coral, the Cook Islands are for you.

Aitutaki, a smaller island, less populated and more my idea of an island getaway, was a short flight away and when we landed, I fell in love. Our accommodation wasn’t big on mod cons but we were right on the beach and had a spectacular sunset both nights. There were many amazing experiences in Aitutaki, but snorkelling with the Giant Trevally out in the lagoon was my very top moment. They are large, black, predator fish with a heart stopping turn of speed and flat grim faces. The skipper of our tiny boat told us to remove all jewellery before getting in, as small, shiny things catch their eye and they might sink their dainty, strong teeth into you (bless their cold little hearts). Swimming with them was exhilarating as they’re not afraid of people, they skim close by with the unconcern of a much superior being. I was careful to keep my fingers close to my sides at all times.

Having such a long break was expensive and tiring but worth every minute. Apart from the obvious excitements of adventure and travel, one of the fringe benefits was the lack of Wifi in lots of places. Instead of engaging with beautiful things and ideas through my phone I was actually engaging with them in real life. I worried so much less about how I looked, distracted as I was by the challenging hikes and drives and swims of our trip. It’s funny how competent your body feels and how grateful you are to it when you’re exploring the world outside. Obviously, I’m home now and back in my usual social media habits but I hope I remember not to worry too much about how I look when I’m doing the things that make me happy. There weren’t any mirrors in the mountains of Yosemite National Park or on the beach in the Cook Islands and it really did me good. I remembered that I was good enough for my adventures, thick thighs and all.

Anyone else had the benefit of a long holiday? How did it compare to the one or two-week-stint?

Or maybe you’ve got one in the pipeline?


Image of Yosemite from National Park Foundation

Author: Lisa Soeno
Lisa is obsessed with all things interior design. And Cadbury buttons.
Follow Lisa on instagram @lisa.soeno
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16 thoughts on “Long Holiday Benefits

  1. I love hearing about other people’s holidays and their plans for future ones, long or short, traditional or not, but it doesn’t help my bank balance! I’d love to hear more about how people manage a long trip like this with small humans? We’re going to Singapore and Australia for just over 3 weeks, which includes a week in a campervan touring the Great Ocean Road, all with a 2 and a half year old! We’re going to need all the help and advice to make sure we make it back in one piece!

    1. Great question Jacqui! I’d imagine the complexity of planning rises sharply with kids?! We only had ourselves to think of which definitely made things easier 🙂 your trip sounds amazing too, Australia is on my list!

  2. Ahhh this sounds amazing!! How wonderful and how clever too. We once did a 3 and a half week trip to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala over Christmas- my husband works in the construction industry where everything stops between about the 23rd of December and New Year which helped, but he was also being made redundant that month so used his holiday and was very lucky to start his new job in January. I was doing my PhD so had a lot more flexibility and could just go off on our adventure.

    Mia when your bank balance has recovered you need to go to South Africa to do a cage dive with Great Whites. They are the most majestic incredible creatures. I never thought I would have the balls to do it but I’m so glad I did.

    We still haven’t booked our flights for a wedding in LA on NYE… dithering as bringing a nearly 4 yo and a nearly 2yo and scared of the flight… and whether to fly out before Christmas or do it at home then fly on Boxing Day?

    1. Lucy that sounds incredible! I never thought I’d be cheerfully anticipating cage diving with sharks haha. Also your Central America trip sounds so good! I really want to copy that route. Good luck with the long haul flights with little ones, I’ve heard it’s an adventure all by itself 😉

  3. Yes! In the last few years I have totally come to terms with the fact that I hate city breaks (! Sorry!) and I’m a massive fan of the long holiday.

    We’ve already done two 4 weekers now and this Christmas we’re off to Bali with various family for a mind blowing 7 weeks. SEVEN WEEKS. This time will be the first time we have our 3 year old with us, and I know he’s just going to love it!

    1. City breaks can be so exhausting! Still not prepared to swear off them though! But yes, long holidays are the best and you have seven weeks off?! Surely there’s some kind of rule about this? Think of us in the British winter whilst you’re there!

  4. Your trip sounds incredible and I’m amazed at how much you managed to fit in. Yosemite sounded wonderful and parts of America are definitely on my bucket list.
    We were fortunate enough to spend 3 months travelling around New Zealand and Australia 2 years ago. I was in between jobs and my husband had just finished a contract. Our beloved dog had recently died and we were broken hearted with grief, so we decided to take the opportunity whilst we could. We had been to NZ before and were dying to go back, especially as we have family there too. Australia was a new adventure. We spent a few days in Melbourne and then drove to Sydney taking 3 days to do that, then spent a week in Sydney with friends. It was fantastic being able to take so much time off and it was a trip that I won’t ever forget.

  5. My Mum is from the (literal) other side of the world – Kiribati – which takes an absolute AGE to get to + when you get there, the flights out are so irregular that you really need to stay for a minimum of a week. Because of that, there’s really no point in going unless you take three weeks, so that’s what we’ve always done (preference is four weeks so we can actually relax and do some holidaying!).

    I’d say that these trips have been drastically cut since I’ve started work as four weeks off is, as you say, not exactly the norm! We did three weeks last year when I was on maternity leave which was brilliant as we got to take our then 7 month old back to meet all his Kiribati family. I would say the huge benefit of a longer trip away is you can really switch off and immerse yourself in wherever it is you are. I find that longhaul trips for two weeks mean you’re pretty exhausted by the time you get home, which feels a bit silly!

    1. Exactly! Going so far you need time to physically adjust either side of it. I wish I had more time to recover when we came back actually but it was straight back to work (which was its own struggle haha)

  6. I took a three week holiday two years ago to visit family in Canada and see other places. My husband and I started in Seattle seeing the sites and having dinner in the amazing Space Needle – a little pricey, but it was our 10 year anniversary! There was a family festival on just a few minutes from our hotel and there was delicious food, music and line dancing. My highlight was probably the Chihuly Glass Museum – well worth a visit – Claridges have a Chihuly chandelier in the lobby!

    We then moved on the San Francisco, where we visited Alcatraz and again took in the sights around Union Square, the Piers, had the best Mexican food ever in a little restaurant I found, and took the cable car (tram) across the city – so much fun on the steep hills.

    Next was Yosemite. I was blown away by how beautiful it was. Everyone should visit! The four hour drive each way from SF through California also had awesome sights.

    We then headed to Canada – flying into Vancouver and spending a couple of days in the city (cleanest city ever!) before a brief stop to see family and borrow a car to do the next leg of Vancouver Island to go on a Orca watching trip in Victoria. We were so lucky there were two pods there and they startled each other so we saw some pretty special behaviour. We then drove to stay on Gabriola Island at the most stunning house that has in the middle of nowhere in the middle of woodland – we were on cougar watch! – for a couple of days down time, just exploring the beaches and going for a hike. The ferry ride to Vancouver Island had some of the most amazing views I think I will ever see. Even though Bald Eagles are everywhere it was very special to see one catch a fish right next to the ferry.

    Our final leg was back to White Rock in Vancouver to spend time with family properly. There was a lot of beach for exploring – where apparently Ryan Reynolds has a house – believe me ladies I looked hard for it!! We visited Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, went just over the US/Canadian border as one of the family has a boat there, ate lots of seafood, and tried as best would could to get a feel for where our family lives.

    It was tiring at times and an expensive holiday, but I feel like an itch has been scratched by seeing so many places in just a week longer than I would usually take for a holiday.

    PA – sorry for the long essay!

    1. What an incredible trip! I definitely want to see some of Canada too. Every time I fall into Pinterest it shows me Canadian lake views (clearly knows it’s audience eh?)

  7. Five years ago I took 7.5 weeks off between roles at the same organisation. I was lucky, my boss was about to leave and was willing to allow me to carry over loads of leave from the previous year as he needed me in the office when he was there and also it wasn’t going to be his problem haha! I also used plenty of flexi time I had built up. I went to Australia to travel up the east coast from Sydney to Cairns. Stopped in Hong Kong for three nights on the way, which was amazing. I got my Day Skipper qualification when sailing in the Whitsunday Islands for a week, which was a long way from doing it in the rain on the Solent! Despite staying in twin rooms in hostel with a friend, getting the Greyhound bus and having a budget of £100 a day to live and eat, it was eye wateringly expensive, I spent £6.5k. However, I probably won’t get the chance to be able to do it again so I’m glad I did!

    I mentioned travelling on my (potential) future maternity leave to my boyfriend this week, but he reckons we won’t be able to afford it! Plus he is incredibly limited by 25 days a leave year. Would love to hear of people who do it though!

    1. Bunny that sounds so good! What you said about cost though, yikes. I don’t really like to tot it all up and face the cold facts as I would probably hyperventilate. That said I never really regret the expense of any trip or holiday. I’m feeding my soul 😉 it’s just got expensive taste.

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