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The Holiday Trap by Sara Niven

4th Jul 2019

Counsellor Sara Niven explores the reason summer holidays are sometimes not all we hope for and how to increase the chances that they will be.

Do you eagerly look forward to a relaxing summer holiday only to find yourself completely frazzled in the lead up to it and feeling much the same even after you’ve had it?

One poll of British holidaymakers* found that 42% of those surveyed felt going on holiday involved too much stress, with flying seen as the main issue by 32% and other factors cited as travelling with children and going away during peak times.

Staying at home doesn’t appear to be the solution either. Another study** released this month, reports that on average, Brits spend almost £1,000 above their usual living costs over the summer months, resulting in anxiety for one in three of us.

The Holiday Trap Plane 2

I can identify with both situations. After trekking across the London public transport system with a young child and umpteen bags to get a flight and repeating the process in reverse a few short days later, I vowed to keep things simpler the following year. But I also worried in general about the costs of the days out the summer holidays tend to involve (and the juggling act as a working parent – another issue entirely!)

According to Chartered Clinical Psychologist and author Dr Jessamy Hibberd, aside from practical factors and financial concerns, having too high expectations can often be to blame for holidays failing to live up to them.

“A holiday can be a great time to gain perspective and provide a break from the usual triggers that may cause stress, however they can be built up in our heads as a cure all, as if when you get there all your problems will magically wash away. This makes it an impossible standard to live up to and puts a lot of pressure on the break - almost setting it up to fail.”

The Holiday Trap Map

She also points out that one trap we often fall into is working doubly hard in the lead up to a holiday. Perhaps we need the overtime to cover the costs, have no one to do our job when we are away or the organisation involved becomes yet another burden on top of an already hectic schedule.

“The trouble with this is that by the time the big day arrives you’re exhausted and this is why it’s common to get ill as soon as you stop, so lots of people start their holiday under the weather, again making it harder to enjoy.”

As Dr Hibberd outlines in her new book, The Imposter Cure (Octopus, £12.99) social media can also feed into the illusion of perfection. If our holiday reality includes a heated row with a partner and bickering children, it is easy to end up disgruntled and disappointment when scrolling through posts depicting harmonious families hiking together or enjoying five-star luxury. As she sensibly advises:

“Don’t judge your behind the scenes against someone’s else’s highlights reel!”

The Holiday Trap Family


So, aside from having realistic expectations, how can we increase the chance of a holiday living up to them and being able to come back feeling we’ve actually had one?

Pace yourself

It’s easier said than done but try to avoid simply working twice as hard in the lead up and allow enough time to prepare for a holiday to reduce last-minute stress.

Mix it up

Unless you’re teetotal, cocktails, a cold beer and wine with meals are likely to feature heavily on holiday. However, a fortnight of drinking round the clock will leave anyone sluggish rather than sparkling on their return. Consider breaking up drinking days with sightseeing or a spa day and stay well hydrated with plenty of water.

The Holiday Trap Drink

Create breathing space

Avoid overfilling your time away - leave yourself the chance to rest, relax and reflect.

Put the phone away

Take a break from, or limit time spent on social media. There’s a lot to be said for simply focusing on enjoying a holiday rather than spending it providing daily updates starting at the airport and reading other people’s similarly.

The Holiday Trap Beach Chair

Extend your break

If possible, try to factor in a day or two off at the end of a holiday. Going straight back to work or your usual routine before you’ve even had chance to unpack can put a dampener on even the best time away.

Get everyone involved

If a holiday away isn’t on the cards but it is the expense of the summer that is a concern, counsellor and single mother of four, Zinny Perryman advises getting the whole family to think creatively, “I research numerous free or affordable options for days out and get all my children to pick a couple they would each like to do or come up with their own,” she explains. “I have friends in similar situations who have covered the additional costs of summer holidays by taking in foreign students – avoiding them needing to work longer hours when they need to be around for their children.”

The Holiday Trap Sand

Factor in daily “breaks”

Finally, if daily life is regularly proving overly stressful, don’t rely entirely on a holiday to fix it. In addition to considering building in ‘mini breaks’ (this could be as basic as a day or two pottering at home), it may be worth reassessing how you spend each week. 

The Holiday Trap Yoga

“My motto is that it’s the small things we do every day that make the biggest difference to how we feel both physically and mentally,” says Dr Hibberd. “If yoga or reading are what you long to have chance to do on holiday, try and incorporate these things into day-to-day life so you’re not relying on one or two weeks a year to transform how you feel for the rest of it.”

*2018 survey of 2,000 UK adults conducted by iCarhire insurance.

**2019 survey of 2,368 UK adults conducted by online voucher site Codes.co.uk.

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The Holiday Trap Beach Chair


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