Phew, I did it! In spite of leaving it till the last minute (again), the summer holidays are finally booked. Skint will be heading Francewards for a fortnight of cheap plonk, culture and starry nights under canvas. Yep, not only is Skint leaving the city – she’s going camping!
Now, camping in the UK has a terrible reputation: freezing nights shivering under a sleeping bag, soggy sausages and queues for the loos. Hammering in tent pegs in the freezing cold? Forget it! Fighting with a butane stove just to get a cup of coffee? Not a chance! But before you write them off completely, there is another way to enjoy a camping holiday and that’s to do it in hot places. In my early twenties I worked as a holiday courier on campsites in France, from the gorgeous windsurfer’s paradise of the Vendee to the impossibly glamorous (and hideously overpriced) St Tropez on the Cote D’Azur. I spent ten months living under canvas and I adored it.
Now I am not a particularly outdoorsy kind of girl but I found that there is something about living outside which feels incredibly free – especially if it’s somewhere sunny. You wake up in the morning, make a coffee and drink it out of doors. At lunchtime you enjoy fresh bread and smelly cheese al fresco and in the late afternoon you take a walk or a cycle through the pine woods. Then in the evening you gather round the table as the stars come out and talk about your day, pour the local wine (two euros a bottle and it goes down a treat) and tell each other secrets. It’s quiet here and special – you can talk.
Some of my most special memories stem from this time. I remember a night spent sleeping outside high in the hills of the Cote D’Azur, learning to bodyboard in the Vendee and talks long into the night with new friends from all corners of Europe. (Right enough, I also remember digging trenches round tents to keep them from flooding. And um, chickenpox.)
After ten months of living in a tent I couldn’t conceive of going back to a solid roof. Of course, I got used to it again fast enough, but every now and then I like to take off abroad for another camping fix. It’s cheap, great fun and nearly all of the campsites have swimming pools and tennis courts. The one I’m heading to next week has a gym as well. By bagging a cheap flight or a budget ferry deal camping holidays can be cheap as chips.
This year I’m heading back to the Vendee, followed by a few days in Bordeaux. Here’s hoping the weather will be kind. By waiting till the last minute we snagged a 20% reduction on the campsite – though I’ve got to admit that this year’s tardiness was a result of disorganisation rather than design. Still, I put a few other Skint tricks to use to save money on the flights:
Losing the Luggage – We’re flying good old Ryanair, and there’s no way I’m paying £30 each way per person to put a bag in the hold. So it’s one 15kilo bag between us for £20 then hand luggage for the rest. Ryaniar give 10 kilos hand luggage allowance which isn’t bad – and what doesn’t fit in the hand baggage will be going in my pockets. Seriously. They don’t weigh people. Last timeI flew I had a book in one pocket and my make-up bag in the other. So I might have looked a little hefty round the hips, so what? I just blamed the Brie.
Frequent flyers and hand luggage afficianados might want to check out this multi-pocket waistcoat – at less than £20 it’ll pay for itself in one flight. You can find similar in army surplus stores and camping shops – they’re often called fisherman’s jackets. I think fishermen use them to store bait etc when they’re out in the water. Nothing wrong with a little budget airline-baiting, Skint thinks.
Scan the Skies: Skyscanner allows you to find the very cheapest flights to your chosen destination on your chosen day. It trawls every airline in a matter of milliseconds – with the exception of Ryanair, who choose not to play. It cuts out a ton of work.
Max your Money: New gem from the moneysavingexpert empire is the MoneyMax service, which zips around all of the online currency sites in milliseconds, much the same as Skycanner does for flights, then does the maths to work out which deal is best for you. It takes fees into account as well, which can be rather mind-boggling. Honestly, what did we ever do without Martin Lewis?