No Hols Barred!

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When Dancing Giraffe discovered an exciting new trend emerging that could help people with disabilities to take a break, we were keen to learn more. Aptly named “virtual holidays”, these online, digital breaks are created to allow individuals who have been grounded by life (either by their health, financial or social situation) to journey into another world, without ever even leaving the house! To get all the details, we decided to take a virtual canter (via email) over to a very engaging young woman and ask about her social enterprise scheme, Holidays from Home.

Claire Wade, (25) who came up with the idea for the company while bed bound with ME/CFS, took time from her busy schedule to speak to our writer, Kerry Barr about how the project came about. Refreshingly candid and generous with her answers, this dynamic, creative individual clearly deserves the investment she received from the National Lottery to help her grow her business.

Where did the idea for Holidays From Home come from?

I came up with the idea because my family were going away on holiday, leaving Mum and me at home. Everybody else got to go on holiday, see the world, have adventures; but I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone get on a plane.

I was really upset and finding it hard to cope. The thought “Why can’t I go on holiday?” kept going round and round in my head, coupled with intense anger and sadness; but somewhere along the way the question shifted to “Why can’t I go on holiday?” Subtly different; but it made me think about ways I might be able to have a holiday. I decided that if I couldn’t travel literally I would travel in my own way, using my imagination.

My Mum and I put together a holiday to Greece, a place I had always wanted to visit. We found pictures to put up round the room, so I could look at them while I lay in bed. We borrowed items from friends, who had taken holidays in Greece like cups, plates and coins – it was incredible to hold items which had come from the real place. Next we thought about things that were associated with Greece that would bring the country to life, mainly what we could do or eat – an essential part of any holiday.

We had a brilliant week while our family was away, living on feta, olives and Greek yogurt, making mosaics out of coloured paper and paper plates, plate throwing (paper plates again – much safer than china) and paddling in the Aegean, also known as a foot spa.

What made you decide to make the idea into a business?

I set up Holidays From Home because I wanted to be able to help people who were in the same position I was: stuck at home, frustrated, isolated and alone. I knew how hard it was feeling like the world was passing by.

I wanted to be able to bring the same fun and escapism to others. I never realised just how many reasons there were for people not being able to go on holiday. There are so many illnesses and disabilities which make travel extremely hard if not impossible, so being able to help those people have a fun experience which can distract them from the pain and struggle of daily life is very important to me.

Which is your most popular holiday and why do you think that is?

I always thought that Australia would be the most popular Holiday From Home; but I’ve found out it’s about 50/50 with Australia and New York. People seem to divide into those that like somewhere hot and sunny, with beaches and lots of nature, and others that enjoy the fast paced city vibe, with lots of iconic buildings and museums.

When I write the holidays, I make sure there’s a great mix of activities within each one, for example sightseeing, activities both on and off the computer, recipes to cook, books, films and music to watch, so that there’s something for everyone. The virtual travellers range in age and everybody takes something unique away from the experience.

Can you tell us a little about the virtual Olympics experience you have created?

The London Holiday From Home is set to “depart” during the Olympics. I wanted to produce something for people who would love to be able to go to London during this period; but couldn’t get there. There’s so much to do in the city that it’s a challenge to decide what to include in the holiday.

For example there’s going to be a night at a show in the West End, afternoon tea at the Dorchester, a trip on the London Eye.

The holiday will be available to download as an e-book and an MP3 audio, to make it accessible and easy to enjoy. There’s going to be lots to do during the two weeks of the Olympics, with virtual tours, crafts, recipes, and I make sure there is lots to do both on and off the computer.

I’m really looking forward to this holiday, especially the interactive element online, in the exclusive VIP area on Facebook. It’s a new addition to the holidays, which has worked really well in the virtual parties I have previously organised. It can be so hard feeling isolated at home and the holidays are a chance for people to meet and share the experience, as you would do on a “normal” holiday.

What motivates you and the people who volunteer to work with you?

When I share my story with others, they often feel moved to get involved. A lot of people have no idea or awareness of the barriers people face, just to do normal things like go on holiday and so if they are lucky enough to have travelled, they often want to be able to use their own experiences to help others.

It’s really inspiring how many people want to get involved and help. People do care and it’s great to be able to share my passion for Holidays From Home. I think Holidays From Home is better and stronger because of the input the different volunteers have given over the years.

How can people get involved?

We have lots of different people who have volunteered with [us] over the years, from all across the country.

The great thing with writing and researching the holidays is that it can all be done from home using the internet or with books from the library, so you don’t have to have travelled yourself.
I also have a number of volunteers who have travelled and they love being able to share their experiences. I really value their personal insights, because they make the holidays come to life.

How has the creation of Holidays From Home positively affected your life and changed you as a person?

Whenever I’m struggling with the latest challenge my health throws at me, I’ve found that focusing on Holidays From Home helps me to cope. I think about the other people in the world who are suffering and it distracts me from my own pain.

Knowing that I’m doing something that makes a difference to people makes me feel like my life hasn’t been wasted and hearing the positive reactions from people who have taken the holidays and virtual parties is incredible.

Holidays From Home has made me become very strong and resourceful. There have been lots of times when it would have been easier to give up, when it felt impossible; but I’m so glad I kept going. The challenges don’t stop, things don’t ever get easy; but you start to believe in yourself and the people around you and you trust that everything will work out for the best.

How would you like to see the company developing in the future?

I would love Holidays From Home to grow, with holidays to every location around the world. There are so many people that can’t travel and I want to bring the joy and excitement to them.
The holidays and parties will bring people together, both in the real world and online, create a community of virtual travellers, people who can take pleasure in the world around them and share it with others.

I’ve seen how much pain there is in the world, how much suffering, and I’ve felt powerless to do anything about it. I may not be able to fix the problem, so my goal is to create a distraction, to give people some fun to help them get through the day. If I can do that for just one person, then this is all worth it.

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