Thinking about taking the plunge and heading to the Austrian lakes or Montenegro? Miriam Zendle answers all your questions
What is a swimming holiday?
A swimming holiday pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s a holiday where you spend almost all of your time swimming. They’re great fun, giving you a unique and exciting experience (most people will think you’re mad, just FYI). Companies such as SwimTrek, Strel Swimming Adventures and the Big Blue Swim offer summer and autumn trips all over the world, and it’s a growing industry.
Who you go with really depends on where you want to go, and what kind of holiday you’re expecting. While the Big Blue, for instance, only offers one set of (well-regarded) trips to the Greek islands, Strel takes you to the Slovenian and Austrian lakes, as well as Croatia, Montenegro and Lake Powell in Arizona. Having said that, it’s still a much smaller outfit than SwimTrek, established 10 years ago by Channel swimmer Simon Murie, which takes its participants all over the world. With SwimTrek, you can go everywhere from Turkey to Mallorca, from the River Thames to Mexico’s Baja peninsula, on trips lasting from a day to a week.
What kind of swimmers go on these holidays?
These holidays are for all kinds of swimmers – from total open-water newbies to triathletes and Channel swimmers.
SwimTrek offers “scenic”, “swift” and “all” tours, where you can choose to go with other similarly speedy or slow swimmers, or in a mixed group, where you can learn from those around you. “Short swims” are also on offer (usually 2-3km per day).
With all companies, the group is usually split based on speed and ability, although these divisions are not set in stone. If you speed up or want to slow down, you can change group.
What safeguards are in place?
Open-water swimming is always unpredictable, and each of the above companies are at pains to make it as safe as possible for their guests. Locations are checked out for safety by trained guides, who often swim the swims the day before you do. They’ll scout locations for jellyfish, amend routes if it gets too windy and keep a beady eye on you while you’re in the water, pulling you out if you get tired or stuck in a current.
These guides are always experienced swimmers, usually with backgrounds in competitive or long-distance swimming. They are responsible for your general welfare, as well as planning and amending swims and giving stroke-technique analysis sessions to help you improve during the course of the trip.
They also conduct safety briefings at the start of each trip, showing you hand signals for use in the water, and are your first port of call for questions or concerns.
Where can you go?
Again, it’s entirely dependent on what you’re in the mood for. Some trips are entirely sea, river or lake-focused, while others mix it up, building the occasional river or lake swim into a sea-swimming holiday.
While the Big Blue is site-specific, SwimTrek trips are added yearly, with some (such as Egypt or Malta) occasionally removed for safety reasons ranging from civil unrest to a surfeit of jellyfish. Those new to open water might suit Montenegro or SwimTrek’s Burgh Island “taster” day, while the more experienced might try the Gulf of Corrywreckan in Scotland or the British Virgin Islands.
Trips for 2014 are now on sale from all of these providers – but some will book up fast.
What about the cost?
The Big Blue’s trip to the Greek islands costs £740. A one-day SwimTrek trip in the UK ranges between £60-90, while a week in Montenegro is £711-780, depending on when and who you book with. In SwimTrek and the Big Blue’s case, you pay a deposit when booking and the rest a couple of months before departure, allowing you to spread the cost over a period of time, but Strel ask that you pay the full amount upfront.
The cost of the holiday covers accommodation and, depending on who you go with, most of your meals (usually breakfast and/or lunch), as well as the hiring of the boat for the week and the expertise of the guides on each trip. However, you have to pay for flights and/or travel to the location. Booking shorter or off-peak trips will obviously lessen the pain for your wallet.
Do I need to prepare?
Yes! Preparation is definitely important for a holiday like this, but stamina is more important than technique – remember you’ll be swimming 1-5km daily, depending on length of trip, but you’ll be guided on technique while there. Swim at least 40 lengths two or three times a week at your local pool and you should cope, though group lessons will help if you are genuinely concerned.