February rolled over into March and the cold didn’t seem to let up. After a year abroad I thought returning home to England had been a mistake. I made a hurried application for a summer job with HolidayBreak and within a month I was in the Vendée on the west coast of France.
That’s the first thing to note about jobs as a campsite courier: if you want a job you can have a job. The turnover of staff is so high that people are constantly floating in and out. If you’re stuck at home and just want to get away this is your escape route. They take all sorts of people of course; the only requirements are you aren’t totally useless.
When I showed up it was a month or so before the season started and there were few people around. It can be lonely in these places at first. A lot of sites are orientated towards families who bring a car. They aren’t well connected by public transport. At my campsite ‘La Garangeoire’ the whole appeal was a quiet, tranquil setting off the beaten track. Families with cars had plenty to do because they could commute, but in the immediate proximity of the camp there was little going on.
For this reason some camps are quite self-contained. They form a lovely bubble in which for a few months a year your life plays out to a small community. If you’re a social person this is fantastic. Your relationships grow very quickly as you’re with your new friends 24/7. As in all situations involving young boys and girls one thing tends to lead to another and you find yourselves all wrapped up in your own dramas. Sometimes it did descend into debauchery but we tried to keep it clean.
As more and more customers arrive the sites come alive and your time is filled with all sorts of activities. You should take advantage of everything you’re offered. We had live bands, table tennis tournaments, open mic nights, a weekly quiz, off road bike rides, peddle boats on the lake, tennis courts, football matches, wine tasting, tours of the grounds and much more. There was also a pool but the staff weren’t allowed to use it.
And this is where the problem comes in. You have to work and live in the same place. Around other couriers (and to be honest most customers as well) you can be who you want to be but sometimes you have to be careful with the campsite owners and some customers. As our campsite owner never tired of telling us, “Remember this is a job, not a holiday”.
On a lot of sites you stay in mobile homes. In our case we stayed in large tents. They were more than accommodating in size (mine had a double bed). Unfortunately our tents were badly positioned and we were left with our living area next to the children’s play area. This shows what I mean when I say that it really is a compromise between your own private life and your job. When we were letting our hair down we had to be aware of those around us, particularly young children.
Saying that, during the biggest event of the season everyone chipped in from the Kids Club to the customers to make sure the couriers had a great time. HolidayBreak has a tradition of the staff organizing a Courier Christmas where all the couriers come together and organize a huge meal, lots of decorations, a big drinking session and in our case presents as well. It takes place on the 25 th of June, half way through the year and roughly half way through the season.
The work itself is not hard but at times you really do have to work hard. This might sound silly but what I mean is anybody could do it, but it can take some real elbow grease. The job I did involved a lot of cleaning and a tiny bit of reception work. This basically is what a courier amounts to: a cleaner. The sun can be hot when you’re scrubbing all day but the evenings were all ours’ (with the exception of the one night a week I was on call). However there are other jobs including working in the kids clubs, bicycle maintenance and administration.
As the season wears on people tend to either drop out or get hands on. I found myself helping with the kids club in my spare time just for kicks. I managed to get off site by befriending customers and getting them to give me a lift to the surrounding towns. Some days me and a friend stood at the end of the road and just hitch hiked our way around. As with all new experiences it opens you up to possibilities. When I finished on the campsite I hitch hiked the south of France. I gained experience with kids and a lot of patience. It comes back to whatever you learn is a benefit. It’s better than sitting at home.
The campsite life has a few big benefits. Customers leave you food and the weather means that even though you only have a small salary you learn to make your own fun outdoors which costs next to nothing. A good tip to save money on your days off is to go to the attractions and tell them what your job is. Often if you phone ahead or promise to send customers their way and pass on leaflets they let you use the facilities free of charge.
Often this job is just a stop gap; it fills in the time in between university and college terms. Otherwise it’s something you can do whilst you wait to figure out what you really want to do. The beauty of the job is that you can have a good time whilst you’re figuring all that big stuff out. In fact sometimes you forget all about what’s going on outside in your bubble. Some people love the job and go back year after year. For me it was just a way of getting away from home and saving a little money. Whatever your circumstances and reasons for coming I can tell you there are worse things to do with your time. If you’re sat at home right now wondering what to do, just go. It might not change your life but you’ll be in the sunshine and even if it is only in your evenings, you’ll have a smile on your face.
Above - The annual Courier Christmas celebration on the 25th June every year.
Above - The problem with balancing your social life with your job: On the right hand side those tents were our living quarters. To the left is a park full of customers.
Above - The inside of one of the tents. Yes it does look like it came out of a brochure but at times (I repeat at times) it really was like this.
Contributed by HoldiayBreak campsite courier staff member Tom Mylchreest.
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