The adults-only holiday that Americans love – and is taking off in Britain

Advice

Standing on the edge of a dizzying drop, 51-year-old Nicky Thomas-Davies is completely out of her comfort zone. Her heart is racing as she steps up to the six-metre high edge and over the crash pad. Before she has the chance to change her mind, spectators chant her name. “Nicky! Nicky!” 

It catches like kindling, growing louder and mingling with cries of “Foxes! Foxes!” – the name of her ‘patrol group’ for the weekend. Before she knows it, she is flying through the air, hitting the soft landing below to an eruption of cheers. Exhilarated, she immediately wants to do it all over again.

This is just one experience at Camp Wildfire, Europe’s first summer camp for adults, which has grown from 250 attendees in 2015 to 8,000 people in 2022. “We’ve basically built a giant adult playground,” said Lee Denny, who launched the camp in Sevenoaks, Kent, with co-founder Julia Lowe.

Camping with a British sense of humour

As immersive experiences and retro holidays have increased in popularity, so too have adult summer camps, especially in North America where dozens of them have popped up in recent years. While the trend has made it across the pond, Camp Wildfire does things slightly differently. There’s the American camp aesthetic, and a healthy dose of competition, but also a very “British Carry on Camping sense of humour,” says Denny.  



adults summer camps kents holidays for grown ups


Guests can take part in a selection of 100 activities – as Nicky, pictured, enjoyed


Credit: Nicky Thomas-Davies

On arrival, guests make their way through the fragrant trees, guided by twinkling fairy lights, and sleep under the stars before taking part in a selection of 100 activities, spanning games to crafts and adventure, running the alphabet from astronomy to zorbing, plus everything in between; sculpture, archery, quad biking and even nipple tassel-making. The kind of people who go to Camp Wildfire know “there is more to holidays than slowing down, drinking wine and relaxing,” says Denny.

The whole concept is a far cry from Thomas-Davies’s usual family jaunts to Florence or Salzburg, or her annual mother-daughter trip to Palma in Mallorca, and she admits she was hesitant to book. “I had my misgivings,” she says. “I didn’t think it would be for me – I thought it was going to be for hip young things… all pert tops and no bottoms.”

With encouragement from her 23-year-old daughter, she took the plunge. “She said I should stop worrying about everybody else for once, have some fun and let my hair down.” Over the weekend she tried aerial silks, paddleboarding and live comedy.

“You end up doing things you never expected to do,” she says, “in the real world I would never have put my name down for improv theatre – but it was so much fun. I haven’t laughed so much in years.”



family holidays adults-only holidays


The whole concept is a far cry from Thomas-Davies’s usual family jaunts to Florence or Salzburg


Credit: Nicky Thomas-Davies

Camaraderie and inclusivity

The atmosphere at camp is one of camaraderie and inclusivity, as established groups welcome newfound friends. “It’s like a big family,” says Thomas-Davies. “In the evening, everyone has their arms around each other and they’re singing and chatting. Someone might have a bonfire going, toasting s’mores. It’s a really nice feeling.”

While the majority of people attending the weekends are in the 30 to 45 year-old range, this age group is followed by those in the 45-65 age bracket. “Their kids are grown up now or they’re off at university or have left home. These age groups are re-finding their younger selves before they had kids and realising that it’s reminiscent of the kind of camping trips they used to do when they were younger, or at university when they joined clubs and societies,” said Lowe. “You see people almost reverting back to their childhood personalities over the weekend.”

Psychologists claim that nostalgia and adult play can have huge benefits on our wider lives. “Nostalgia plays a huge part in our lives, especially since Covid-19 when lots of people took stock and recalibrated what they liked and didn’t like about their lifestyle. 

The thrill of camping when you were a kid, or learning a new skill to show your friends and parents when you got home, or any first emotions when you discovered something new about the world – these are quite visceral feelings that are embedded deep within us,” says Priory psychotherapist, Debbie Longsdale. “It’s about feeling those strong uncluttered emotions that you felt as a child and which have perhaps become diminished by adult responsibilities such as parenting your own children.”

The whole experience harks back to a simpler time before the internet, when people connected without screens. It’s not that phones are banned, but just that you forget you have them, says Denny. “People get so involved there’s not even a choice to live in the moment, you just are. For 72 hours you can just forget there is a world outside the camp.”

Liberating weekends

Weekends away like this can be liberating, claims psychotherapist Longsdale: “Getting out into nature, away from the constant and often negative demands of social media, which leads you to ‘compare and despair’, and finding emotions that you first felt when you were growing up, it can be exhilarating and freeing.” 

At night, the Camp Wildfire crowd dresses to impress in explosions of masks, tails and glitter, and Thomas-Davies even gets to see the results of the nipple tassel-making class in action, as a group of 20-something chaps whip off their jackets to reveal their hard work, to whoops from the crowd. 



weekends uk travel adults


Weekends away like this can be liberating


Credit: Jason Purple

Despite first time nerves, Thomas-Davies now calls Camp Wildfire her “happy place”, explaining it has allowed her a space to be herself and break away from daily roles. “Here I’m not a boss, I’m not a mum, I am just me, and totally accepted for who I am,” she says. “I’ve learnt to let go, and not to let the idea of being older hold me back from trying new things. 

“I returned home with more confidence and a newfound openness to experiences, not to mention some great new friends, whose genuine desire to spend time in my company is a great boost to my self esteem!”

The details

Camp Wildfire 2022 takes place on August 26-29 and September 2-5 or register for next year’s Camp Wildfire 2023, which takes place on August 25-28 and September 1-4, Sevenoaks, Kent, from £245 (campwildfire.co.uk).


Five further-flung adult summer camps

Club Getaway, Connecticut

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a party animal, a fitness lover or a social butterfly, there are activities to suit everyone at this sporty camp. Get the adrenaline pumping by day with activities such as softball, hiking, ziplining, mountain biking and boating, and then shake it all off at night with music and dancing. The camp is all-inclusive, and you can have fun with food and drink at themed dinners, mixology classes and Bloody Mary Bingo, before sleeping it off in the rustic-but-chic cabins.

How to do it: Kent, Connecticut, weekends take place throughout August and September, from £439, all inclusive (clubgetaway.com).

Camp Halcyon, Wisconsin

There’s no glamping to be found at this rustic camp – this is proper camping where you truly get back to nature. That said, it’s not without luxuries – enjoy beach yoga and wine tasting as you drink in the natural surroundings, wind down at the campfire lounge and cocktail bar in the evenings, or sample classic bonfire  treats at the s’mores bar. Other activities include canoeing, beer making, beach volleyball, jerky making and arts and crafts.

How to do it: Wautoma, Wisconsin, 2023 dates to be announced in August, from £409, all inclusive (camphalcyon.com).



Camp Halcyon adults camps


Camp Halcyon offers proper camping where you truly get back to nature


Credit: Camp Halcyon

Camp No Counselors, New York and LA

Established in 2013, this all-inclusive camp was founded by a group of friends looking to recharge from the stresses of adult life, it now welcomes campers of all ages from around the world, looking to unleash their inner child. There are a wealth of activities, with the likes of archery and rock climbing for the adventurous, arts and crafts for the creative, and regular happy hours for everyone else. Live music and DJs make up the evening entertainment.

How to do it: New York Labour Day Weekend, 2022, September 2-5, from £705. LA Endless Summer 2022, August 18-21, from £622, all inclusive (campnocounselors.com).



Camp No Counsellors all-inclusive holidays usa adults


Camp No Counsellors is an all-inclusive camp was founded by a group of friends looking to recharge from the stresses of adult life


Credit: Camp No Counsellors

Campowerment, California

Female-founded Campowerment blends summer camp fun with personal development retreat, all wrapped up in a luxury package. The focus of this women-only camp is on connection, aiming to help its campers build life-long friendships as they overcome obstacles and barriers. Guests can learn from Campowerment experts, which include authors, thought leaders and speakers. The experience is brought to life through play, with activities designed to get you firmly out of your comfort zone and break down barriers.

How to do it: East coast classic camp, Pocono Mountains, PA Sept 29-Oct 2; West Coast Classic Camp, Ojai, California November 3-6, from £1,385, all inclusive (campowerment.com).



Campowerment summer camp for adults


Female-founded Campowerment blends summer camp fun with personal development retreat


Credit: Jules Rose/Human Flower Productions

Two Islands Weekend, Canada

Now in its ninth year, this pop-up Canadian camp takes place for one weekend only each summer, transforming 1,100-acre secluded acres into a wilderness escape-style camp. Guests at this weekend retreat can let loose with a range of activities, including sailing, high ropes, tie dyeing, talent shows, lip sync battles and more. Tickets include cabin accommodation, activities and food and drink. Don’t expect burnt sausages, either – the meals here are designed by top chefs.

How to do it: Camp Timberlane, Haliburton, Canada, September 9-11, 2022, all inclusive, from £411 (twoislandsweekend.com).


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