While lockdowns are easing, travel is still off the cards for most Australians. Since we're potentially facing even more time at home, why not put in a little work to make your home holiday-worthy?
With the right equipment and some out-of-the-box thinking, you can create a backyard oasis so lovely that you won't want to leave home regardless.
1. Bring the restaurant home
We've all missed coffee catchups and long lunches out with friends during lockdown. But even though things are opening up, there are a few appliances and services that can bring the restaurant experience to your home.
Quality home-delivered food has really come into its own during lockdown, but there's still one thing that doesn't travel well: coffee. While many of us still make a daily pilgrimage to our local café, you can make the trip even shorter by having a coffee machine in your kitchen.
The coffee machine market caters to all kinds of people seeking a caffeine fix – from those who just want a quick cup at the press of a button, all the way through to coffee connoisseurs who want control over every step of the process.
If you're new to the world of at-home coffee, the vast array of options can be overwhelming. A great place to start your journey is our guide to how to buy the best coffee machine. This will walk you through automatic, manual, pod and capsule machines, plus which features to look for.
If you're on the fence about whether it's a good investment, we've weighed up the pros and cons (financial and otherwise) for you: Is it worth buying a home espresso machine?
Drinks on the double
If you can't get out to your favourite cocktail bar, have someone bring the booze to you.
Services such as Jimmy Brings and Tipple can drop a chilled six-pack or your favourite spirit to your door in a matter of minutes.
Want to know which one will bring you Pinot pronto? We've compared six fast alcohol delivery services that'll help you keep the holiday vibe going without having to leave the house.
All about the ambience: it's key details, like the right music, that can create a holiday vibe.
Add some sparkle
There's something about having a glass of sparkling water on hand that makes an at-home lunch feel a little more like a restaurant meal. And fizzy water is the perfect base for a range of delicious cocktails and 'mocktails' (alcohol-free) for your holiday at home.
A soda maker can also reduce the amount of waste you create, since you can reuse the bottles
Besides saving you money on store-bought sparkling water, a soda maker can also reduce the amount of waste you create, since you can reuse the bottles. And it'll save you having to lug heavy bottles home from the supermarket!
Some machines let you adjust the carbonation to create the perfect amount of fizz, and since you're in control of what goes in, you can whip up healthier soft drinks for the kids.
We're in the process of testing soda makers to help you get the best bubbles for your buck. Watch this space for our review!
Give yourself a holiday from grocery shopping and cooking with food boxes and prepared meal services.
There are plenty of options, from step-by-step cooking through to simple heat-and-eat dishes, so whatever your energy level or cooking skill, you'll be covered.
Which ones get a chef's kiss from CHOICE? Find out in our food box and prepared meal services review.
If you're more interested in hot food straight to your door, we've also compared food delivery service apps including Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Menulog.
2. Get the right gear
You won't be able to relax in your sun lounger if all you can see is leaves in the pool and unmown grass. The right equipment will have it sorted out in no time, so your backyard will feel more like a resort than a jungle.
Perfect your pool
A subpar pool cleaner will not only cost you money (because you'll have to run it for longer), but it'll also cost you time, since you'll need to scoop the leaves out manually.
If you're starting with a pool that looks like a swamp, you will need to do some work to start with, and then you can let the pool cleaner get to work while you sit back with a cold drink.
At the cheaper end of the market, you can opt for an easy-to-install suction cleaner. They do require a bit more effort from you, as you'll need to empty the skimmer box and scoop debris from the surface of the pool.
Robotic cleaners will set you back at least $1000, so make sure you research thoroughly before you buy. They tend to experience fewer stoppages and blockages than suction cleaners, but you will need to put them in and take them out of the pool in between cleans.
Pressure cleaners can be expensive to retrofit, so look for other options if your pool doesn't already have one.
As with all products, don't assume that expensive equals better. Our experts found that some suction cleaners outperform robot cleaners costing twice as much.
If you're head's swimming from all the info, read our guide to buying a pool cleaner to help make things crystal clear.
Be sure to keep your pool clean, whether you fish out leaves yourself or buy a suction cleaner.
Make your lawn luscious
There's something deeply satisfying about looking out across your backyard after you've taken care of the lawn. But if you want a perfectly manicured lawn, you'll need the best mower and lawn trimmer.
But should you go with petrol, battery or electric? There are pros and cons to each, so have a think about your particular requirements before buying. A good place to start your research is our guide to buying the best lawnmower.
Whether you call it a strimmer, weed whacker or whipper snipper, you'll need a good lawn trimmer to complement your mower: read our line trimmer buying guide for our top tips on choosing the right whipper snipper for your needs.
And if you're not having any luck with your lawn, you might be asking yourself: Should I get artificial grass? We'll give you the lowdown on how to have a lawn that doesn't need mowing, watering or fertilising.
Throw another shrimp on
If you're a fan of dining alfresco, a good BBQ is a must-have. And as the weather warms up, you can keep your house cool by taking the cooking outside instead of raising the temperature indoors with your oven.
If your barbecue has been neglected since last summer, give it a solid clean well before you want to fire it up. Our guide to cleaning your barbecue will help you get it sparkling clean in time for the first barbecue of the season.
If you're looking for barbie inspiration, think outside the box. You can use your barbecue to cook up more than just chops and sausages: here are some tips for food you didn't know you could cook on your BBQ. If you're feeling adventurous you can even cook up Christmas lunch on the BBQ.
If your BBQ has been in hibernation for winter, remember to clean it well before using it again.
3. Create some ambience
These little finishing touches will really help you get into holiday mode.
Fire it up
While we're still waiting for the weather to warm up, a fire pit is a great way to enjoy the outdoors without getting a chill. And who doesn't love toasting marshmallows?
They cost anything from $50 to more than $2000 and come in a range of shapes, sizes and fuel types.
Whether you're an avid gardener or an enthusiastic newbie, it's comforting to know that some retailers offer refunds and returns on plants that don't make it – within reason, of course.
When we asked CHOICE members and supporters about their experiences buying and returning plants, only one in 10 told us they'd tried to return a plant – but of those, nine in 10 successfully got a refund or replacement.
If you don't think it's your fault that a plant has died or failed to thrive, you could try your luck asking for a refund or replacement. We asked garden centres about their plant guarantees to help you shop with confidence. Read more at Can you return plants?
Bring the noise
You've kicked your shoes off, got a drink in hand, dinner sizzling on the barbie and the lawn looking pristine. What's missing?
Whether you're having a party or just chilling by yourself, having a soundtrack can really make the experience.
When you're outdoors, wireless speakers can help you take your tunes with you. We've reviewed more than 80 wireless speakers from brands including Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Marshall, Sony and more to save you from tinny-sounding speakers.
If you're a movie buff or have kids to entertain, you can take a trip to the cinema without leaving home if you have a great home-entertainment system.
Sounds expensive, right? Not necessarily. We've compiled a list of budget buys for your home entertainment system that'll get you set without breaking the bank.