My kids have just left to go on holiday, with friends, to America. It’s their first holiday without us – at 18 and 21, they “should” have holidayed without their parents much earlier, but Covid obviously derailed a couple of prime holidaying years into sitting in a kitchen with us, antibac-ing individual oranges, doing jigsaws and worrying that civilization had ended.
As a seasoned traveler – I’ve both spent nine hours in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for a connecting flight to Wisconsin and done a week at a caravan park with a club building called “the Freaky Fun Lounge” – I have much true life-hack travel advice for them. Unfortunately, I only thought of it after they left, as they shouted, “And don’t text us with any advice – because all your advice is overly detailed and makes us oddly anxious. Bye!”
And so I’m going to have to put all my advice here, in case your children are off on their first holidays without you, and you want to make them anxious instead.
1. In hotels, take a picture of your hotel room door as you enter. That way, later – when you are drunk, lost and bitter about living in a world of bland corporate keycards that don’t have your room number on them – you can simply look on your phone, note you are in room 2404, and not fall asleep in the corridor next to the ice machine.
2. Time your meals around visits to art galleries and museums. Their cafés have the best food in central city locations – as middle-class culture-ponces will not tolerate substandard smoked salmon, potato salad or cake.
3. Don’t ever go on a banana boat in a bikini. The forces of wind and wave will eventually internalize your bikini bottoms into your sacred woman-space. Even if they don’t, your tits are absolutely making a break for freedom.
4. Bear in mind that, if you’re holidaying with friends and/or family, Day Four is the most likely day for you to have a massive row. For the first three days, you’re all on best behavior. By Day Four, however, the person now known as “the supplicant who got the shit bed” is down on their sleep, there’s probably a couple of rolling hangovers, and the people with ADHD will be rubbing up the people who’ve tested INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale the wrong way. On Day Four, everyone should isolate from each other, and only really meet up again on Day Six – when all the conversations about “how to get to the airport” will rebond the group once more.
5. When you’re young, I think it’s tempting to think of holidays as being a kind of unreal, perfectible experience: a chance to have a week in which every meal, outfit, conversation, sunset and kiss is exquisite, and your Instagram will duly bear witness to a ceaseless parade of exemplary moments.
Don’t ever go on a banana boat in a bikini.
Consequently, if, on Wednesday, one member of your group orders one disappointing crab roll, there is a danger that the whole party can enter a Dismay Spiral. Four hours later and the anxiety over possible Future Suboptimal Moments can get so out of control that the most control-freaky member of the group is researching the possibility of taking out “disenchantment insurance” on Thursday’s donkey trek, in case one of the animals has unbearably “sad” eyes or breaks wind.
As you get older, however, you realize the best attitude to go on holiday with is to treat it as “exactly like normal life – but in a different place”. Like every other day of the year, you’re just as likely to be bored, irritated, annoyed and let down by a pair of trousers that somehow look “wrong” by 2pm.
Statistically, young travelers are far more likely to suffer from upsetting Expectation Deflation than they are any of the things we warn them about – losing their passports, having their drinks spiked or having their toenail ripped off by an automatic bus door because they’re wearing flip-flops, which did happen to a friend of mine in Cuba, as I kept telling the girls.
Sidebar: when you go to a hospital in Cuba, they ask you if you know anyone who has any anesthetic. This is why I’ve told the girls never to go to Cuba, to always buy morphine if offered it and never wear flip-flops. Honestly, you might as well be wearing a paper plate on your foot.
Anyway, as you read this, they’ll be in New York, wearing stout walking boots, eschewing bus doors, and braced for the small yet inevitable disappointments of life. At least, that’s what they’ve told me. I am also aware that, many years ago, I told them that the very best bit of advice is never to tell your parents what you’re actually doing on holiday – or they’ll somehow ruin it by telling too many anecdotes about their holidays, and fretting. I suspect this might be the one piece of advice they listened to. Good for them.