Monday, 7 September 2015

Five Truths About Holidays

Quite a lot of my posts are dedicated to the subject of holidays. This is because I love going abroad. However - and it's a big however - there is one truth I frequently skim over in the reviews of our latest adventures. And that is that going away as a family does not - for all its loveliness - usually equate with the general understanding of what constitutes a holiday.

Of course, holidays with children involved are wonderful, memory-creating experiences for the most part, but few people will tell you that those sugar-coated pictures on Facebook belie the reality of family holidays. Just like those pesky holiday brochures, the pictures you see on social media only tell half truths - here are five realities I've learnt about family holidays over the years...

1. Accidents will happen on holiday

And they will usually be quite random. You'd never walk into a tree at home, would you, but holidays seem to up the chances of having an unusual mishap (as my husband found out when he walked into a low-hanging tree branch in France, resulting in 8 stitches and the unfortunate necessity of walking around with what looked like a sanitary towel stuck to his head for the duration of the holiday - not a good look in chic Cassis.) 

Be prepared for the usual cuts and grazes, as well as illness and do NOT under any circumstances scrimp on the Calpol. I spent one memorable afternoon on a past holiday scouring a tiny town for a pharmacy during the middle of the Italian siesta - a time when shops often shut until the evening - while my husband drove round the one way system, with both children in the back simultaneously vomiting and having diarrhoea. Not a great scenario at any time, but certainly one to be avoided when you're driving around in a hire car...

Then there was the time one of them got chicken pox. On bloody holiday - what are the chances! This was a particularly unwelcome development as on this occasion we'd splashed out on a HOTEL. We'd eschewed camping for 4-star luxury in Sardinia, only to find that all those lovely swimming pools and child-friendly facilities were out of bounds to a pox-ridden 4-year-old...

2. They really do lie in the brochures

No, really, they do. First rule of holiday booking is to absolutely scan the description, get yourself onto Google street view and double check things like distances from airports - there's nothing like turning up at your destination expecting a breezy 40 minute drive to your resort to be told by the hire car people that actually, due to the 'slow, winding roads' you'll be looking at a 2 and a half hour drive instead. Especially when it's gone midnight and you have two tired, fractious children in tow.

This year's brochure wording really excelled itself, though. In Eurocamp's words we were told that 'due to the location of the site, some road and rail noise may be heard'. So imagine our surprise when we turned up at said location to find it sandwiched between a busy dual carriageway and mainline railway. And when I say 'sandwiched' I mean there was a railway line overlooking the swimming pool...

While I'm not one for obsessively checking TripAdvisor - there will always be one moany person to plant a seed of doubt in your mind about anywhere and everywhere - I would advise checking Google street view so you can zoom in on that road that seems to run alongside the's amazing how inconsequential such features can look in the brochure pictures.

3. No photo you've seen captures the reality of a place

Unfortunately most places I've been to haven't quite tallied up with the picture I've created in my mind ahead of a trip. It's important to have realistic rather than romantic expectations of a place; that idyllic, tranquil Mediterranean beach you've been dreaming about will look quite different in the height of August, when the world and his wife descends on it. 

We went to a beautiful beach in Spain a couple of years ago, but its blissful environs were slightly marred by the fact that we were packed liked sardines on the sand. On coming back form a dip in the sea, another family had pretty much set up camp underneath our parasols...they don't show THAT on the postcards...

Cars are a pain, too. You see that adorable, quintessentially French boulangerie, complete with vintage signage and a retro bike propped up outside? Wouldn't it capture the essence of a French holiday...well, it would were it not for the fact an ugly white van's pulled up just inside your shot, ruining your perfect Instagram moment. The charm of beautiful places is often, in reality, tempered by the prosaic - ceaseless traffic, huge tour parties and tacky souvenir shops, for example.

It's important to remember that those effortless shots you see on Instagram or the authentic looking images that fill your Lonely Planet guide were probably taken at 5 in the morning when no one was around. Even the most beautiful cities are usually working places - Florence is a perfect example; you won't be magically transported to the 1400s just because you're in the birthplace of the Renaissance. 

And with children in tow it's even harder to immerse yourself in the authentic. While you might fancy mooching about about in a medieval village for the afternoon they just want to throw themselves down the waterslides at Aqualand. And sometimes you'll just have to go with that...

4. Camping is quite hard work

I do speak with some experience, though we only really do camping 'lite'. We've been all over Europe with companies such as Eurocamp and Canvas and I can honestly say what while it's a great way to economise (although the prices have risen quite a bit recently) it can be trying at times, simply because space and cooking facilities are limited. You just spend a lot of time stumbling over each other and struggling to make meals with the most rudimentary of tools. 

I think I was using a pair of (clean) underpants as an oven glove on one occasion when it transpired that Eurocamp do not include these in their mobile home inventory (I wasn't really up for parting with good money to buy an oven glove on holiday.) And I don't think I've ever used a sharp knife or an effective chopping board while holidaying in a mobile home.

Of course, this is also the beauty of the experience - going basic can be fun - but don't underestimate the lack of ease and convenience if you really do need a proper holiday. 

It's possibly easier staying in a tent or mobile home with younger children but with one child on the cusp of adolescence and another who, though tiny, has an amazing capacity to take up all the space in a room, this sort of accommodation can be a tad confining, particularly if the weather isn't on your side.

5. Do not bother compiling a 'holiday wardrobe'

This is perhaps only true for the kind of budget-friendly holidays I go on, perhaps not so relevant if you're staying in hotel or villa. Every year I get completely taken in by the idea of buying 'special' clothes to take on holiday. In my mind's eye, I'm holidaying in a chic Ibizan finca for a fortnight, not setting up home at a functional French campsite. So, I fill my case with floaty dresses and beautiful sandals, imagining evenings spent watching sunsets while I sip on an Aperol...

In reality, I end up wearing old denim shorts, scruffy t-shirts and a battered pair of flip flops for the duration. That bohemian kaftan dress feels a bit wrong at the campsite disco and given that a lot of time on site will be taken up walking back and forth with a washing up bowl, you probably didn't need to pack those very on-trend gladiator sandals - Birkenstocks will do and they're so easy to get on and off. 

Because you will totally have to take your shoes off every time you enter your mobile home - campsites kick up a lot of dust and pine needles that will somehow end up all over your floor, all the time, no matter how many times you sweep it.

Save yourself the hassle and excess baggage costs if you're camping - there will be more appropriate times to flash your fashionista credentials...

All this said, I would like to end this post on a positive note - family holidays, are of, course always lovely, no matter what happens. It might pour with rain for a week, your other half might walk into a tree and your kids will definitely drive you up the wall at some point, but I guarantee you won't ever regret a family holiday - just remember to take all those perfect holiday pics on Facebook with a big pinch of salt...(and don't forget to pack the Calpol.)

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