The Back Seat
Forget the five-star holiday. Get your shots, pack lightly, be prepared for unsavoury toilets and have the holiday of a lifetime. By Isabel Lee
Remember the days before the children arrived? Yes, look back through the cobwebs, dirty diapers, sleepless nights, bickering and remember those getaways where the only thing you had to worry about was getting to the airport on time and perfecting your tan. We all have a favourite travel period in our lives and it’s usually when we were young and carefree. Some reminisce about traipsing through the tropics on the banana pancake trail, others about long train rides across Europe. The one thing these sorts of trips have in common is that they were eventful, dirty in one way or another and you really saw the country you were visiting in all its unfiltered wonder.
Then one day it all changes and before you know it you’re travelling with what seems like a 100kg kit comprising strollers, toys, a hundred changes of clothes, first aid kits and about a thousand zip lock bags. Holidaying with young ones is like planning for guerrilla warfare… and so we as parents try to find the easiest pain-free options – the five-star hotels with the kids’ club and the most sterile of destinations to avoid any contact with germs and dirt.
But, is that really what constitutes a memorable holiday? Which are the holidays you remember most? The one where you spent ten days touring every capital city in Europe until it was all a blur? Or the one where you ate odd food on the street, stayed in an A-frame hut on a stunning beach, rode the public transport with the colourful locals or found yourself sitting in a village somewhere drinking the local firewater?
When I was young I was lucky enough to have both types of holidays. Now being a parent in my 40s, I really do look back on my childhood holidays with nostalgia. I remember going to places where there was an hour of electricity a day, endless train and boat journeys to get to that hippie beach, the envy I felt when friends told me they were going to Club Med. All I wanted was to be ensconced in a sterile (but luxurious) hotel room with an endless breakfast buffet. What I got was communal bathrooms and a fear of mosquito nets.
As adults we are given to reminisce through rose-tinted glasses about those carefree childhood holidays, and I now enjoy telling my children about how cool it was to share a toilet with colourful characters in baggy clothes who smelt funny!
My children have also seen both sides of the coin. Yes they have had some pretentious holidays in fantastic locales; but as parents we should make an effort to show them that it’s not all five-star service, crisp sheets and cold towels at check-in.
Case in point: on a recent trip to Sri Lanka, the highlight of their trip was the different modes of transport we took. The whizzing threewheelers in Colombo squeezing confidently through some very tight spaces – mind you, the drivers were always very kind, telling my kids (LOUDLY) to keep their limbs within the vehicle. The train to Kandy where Bollywood films were played on repeat the entire way and food vendors hopped on at every stop and we ate everything they had to offer. The local bus where my son watched a chain of human bodies hang out of the door as the bus got too full and the look of disbelief on his face was priceless. It took some convincing to make my daughter even sit down but in the end it was a memorable bus ride into the holiday annals and it cost us almost nothing. And that was just one holiday… I won’t even begin to remember the crossing across a swollen raging river surrounded on either side by dense jungle on a tiny wooden boat. I can still hear a little voice saying, ‘Where’s the life jacket, mummy?’
Whether it’s backpacking, camping, caravanning or any holiday that requires vomitinducing van rides, overnight boats or propeller plane rides to small towns, you can be absolutely sure that your kids will remember these adventures, and those deluxe comfortable holidays will fade into obscurity. You can be sure they too will one day fondly recollect those crazy trips to their own children and so the wisdom will be passed on.
As parents we should make an effort to show them that it’s not all five-star service, crisp sheets and cold towels at