Just the two of us How to have a happy empty-nester holiday
Jenny Tucker is thrilled that it will be just her and her husband again this summer
It was my husband’s holiday to Brazil that made me think he was the man for me. Thirty years ago, when we had just started dating, he told me he was o on a threeweek trip with friends to Rio de Janeiro and the Bahia coastline. It seemed so daring and thrilling, the kind of jaunt I’d give my eye teeth to do, and in that moment I decided, here is someone who could be interesting to have around. I was right.
You see, travel has been our thing. Some couples buy cars, or join expensive members’ clubs. We’ve always agreed that money is well spent on airline tickets. Before we had our two boys (now 19 and 16), we tripped across a significant lump of the globe, notching up memories, taking risks and having bucketloads of fun. It’s not to say we haven’t had memorable holidays with the kids (the one where our rampaging toddler plopped in the villa pool and my husband jumped in fully clothed – jacket, shoes, nonwaterproof watch – is forever etched in my mind), but there is a dividing line between catering for family getaways and actually doing what you’d truly prefer to do on a much-needed break. Like avoid spending two hours in a toyshop when it’s gorgeously sunny outside, or pass paper bags to a teenager on the flight home after a mishap with a bottle of retsina.
Back in the day, we planned our jaunts with a passion. Even though we weren’t flush with cash, we’d save ferociously and often disappear for a month, our backpacks stu ed with books and scraggy T-shirts. Because it was just the two of us, we were free to go wherever we wanted, live on a budget and take our chances. We’d research a long list of options: South America, China, India, Australia... and be giddy with the thrill of it all. There wasn’t even an itinerary most of the time, let alone a first-aid kit containing Calpol. I’ll always feel blessed that we got to sing Bob Marley songs with a crazy Italian on the beach in Mexico... ate seafood caught 30 minutes earlier (by us) on the beach in Belize... and dived with hammerhead sharks in the sparkling-clear water of the Galapagos Islands. Oh, the joy.
But, like the rest of life, when children come along, things change radically. Holidays mean you often become a roadie for a week or two, carrying inflatables around like a street hawker and constantly running to the ice-cream seller for an ice lolly to appease bouts of screaming that occur at intermittent intervals. When kids are young, holidays can be exhausting. Like one of my friends said, “It’s a change of scene, >>
but worse because everyone is out of their routine and the kids never sleep.” I recall my boys were obsessed with playing endless games of ‘Mommy Monster’ in the pool. This entailed me being the monster and chasing them up and down while snapping my jaws like a ravenous alligator. They’d squeal with delight and swim away, often kicking me in my snarling chops while doing so. It was sweet to see them so ecstatic but, after three hours of the same, I was almost crying with relief when I finally managed to read two pages of my novel before collapsing in a snoring heap.
And there have been wondrous trips with my children that I’ll cherish until my last breath. We treasured those golden years when they reached an age where we could choose more adventurous locations and they were still compliant enough to agree. We bundled them o to Argentina where we went whitewater rafting on Christmas Day; we explored Thailand where the youngest was so shattered by all the escapades that he literally fell asleep face down in his dinner every night; we camped in a remote part of the Indian jungle where we were gobsmacked by the daily visit from a wild elephant family who came to bathe in the nearby waterfall.
But, of course, our children got older, became teens and had opinions of their own. Suddenly we were annoying and sooooo boring as holiday companions. It was obvious that girlfriends, friends, soccer, and Wi-fi were more crucial than spending two weeks in a Turkish villa with an infinity pool and parents who dare to chat to you! A few years ago, we did travel as a family to a beautiful part of Turkey and happened upon a private beach club, known as Fun Land, which, for our eldest, was about as much fun as stepping on a razor blade. While the club oered giant bouncy castles anchored out at sea, soaraway slides and piles of all-youcould-eat food, he chose to stay back at the villa with his computer, because it was “too hot in the sun”. He came home the colour of Tipp-ex and wielding a deep furrow between his eyebrows where he’d scowled so much.
Wish you weren’t here...
And while I did go through a brief phase of grieving for the family holiday idyll, I soon realised that life – and parents – must move on. One of my best friends, Fiona, has recently started enjoying time away with her husband again. They’ve just booked a trip to San Sebastián in Spain, where they will gorge on tapas rather than scouring the back streets for a chorizo-free restaurant for their vegan daughter. “It’s such sweet relief to go away on our own,” she tells me. “We can do what we love, like walk round cities, browse in bookshops and see galleries without a barrage of moaning. We love being up and out early – they want to lie in till noon. And we no longer get angry that they’re not ‘appreciating’ it enough!”
Another pal of mine, after surviving a double bout of cancer, resigned from her job recently to embark on a five-month utopian trip to faraway lands. She often sends me photos and messages to keep me up to date (and enthralled) with her adventures. It’s such a tantalising dispatch. Her last post informed me that she’d rocked up to a dinky beach hut in Costa Rica run by a man named Wolf. Wolf! Envious? Who, me?!
We once took the kids on holiday to a coastal caravan site. We thought it might be fun, but it rained every day and our caravan smelt of old socks. One day, my youngest threw a fit about picking up his damp clothes from the bathroom floor. He turned to me, puce with anger, and bellowed, “You can’t tell me what to do. I’LL DO WHAT I WANT!”
Well, now it’s the time for my husband and me to be a twosome again, a couple who can travel for longer, diverge o the beaten track (perhaps Bali or Tulum), be daring and listen to the glorious whoosh of the world’s seas without interruption. And if we want to drink a glass (or three) of wine at 3pm or 3am, that’s our business. Because you know what, we’re going to do what we want.
‘While I did grieve for the family holiday idyll, I realised that life needs to move on’
Jenny and husband, Pedro last year in Portugal. Left: zip lining in Costa Rica, 2007, with sons Luca (left), five, and Rafael, eight
A family holiday to Uruguay, 2008. Below: in Rajasthan, India, in 1996