Five Things I’ve Learnt About Family Holidays (and One I Haven’t)


Alexander and Sarah, family trip to Durban, 1995

Family holidays are fun. Awesome. Just you and your loved ones, human and canine, crammed into a house and getting away from it all. Except each other. Family holidays are the dream, idealized for months before the time, the idea of their relaxing qualities and cozy, loving perfection built up like sandcastles in the sky. But sandcastles fall after only one stamp of an angry little foot or sweep of incoming tide. Many family holidays dissolve in tantrums and tears as siblings revert to childish roles. After not having had a family holiday for a while, we packed up for a lovely long weekend and enjoyed every moment. This is, over the years, what we’ve learnt.

Lunch on a Cuban Island

Lunch on a Cuban Island

1. Make. Everybody. Eat … Often.

Almost everyone in our family gets super ratty when our sugar levels drop. Mom knows to have enough healthy snacks on hand – fruit, sachets of oats, crackers with spreads, yogurt, dried fruit and a few slabs of Bubbly to separate out after dinner. We always tell her that she’s taking too much – we’ll never get through it all – it will go off. It never does and I don’t know when we’ve bought home much. Danny has a mug that says “Mom is Always Right” and every family holiday, she proves it true.

2. Divide up space

Make sure that however cramped your quarters, everyone has their own space to put their things and that as far as possible, flotsam stays out of the common area. It’s usually Danny who ends up sleeping on the available couch when beds run out, and I’m always guilty of demarcating a (small) portion of the lounge and consistently redirecting his various belongings to it. While he’s a natural spreader-outer, he’s also very good at humoring me. A clear lounge means more space in which to relax and have fun without my OCD tendencies getting the better of me.

3. Bring those electronics (and don’t forget the headphones)

While many people want to ‘unplug’ and ‘get away from it all’ we make sure to pack the laptops, ipads, ipods and all the chargers. It allows us to do extra reading, watch series together, catch up on work, write posts and generally indulge in the individual interests we don’t always have time for in the week, while still being companionable. Electronic pastimes are interspersed with plenty of books, decks of cards, games of chess and chocolate-fueled series viewing. It means that instead of staring at each other and twiddling our thumbs, becoming frustrated by trying to force ourselves to relax, we’re all able to unwind and relax in our own ways, together.

4. Do your own thing

Sometimes, I feel like a walk on the beach. Sometimes I don’t. Occasionally, I don’t even want to get off the couch. Instead of forcing everybody to do the same thing every minute of every day, allow everyone to come and go as they please, instead of everybody having to do everything all the time together.

Neil Diamond, Live in Durban

Neil Diamond, Live in Durban

5. Know when you’re it 

Even if your family has one or two usual culprits, almost everybody takes a turn to be it, now and again. It is irritable and has to fight the urge to snap at little things. It is having a sense of humour failure, even though we’re on holiday. It always thinks that it’s not him or her, it’s everybody else who is a bit off, a bit at fault, a little to jarring or a tad over-sensitive. Sometimes, when everybody seems to be rubbing you up the wrong way, recognise that maybe you’re being just a tad spiky and that, like in tag, your time to be it has rolled around. Have a sleep, a walk, a chocolate or all three, and rejoin the group when you’ve shaken it off.

And one I haven’t:

1. Packing too much (usually of the wrong thing)

Every time we manage to escape for a weekend away, I try to take a little less, incentivised by the memory of how few clothes I actually used last time. It’s getting easier, especially as we’ve revisited a few of the same places more than once. Once you realise that the only things you’ll need in Paternoster are a pair of shorts, a warm jacket and old slip slops, you’re able to leave the makeup and high heels at home.

But when you’re visiting somewhere new and you have visions of a Bridget Jones / Hugh Grant getaway (before it went bottoms up in the boat), not knowing what romantic little restaurants or treasure-trove antique shops await, it’s harder to cull the luggage. I’m working on it.

family holiday 1 (1024x513)

Mexican Fiesta, Puerto Vallarta


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