1. AS A CHILD (with parents)
Upside: You don’t pay for anything
Downside: You have to do what you’re told
I was well-travelled as a child due to the fact mum and dad couldn’t decide in which country they wanted to live.
We flew from Scotland to Australia (so-called 10 pound Poms); sailed from Australia back to the UK (via New Zealand, Tahiti, Panama and the Azore Islands); then sailed back to Oz (via the Canary Islands and South Africa).
Being stuck in the same room/cabin/row of seats as your parents for hours, days, weeks: Frustrating. Being made to attend school on an ocean liner: Just plain annoying.
As a teenager the highlight of circling the globe wasn’t new countries, cultures, food, history, lame equator-crossing ceremonies (I still have the certificates) etc ... it was being star-struck by a recent Miss World (truly) looking fabulous in a tiny green bikini on the pool deck of the SS Britanis. Sounds a bit stalkerish, but I had only just turned 13 … and she was a Miss World!
Upside: Reckless abandon
Downside: Making every cent stretch
Never planning ahead was the way to go back then. Something about freedom to change your mind. It could backfire, mind you.
I should have learned my lesson in England’s beautiful Lake District. Bank holiday, no room in any inn, and ending up sharing some battler’s tiny tent with two others, pitched on dog poop. Oh, the smell still comes back to me! Then waking up with a hangover. Aaargh.
I didn’t learn my lesson … and months later a group of us arrive late in the afternoon at Cairo’s Ramses Railway Station without an accommodation plan. But then a keen-eyed colleague spots a hotel sign ... and it’s only $US1 a night!
The hotel occupied several floors high up in a dingy-looking building overlooking Ramses Square. My room wasn’t clean to say the least, but it had been a long day. The sink on the wall would be perfect to wash some grime off my face! I turn the tap on and all I get is a groan from the pipes. Turn it further. No water. But a few seconds later a torrent bursts forth ... a torrent of cockroaches. It was like one of Egypt’s biblical plagues. No more shall be said of that night ... ever!
Upside: None of your business
Downside: Wedding + honeymoon = penniless
The wedding went well. Now it’s time to relax. The country of destination ... Thailand. So far, so good. It was Visit Thailand Year or something like that. The resort location: Pattaya. The travel agent talked it up but the reality was a little different.
To be fair, our hotel, the Siam Bayshore, was magnificent. Beautiful setting beside the Gulf of Siam, nice rooms, restaurants, pool etc. But Pattaya itself was frequented by US sailors, sleazy Europeans and wall-to-wall bars with young sex workers beckoning for business.
The dubious location didn’t ruin the experience. We had some great food, did a few day tours, swam, got sunburnt etc. But, we haven’t entirely trusted a travel agent’s recommendations since. Phuket might have been better.
4. FAMILY HOLIDAY
Upside: Kids love a trip away
Downside: They’d rather be elsewhere
We decided early on we would travel far and wide with our kids. First off was a short but sweet visit to see family living in Paris. It was there my three-year-old son dubbed the French capital’s most famous monument the Awful Tower. Yes, it was wet and cold but Awful?
Then I carried him, crying, all the way to the top of Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Poor thing. His older sister loved France though, deciding to open a Parisian crepe stand with her cousin (hasn’t happened ... yet).
Then, over a period of 10 years, with our full complement of three kids, we embarked on a series of mostly successful trips including Penang, Hawaii, Disneyland etc.
But it was a moment during the dream holiday to Greece that summed up travelling with children for me. Sitting in a fabulous taverna, overlooking a beautiful Mediterranean beach, sun shining, eating ice cream and drinking soft drink, my by-now 11-year-old son (of the Awful Tower fame) observed: “I don’t know why we just didn’t go to Queensland”.
5. OLDER & WISER
So, the kids are grown up and the world is your oyster! Travelling is not as expensive, you don’t have to arrange things around your kids’ school terms, pubs and bars are no longer unpractical, late nights a possibility … aaah.
But, what happened to the boundless energy? Take what should have been a straightforward climb to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral after a sight-seeing day in London recently. Bloody hell, are these stairs ever going to end? And when my wife and I finally make it to the top I realise the vertigo brought on by heights that I thought age had wearied, was still firmly intact. Legs shaking, I descend.
Never, mind, we are staying at a wonderful old-fashioned English pub … a few pints and I will be 100 per cent. One pint later, and an Aperol spritz for my wife, and we decide we’re exhausted and a cup of tea in our room and an early night will prepare us for the next day’s adventures.
PS: And, when your adult children actually meet up with you on a trip, it seems like you are still paying for everything … including cocktails!