In the years BCE (Before Children Encroach), holidaying with friends is fun. You know each other well, you all get on and the biggest dilemma you face is what to do when the wine runs out. Then come kids, with a Trunki-load of logistical problems, tantrums-in-the-making and an arsenal of argument-starters. Children, adorable blighters that they are, carry with them the seeds of discord.
From this point on, your family holidays fall into four varieties: the Family Family Holiday, the Close-Friends Family Holiday, the Not-So-Close-Friends Family Holiday, and the Holiday-Family Family Holiday.
The Family Family Holiday, with an extended assortment of relatives, may at first glance seem the least desirable (insert in-law gag here) but in fact, they’re often the best option. Your family already know each other’s annoying habits, odd foibles and murky secrets. Best of all, they’re the only group of people in the world duty-bound not to hate your children. I’ve grown to love going away with my extended family, especially during the festive season. In recent years, the Lohan clan has taken to colonising a picturesque Cotswolds hotel that caters beautifully for anyone aged two to 82, has babysitters on tap and bedrooms to which we can retreat independently whenever we need to step away from the melée. And, we all get along famously.
The Close-Friends Family Holiday is the next-best option. This is with your oldest, nearest and dearest mates who are a similar age, have similar-aged kids who get on, and who all remember with the same degree of fondness what your lives were like in the days before babies. This type of holiday is usually good. Sure, there may be the odd kerfuffle — maybe a heated dispute about iPad access or loom band weaving patterns — but you all know each other well enough to brush aside any squabbles.
Not so on The Not-So-Close-Friends Family Holiday, the one with those people you like well enough but see only once or twice a year. You know it’s a gamble: you all like each other, but it’s easy to like someone when you’re chatting over dinner — less so when you’ve watched them fail to wash up for the fourth day on the trot. Your kids certainly aren’t all accustomed to each other, though: “You remember Kate and Max, don’t you?” Blank faces. You may as well have asked them the capital of Nicaragua. But whatever, you’re committed. You’re far from home, tiptoeing through a minefield of awkwardness: what time is bedtime for their kids? How much is ‘enough’ ice cream? And that’s before you even get to the thorny issue of disciplining each other’s children: “Ha ha, Max, I think the wall is red enough already. Give the marker pen to me, sweetie. Ha ha. NOW.” One parent calls time on the distribution of Haribos and World War Three ensues.
Finally, there’s the Holiday-Family Family Holiday. You arrive at your destination, and your kids meet another set of children. They click. When it comes to dealing with the other parents in this scenario, there’s a clearly defined etiquette. On the first day, you ignore them. If the kids are still getting on by day two, the mums may tentatively approach. Dads, meanwhile, remain aloof until they find themselves simultaneously being called upon to participate in dad-type holiday games, such as football or being repeatedly pushed into the pool because that’s apparently hilarious. As long as one doesn’t look spectacularly better in trunks, the dads bond, the families team up and, a few sangrias later, you’ve got yourselves some brand new mates to avoid holidaying with next year. Group hug, everyone!
James Lohan is the founding ‘Mr’ of boutique hotels website Mr & Mrs Smith
Published in the Spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)