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The butler did it: James Lohan

The Mr & Mrs Smith co-founder loves a luxury trip as much as the next traveller. But are his children taking it for granted? Here he reveals his solution — a weekend in a caravan on the Dorset coast

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I love a luxury holiday. Come to think of it, there probably aren’t many people out there who don’t. I can hardly imagine anyone saying: “No, actually I’ll pass on the three-bed ocean-view spa villa, thanks, but if you’ve got a shed by the car park, that’ll do me.” Everyone likes to feel like they’re being spoilt sometimes. Part of the pleasure of being on holiday is the fact you’re taken away from everyday life — and the lovely cossetting bubble of a beautiful hotel in a fabulous location can do that better than almost anything else.

The real pleasure of luxury is that it’s not normal. The trouble comes when you grow too used to it. There’s something dangerously addictive about top-floor suites with balcony hot tubs, romantic dinners on the beach, speedboat trips to picnic on an Indian Ocean island… Take luxury for granted, and you start to hanker for a bigger fix. Asses’ milk in that hot tub, a swan dinner in an underwater dome, dolphins hauling your boat to that island, and so on.

But I’m not addicted — I know I can stop any time I want. It’s the kids I’m worried about. Yes, I want us all to enjoy spending time as a family somewhere wonderful — but I don’t want them to think of luxury as a right, rather than the privilege it is. It’s called ‘spoiling yourself’ for a reason, after all.

The alarm bells started ringing earlier this year when seven-year-old Tom wondered aloud whether our next holiday would include a butler. Panic set in. I felt like I’d just been asked where babies come from, or what Amanda Holden is famous for. I tried to explain that it’s not the norm, that we were very lucky to have twice been upgraded recently, and that was only because both those hotels had overbooked and only had their crazy gazillionaire villas free that weekend because Justin Bieber was in prison or something.

Tom looked thoughtfully at his Star Wars Lego, possibly speculating about whether we’d be given Vader’s quarters should we choose to holiday on the Death Star. “Will I get a massage like I had in Bali?” (I knew at the time that was a jasmine-scented indulgence too far) “How big will the pool be?”

An emergency family meeting is called. Committee resolution: Static caravan, Easter weekend, Dorset.

A few weeks later, we arrive in the welcoming drizzle of Seatown. No private pools, no masseuses and nary a butler in sight — just a hill, a picturesque stony beach upfront, and a pub opposite. As far as bucket-and-spade ‘slumming it’ goes, it’s perfect.

OK, it’d never make it as a design hotel, unless beige were to become all the rage or disco-light electric fires the latest luxe must-have, but it was great value. The sun came out. We ate ice cream, skimmed stones, cracked rocks and whooped when we found ammonites inside. We picnicked in the shade of awe-inspiring cliffs. Here, without bells or whistles, or massages, we enjoyed family time together. And it was great.

Not as great as the Maldives, obviously, but at least we had a fun, wholesome family break that didn’t break the bank, and which recalibrated the kids’ expectations as to what ‘holiday’ really means: time away from the stress of daily life, with the people you love, and where the only butlers to hand are mum and dad. Now that’s luxury.

James Lohan is the founding ‘Mr’ of boutique hotels website Mr & Mrs Smith, and Smith & Family

Published in the Summer 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)