After a M A S S I V E hiatus I am BACK, and, since I am unemployed and spending my days crying about the fact I am no longer on holiday in the sunniest and happiest place in the world, I thought I’d share my tips on how to survive a family holiday as a fully fledged adult who has their own thoughts and feelings and can’t be dragged around from place to place by their parents while being placated with ice lollies and being called back from playing in the pool with your mates to be slathered with Factor 50 every half an hour.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Back in January, I was brought down by a case of the shingles.
I don’t know if anyone knew about it by the way, I’ve only ever mentioned it once or twice y’know.
Mumma Mac came to Edinburgh to visit me after confirming I wasn’t contagious and therefore a health hazard to her, and, after cheering me up with some hot chocolate and cake, one thing led to another, and we egged each other on to a point where we had 4 flights booked for a week long trip to Spain. Her, myself, my auntie Debbie and Mr OneBigStressball had 6 months to look forward to 6 days in the Andalusian sun, sprinkled with a day trip to Gibraltar and a day in Morocco.
Planning the trip was relatively easy. It only got frustrating when Mumma Mac decided I could organise a shindig in Gibraltar for the day we were going to be there (it was going to be my auntie’s birthday and she said there at least had to be a cake brought out) from my flat in Edinburgh, forgetting that she has a very particular taste when it comes to dining out at restaurants and it was most likely going to be the case that we wouldn’t know where or when we were going to eat until dinner time on that very day.
Another time when I lost my temper was after having sent about a hundred links to different tours of Tangiers in Morocco to my mum and auntie because they were the ones I was most concerned about not having a good time (not understanding the guide or being in a part of Tangiers they didn’t like etc), I was asked to choose the tour that I felt everyone would enjoy, as some stuff was going down within the family and they didn’t want to think about that stuff.
But ew. Responsibility. I don’t know about you guys, but even up till the DAY of the tour I was low-key nervous about everyone having a good time and not hating me for choosing a shit day trip.
Anyway, I chose the tour I thought was most cost-effective and would give us the best day for our budget, and put it out to the group the amount they all owed me for paying for it.
Cue some passive aggressive comments about it being expensive and wondering why I didn’t consult with everyone before I bought the tickets.
To make matters worse, I don’t know exactly when it happened, but Ryanair decided to be bigger arseholes than they already are and informed us that if we wanted to take more than a small rucksack on holiday, we now had to pay extra money to be able to take more than one change of clothes on a week-long trip.
Sending that message out to the group was met by complaints that I should have known about this charge and got it sorted when I booked the flights in the first place.
I took it all in my stride though, and, after 2 hectic weeks at work trying to wrap things up with clients and look for a new job, I suddenly found myself packing my – very grudgingly paid for – suitcase and checking what the weather in the South of Spain was going to be like for the next 7 days.
Hot, was the answer. It was going to be very hot.
All in all, it was a truly amazing holiday.
We each got what we wanted – some of us were there for sun (me); some wanted to be cultural (Mr OneBigStressball); and some of us wanted to spend every penny that was in the kitty on shopping trips and snacks (my mother and my auntie).
But the way I planned the trip meant that everyone got at least one chance to do what they wanted to do, and it turned out to be a good way of balancing things out and keeping everyone relatively happy.
We got to spend a day on the beach in Tarifa, soaking up the Andalusian sunshine and sipping on sangria. A couple of us may have underestimated the strength of the Spanish sun and gotten unfortunate tan lines on their bottom, but that’s a story for another post.
On one of the days we walked across the Spanish/Gibraltar border and, like true tourists we spent ages taking pictures on the airplane landing strip, even though you’re really not allowed to and I was mentally preparing myself with the Spanish vocabulary I’d need to deal with a situation in which my mother was arrested. That same day we got up close and personal with some apes, one of which decided my auntie’s rucksack would be a good place to get snacks and jumped on her, much to her terror. To be fair, she had an entire picnic packed in that thing, so he was a clever monkey to try and open the bag.
On our fourth day away, we got to venture into Morocco, see the spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, visit the caves of Hercules, eat traditional Moroccan couscous, ride camels AND wander by ourselves round the labyrinth that is Tangier’s medina. Mr OneBigStressball and I even got shown round by a random local taxi driver, who had lived both in London and in Australia, and was ecstatic at the chance to practise his English with us. Once we’d gotten over our fear of this man either a) taking us to a dodgy area of town where we would be robbed and murdered ; or b) showing us around and then asking us for money because he had done so even though we hadn’t asked for the tour, we ended up having a great chat with him. He told us about various things he’d gone through, including losing a child when she was a baby, as well as dealing with racism and prejudice in Australia which lead to him returning to Tangier, and, after he left us, I hugged Mr OneBigStressball and found myself wanting to cry.
How often do you actually come across genuinely nice people nowadays? Truly, honestly good people who will abandon their taxi (don’t know how that worked but he did it anyway… I didn’t even see him lock it or anything) and take two strangers round their home city and show them things they would have missed if they were out walking alone?
On our final day, before getting on the two hour bus that would take us to the airport and therefore signalling the end of our holiday, Mr OneBigStressball and I went for brunch and a wander round the city we were living in. This gave me a chance to play tour guide (I lived in Algeciras 4 years ago) and also gave my mother and my auntie some time for free reign in the local shopping mall, without us tagging along and inevitably looking for the nearest seats in every shop we stepped foot in.
All good right? Kind of.
As with any family holiday – or holiday in general – the trip wasn’t without its hitches and challenges, and, looking back I could have handled certain situations better than I did. Hindsight is 20/20 though right? I now realise that I overreacted to some things my mum said to me, or got frustrated sometimes when I really had no reason to, but these are just things that I’ll know to avoid or deal with differently in future trips (if there are any!)
So, here are my top tips for going on family holidays. Or holidays with mates. Or with your partner. Basically any holiday that involves more than just yourself.
- Remember that you can’t please everyone.
I tried so hard trying to make sure everyone was happy all the time that I kind of ended up forgetting to make sure I was having a good time. When my mum wanted to go shopping I would be constantly apologising to Mr OneBigStressball because I knew he was bored and wishing he were elsewhere. At the end of the day, the holiday was for everyone. It was inevitable that someone would want to do something a little bit different, so instead of trying to apologise and make excuses as to why we were waiting for half an hour outside a supermarket, it would have been better just to enjoy the sunshine and enjoy the alone time we had together and take in our surroundings. Oh, and apologising constantly is apparently just annoying to others anyway, so you’re best just not doing it!
- Remember some things are just out of your control.
Malaga only has two buses that go to Algeciras every day? Our flight happened to arrive 5 minutes before the departure of one of these said buses and therefore we had to spend 5 hours milling around Malaga city centre with our luggage? Sure, it’s annoying, but it wasn’t something I could physically change. Cafes and restaurants in rural Spain don’t open till 10am because that’s just when breakfast time is over there? Yep, irritating… I like my breakfast almost as soon as I wake up, but again, nothing I could do. Instead of getting annoyed at the system, I just had to take a deep breath and remind myself we were in Spain and I’d just have to deal with the way things work there.
- Always be clear and firm when explaining things.
With the bus situation mentioned above, I wasn’t the only one who was annoyed. As soon as you know something like this might happen and people might get irate, explain the situation and make sure you are clear that that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing you can do. Otherwise you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of grumbles and moans and sarcastic comments, and, if you’re as sensitive as me, it’ll only upset you. Not worth it.
- Don’t expect people’s personalities to change just because they’re on holiday.
Did I expect my mum to be more chilled out on holiday? Yes. Did I think she would have changed her old habits of getting up ridiculously early and going to different places even though I’d explained to her a great many times that nothing in that part of Spain is open before 10am? Yes. Did she look at me shocked and question my very being when I told her we’d meet her at 9am for breakfast rather than her assumed 7am? Absolutely.
Did I also think I would be able to handle her sarcasm and jibes better because I was on holiday? Yes. Did I want to sigh and roll my eyes every time she doubted anything I told her? 100%
Being on holiday doesn’t change a person. Yep, people feel waaay more relaxed and chilled out, but at the end of the day, their personality isn’t suddenly going to become more or less tolerable and you’re not suddenly going to get on like a house on fire if you didn’t before. It just doesn’t work that way. I know for a fact now that my mum and I’s problem is that we love each other to bits but we are too similar. Proximity is an issue, and after 2 days we start getting one each others’ nerves. But is it a problem? It doesn’t have to be! If you’re going on holiday with someone who you know you might not always see eye to eye with, that’s okay. You can totally get through your time together, but go in with the mental preparation that they are more than likely going to annoy you at some point. You don’t expect anyone to try and change you, so there’s no point even going there with someone else.
- Prepare for EVERYTHING
It’s a pain to have to do at the time, but it’s totally worth it. We were a party of 4 on this trip, myself, who can speak Spanish and Cantonese as well as the obvious English; Mr OneBigStressball who can speak okay Spanish and only after this holiday now knows how to say ‘shit yourself’, ‘I’m full’ and ‘I’m hungry’ in Cantonese; my mum, who can speak English and Cantonese but still can’t remember ‘hello’ in Spanish without prompting; and my auntie, who has passable English but took a few days to come out of her shell and speak to Mr OneBigStressball properly, and, like my mum, no habla español.
As acting translator and pretty much the trip organiser, I had to check and double check everything was okay before we went away. We had three people travelling with British passports, and one with a Hong Kong passport. This meant that with things like our trip to Morocco I had to make sure none of us needed extra visas or documents, and that my auntie would actually be able to get in and out of Spain with no problem. There wasn’t a problem, by the way, until Spanish customs decided that there was no difference between Hong Kong and China and demanded my auntie get an extra stamp on her boarding pass before going through security. It seems like a lot of work to have to research things that might not even be an issue, but trust me, it’s better to know the answers if problems to arise than to stare blankly back at 3 other people because you haven’t a clue what’s happening.
- Take some alone time.
People want to do different things. Don’t be afraid to break up the group into different activities and organise to reconvene at another time. My biggest worry with doing this was that my mum would get upset that I was making her do other stuff and going off with Mr OneBigStressball, but, to be honest, she much preferred being put in a taxi and taken to a shopping centre with her sister whilst Mr OneBigStressball and I lay on sun loungers sipping beer and messed around in a waterpark. Time alone means you get time to reset. Having issues with proximity doesn’t mean we need breaks that last for days and days before we see each other again. Sometimes all you need is a few hours.
- B R E A T H E
Because if you’re stressed this is the simplest way to help you relax. Also if you don’t breathe you’ll die. And that’s pretty much a sure fire way to ruin your holiday.
So, that’s it!
Planning and executing a great holiday isn’t easy, and there are so many things that can go wrong. Looking back, we were incredibly lucky, and things mostly panned out the way we needed them to, and the trip was a success.
If we do plan another holiday, I know to not be as sensitive to my mother’s remarks as I usually am. I can’t make everyone happy, and if everyone enjoying themselves on the whole brings about with it some sarcastic comments and moaning, well, then the sunshine and sangria will have to make up for it instead.
Also I know to pick a destination whose language I do NOT speak so as to not fry my brain converting 3 languages back and forth all day. That shit messed me up for a good few days after we got back.
Tell me about your most recent experience going on holiday as a family? Was it fun? Stressful? A mix of both? I want to know!
Until next time!