01 July, 2016 / General
One of my sons returns tomorrow after six weeks of travelling around Thailand and Cambodia. His trip has also been quite a lesson for me. The day he left – first time on long-haul flight without me or his dad – I was in a bit of a state, even though he’s 19 and perfectly capable of looking after himself. It was the lack of planning, frankly, that was doing my nut in. No accommodation booked and he seemed to have only the vaguest plan of where to go, what to do. And what if he ran out of socks, or toothpaste?
It’s how young people travel, of course. It’s the approach my friend Jane and I took when we cycled all over northern France in 1983. We ran out of money (of course), had to resort to busking and spent a freezing night in Chantilly railway station’s waiting room where a creepy man pressed his face up against the window in the night. As an adult, with your plans and lists and itineraries, it’s easy to forget that travelling is an entirely different proposition when you just shove your passport, your money and a spare pare of pants into your bag and go. You arrive and decide, ‘This looks great!’ Or you look around and think, it looks a bit crap actually, and simply go somewhere else. You don’t even realise how liberating it is as you’ve never done things any other way.
Having children requires a different approach, unless you’re the type to strap a baby to your chest and go hiking into the foothills of the Himalayas with nothing but a bar of Mint Cake – in which case I am in awe. I was never that type when my kids were young. We’d set off in the car to our favourite holiday house in southern Brittany, the car stuffed with games and toys and guidebooks. I’d turned into an obsessive planner – more to combat anxiety than anything else – but even then, things still went awry. In the midst of selecting CDs to take with us, I’d somehow forgotten to book the ferry. One of our children tore a radiator off the wall in the holiday house, simply by sitting it, and snarled up the workings of the pool by dropping a tumbler into some mysterious drain, whilst trying to trap ants.
No amount of planning could have averted that. We have pranged numerous hire cars and infuriated a Corsican cleaner so much – by leaving croissant crumbs in the grill pan and having a barbecue in the garden – that she pursued us to the airport in her own car.
I’d like to think our children regard their childhood holidays as smooth-running, impeccably organised affairs but, in fact, there were an awful lot of breakages, minor injuries, vital things being lost and trying to conceal dents in hire cars by propping an enormous suitcase in front of them. On one trip, we drove for over an hour with the boot wide open, my laptop slithering closer to the edge, as we remarked on how well the air conditioning was working that day. In the Roussion region of France, when our sons were babies, our carefully-selected (and filthy) apartment was owned by a drunken Englishman who called me a ‘slapper’.
In contrast, my son’s travels have, as far as I am aware, been entirely stress free. While I don’t think I could ever set off blithely in the way a young person does, I recognise that un-scheduled journeying can throw up experiences the fearless teenager will never forget. I look forward to hearing about my boy’s adventures and hope to God he’s remembered to clean his teeth.