I struggle to fathom the mind of someone who goes halfway around the world to “relax”. I struggle even more to see why anybody would do this at Christmas. The main reason people go abroad in December is because their family can’t tolerate them and they weren’t invited to Christmas lunch. These are the people you will be sharing your hotel with.
This year, I went on one such holiday. It was awful. Two flights in, and I made it to Singapore, where, within a few hours of landing my nose had turned into a weeping rash and my right eye had gone completely orange. They stayed so until the day I left.
Luckily, it was soon time for the holiday to begin in earnest. I was going to the island of Bintan in Indonesia, reached by ferry – and, just my luck, the sea was incredibly rough. HMS Colander battled its way across the Singapore Straits for 70 minutes, with the crew rushing all the while to distribute sick bags to the very young, the very old, the very weak and the vegetarians.
After the boat arrived, we were met by a man who showed us to a woman who introduced us to the man who showed us to the bus. Which didn’t leave for an hour. Much, much later (but only two miles down the road), we were shown off the bus by another man, who introduced us to the women who showed us to reception. She promptly called in the man who showed us to the golf buggy which drove us to our room.
If there’s one area where Asian hotels always entertain, it is their bathrooms. I’ve stayed in one where the shower had a window into the stairwell – and the curtain was on the wrong side. This hotel, inspired, I imagine, by Narnia, had installed a bedroom cupboard which led straight through to the toilet. Open the door to take out your clothes, and you’d get an eyeful of whoever was on the bog.
So, then, what to do now that I have arrived on my relaxing holiday? Well, I could go to the beach – I was at a beach resort, after all. But no. The red flags were flying all week, and my brief foray onto the sand left me with a face covered in sunburn and a foot covered in tar. I could go to the beach bar, but the cheapest drink cost about the same as a freshly-renovated terraced house. So I did what everybody else was doing: sat in the shade, and read a book. The same book twice over, because there was sod all else to do.
Still, it could have been worse. I could have been American. The family next to mine at dinner were, and, in the best tradition of American tourists everywhere, they just wouldn’t shut up about it. The roads are smoother at home. Indonesian money is confusing. Bintan has precisely the wrong sort of waves. And of course, there weren’t enough burgers. So it went on.
For the next two days, I sat around waiting for the bus to the boat to the taxi to the plane to the other plane (on which I got covered in orange juice and caught deep vein thrombosis) which flew me to the three trains that would, eventually, take me home. Except they didn’t, because one of the connections in that incredibly convoluted journey went wrong. I made it home late and lathered in someone else’s beverage, while my suitcase ended up firstly in Amsterdam, and then in Slough.
Travel has its merits, of course, and I believe it really does broaden the mind, but don’t fly to the other side of the world for a holiday if all you intend to do is “relax” when you get there. It’s wholly pointless. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be jet lagged until the day you leave and the food will give you a disease. All that is fine if you plan to see the Taj Mahal and learn local cooking, but it’s considerably less fine if your plan mostly comprises of locating the nearest chair, and sitting in it.
I went to the Lake District last year and it was brilliant. The sun shined more than you’d expect, yet it didn’t give me cancer. The scenery was stunning, there were things to do, and my face wasn’t allergic to all the nearby towns. And because I went in May, which is during the school term, I didn’t even see any families clogging up the streets with their wide-brimmed hats and laughable bum-bags. I cannot recommend it enough.
Domestic holidays have gone out of fashion ever since the advent of affordable air travel, and I’m really not sure why. Certainly, I’d rather be in the Lake District than in Bintan. It’s better by a country mile.