Smith & Family founder and beleaguered father of two James Lohan loves a luxury family holiday as much as the next man. but, where the kids are concerned, does going five-star do more harm than good? In one of his regular Travel Dad columns for National Geographic Traveller’s family edition, he bravely went where no family-hotel addict would voluntarily go…
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 experiencing luxury is that it’s not normal. The trouble comes when you grow overly accustomed to it. There’s something dangerously addictive about top-floor suites with hot tubs on the balcony, romantic dinners on the beach, speedboat trips to picnic on a deserted Indian Ocean island… Take luxury for granted, and you start to hanker for a bigger fix. Asses’ milk in that hot tub, a romantic swan dinner in an underwater dome, a brace of 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 that I’m worried about. Yes, I want us all to enjoy spending time as a family somewhere wonderful, and yes, I want them to experience things they wouldn’t at home – 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 I had no idea, that most hotels don’t have that sort of luxury, that we were very lucky to have been upgraded a couple of times 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. Agenda item 1: How to bring this family back down to holiday earth? Committee resolution: Static caravan, Easter weekend, Dorset.
At first, I don’t know how comfortable I am with the decision. The four of us in a confined space, probably beset by rain the whole time, possibly bored out of our minds and getting on each other’s nerves? And that’s just the car journey…
A few weeks later, after several hours of are-we-there-yetting (you can always trust the A316 to throw up an accident or two to liven up your bank-holiday travel), we arrive in the welcoming drizzle of Seatown. No private pools, no masseuses and nary a butler in sight – just a grassy Jurassic hill to the side, a picturesque stony beach upfront, and an enticing little pub called the Anchor perched opposite – as far as bucket-and-spade ‘slumming it’ goes, it’s perfect.
Actually, the caravan was probably a bit too nice, if I’m honest. If I’d known we were going to be given the new-season model, I’d probably have said something (‘Sorry, I’m trying to avoid any unnecessary pleasantness this holiday, would you mind downgrading us? And if you could be a bit surly and rude when we arrive, that would be terrific, thanks’). Admittedly, it wouldn’t ever have made it as a design hotel unless beige were to become unusually fashionable or disco-light electric fires became the latest luxe must-have, but it was astonishing value and the perfect base for a good British beach holiday.
The sun came out. We ate ice-cream. We skimmed stones. We cracked rocks and whooped in triumph when we found the ammonites inside. We picnicked in the shade of genuinely awe-inspiring cliffs. Here, without bells or whistles or massages, we enjoyed time together as a family. 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 re-calibrated the kids’ expectations as to what ‘holiday’ really means: time away from the stress of everyday life, with the people you love, and where the only butlers to hand are Mum and Dad. Now that’s luxury.