"We’re all going on a summer holiday" sang a beaming Cliff Richard as he drove a Routemaster bus through mainland Europe, waving at the locals, sampling regional delicacies and frolicking on beaches.
Now picture five grown adults squeezed into a rental Fiat Panda. Someone needs the toilet and an argument that began over whose turn it is to use the AUX cable has descended into violence. The car screeches to a halt on the hard shoulder as your dad orders you to get out and walk. Your mum’s desperate pleas of "Come on guys, let's just all get on" are drowned out by the sounds of oncoming traffic. Welcome to the start of all my family holidays. Buckle up!
The trouble with family holidays is that when you’re a kid, you don’t appreciate them and when you’re 25, you’re not really meant to be on one. Which doesn’t make any sense. You don't need a holiday when you’re 7 and the most stressful part of your day is learning joined-up writing, but when you’ve got a court summons for not paying your council tax, you've been ghosted and had two bouts of cystitis in as many weeks, a holiday is very much in order.
Luckily, reluctant parents have accepted that the boomerang generation is here to stay, at home and at their holiday rental on the Costa del Sol. Millennials are poorer and tireder than ever; a quarter of us still live at home, the highest proportion since records began in 1996. Gone are the days when you could veto the offer of a family holiday on account of how annoying you find your blood relations. It’s a week watching your dad pretend he knows about Spanish wines or a whole summer bitterly riding the Northern line, back and forth, back and forth, until the clocks go back and you start taking the bus.
The trouble with family holidays is that when you’re a kid, you don’t appreciate them and when you’re 25, you’re not really meant to be on one
The spike in grown-up family holidays is mirrored throughout Europe, becoming the fastest growing sector across the travel industry. James Bell from The Turquoise Holiday Company says that hotels are changing their facilities to accommodate this burgeoning market, installing 'villa rooms' to give older kids their own space, away from their family members' beady eyes. Even the flashier among us are more inclined to join our parents on further-flung holidays, Bell tells me, the most popular locations being Mauritius and the Maldives. And fair enough; who would say no to the Maldives?
Anyway, you’ve survived the journey by the skin of your teeth and you’re finally on holiday. Blue skies, the rush of hot air on your face – isn’t it beautiful? An hour goes by; everyone’s getting along. Another hour goes by; conversation has petered out. Six hours have gone by and you’re googling the price of flights home. This is where we encounter the fundamental problem with the grown-up family holiday: the sheer quantity of time spent in each other’s company. On average, families in the UK spend just one hour a day together – and that’s if you haven’t moved out. When you're on holiday, it's more like 14 hours, probably in one room without Wi-Fi. Fourteen hours in the company of a group of people you occasionally fantasise about murdering – it’s a recipe for disaster.
Hannah Burles, a 25-year-old producer from London, loves going away with her family for the first three days. "The best thing about family holidays is that they're usually free and you’ll be getting fed three times a day and maybe even getting a cup of tea because your dad’s brought PG Tips in his suitcase. But by the third day you realise you’ve got another four days stuck with them and your dad is telling you to sit in the shade from 12 'til 2pm and your mum is constantly shoving a cap on your head and telling you to stay hydrated."
Design assistant Maya Laud, 26, has no plans of staying hydrated on her upcoming family holiday to Portugal. "I love my parents but I already know I’m going to need to drink quite heavily to get through a whole week with them. Luckily my mum loves a glass of rosé so I suspect I won’t be drinking alone."
Little wonder, then, that research suggests that only one in five parents looks forward to family holidays. This sentiment is echoed by engineer and father of two twentysomethings, Jan Niklewicz: "Family holidays are a bloody expensive nuisance." His wife Jo is more enthusiastic: "I personally love spending downtime with the kids, especially if we haven’t seen each other in ages and we all know we like to do our own thing and don’t feel that everyone has to join in all the time."
This is all well and good until it comes to mealtimes, for never has there been a more divisive family ritual than picking a restaurant abroad. You’ve been looking forward to dinner all day; you've googled a nice little trattoria nearby and suggest checking it out. Cue dissent. "What do you mean you’re hungry and you just want to eat here? It’s just a short walk... This place has pictures of the food, actual pictures of the food on the menu! Right, fine, have it your way. No, I won’t be ordering anything. No honestly I’m not hungry, tap water’s fine, thanks."
Lizzie Knights, 25, who works in property and recently went to the south of France with her parents, says: "Family holidays are great because they’re cheap, but you have absolutely no freedom and are forced to be a child again, unless you bring mates or a boyfriend." You could be 45 and married with kids but your mother will still insist you wear a T-shirt in the pool. These kinds of arguments are part and parcel of family holidays, though, says Katinka Van Driel, who lives in Berlin. "The thing is that we’re most impatient around our family, so the most pathetic arguments escalate out of nothing, but unlike friend holidays you know everyone will move on minutes later and it’s as if it never happened."
But if there’s one surefire way to unite a bickering family, it’s a bit of clerical drama. It could be a hotel error, a foreign parking ticket, a glitch on the easyJet app – essentially anything that riles up your parents so they forget how annoyed with you they were 10 minutes earlier. I have never seen my dad more gleeful than when our flight home was cancelled this year. An hour before, he’d been grumbling about overpriced panini, yet he palpably came alive with the indignation of it all – not to mention the prospect of £400 compensation from "those Ryanair bastards".
That’s the weird thing about family holidays: it’s the fuck-ups you remember with fondness. Yes, it may be better for your stress levels if you avoided the trip altogether, but then you wouldn’t have that anecdote about the time your dad drank dodgy tap water and threw up in a bin. Or that time you had to stay in a haunted hotel in Brindisi with the rest of the Ryanair passengers and spent all night praying you wouldn’t get possessed like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Or that time you got stung by a jellyfish and your sister peed on you and you can confirm that it doesn’t help at all and Joey from Friends is a liar.
What I’m saying is that family holidays can be a monumental pain in the arse but you'll store up at least five embarrassing stories about your mum to share with everyone at Christmas.
My dad, by the way, is still waiting on that £400.