The Grown-Up's Guide To Surviving A Holiday With Your Parents

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
If you are reading this, it's likely you are a destitute, potentially heartbroken opportunist in desperate need of a tan or (less likely) you dig a lot of contact time with ol' mum and/or dad. It may not feel like it right now, but a holiday with your parents is a true gift. This is your chance to sail uninhibited into your destiny, to read a menu aloud in slow, phonetic Spanish, get off your face on Limoncello and sing "just one Cornetto" at the top of your lungs without fear of judgement.
The truth is that although you may feel like a legend now, with your trendy rap music and your bucket hat, your cyborg grandchildren will be laughing their heads off at pictures of you in 40 years' time. One day you will get marmalade on your chin and wish people safe journeys. You will be drawn to bird feeders and say "that's lovely" when taking a sip of tea. Your parents are the ghosts of past, present and future, so buckle your seatbelt safely, sister, and enjoy the ride, because getting to know them is more fun than you think.
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Before you go
First things first, this isn’t Fyre Festival, so take this rare opportunity to breathe through your mouth and stop showing off for five minutes. Nobody wants to see #content of your dad’s burned pot belly floating among the waves or "take me back" posts of your mum in a Per Una kaftan. Save that precious phone battery for figuring out when you took a wrong turn on the way to a UNESCO world heritage site.
Takeoff
There’s a good chance your dad will bring some proper '90s, Kevin McCallister levels of stress to the airport, but remember he’s recalibrating. Parents come from a time when people used to smoke on planes and sexually harass air stewards. Hopefully you have convinced your dad to let you carry your own passport by now, but be patient when he puts his reading glasses on at the passport gate. It could be low-level stressful watching your mum try and jam a jar of Sudocrem into a sandwich bag but keep those cortisone levels down; this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Instead be grateful that the Ryanair seat lottery means you’ll be sat next to someone else’s dad who may also whack his head on the overhead lockers the moment you touch the tarmac. A strong gin and tonic and a tube of Pringles (£15) will normally see you nicely into any European destination with a sense of anticipation and a cracking sour cream and onion headache.
At your destination, purchase one large bottle of water and pop two paracetamol, which you will need for the quest for the hire car. Once you’ve got your first obligatory hot Fiat Punto argument out of the way, it’s time to unleash the music. Make sure you have packed the only two CDs you will ever need: Toploader and David Gray's White Ladder. Is there any family argument that cannot be diffused by "Dancing in the Moonlight"? Let me answer that for you: no.
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Paying for stuff
Almost the moment you exit passport control you will have regressed by 15 years, so by all means seize this opportunity to embrace your inner child. Ride the trolley around Carrefour, tossing in wheel after wheel of brie then looking baffled at the checkout. When the receipt tumbles out of the register, shrug: "I dunno who put all those beers and bars of Milka in there but I’m sure they’ll get eaten."
When it comes to cash flow, it’s probably best not to try and be Billy Big Nuts. Baby boomers can d-r-i-n-k which means that unless you are a hedge fund manager, restaurant bills featuring Irish coffees will be off limits. Save yourself the humiliation of fingering about in your souvenir coin purse. I recommend you employ yourself as head of "Who wants an ice cream?" and repay your debt in Maxibons and bonhomie.
Trivial pursuits
Have you ever wondered what your dad has been banging on about for 25 years? Well guess what? All that late night Wikipedia-ing on the family computer means he actually knows some stuff! Tune into Radio Pops for some ancient trivia and see if you can’t restore some fragments of that quite expensive university degree they helped finance. A couple of parched ruins and arguments with Sally Sat Nav later and you could achieve some quite adorable family bonding.
If humanities homework isn’t your thing, there’s always the rich oral history you can get from your mum after three pale rosés. The cocktail witching hour is the perfect time to remind yourself how great feminism is with the litany of earth-shattering truths that come tumbling from her lips. Harrowing accounts of things that "seemed like a good idea at the time" because "that was just how things were in the '70s, darling."
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Conversation
My guess is that you haven’t come on holiday with your parents for the craic alone. It’s likely you are varying degrees of heartbroken and skint and, as a result, unusually thin-skinned. Remember, a bit of light patronising and historic bullying is par for the course here so you will just need to suck it up, I'm afraid. Red flag topics best left undiscussed aren't limited to but do include: data roaming charges, things your mum saw on Facebook, European bureaucrats, speed cameras and Princess Diana.
Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
If debating whether political correctness has gone mad gets a bit much, don’t retreat to your room to thrash around in sandy sheets with your phone because you will likely just die of FOMO. Take yourself for a wander, nick a cigarette off a sexy waiter. Look at the sea, smell a flower, buy some bangles, do several shots of the local aperitif – whatever you need to do to feel like you, girl.
Finding your chi
If there’s one way to truly find your centre, it’s through keen observation of men over 50, because let me tell you, they are the most mindful people on Earth. This is a species who can sit in a hard chair and stare into space for well over an hour, or become so utterly absorbed in a jamón sandwich that he can’t hear a word you’re saying.
Your dad is likely living meal to meal, moment to moment, thinking very little until he falls instantly into dead, dreamless sleep that sounds like a pig being throttled. You might lie awake at night wondering if he’s going to swallow his own tongue but guaranteed he’ll be up at 7am in his chino shorts, clapping his hands in the doorway and saying "allons-y!" He is the true zen master and you must learn everything you can from him.
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