One of my favourite pastimes is travel. I travel to see and feel the world first hand and learn how other people live. And to get a look into other cultures and understand how privileged I am. Here I tell the tales of my travel as a child, the countries I have visited, and my reflections on them and how they, in turn, have impacted me.
And the start of my travel story outlines that privilege – born in a middle-class family in the UK. As my parents had lots of holidays from work, we indulged in family holidays. When we were young these were all caravanning holidays in the UK.
As a family these were breaks away from everyday life, exploring a new place in the countryside. Now, the UK is not famed for its amazing weather – and our holidays were no exception. We got the odd good day and made the most of the weather. When it was raining, we got to play cards and drink coffee. We learned how to play a mean gin rummy during these times.
I also remember that there was a lot of hard work on caravan holidays. We had a massive awning such as those in the picture. Set up took time, pegging, putting up guy ropes, and unpacking lots of things stowed for travelling. And each and every day you had to put beds and bedding away. More annoyingly, as we cooked in the caravan, my brother and I still had to do the dishes. Although it did seem more exotic doing them outside at the campsite.
Additionally, I went away on school trips occasionally. Once we went to Scarborough, which was actually a perfect little seaside resort to take kids. We were allowed out on our own and given times to be back at. We had great fun with the simple pleasures of exploring, eating sweets and exhausting ourselves walking up and down the hill. Then when we were older, we even got taken to London. That was a different sort of trip, we had to stay with the teachers at all times, and had the fear of God put into us if we strayed. Yet we still had an enjoyable time and made the most of it. And I loved London as much then as I love London now.
Overall, I have lots of fond memories of childhood trips in the UK, they are a mix of nostalgia, happy times and childhood exhuberance. We realised we were luckier than some people who had fewer holidays or trips away but didn’t feel as lucky as those who got exciting foreign holidays, or that eternal childhood dream, to go to Disney.
The first foreign country I ever visited was France. Once we were a bit older my family expanded the caravan trips over the channel. We spent a lot of time exploring Brittany from very family friendly campsites. We had fun times, and I especially recall the joy of visiting the hypermarché. Yes, France had big supermarkets much before we did in the UK, and these were such a novelty to visit. And I was so happy as a kid that I got to choose what type of juice and cereal to buy – simple pleasures eh? I was less happy that I was made to drink all the disgusting strawberry juice I selected though.
Nowadays I’ve been to France loads of times and explored lots of the country. I’ve made many pilgrimages to Paris, and always find something new to captivate me each time. I love doing day trips and visiting small towns in Normandy. I’ve road tripped all the way down to the Riviera and really explored the South coast. I’ve also gone on a wine tour through the Loire Valley and Champagne, which was great fun, especially when you did not need to drive. I am meant to speak French, but in reality, I can (a) order wine (b) buy train tickets and (c) make sure they serve me veggie food. Which is all you need, no?
Being exposed as a child to a foreign country was fascinating – the language confused us, but as my mum speaks fluent French we never had any challenges. And to be honest, we didn’t really see the holiday as that different from holidays in the UK – we still had to drive, take the caravan and did the same sort of kid-friendly activities.
When my parents started getting a bit more affluent and us kids got older, they decided to upgrade and go on a foreign package holiday by plane. This felt very exotic at the time, my first trip by plane. However, this is where we got introduced to new concepts such as complexes with pools, sunbeds and bars.
And everything was catered to holidaymakers, with signs and menus also in English and German. This was the era when people did really get up in the middle of the night to put towels on the sunbeds. I remember being excited by the warmer weather, but a bit perplexed at how British it was. And how alcohol was very freely consumed. Not exactly showing the best of humanity here.
After Spain, like typical British tourists, we expanded our holiday choice to the Greek Islands. Which in addition to the warm weather, were also much cheaper than Spain. These were much more picturesque, and less touristy places to visit. Amusingly I remember our confusion at the road signs here, when we rented a car we got a map, with English place names. But the road signs were in Greek. Cue much panic as I tried to remember the Greek alphabet from science classes to guess where we were going.
And the destinations kept piling up now. We then tried Malta. Three things stood out from this trip. I got to go on a submarine, here there was an absolutely amazing passenger submarine, which I nonchalantly approached as a kid, but looking back it was an amazing experience.
Secondly, we got to see the Popeye village-set which just blew our minds! This was somehow so amazing, that both my brother and I remember it now. And finally, the music. All night every night the bar below our apartment blasted out Ace of Bases’ All that she wants is another baby. Not a great song and it gets less enticing each time you hear it.
A final place I visited as a child was Cyprus. I think I visited too young and didn’t fully appreciate the country. We understood there were two sides of the island and peacekeepers but didn’t understand why people could disagree so strongly that an intermediary was needed? As children who lived in a peaceful country, we only saw disagreements and war by TV and didn’t understand how people could have so much hate. Even the popular sweet was to be referred to as Greek Cypriot / Turkish depending on where you were.
Travel as a Child Retrospective Thoughts
Hell yeah, I was a middle-class kid that got to experience lovely holidays and travel around the UK as a child. And I got to experience a few foreign countries as well, all on my parents’ bill. Looking back, holidays were one of the key things that marked out your social class and position in the hierarchy, although I didn’t realise it at the time.
Did my travel as a child inspire me? Yes, it made me appreciate there is a wider world out there. But I also saw the downsides of tourism – tourists behaving badly and trashy resorts. So I loved getting out there and experiencing new places, and that love of travel has endured to this day. But I have taken a step further and gone much more off the beaten track than my parents did.
Over to you
- Were you lucky enough to experience travel as a child?
- If so what types of breaks did you go on?
- How did this influence you as an adult?
- Those of you with kids, do you travel with kids?
Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas – all are welcome.