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Opinion: Just say no to cross-generational travel

By Helen Elfer   24 July 2014 9:45am Europe/London

Lonely Planet editor Helen Elfer won’t be going on any family holidays this year. Or ever, in fact.

When I read recently that ‘grown-up family holidays’ are on the rise, I felt a cold shot of panic hit the bottom of my stomach. I don’t know why – there’s absolutely no danger of me being invited on one. I’m officially the Dementor of cross-generational travel, sucking joy, light and fun from each and every excursion.

Beautiful sunset/ Time to start acting up. Image by ImagineGolf/Vetta/GettyBeautiful sunset? Time to start acting up. Image by ImagineGolf / Vetta / Getty Images

From the age of 10 to 16, every time my family attempted to go anywhere en masse, I’d wreck it. I threw up without fail on every car journey, and would then sit miserably holding a leaking Sainsbury’s bag on my lap. In New York, I sneaked off to spend my entire two weeks’ worth of ‘holiday spending money’ on a pair of purple snakeskin boots. I threw a three-day tantrum at being forbidden to go to a Rage Against The Machine gig in Boston – never mind that I couldn’t afford a ticket after blowing all my cash on the boots. I wouldn’t eat anything except sandwiches. Wouldn’t put on a Niagara Falls poncho.

Summer after summer, from Austria to Slovenia, I alternately refused to walk, paddle, speak, get into the water, get out of the water, wake up in time for breakfast, or smile for the camera. There are photo albums full of pictures of my beaming mum, dad and little brother, with teenage me in the middle, face twisted into a snarl.

Generally, I preferred to spend my time in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations leaning mournfully against any available window or wall, listening to my Discman, wondering why I was stuck in this dump and thinking about how much more fun my friends would be having hanging around St George’s Shopping Centre in Harrow.

The final straw came at a wedding in Ireland when a quite extraordinary lapse of judgement led me to teach all my little cousins to drink White Russian cocktails. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t go to plan, and soon there were dangerously ill, drunk children everywhere, getting sick and leaving little creamy puddles on the smart Dublin hotel’s carpets. I’m pretty sure I’m still in trouble for that. And we didn’t go on any more family trips.

Obviously, that was all a very long time ago. I’m now in my thirties, and by all accounts, a better behaved travelling companion. And yet… invitations for brother-sister road trips, mother-daughter spa weekends, family mini-breaks at a country cottage, all the stalwarts of these cross-generational holidays… have not been forthcoming. I guess the traumatic memories of the ‘90s are just still too strong.

Quite frankly, I’m relieved. I like travelling alone, with friends, or with my boyfriend. I like Sunday lunches, birthday dinners, summer BBQs and Christmas with my lovely family. Luckily for me, it seems as though my folks feel the same way.

So when friends return from their on-trend multi-gen breaks, drained and ranting about their stingy sisters, racist grandparents, nervous aunts or sleazy father-in-laws, I secretly give myself a pat on the back for having the foresight to be such an unspeakably awful teenager that no family member would dream of bringing me on holiday ever again.

In fact this summer, when I see gloomy kids at the airport, sulking and kicking their siblings, I’ll probably pull them aside and hiss: ‘Keep up the good work! You’ll thank yourself in a few years’ time…’

Helen Elfer is Lonely Planet’s Destination Editor for the Middle East and North Africa. She still feels bad about the Dublin incident. Follow her on Twitter @Helen_Elfer.
Do you have a rather sunnier recollection of family travel? We asked some Lonely Planet staff to travel back in time, share their memories of holidays past, and find out where they’d like to revisit.