You know the drill. It’s the last day of the holidays and there we all are, diligently swapping email addresses with people who were complete strangers a week before. Why do we do it? Well, politeness for a start. It’s a game of travel charades that we feel honour-bound to play because how do you say: “Bye now. It’s been fun, but not so much fun that I plan to see you ever again.” We offer up our own details to soften the conversational blow.
Or maybe we do it because we’ve had such a jolly time together in a bubble of skiing/sun-lounging/hiking/cruising (not that kind of cruising) that while we’re waiting for the lengthy bus transfer back to reality we can genuinely conceive of staying friends for life, even if secretly we know that we will delete the contact number we’re so excitedly punching into our iPhones (mostly because we never quite worked out what John & Becca’s surname was).
Becoming friends on Facebook helps paper over the cracks. After all, it’s not hard to muster a couple of Likes every year for form’s sake and, frankly, that should be sufficient to keep your conscience — and John & Becca — happy. But let’s face it, you aren’t “real” friends, are you?
It’s different when you’re a child. As a youngster, holiday friends — either forced upon you in the kids’ club, or diligently fostered around the campsite’s communal pool — are intense, blessed relationships, a chance to reinvent yourself as the coolest dude in the class. Making new friends is easy when you’re little, harder when you’re a teenager — but by that point the possibility of sustaining those relationships over social media is entirely viable. Plenty of your mates exist only on Instagram, so why not add a couple more?
Whatever age you are, holiday friendships are a flirtation carried out by an unreal you. You adapt your own persona, then overlook the things you don’t particularly like about your new chums because you’re only in their company for a week. Note that none of this applies to holiday romances; those are a different order of flirtation and unreality, and if you’re on the lookout for love while you’re away, you’re taking very different holidays from me and my family.
This is what I’d assumed was the case throughout my years as a travelling adult. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a misanthrope. I like meeting people, just as I like learning about other cultures while abroad. But until now I’ve felt no need to bring those relationships home, in the same way that I have previously expressed no desire to wear a poncho or tootle pan pipes while walking down my local high street. I made the majority of my close friends during my formative years; I saw no reason for that to change.
Then this summer my family and I went on a flotilla holiday along Greece’s Ionian coast. We did a few days’ training on shore at the Neilson Retreat Beachclub in Syvota, then set out for a week afloat: eight yachts, children jumping into the sea at every opportunity and — crucially — seven other sets of families that were Just Like Us. (Yes, I know: one day we may even escape our narrow demographic.)
Of course it was the kids that made the first connections, and then, like squeamish debutants, the adults tentatively started to forge their own links. Everyone had tremendous fun, we all made “holiday friends”, and all too soon it was going home time. Needless to say, email addresses were shared.
And then... perhaps I’ve just grown up a bit. Whatever the reason, back in Britain my cynicism vanished. When our eldest arranged with his holiday friend to meet up during the traditional post-GCSE blowout at Reading Festival, it seemed only natural that their parents should go out for dinner a couple of weeks later. Now we’ve arranged to take the two-hour train journey over to see the other family for lunch, with a realistic prospect that we will be returning the favour soon afterwards.
In short: we made friends abroad, and we’ve stayed friends at home — even if they’re probably a bit freaked out that I’ve just written a column about them. As a result, my life is a little bit richer — and I’ve found another splendid reason to go on holiday next year.
The Daily Telegraph