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Here’s How to have a Belter of a Holiday with Your Mother

With Mother’s Day around the corner, we celebrate our mums in all their glory by recalling our greatest experiences of travelling with them.

After my dad died when I was 12, all our holidays were girly ones – just me, my mum and my sister against the world. We had a bit more money knocking around and our destinations changed with our fortunes – we went from grey stays in Northern France to the brighter climes of Cypress and Turkey. My mum could finally indulge her inner sun worshipper.

One of my strongest memories from those holidays is going to ask her something trivial as she lay on a sun lounger, her face showing visible signs of distress as my standing form cast a shadow.

“Darling, darling, you’re in my sun!” she would cry plaintively, shooing me out of the way.

She was like an anti-vampire – being deprived of vitamin D, even for a brief moment, seemed to cause her actual physical pain.
I will always appreciate the way she taught me how to relax on a holiday. My sister and I were both more tomboy than girly as youngsters, and we loved digging channels in the sand, rockpooling and swimming just a little too far out to sea (giving mum a panic attack in the process).

But as we grew into our teens, mum also showed us the joy of just being – reclining, reading, sipping a chilled beverage. I know plenty of people who are incapable of switching off while away, who go stir crazy if not constantly seeing, doing, moving, achieving.

Learning to slow down is a beautiful gift, and for that I will always be grateful to my mum. Though it won’t stop me standing in her sun occasionally, just to wind her up…

When I was 17, the summer before I went to university, rather than going on a lads’ holiday for one big send off with my friends, I went away with my mum (I did the lads’ holiday too, but this was different).

She knew – even though I tried to tell her it wouldn’t happen – that once I went off to the world of university and moved away from the family home, it wouldn’t be the same as it was before.

We went to Rome for a weekend, just the two of us, somewhere neither of us had ever been, and had a really good time. We saw everything touristy there was to see (except for the Leaning Tower of Pisa; we didn’t realise how far away it was) – her favourite part was the Vatican.

I had worked that summer so I was able to spend some money on her for once, so we ate, drank and were extremely merry. We had a really enjoyable time, just the two of us. It was something we’d never done before, and wouldn’t do again.

We always knew we had a close relationship – she’s the first person I talk to about anything important going on in my life – but the holiday, as short as it was, brought us even closer and we’re still just the same now.

When I was 14, my siblings had moved out, so if my mum wanted to go on holiday it was either we go together or she leave me home alone. Naturally, she chose the former, resulting in one lovely trip to Budapest followed by a slightly less lovely but still enjoyable adventure in Geneva.

I went with images of thatched houses, tiny inns (not that I would have been able to get served) and beautiful cobbled streets, but the reality proved far different.

When we arrived, it turned out the reason our hotel was so affordable was because we were staying in Geneva’s red light district. My abiding memory is of red neon lights and the sex workers soliciting on a Sunday morning, just about the only people who were working in the sleepy Swiss city.

Embarrassing as it was, we also had a nice walk along Lake Geneva and saw a red squirrel for the first time in my life. All in all, a good trip.

My mum brought me up mainly on her own, and when I became a journalist I had a lot of opportunities to travel to places she’d never have been able to dream of visiting.

When I was 22, we coincidentally both went through traumatic breakups at the same time – and I thought we should seize the opportunity to do something together.

I did a bit of rudimentary research for somewhere that would get us far enough away that we absolutely couldn’t contact anyone and that would provide enough of a culture shock to be a complete distraction. We got on the plane to Hoi An in Vietnam a few weeks later, during the lantern festival.

Travelling together was a wonderful way of engineering proper, quality mother-and-daughter time. There was no wifi, no 4G, no computers, and our phones were left switched off as we threw ourselves into Vietnamese cooking classes, museum visits, walks by the river, long chats in bars and afternoons exploring the markets.

One day we hired bikes and cycled into the countryside. We stopped to buy drinks from a vendor by the side of the road and he offered to take us to a secluded beach.

Before I could say anything, my mum was riding off into the distance on the back of his moped – something I never would have seen her do, but something she’d apparently done on every holiday throughout her twenties. Moments like that helped me reconnect with her as a person rather than just a mother and get to know her again in my adulthood.

On our last day, some of the women who worked at the hotel knocked on the door and said to us, “We heard Westerners have forgotten all about honouring their mothers and family connections, but you two have proven us wrong and we’ve been so happy to watch you on holiday together all week,” which was so heartwarming.

When the holiday ended, we both cried, despite neither of us being criers. It was an admission that it had been a really special time for us. I remember her saying to me that we might never get the chance to do that again, and even though I’m sure we will share lots of holidays in the future, they probably won’t be as transformative and as cut off from other people as that one was.

It was a really important, isolated episode in our lives and I’m grateful we did it when we had the chance.

It was rare for us to go away without my dad but at the tender age of 10 my mum decided to pack me and my little sister up and take us to a cottage in Norfolk for a week. We spent our days at the beach enjoying picnics and nights sitting outside dining al fresco.

I vividly remember our last day at the beach. We walked for what felt like a very long way along on the sand, until my sister and I set up base and proceeded to adorn ourselves with seaweed before posing for a photoshoot, directed by Mum.

Soaking up the sun – a rare and necessary thing in the North Sea – we were oblivious to the changing tide and ever nearing sea. Soon we were engulfed by water and my mum was forced to rescue us to safety, holding bags and towels far above our little heads as we waded through the water to solid ground.

More recently, my mum did her very own mother-daughter holiday. In 2012, she travelled to Israel with my then 88-year-old grandma to visit the places that she grew up. As a refugee from Nazi Germany, her family settled in what was then Palestine in 1934.

We went to visit some of places that were particularly meaningful to her – to Jaffa, where she arrived with her family on a ship, to the Dead Sea where her father had taken the family on midnight trips, to her house in Talpiot in Jerusalem, which had lost a floor and looked very small compared to how she remembered it.

My mum hadn’t been to Israel for over 25 years for political reasons, but thought it was an important journey to take with her. It allowed her to see the country through my grandmother’s eyes.

My mum brought us up alone and we never went on holiday much further than Wales when I was growing up (although growing up in Cornwall is like one big holiday), so as soon as I started travelling for work, I started taking her with me.

She’d travelled loads when she was younger but stopped everything when she had children, so it not only feels like the least I can do – it feels like giving her back a part of herself.

I’ve been all over Europe with her, but the trips that stand out are four days in Athens and the Peloponnese, her first time in Greece – it was winter, and neither of us will ever forget walking round the ruins at Mycenae by ourselves, and sharing ancient Corinth with a pack of wild dogs – and her first trip to Venice.

I was going to the film festival so we rented a flat for a week. I went off to the Lido every morning to work, and she went sightseeing by herself. By the end of the week, she had fallen for Italy – which was already my big love – and with Venice in particular, which at that point I wasn’t too keen on, having only done the touristy stuff.

I kept going back to Venice for work, and not really feeling it, but she never forgot her time there – so when a few years later I was asked to go there and write a guide to the city, I rented a flat for two months and suggested she come with me to show me what she saw in it.

She took me around tiny alleyways and churches that she’d been to before, and within a couple of days, I felt completely different about it. Now I love Venice so much that I can’t even fly there without weeping with joy as the plane comes in to land (always sit on the right) – it’s the place I know best, go back to most often, and write most about. And I love that she introduced me to it.

There’s a running joke in my family about my hatred of camping. Spending many years holed up in a drab tent in the South of France and Tuscany gave me very strong feelings about that particular type of accommodation. (And true to form, the last time I camped was in about 2003 on my last family holiday.)

My mum insists that camping is the easiest way to relax, whereas I disagree in the strongest possible terms. This gulf between our ideal holidays narrowed a little over the years, but we still haven’t been away much just the two of us because we like to do entirely different things on holiday. (Who wants to camp in Sussex in October?)

But when I was 21 and living in Toulouse, we met in Treviso, just outside Venice, for a weekend. She’d been to both cities before, and I suspect wanted to show her imperious eldest daughter why she loved this part of Italy so much. And we really did see it: I was up at the crack of dawn every day, wandering underneath the grand shopping arcades of Treviso armed with a green Michelin guide.

On the last day, we set off for Venice by train at some ungodly hour. Stepping out of the Santa Lucia train station before almost splashing into the Grand Canal was “like opening a curtain”, she told me. She was right, even though embarrassingly, all I wanted to do was read some historical chick-lit fiction in a cafe in St Mark’s Square in the sun with a bellini – but she’d instead organised us up to the eyeballs and was insistent we saw everything during dawn to dusk in Venice. My holidays since haven’t been anywhere near as exhausting.

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