I’ve just made it back from two weeks in the South of France and I’m trying to get my head back slowly into the rhythm of normal work life. “What a lucky man” you might say; two weeks in the heat with nothing to do but consider how early is too early to go for a beer in the square? And you’d be right, but only up to a point.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of holiday pessimist. I actually had a very nice time, and would definitely recommend the lovely village of St. Jean De Fos, famous for pottery if you’re into that sort of thing. But the South of France is a dangerous place – let me elaborate.
When I was younger (i.e. I wasn’t a parent so I still had energy, money and spontaneity) I used to approach holidays with a kind of risky abandon. It wasn’t uncommon for me to jump on a plane with some friends, find myself in a random place and just sort of see what happened for a couple of weeks or longer. Planning got in the way of getting on with things and considering risk didn’t particularly enter into the equation.
I’d like to think I wasn’t that bad at that point but when I consider some of the situations I ended up in, I’m staggered that I was so naive. Getting into Barcelona and explaining to the taxi driver at the airport in pigeon Spanish to take us somewhere ‘interesting’ may have felt exotic at the time, but the night spent in the only prison-like hostel room we could find at 3am with some Germans of questionable personal hygiene standards was in retrospect fairly terrifying.
As any parent will recognise, holidays are now approached with a military level of planning and a massive appreciation of risk. Not only do we discuss a pre-holiday itinerary, but every evening’s plans are revised dependent on weather conditions. The ‘weather window’ check (the only window in the house where I could get an Internet signal to check on my phone) became the key moment of the day. Life pivoting on 1 bar of Orange F’s 3G signal.
The risks were enormous
Having a child under one and some friends with theirs under two, it became a constant stream of hitherto under-appreciated hazards. From the simple ones: blasting forty degree heat (sun cream running into my son’s eyes made him look like he’d spent a week on the tiles), a stony beach (spent entire time picking choking hazards out of his mouth), water (constant face plant related drowning hazard), rustic French house stone steps (he discovered how to climb these and fall off them some time ago), general fighting (end of the parasol can be turned into a very handy spear).
To the more complex ones: magical underground cave system (meant two hours climbing slippery underground steps and paths, holding a wriggly suicide jumper), tombstoning jumpers on the lake (more of an imagined future risk, small children diving off 30ft cliffs into a lake, not sure my son is quite brave enough yet), French drivers (won’t mention how many near misses I had on French roads, they don’t understand how to give why), French roads (flanking roads with rows of trees is very pretty but bloody terrifying when a crazy French lorry driver is heading towards you at high speed and there’s nowhere to go), British drivers (getting into Gatwick on Saturday night, suddenly driving in the left hand side of the road in apocalyptic rain and watching some staggering pieces of driving, slightly smug when I passed Porsche on side of motorway with front end crumpled as I crawled past).
Take your chances or plan ahead?
So, what kind of holidays do I enjoy more? Did the appreciation of risk and planning ruin what should have been a holiday? Well to be honest, I’ve had fun on both types of holidays and with a child you’ve no choice but to plan so the decision is kind of taken out of my hands.
However, if the point of a holiday is to relax and recuperate I reckon the planning option wins every time. My ‘holiday effectiveness’ rating has definitely gone up a notch. Knowing I had the angles covered because I’d taken the time out to properly consider things every day left me able to switch off and enjoy things a lot more than I ever had before, rather that the fraught, sweaty and occasionally stressed out mess I used to be, lurching from one chaotic holiday location to another.
So the choice is easy once you recognise that done properly, effective risk assessment and planning are amongst the greatest enabling tools we’ve got – rather than stopping the things we want to do, it actually makes them that much more effective.