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News & Advice

Flying solo: Don't ruin a perfectly good holiday by taking your partner

Marriage is a glorious and noble institution, says Mary Killen. But that doesn't mean you have to ruin a perfectly good holiday by taking your partner

This month, I am off to Cornwall for five days without my husband. Next month, my destination will be Scotland, but again I will be spending five days without him. It's nothing personal, you understand – even though my husband is widely agreed to be one of the most annoying men in England, I still enjoy his company very much. It's just that this increasingly seems to be the way that things are working out for married couples in 2008.

We no longer have set weeks off work the way we used to. Millions work flexi-hours but someone has to plan ahead and this tends to be the grown women. Grown women seem to be the only ones into whom the knowledge has sunk that holidays have to be planned in advance and dates committed to. Men seem unable to grasp the concept that failure to book in advance will mean the villa/hotel/cottage/camping opportunity you are considering may no longer be available.

But it's very difficult these days, especially if you have teenagers in your life for whom every arrangement is provisional. And when you have a husband who prevaricates as badly as any teenager then your only option is to commit yourself to the holiday arrangement.

Admittedly, my husband's inability to commit stems from the fact that he genuinely doesn't know when he will be available. He is an artist and unable to predict when one commission will be finished and whether there will be a gap before the next one starts. The other trouble is that he is a gardening addict and does not want to go away at the peak gardening time of year.

Therefore, for the past two years if somebody says to me in February, "I am going to take a house in Polzeath the first week in July, would you and Giles like to come?", I reply, "Giles is impossible to pin down but I will come." Giles, on the other hand, greets any holiday invitation with dread (as he does dinner-party invites, although he always seems to enjoy them when he gets there).

For various reasons, I am usually in a position to bring a "spare man" if Giles won't come; a non-romantic arrangement, of course – but I prefer it to taking another woman. I like the butlering element, having someone to make a fuss of me – besides, with another woman, we'd just complain about our husbands all the time and that's not a holiday.

It hasn't always been this way. Giles and I used to enjoy going on holiday together, especially in the days when we both knocked back flagons of wine before we got too old to process the toxins, and until the children were about 14 and six. Then it became kind of impossible unless the holiday was in an all-inclusive resort with built-in childminders.

It was the same on mini-holidays when we used to go and stay for the weekend with friends in big houses. I remember the dreadful day our chief benefactress (installed amid rolling acres with swimming pool and woodland facilities) announced that she was giving up having people to stay at weekends."It was different when the children all went to bed at around seven and the grown-ups could start drinking," she observed. "Now the children are old enough to stay up, the dining-room becomes like an army barracks if you have more than one couple to stay."

And then the children started wanting to go on holidays with their own friends and without their parents. It was around this time that Giles and I started receiving invitations to go to "singles' weekends", without offspring, at a friend's house in Austria. There was nothing salacious about these invitations, just that our host has small children (in England) and so do most of his friends. Now that children's agendas seem to take precedence over our own, it is increasingly difficult for two parents to find the time to go away together. In the current economic climate, it can also be too expensive.

Our friend had to do it only once to see what a success it was. These parents became temporary singletons. For the first time in years they would find themselves without the responsibility of sharing bath and tea times and having their partner pull faces at them or tell the punchlines to their story just as they were building up to it. Most found that occupying the holiday persona of singleton was refreshing. "It was the break from myself and my usual boring, harassed, working-parent persona that I enjoyed so much," said one guest.

I, too, experienced this enjoyment and so, when my husband refuses to commit, I go on holiday alone or with another single friend of the opposite sex. What a relief it is to have a bedroom and bathroom to yourself, to keep the radio on all night or read with the light on. To spend the day walking gormlessly around shops picking things up and putting them down again without a furious man revving a car engine impatiently outside. To be able not to have to spend an entire day looking for your husband's keys or nagging them to ring someone back. It is a break from yourself to go on holiday without your partner.

There is another factor which comes into play. Excess and the tyranny of choice are the blight of the modern age. We are not showing off when I say that we have too many friends. Almost everyone does these days. It was different in the time when we all lived in small villages, but now we serially change jobs and houses and can stay in touch via the internet, there is never enough time to process friends.

Hence, it suits both of us that Giles has been invited on his own to stay with close mutual friends in Devon this summer. His host does not mind the fact that he is still prevaricating. He did so last year and turned up on the day.

"It's not that we don't love you too, Mary," said our friend as she issued the invitation to Giles (via me, of course, because he never answers the telephone). "It's just that when you aren't there Giles can talk in a silly voice and do his silly walk, which we all love but you don't."

Going it alone: Why people travel solo

Holidaying away from your other half is a growing trend: a fifth of couples prefer to holiday separately, according to research by Singular, a company that specialises in finding holidays for solo travellers. And, according to the travel company Opodo, at least 27 per cent of its customers in relationships now regularly travel without partners. Why?

"Trips away when I was small were fraught," says Alice-Azania Jarvis, 23. "Dad would be up at 6am shouting 'Who's coming for a walk?', while my mum would be groaning in bed, determined to have a lie-in. So we started holidaying separately: I'd end up on adventure trips with Dad, while my sister would go to France to read and take it easy with Mum."

"I have not been on holiday with my long-term partner in years as I end up looking after our daughter most of the time while she relaxes in cafés, museums and art galleries" says Marcus Thompson, 49. "There's no point being resentful while on holiday, so instead I cut out the resentful part and just take our nine-year-old away instead."

"I like to go to off-beat and supposedly dangerous places where my partner is not keen to follow me," says Jerome Taylor, 25.

"We find that the time away makes us appreciate each other more when we get back." Kate Burt

Mary Killen is the author of 'How to Live With Your Husband' (Mandarin)