'I tend to spend time on holiday resting, immobile in the shade'

What's your first holiday memory?

What's your first holiday memory?

We had a lot of relatives who lived in Glasgow, about 100 miles away from our home town of Fort William. We would go there quite regularly for short holidays, in a very small family car. There were three children in my family and I remember being crammed in the middle of the back seat between the other two.

Where did you spend the summers of your childhood?

Mainly in the Highlands. It was a good, natural environment to grow up in and my grandfather, who lived in the house immediately next door on the same family croft, had animals, a source of endless fascination for a child. There were lots of diversions because we were in the semi-countryside.

What's been your best holiday?

Do honeymoons count? That was certainly hugely enjoyable. We went to a resort on a small island off Malaysia which was absolutely idyllic. Obviously, as it was our honeymoon it was a one-off. At least I hope it was a one-off! Also, when I was 15 I took my first flight to see my sister on the west coast of Canada. The aeroplane was a 747 and they had overbooked the flight. The only empty seat in the plane was the one at the front of the first-class cabin!

Are you a frequent traveller?

Oh yes. Hardly a week goes by when I'm not on the move somewhere or other. And we always have a break in August. We divide our time between London and home in the Highlands. Christmas, New Year and Easter tend to be orientated towards that latter end of the country, so in the summer we choose a bit of sunshine. Or in my case, a bit of shade.

What's your favourite place in the British Isles?

To be honest, home in Fort William. I live in the part of the family croft that was my grandfather's house, where my father was brought up, and my parents still live beside it in the house where we were brought up. That's the place that lifts my spirits.

What have you learnt from your travels?

If we're going abroad, I always like going somewhere that is not full of other British tourists. We'll try to pick somewhere within a country where people from that country go themselves. You just get a better, more authentic flavour of a different culture.

Are you an independent traveller?

We do book our own holidays. Work-wise, if I'm travelling as leader of the [Liberal Democrat] party within Britain, I'll have somebody with me. It took me some time to get used to that, but it becomes inescapable.

Who would be your ultimate travelling companion?

Non-fictional would be my wife, Sarah. If I had to pick a great person to travel with I think I would choose David Bowie, who is one of my heroes. I've got to know him over the last few years.

Are you beach bum, culture vulture or adrenaline junkie?

I'd like to have a fourth option. I would say "Prisoner of the Shade". Yes, restful immobility in the shade.

What would you never travel without?

The contents of my briefcase. That's a fifth limb for me. Luxury item: probably sunglasses. Sarah tends to hate my taste in sunglasses but I don't agree with her. I'm holding my ground thus far.

What do you read on holiday?

Light, easy-going novels, particularly of a detective or whodunnit variety. And usually I mix that with more work-orientated stuff, political biographies in the main.

Is it better to travel than to arrive?

The bit of the travelling I enjoy the best is the coming home. After a couple of weeks I begin to get itchy feet, particularly if I'm locked off from access to the British media. Some journalists expressed astonishment that, as we sat in a beach house on this idyllic honeymoon, I was working on the leader's speech for the autumn conference. Holidays are one of the rare periods when you get peace and quiet just to sit and think. To be able to write when you're not slap bang up against a deadline with people chasing you for interviews, that's quite enjoyable.

Where would you never return?

I suppose one or two of the southern US states. I'm thinking of Kentucky or Arkansas. They're perfectly all right, but unless there was some overwhelming reason I don't think I would single them out for a return visit.

What's the most overrated place you've been?

We went to Macau on the way home from our honeymoon because I wanted to show it to Sarah. We stopped off in Hong Kong, which I love, and I said: "Hong Kong is an example of how to do it, but you must come to Macau, which is an example of how not to do it." The whole place is basically a gambling den, with a lot of corruption and a poor infrastructure.

What's the most underrated place you've been?

A few years ago I went to Australia for the first time, which was not somewhere that had held any particular attraction for me. I was very impressed by Melbourne, and I thought it was a very vibrant, go-getting country. I was hugely impressed. Much more so than I expected.

Where would you emigrate?

I'm a poor linguist, very poor indeed. That would narrow it down to an English-speaking society. It would probably be North America. I lived in the States for a year when I was a student, and I go to Canada quite a lot because of the family connection.

Where would be your trip of a lifetime?

One of the continents that neither Sarah nor I have visited is South America. I'd very much like to see Brazil.

The world ends tomorrow: where do you regret never having been?

South America. And I've never actually been to Russia. It's unusual that work in some way or another hasn't taken me there.

Where are you going next?

Apart from up and down to Scotland, the next trip outside the UK will be to Brussels for some political meetings.