Harriet Walker: A holiday should be a pilgrimage of idleness

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I haven't been on a package holiday since I finished my A-levels, turned 18 and went to Faliraki with a selection of the smallest clothes I owned. What little I remember of the tears, tantrums and sunburn is punctuated by flashes of a life never to be lived again.

Coming home at 6am with an ice-cream, say, and waking up to find raspberry ripple smeared over every surface, including the light switch. Trying to engage in a deep, meaningful conversation but being so drunk I rolled off a wall, into the sea and landed on a hostile anemone (the Coke can I was drinking from followed me and bounced off my head). Bumping into, entirely by coincidence, a group of "lads" we knew from school and worrying desperately that my horizons might never broaden.

I thought I had parcelled up all of this, never to be re-opened. I went to see The Inbetweeners film and sighed with the nausea and the nostalgia of it all. I thought my holiday life was to be gîtes and urban minibreaks from here on in. Thankfully, I was wrong.

When my flatmate and I pulled up outside our hotel earlier this month in a Turkish transfer coach driven by a man who looked like Mickey Rourke wearing a sailor suit, we knew something was amiss. The hotel was far, far too nice. Our budget had been a strict £300 maximum and the gates on this place alone must have been worth an extra £50. And that was before you take the on-site bar – the Friendly Meeting Place it was called – into account. In fact, it was the wrong hotel and we had been on the bus two hours longer than was strictly necessary.

"Sorreee!" Mickey trilled, before driving us back the way we had come, stopping once to consult a map and then again to pick up a shwarma for his tea.

When we arrived, travel-stained (nachos on the plane) and slightly weary, we were told there was no food available but that the bar was still open. That seemed to speak to our needs, so we ran across the empty, lounger-strewn terrace to a mock Tiki hut abandoned but for the barman, who looked at us as if we were animals. We hosed cheap beer down our necks while devouring the crumbs of crisps we had bought before we boarded.

The rest of the week followed much the same pattern. There was a shuttle bus to the beach, but we couldn't be bothered to get out of bed in time to get on it. So we lay by the pool all day, every day for a week, with the exception of a few sweaty trips down the road to buy more crisps.

There is no shame in a holiday like this, I think. Just as there is no shame in being sick in a Faliraki gutter, providing you are 18 at the time and don't plan on making it an annual occurrence. Too often, holidays degenerate into doing things that you think you should do, whether or not you actually want to; a holiday should be a pilgrimage of idleness and inactivity. Duty should be saved for the office.

And so, when the alarm went off every morning and one of us croaked, "Do you care about going to the beach today?" the resounding and shameless answer was always "No." Besides, from the amount of blistered, crimson skin and limping on show when the shuttle brought everyone back at the end of the day, we deduced that the beach afforded little shade and may have concealed broken glass beneath its dunes. Between them, one German couple had thoughtfully burnt all of her front and all of his back, as if making a romantic gesture toward becoming a single, fused organism.

Lying in the shade on a damp towel with an ice-cream and a piña colada was a much better way – the only way, really – to endure daily highs of 48 degrees.

"Come on, let's just go so we can say we've seen it and then come back," was my parents' catchphrase on most of our childhood holidays, on which we sometimes left the cool and calm of the pool in order to crowd into some humid tourist spot with the rest of the plebs. I prefer my way.

I have never understood people who go on activity breaks, bikini bootcamps or walking holidays. Or the ones who insist on taking their kids. Your holiday is your sacred time to be as selfish as is possible. (Within reason, of course: if you're holidaying with a friend or loved one, try not to leave your suncream-infused damp towels on their beds, or do other anti-social stuff like that.)

In fact, in these straitened times, one of the best budget holidays to go on would, I feel, simply be taking up residence in your own bed for a week or two. You could even invite people to visit you there… and ask if they'd mind bringing a piña colada with them.