Fair-weather friends: A holiday together can wreck the best of relationships, says Kat Thurston

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NOTHING puts a strain on a friendship quite like going on holiday together. However long you've known each other, you have probably never spent from morning until night together (and all night long if you are sharing a room). Just how much do you learn about someone when you have only ever met for dinner, at the pub, or all togged up at a party? These bite-sized friendships can reveal hidden depths when on holiday.

I have recently returned from a disastrous camping trip to France, where I shared a tent with one of the most easy-going of my female friends (or so I thought). We have known each other for years and have always exchanged similar opinions and attitudes during long evenings in wine bars or strolling around art galleries. As travel companions, however, we proved totally incompatible.

We had never been camping before, so neither of us had an advantage over the other. But we immediately fell into separate roles. I enjoyed the practical, physical side to camping, such as putting up a tent. My friend just reapplied her brightest pink lipstick and tottered around on tiptoe to prevent her high heels sinking into the ground. She didn't lift a finger, let alone a hammer. She obviously felt very uncomfortable with her new boy-scout role and elected to do the cooking.

As well as dividing the labour, there was the question of who would make the decisions and be seen as dominant. This situation never arose in London, where we always met as equals. Another friend of mine has just returned from Spain and told me how his holiday was ruined because no one would take the lead and make a decision. It was a holiday of endless questions - Where do you want to go? What do you want to eat? All of them said they didn't mind - when clearly they did.

I knew our holiday was doomed when I realised we had totally different ideas about the whole concept and what it involved. To my friend, a holiday is a period in which to do nothing but relax, eat and get a suntan. Not so for me. I could not understand how a person who is normally so active in London could be so lethargic and uninterested in her new surroundings. She also considered a holiday as a time to get away from people, whereas I had planned this whole trip to France around visiting various friends.

My holiday story did not surprise an old family friend, a veteran of hundreds of holidays, who told me that he always issues his friends with a warning prior to setting off: 'Treat it like a dream that you will wake up from as soon as you get back home.'

He said that going on holiday with people is a tremendous gamble and you can never predict the outcome. It can go horribly wrong for some unknown and trivial reason. You might wake up one morning to a terrible, deathly silence and you will know you've said it or done it. The best thing to do, he advised in my case, was to call up my friend right away and pretend it had never happened.

We are all such delicate creatures of habit, carving out our own rules and routines, that should somebody break one of these rules, we could see it as the worst sin on earth. When people are taken out of their familiar habitat, no longer surrounded by their friends, family and possessions, their support systems are gone and so their defence mechanisms are down.

Going on holiday is an important event for most people. It makes them feel vulnerable and insecure, which puts a lot of extra strain on a relationship. When abroad, there is the added stress of not being able to communicate properly because of difficulties with language and culture.

What it all comes down to, I reckon, is that we spend our lives carefully creating and nurturing a public image, so that people see us the way we want them to. We do our best to hide our fears, paranoias and obsessions. We offer clues as to what sort of people we are by the clothes we wear, what we say, the cars we drive, the types of houses we live in and even by our choice of holiday destinations. But once on holiday, all that is stripped away, we are just ourselves - and that's where the shock begins.