Travelling with someone you love is just like living with them, only more intense. I remember being in Laos with my late wife once and realising she hadn’t said a word to me for two days. She would go through occasional periods of silence back at home in London – usually when she had done something wrong and was waiting for me to apologise – but it was easier to brush it off and escape these temporary snubs when I had the rest of my life surrounding me.
Within the first few days of travelling around Italy with my seven-year-old son, I realised how similar our dynamic was to his mother’s and mine. I’m forthright and outspoken; if I have a fallout with someone, regardless of whose fault it is, ten minutes later I’ll insist that it’s time to snap out of whatever mood it has put them in. I’ll humour myself with – what I suppose are – manipulative comments like, ‘Well if I drop down dead in the next ten minutes, you’ll probably never forgive yourself for this behaviour,’ or, ‘If anything happens to you while you’re not talking to me, I’ll always remember you this way.’ This makes it hard for people around me to get their sulking time in. It becomes so clear that I’m not really having it, that it starts to feel a little pointless continuing down that little avenue of displeasure.
Bad moods and bouts of silence are a waste of holiday in my book, so moping was going to be a potential problem while spending the whole summer holidays just with my son. I’ve worked in PR for years, so sometimes I try to step out of my own personal life and think about the communications challenge. This will allow me to hypothesise that saying nothing might be the best way for someone who can’t articulate themselves to say everything. Sadly, for that person, it’s the one thing that drives me up the wall above all others, and so I’ll always articulate and irritate the hell out of them until they yield.
The first bad mood of our trip came quickly – it was only day two. I had booked us early-morning tickets to go up to the rooftop of Milan’s duomo. Firstly, Jackson didn’t want to get out of bed and, secondly, when we got there he decided he didn’t like heights. It was ‘the worst day of his life’ apparently. My eyes rolled higher than the cathedral’s gothic spires; I muttered something about ungratefulness. Neither did anything to make things better.
Looking back – and I certainly didn’t make the connection at the time – I was being exactly the overenthusiastic, over-energetic holidaymaker that used to perplex and infuriate his mum.
‘Aren’t we here to relax?’ she asked me at 4am one morning as our driver came to collect us from our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to take us to Angkor Wat.
No,’ I replied, ‘we’re here to see the temples.’
‘But we saw them yesterday,’ she said, confused.
Unlike me, she hadn’t done her research. She didn’t realise that this leg of the two-week southeast Asian trip was all history and no shops. I’d coaxed her to my heaven, which was fast becoming her hell.
‘Laos-gate’, I realise now, came right after Cambodia. Every bit his mother’s son, I intuitively began dialling it back for Jackson. I recognised that we could easily have a very adult trip around Italy or we could just hang out together and take in the cultural stuff by osmosis.
There were interesting days ahead. If an ancient walled city looked like something from Minecraft, we were winning. When I tried to explain that much of Rome lay in ruins, my son decided it was quite literally rubbish: ‘So, basically it’s just a junkyard?’ he asked.
It’s easy to label someone as ‘moody’, ‘stroppy’ or ‘ungrateful’ – what’s harder is to try to see things from another person’s point of view. My wife wanted a break; my son wanted to be a kid.
Travelling with someone you love is just like living with them: it takes patience and compromise. And occasionally you just need to take a little time out and leave each other the hell alone. It’s just a bit trickier to do this when that person is seven years old, you’re the only adult with them in a foreign country, and you’re entirely responsible for their wellbeing wherever you happen to be in the world.