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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Beach holidays: a major bore or the ultimate escape? I'm about to find out

I have traditionally favoured more action-packed adventures but, this year, I've decided to spend five days lying by the sea

A beach in Noussa town on the Greek island of Paros, where holiday time beckons. Alamy
A beach in Noussa town on the Greek island of Paros, where holiday time beckons. Alamy

I have traditionally given beach holidays a wide berth. I grew up on a Mediterranean island, so paying money to go somewhere and sit by the sea always felt like a bit of a busman’s holiday. I have, in truth, long been perplexed by the hordes of tourists who descend upon my home town of Limassol, Cyprus, each year, intent on doing nothing but lying in the sun, slowly baking themselves to a fine crisp, while gorging on English breakfasts and learning precisely nothing about local culture. I fully appreciate that when you live in a country where sunshine is in short supply, you take your tanning opportunities when you can find them – but lying around doing nothing has always seemed, in my eyes, like an almighty waste of annual leave.

Perhaps as a reaction to those lobster-red tourists whom I encountered with such frequency when I was younger, I have always favoured more activity-based holidays – surfing in India, following the great migration in Tanzania, whale watching in Sri Lanka, a walking safari in Kenya, a music festival in Morocco, a yoga retreat in the Philippines, and suchlike. Meanwhile, city breaks generally consist of a jam-packed schedule and hours of walking every day, as I try to see as much as possible of my chosen destination.

I feel like the opportunity to travel is so precious that any time spent away should be fully capitalised on – holidays should be grand affairs packed full of unfamiliar experiences and unexpected adventures. It’s such a great privilege to be able to see the world and, for me, a holiday is a chance to get as far away from my “everyday” as possible. The further I get out of my comfort zone, the better.

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Read more of Selina's thoughts:

The eternal quest for the perfect work-life balance

Paying tribute to the extraordinary life of my dad, the ultimate expat

Why eating meat makes me feel like a hypocrite

Phone etiquette? I need some guidelines please

After a decade, Dubai feels like it has come of age

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One of the great benefits of living in the UAE is how easy it is to get to other places. When I was growing up, if we wanted to travel from Cyprus to visit my mother’s family in Kenya, we faced a hugely expensive two-day marathon of a journey that involved three flights, with a long, unpleasant transit in Cairo and an internal journey in a shaky Kenya Airways plane from Nairobi to Mombasa. Invariably, flights were delayed, luggage was lost, stomach bugs were contracted and tantrums were thrown. The ease with which I am now able to jump on an Emirates flight, read a couple of magazines, watch the odd episode of Poldark and be in Kenya within four hours is nothing short of miraculous.

We are living in the golden age of air travel. The world has never been smaller – and its endless mysteries and miracles have never been more accessible. Flights are more affordable, frequent-flyer programmes more abundant and, with the advent of online services such as Booking.com and Airbnb, accommodation options have never been more plentiful or diverse.

And yet, last week, for the first time in my life, I booked myself a beach holiday. I have decided to spend five days on Greek island Paros with my oldest, closest friend. The plan, as it stands, is to lay by the sea all day, eat the odd English breakfast and hopefully not burn ourselves to a lobster-red crisp.

No one is more surprised by this about-turn than I am. I had planned to take a couple of weeks off in August, but hadn’t got much further than that. That’s the other thing about living in the UAE – when it comes to planning a holiday, the options are basically limitless. A detox in South East Asia? Gorilla trekking in Uganda? A horse-riding holiday in Petra? But endless choice can sometimes be overwhelming and, in the end, I realised that what I really wanted to do was very little. For once, the prospect of basking in the sun, a book in one hand and a cold frappe in the other, seemed ideal. Perhaps my decision is informed by nostalgia: after a decade of living away from Cyprus, it’s possible that I’m hankering for a good old dose of island living. There’s a certain way that the sun hits the sea in the Mediterranean that can lift the soul, as can a traditional chicken souvlaki drizzled with tzatziki or a watermelon split open in front of you and promptly served with salty slices of fresh halloumi cheese.

I approach my first beach holiday with some trepidation. How many books do you need for such an endeavour? Will I get bored after the first 15 minutes? Is the thought of doing nothing actually much more appealing than the act of doing nothing? I guess I’ll find out in a couple of weeks.