x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The family that holidays together...

In tough times, parents might be tempted to forgo the yearly family getaway. But spending time away from the rigours of routine is important.

Taking an adventure together, and including the children in the decision-making, gives families the opportunity to enjoy quality time and strengthen their bond.
Taking an adventure together, and including the children in the decision-making, gives families the opportunity to enjoy quality time and strengthen their bond.

When finances tighten, luxury items are usually the first to go. The family holiday, which for some has evolved from a week of camping to a stay at a five-star resort, may suddenly have a question mark dangling over it. However, savvy families are working out ways of keeping the tradition alive, and enjoying more bonding time as a result. The family holiday is not something that should be disregarded or sacrificed lightly.

Claire Glasby, a working mother in Dubai, believes that taking a break as a family is essential to "staying sane". She prefers the idea of the family having to make their own fun rather than staying at a hotel with structured activities. "If you treat the hotel's kids' activities like a crèche, then how are you spending time bonding with your family?" she asks. Glasby and her husband, Tahir, have found that juggling work commitments with raising their daughter, Zia, aged one, is a constant balancing act. "Our free time holds more value now. Suddenly, I'm conscious of how I spend every spare minute. Having a holiday together gives you a rare opportunity to really enjoy quality time together."

This year, the Glasbys have arranged a house swap. "For the four years we've been here, we've only left the country for trips home to the UK to see the family and our honeymoon. It will be good to actually spend time unwinding without worrying about cramming in visits to friends and family, as well as all the other things you end up doing when you're back home." Glasby says it's also a more affordable option that comes ready-prepared for children, with a cot, toys and the kinds of safety features that only a parent would prepare for. "It may lack the glamour of a hotel and obviously you have to do all the cooking, but you can save a lot of money. Plus, it's a really great way of minimising the stress of a family holiday and allows you to see the real way people live in another place."

The clinical psychologist Dr Roghy McCarthy has been working with families for more than 30 years, the past decade at her clinic in the UAE. She says taking a break once a year is "as important as having a family meal together once a day. During this time you can exchange ideas and enjoy each other's company. It's an opportunity to discover the dynamic of how your family is functioning." In the case of the economically depressed family, she advocates being together as much possible, and maintaining the holiday spirit. "It doesn't matter how much money you pay for your holiday but the quality of the time you spend together."

As McCarthy will tell you, strong family ties are born out of shared experiences that each member can relate to. "I want us all to be able to look back on this time and see the positive things, not to focus on the stress. Having those memories together is so precious. It's all about the stories you can tell your kids when they're older. All the embarrassing things that you can laugh about together."

Sally Unwerth lost her job in the real estate industry a few months ago. Her husband, Phillip, is still working, but on a reduced salary, and they had a few hard decisions to make regarding their yearly holiday. "We were lucky enough during the boom years to take five-star resort trips to Malaysia, Thailand, Greece and the Maldives," says Unwerth. "I'd say now that we were pretty spoilt, although I didn't realise it at the time. Even before we came to Dubai, we'd regularly go to Club Med resorts where the children are taken care of with supervised activities. My husband and I actually managed to get some serious sunbathing time in around the pool."

It would have been easy for the Unwerths to stay home and bemoan their sudden change of situation, but instead they are viewing it as an opportunity to try something different. "This year, we're planning a road trip. At first I was secretly dreading being on the road for hours with two young children. But since we started to plan where to go, and I discovered all these great little places along the coast of Oman to stay - dive huts and such - I became really excited. So were the kids. They even practised setting up the tent in the back garden. We know we'll have to go a bit later in the year when the weather is cooler, but that's OK."

McCarthy says it's worthwhile remembering that children are not that interested in where they are travelling, but how much fun they're going to have on the way and when they get there. Ruth Bradley, a mother of two, couldn't agree more. She calls herself the queen of budget travel. Rather than be ushered into it by a collective need for thrift, she's always championed cost-conscious vacationing as highly rewarding in terms of strengthening the family dynamic. "This year we're going to Bali," she says. This may sound like an expensive trip, but Bradley has sniffed out some deals and says that by "winging it", the family will be required to pull together more.

Both she and her husband, Simon, have demanding careers, so in their general routine, weekdays are given over to the office and weekends are for the kids. "We try to do as much fun stuff with them as possible during term time, but there's nothing like having a good chunk of time to really lavish your kids with attention." Bradley speaks with gusto about her trip. "It's me and the kids for the first two weeks, then my husband will join us for the last two weeks. I've booked a rental Jeep for the whole trip and made some enquiries online, but aside from that everything else I'll make up as I go along. By moving around, we'll get to see more of the island, and really explore all its nooks and crannies. I can't wait to see the kids' faces when we go to the monkey forest in Ubud, take surfing lessons and visit the elephant sanctuary and the volcanoes.

"Having this adventure as a family, including the children on the decision-making process such as 'Where are we going to stay tonight?' can only strengthen your bond as a family. You'd be surprised at what children are capable of when you speak to them as people and not kids. After all, it's their holiday too."