It started to go wrong on the ferry over.  He’d built his car himself from a kit and it was his pride and joy.  He was planning to tell the French it was the English version of the Bugatti Veyron.  Then the fat guy in the Mercedes accelerated into it while he was stationary on the boat.  ‘Look what you’ve done to my motor’, he screamed as he surveyed the pile of fibre glass fragments that had been its rear end.

After that the holiday went downhill.  It wasn’t just the rat infestation at the campsite or the mahogany coloured French holidaymakers guffawing at their white flesh and black swimming trunks when they accidentally walked onto a nude bathing beach.  It wasn’t even the million-to-one chance when the car’s bodywork was further modified by lightning outside a supermarket in Antibes.  It was mainly the fact that he and his friend weren’t talking to each other after three days.  The chemistry was hazardous.  They hadn’t known each other that well when they had decided to go to the South of France for a fortnight and that left eleven days’ worth of silence to fill.

When the structures are removed

The essence of this story is true.  It’s an extreme version of what can happen when we go on holiday.  There’s the fantasy vacation we may have in our minds in advance and then there’s the reality.

We know that family and couples relationships are often the main arena for difficulties but friendships like the one above can also take a hit.  All the regular structures of our lives go when we’re away and thrown into full-time close proximity with those dear to us.  In everyday life the structures insulate us from intimacy to some degree.  We don’t have to be up close and personal all the time.  And if we’re completely honest we may even be quietly glad those structures mean we don’t have to see the whites of someone’s eyes and make conversation twenty-four seven.  The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom once said that freedom is an abyss and if a holiday’s going badly it can feel like it.

Tips for trips

But vacations can, of course, be fantastic.  To get the best out of them it can be helpful to bear a few things in mind.  Firstly, it may be an idea to think carefully before going away for a long time with someone we don’t know very well.  It may be great but ….

It may also be worthwhile to plan the holiday together beforehand, taking into account everyone’s needs and interests.

Even on a trip where relationships are easy it can improve things still further if you have a few times apart.  ‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you’, says Khalil Gibran in his ubiquitous poem ‘On Marriage’.  It may not do any harm to let the winds of the heavens dance between us in Benidorm.

Finally and perhaps above all remember that any difficulty posed by being face-to-face with someone and forced to really talk to them can also be a marvellous opportunity.  Yes, there may be a row or two at the start of the holiday as the gear change happens and yes, it may feel uncomfortable to be sitting there with no props to distract us.  But if we can go through the barrier and have a heart-to-heart conversation or two it can do wonders for a relationship.  It can rekindle the underlying love and remind us why we chose to have that person in our life in the first place.