The evolution of family travel

Right at this very moment, families are holidaying. They’ve been hiking in the high country at Mt Hotham, cooking damper around a campfire in the Red Centre and swimming with dolphins at Ningaloo Reef.

Not much has changed from when we were kids, right? I mean, we still take the same holidays as we did when we were little. Or do we? Do you ever reminisce about the holidays you took with your family, when you were a child? For me, we rarely left Australia. Our school holidays centred around a little shack, right across the road from Lake Mulwala, New South Wales. It had belonged to my great-grandparents but became the family holiday house, ironically referred to as the ‘Hilton Mulwala’.

Do rein in any sort of grandiose imagery friends, as this was no 5-star holiday. There was limited hot water due to a recalcitrant hot water service. I’ll never forget hearing that loud bang, the cascade of expletives and seeing my dad’s singed eyebrows and eyelashes after a particularly testy relighting of the pilot episode. This place seemed to me an enigma. It oozed a kind of menacing and dusty charm and I absolutely loved it! We all did. We loved the sloping floorboards, uncomfortable bunk beds and the rather lopsided veranda where we could watch the sun dip and strum our guitars to ‘This Ole House’ and ‘Home Amongst the Gumtrees’.

Every summer when school finished for the year it was on! A chaotic cavalcade from the Mornington Peninsula to Mulwala. Packed picnic and thermos for the rest area stops, 5 people squashed into the family Ford Falcon station wagon, packed to the hilt, windows down for air circulation (no air con!) and a constant shower of slobber from our gregarious labrador whose main mission in life seemed to be to feel the wind in his floppy, golden ears.

Canine capers aside, it was almost rite of passage stuff, and for me a test of stealth and endurance because, at any moment, I could receive an elbow in the ribcage for crossing over ‘the line’ – an invisible boundary that separated mine and my big brother’s seat. There was limited entertainment for this 4 hours if-we-were-lucky road trip, apart from games of Eye Spy, holding our breath when we drove past a cemetery and listening to the latest ‘Summer of’ album, on rotation, on my Walkman.

There were also no fancy dinners out, it was a treat to get hot chicken and chips from the local milkbar, iced lemonades to drink in the cool confines of the pub next door’s (how convenient) beer garden and the occasional 20 cent piece to play space invaders.

All sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? These days, digital disruption has certainly changed the way we travel. We by-pass the travel agent and check out destinations and deals online. We read customer reviews of this hotel or that resort or we book an Airbnb. We peruse photos and videos on travel blogs and Instagram. We download the latest location guide apps and book an Uber from our smartphone. We develop a preconceived idea about what the place is going to be like, we organise, we make detailed itineraries.

My son and I recently returned from a trip to the USA. I had neck pillows, noise cancelling headphones, activities for the plane, hand sanitiser, wipes. I checked the seating maps multiple times, the entertainment, the LA airport map, connecting flight info, read articles on how to score an upgrade to business class and even feared a terrorist attack. My desire for control was causing an internal ruckus and I’ve come to the realisation that it doesn’t have to be so complicated! So, from here on in, I will do my best to commit to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy: ‘If you can control it, don’t worry. If you can’t control it, don’t worry.’

Remember that family cooking damper around the campfire in the Red Centre? Soon after, they retreated to their glamping tent. They hit up Netflix, with the free Wi-Fi, cranked up the air-conditioner, posted selfies to a multitude of social media channels, checked the weather forecast online for the next day, and FaceTimed the relative who was looking after the family dog.

The way we ‘holiday’ has certainly evolved, as have our expectations, but what I can never see changing is the desire to travel, and not only that, to travel with our favourite people – our families.

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks – September 2018.

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