I am typing these words in Portugal. I cannot quite believe it myself. When it comes to foreign holidays at the moment, there are two groups of people, certainly among my friendship group, which I am not for one second suggesting is a robust sample. One group thinks that the idea of going abroad is an impossible dream, and that the people who do so are rolling the dice on the future of their families. They are also secretly hoping the rules change and everyone has a nightmare getting back – a sentiment I completely understand. The other group thinks that going abroad is our God-given right, that we have to do it for our own sanity, and that the 18 months in which British people have been unable to go on foreign holidays has been one of the greatest hardships of modern civilisation.
The holiday itself has been wonderful. We booked a couple of weeks, because you have to write off the first week to just looking at one another and saying, “I can’t quite believe we’re in another country!” There have been some issues. We went to a water park the other day. Whenever I go to a water park, I have to focus on my kids’ enjoyment, rather than what thousands of children are emitting into the water, as well as dealing with feeling hideously self-aware when wandering around in shorts. We can argue about whether this is low self-esteem or narcissism, but the point is, I spend most of my time at water parks trying to protect my children from developing the same sort of hang-ups I have. This was made trickier by the fact that one of our kids said his favourite thing about the water rollercoaster was how my body was jiggling on the way up.
As relaxing as the holiday has been, I have to confess I found the run-up stressful enough to make me feel I needed a holiday to recover from it. In the weeks preceding the trip, we would check the news every morning to see how the rules had unpredictably changed this time, readying ourselves to hear that even if you are double-vaccinated and the country you are wanting to visit welcomes you, you cannot go if your name starts with an R.
It was almost impossible to stop worrying about the required paperwork. We eventually decided to accept that we had done all we could, and to brief the children that we might have won a holiday and were going to the airport to find out for sure. It made for a very exciting vibe at check-in. I cannot tell you how delighted I was to find that, having spent three hours trying to get the Portuguese website to accept my postcode, you can actually just fill the form out by hand on the plane.
By far the weirdest element of the prep – and I am fully aware that writing about the issues you had with paperwork so you could go on your summer holiday is the epitome of a privileged problem – was the fact that we had to get a Covid test in order to board the plane. So far, so expected. The anxiety-inducing element was that you had to take the test within 48 hours of flying, and the results could take up to 48 hours to arrive. It made for a fun last day before departure. The test involved driving to a car park near Gatwick, where a group of people dressed like extras from the end of ET waited with swabs. We then had to give a codeword to one of them, and they allowed us to be swabbed. Luckily, the results arrived and we went to Heathrow and won our holiday. Now, our only job is enjoying it, and checking the news each day to see if an Algarve variant means we have to live here for ever.