Forget perfect: Adventure is unfiltered. In a new blog series, G Adventures is asking a few people to share memories from trips where things went a bit sideways, but it made for the best story — and the most unforgettable experience. Today, Emma Gannon — author, blogger and host of the popular Ctrl Alt Delete podcast — on how a bad trip with her ex-boyfriend's family shifted her idea of what makes a trip worth taking.
I was about to go on my first holiday with my then boyfriend, Scott. I was 19, still settling into university life, trying to mask that initial heartache of being away from my family and hometown. Nothing had made me feel more grown-up than planning a holiday with a boyfriend. Being in an IRL relationship was one thing (I’d never been in one before! Only weird Internet boyfriends!) and lots of things were still stupidly exciting: holding hands, kissing on the bus, gently squabbling over which ingredients to buy for dinner that we’d cook together. So romantic. So many firsts. But a holiday, this felt like the next big step. His family were coming, too, and I hadn’t met them before. His parents already seemed totally wonderful, as they had kindly paid for my part of the trip. They knew how broke we were as students.
A little blip occurred a few days before the trip: I got the flu. I tried to style it out and shake it off and make it seem just like only a little sniffly cold. I was desperate to go on this holiday.
I arrived and caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror: I looked awful. But I tried to hold it together in front of Scott’s parents. Plus, I was in total awe of the five-star accommodation they’d chosen: It was like an apartment straight out of a Jack Wills catalogue or celebrity Instagram feed. I asked if there was anything I could do to help prepare dinner:
“No, that’s not necessary. We have a personal chef,” was their brusque reply.
“And what sort of vocation are you looking to go into after university, Emma?” Scott’s dad asked in between mouthfuls.
“I think one day I’d love to be a writer,” I replied. “I’m already writing for the student mag—”
Scott's dad snorted down the end of the table, glugging red wine, smugly.
“Writing won’t exactly pay the bills, will it?”
His parents had booked me into having a scuba-diving lesson while the rest of them (Scott, his parents and siblings) went off on their own because they were already experienced divers. I was hurt, but I didn’t want to act paranoid or needy, so I pretended it was fine. In truth, it brought back all those horrible buried feelings of being left out on the primary-school playground. It also made me miss my own family.
The next day, I told Scott I wasn’t well enough for the lesson. I had dragged myself up, put on my wetsuit (which took ages), and nearly passed out at the sink while brushing my teeth. I felt a sense of obligation — like it was more important to make Scott’s parents happy than to do what I wanted to do. “His parents have paid for this,” I thought. “Pull yourself together.” My head was pumping, my body was shaking, everything ached from my toes to my fingers. Scott left the room, then I heard through the thin walls a conversation between Scott and his mother:
“She’s ungrateful, Scott. Lazy. Why did you even bring her?”
I realized that the trip I’d imagined in my head wasn’t going to happen. There was no way I could fix it, unwind it, or put a filter on it. I could post pictures online of the gorgeous views from my bedroom window, but I couldn’t bring myself to — it would be a lie. I couldn’t wait for the trip to be over. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends how bad it was.
And it wasn’t just about how cold his parents were with me. Sometimes, you don’t connect with other people’s parents, and that’s OK! No, it was Scott’s inability to stick up for me when I shared my career dreams, or my decision to rest and get better instead of diving into the sea. But as I lay in bed that day, spending time with books by my favourite authors, I could feel my own backbone becoming more and more solid beneath me.
I was reading Oliver James’ book Affluenza, and it felt quite comically ironic. The blurb on the back of this book reads: “an obsessive, envious, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions.” Oh my god, I thought, maybe I’m trying to keep up with the Joneses! I wasn’t being true to myself. The book emboldened me. I managed to get through the rest of the trip with a smile, knowing that the journey had taught me something important about myself.
Scott and I broke up shortly after that trip. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how luxurious a holiday is, how glorious the food is, or how high your hotel’s star-rating is (or vice versa). It’s your perspective that makes the biggest difference.
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