Travelling in hope

30th August 1996 at 01:00
So what did you do for the hols? While we slumped on a beach, a luxury to which we feel parents are entitled, three of the children experienced travel - which is radically different from holidays, and may be a luxury to which the young are entitled. I deeply suspect it's wasted on them, but that's another matter.

For expeditions, old friends are best and all three drew on old school ties for companions. Our boarding school son has a room mate from Kentucky so celebrated finishing GCSEs by jetting off to join him.

I was sure he'd be fine when he got there, but felt faint at the idea of him changing planes in Atlanta. At 16! My baby! Alone in Atlanta, surrounded by milling hordes of drug-crazed athletes!

He would have died of embarrassment if we'd drawn attention to his "lone-flyer but incredibly young and vulnerable" status, so I had to die of anxiety instead. But Delta Airlines rescued us all with the offer of an escort through Atlanta - the dishiest of their young hostesses.

The son and heir disappeared through the departure gates with a jaunty step and a happy smile. He still had both when he landed in Kentucky but was without his suitcase. Losing the case was fine by me as long as the son was safe, but his host has lived long enough in America to be more bullish about such carelessness. "You find that case," he ordered "and you deliver it to my home tomorrow!" They did.

The son and heir reports this as a "brilliant" event - I fear he will expect similarly assertive behaviour from us from now on. We're booking a course for the new term.

Meanwhile, in a youth hostel somewhere in Europe...the two daughters and their two friends and the four backpacks began their adventure with a chassis-braking lift to the station.

"How many countries did you say you'd be in?" I asked, the way you do when much of the preparation has included visa applications, some of which worked (Rumania) and some of which didn't (Bulgaria) - and all of which delayed their departure to the point when none of us cared where they went so long as it was TODAY.

Debs had no idea. "Ask Abby," she muttered, the way she does when my driving is making her carsick, and hell, she hasn't even crossed the Severn Bridge yet.

Abby, with her A-level maths, counted on her fingers. "Thirteen," she announced, "and don't mind Debs, she's only sulking because I've told her she can't have five days in Corfu, not if we want to get to Zurich."

"Zurich?" says one of their travelling companions, almost buried in the back sea, "are we going to Zurich?" Pressed into promising phone calls every three days - "Oh Mu-um!" with the pained expressions of world-weary travellers that cut no ice with me, so perhaps I don't need the assertiveness course after all - they have dutifully reported in from Amsterdam, Berlin, Warsaw.

The weather improved in Krakow, on the day they were planning, for reasons best known to those on the spot, to go down a salt mine.

One hundred pounds on visas for Rumania notwithstanding, they decided to skip it - 28 hours on a train being too awful to contemplate.

Have you noticed how inaccessible Bucharest is? And Vienna, where phones practically reach out and pick your pockets, got a scant hour before the train left for Venice. We have yet to hear if they made it to Zurich.

So, with a new term about to begin, what did you do for the holidays?

Did you widen your horizons and expand your mind, or allow the old hips to spread a little further in a deckchair? I'm already thinking about the Christmas list - and top of mine is a backpack.

Hilary Moriarty is deputy head of Red Maid's School in Bristol.

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