It’s refreshing to go on a family holiday to a remote part of the world, where kids can be let off the leash.
One of the most pervasive human fantasies has to be that of the uninhabited island, far from the madding crowd, with the waves lapping gently, or even thunderously, on the shore. Who wouldn’t want to be Robinson Crusoe, cut off from phones and foes, idling away the day shaking coconuts from a tree?
For most of us, it is this tropical idyll that springs to mind, even though, in reality, we would soon tire of the monotony of that landscape. Whether it’s Brad and Jen on honeymoon in the Seychelles or Wills and Kate on their recent Maldivian escape, the lure of such getaways to evade prying paparazzi is compelling if you’re a global celebrity.
They’re also paradise for children, where they can experience unfettered freedom within the confines of a minuscule world. Before we were parents we tried out the Maldives and Mozambique’s Benguerra Lodge, and enjoyed a week on Pangkor Laut in Malaysia, where my husband developed a competitive relationship with the island’s monkeys, who liked to outpace him when he took his evening jog round the island. Most of these spots are beyond any but the most oligarchic of budgets, but a major perk of travel writing is that you can sometimes enjoy the latter without bankrupting yourself.
Recently, we were guests on a tiny private island idyll off the coast of Cambodia. Song Saa may be off limits to anyone without a banker’s-bonus budget, but it’s also one of the rare places where you actually get what you pay for. Arriving late in the evening, within seconds of being led to our breathtaking waterside bungalow, the kids were munching on gourmet pizzas while Jason and I sat sipping mojitos, the ingredients for which – including a bottle of home-flavoured lemongrass vodka – had been thoughtfully left in our fridge.
Wondering what to do with the children for four days on such a tiny outpost surrounded by water, we hit on the idea of a Bubblemaker scuba course. Suitable from age eight upwards, this precocious introduction to the delights of the deep doubled their exploration area. They went wreck diving on the Blue Elephant (actually a dingy dropped in the pool), played noughts and crosses on waterproof pads and, on day three, took to the ocean, hilariously dwarfed by their giant oxygen tanks.
Leaving the island, having barely seen our pint-sized offspring since we’d arrived, I was reminded of my own childhood summers, running wild on a similarly deserted, but climatically opposed, island in the Irish Atlantic.
Jason and I appreciated the steamy tropicality of Song Saa, but I’m sure the kids would have been just as happy in the Hebrides, as long as they were left to their own devices.
Whether it’s Alderney or Île de Ré, a Maldivian beach resort or an east African oasis, in a world where we have to keep our children on an increasingly short leash, it’s a pleasure to let them off the hook and find small worlds they can rule during the holidays.
Mariella Frostrup is a contributing editor to Family Traveller and mother to two young children.