Mum isn’t always the first choice when it comes to choosing our travel companions. We turn to vacations to escape the chaos of modern day life; to recharge and unwind. Mothers, however, seem to by default come with a box of tricks to trigger stress levels from all directions, and mine is certainly one of those. She’ll panic over anything, gabber on about nothing and turn everything upside down. On the flip; there’s never a dull moment around her, and as grown-ups, aren’t we in debt to mumsy for putting up with us back when the roles were reversed and she was the one taking us abroad? It takes a bit of time to master the art of managing mum, but if I can, then anyone can do it, especially if we want to create a new era of family memories.
Outline the trip and set her expectations
Prepare her–will it be noisy, will it be expensive or will there be a lot of walking? If she already knows, there won't be any surprises and therefore (ideally) no complaints. “Is Marbella like Barcelona?” asked my mum at the start. “It’s coastal and might remind you of St Tropez. Though there are two types of Marbella holidaymakers: people from Middle-England who come down on budget airlines for booze and guaranteed sun, and rich jet setters who come down on yachts and hang out at beach clubs.” She listens carefully to our rough itinerary, whereby we try as hard as possible to fall within the latter category, minus the yacht. I promise that there won't be any football hooligans or bachelorette parties where we’re heading and the trip gets her seal of approval.
Tell her the hotel cost less than it actually was
There’s something about mums and accommodation; they simply MUST get it at a bargain price. She doesn’t mind spending a fortune at the mall or worse, casinos, but when it comes to where you spend 50% of your trip, well, that should only be booked if on special offer. We stayed at the five-star Kempinski Hotel Bahia which thankfully has special offers on the website to throw her off if mum checks that you’re telling the truth. “This fancy hotel is very good,” mine says in the lobby, as if she booked it herself, “I will tell auntie to stay here when she comes to Europe”. The Caucasian front desk clerk asks where we’re from and then proudly speaks to my mum in Chinese “You’re such a clever girl, you speak better Chinese than my son.” she digs. “Great, then why don’t you chat to her while I head up to the room.” I mutter.
Keep her busy on the beach
For Asian mothers, catching rays is low on the priority list (“Why are you always so dark?” she yells at me every time I get back from a trip). However, unlike a regular beach, a beach club will keep her more than occupied while you relax under the golden sun and cloudless blue sky. We spent the daytime of our trip at Ocean Club Marbella, a landmark on the Costa del Sol. While I jumped in and out of the 4,000sqm turquoise seawater pool to sip on iced cocktails, she passed hours on a day bed under giant parasols with her book, before wandering to the boutique and restaurant. “Look at those Spanish men over there, good big bodies. But you, you are too skinny lah. You don’t eat the right food, living by yourself, you don’t even cook!” Which brings me nicely to point four.
Put her in charge of the food
When it comes to food, mother knows best, or so she thinks. It’s not about TripAdvisor reviews or Esquire recommendations. She’ll generally go for what looks the most appealing and has the most clientele. Luckily we stumbled upon Casanis Bistrot, a Mediterranean with a French twist in Old Town. “This one looks cute.” She smiled after we walked around in circles inspecting what else is on offer. I suggest we try the snails and she orders them. They’re beautifully presented when they arrive, which delights her further: she spends several minutes taking photos of them, ready to send relatives back home during the taxi back to the hotel. Since she’s glued to her phone, I get a cab ride listening to the sweet sounds of the new Ed Sheeran. We both win.
Take a lot of photos
I don’t usually like to spend more than 1% of a trip in front or behind a camera, but on vacation with mum this percentage sharply increases. We’ve argued over this many times before, and I’ve come to accept that she will not be happy unless she has at least 20 photos of us standing in front of each pretty garden or statue we pass. I now always factor that time in. “Take a photo of me with the dancers!” mum insists at Ocean Club, calling one of the babes down from her podium (who, surprisingly, does as mum asks!). I take snaps from several angles, of them doing various poses. “I used to have a body like yours!” she tells her when I’m done. I leave the two to gabber away while I walk the wooden deck back into the pool.
Breathe during those ‘moments’
Rude to service people? Complaining about the heat? Breathe. Breath Coach, Theresa Liang explains how breathing techniques can help in stressful situations. “We can only hold one thought at a time, so the key is learning to focus this thought on breath instead of the thought of stress. One exercise, for example, could be to take a deep inhale through your mouth and exhale quickly without forcing the air out. Do this until you feel your body relax and let go of tension. By then you’ll have avoided a negative reaction and in turn, the increase in oxygen levels will give you a nice energetic boost to play through the moment.” I practice this method a lot, including an incident where mum panicked that our driver was dropping us off at the wrong place. I inhaled all the way in, and the sounds of her unnecessary alarms disappeared with each exhale (oh, and for the record, he dropped us off at the correct location).
Encourage her to try something moderately new
Mums are generally old, making them old fashioned. They love staying within their comfort zones on vacation; restaurants, shopping and observatories are mine’s go-tos. Occasionally though it’s worth nudging her to try something new, yet safe. Nothing crazy, like Skydiving or scuba, but more along the lines of a show, a cooking lesson or animal encounter (all must permit photography, of course, otherwise she’ll wonder what the point is). At Ocean Club, I spotted musicians, so I pulled mum over to meet and dance along with them. She made some new pals and had a memory to take back home with her; one that she wouldn’t have created if I hadn’t been there.
Leave space in your suitcase, especially for her stuff
My mother always manages to overpack, even for short trips, and so I’m prepared to share my space to accommodate her shopping or when she decides she wants to keep hotel amenities (I still don’t understand why she needs hotel slippers when she has nice Muji ones at home). I recently got the Horizn M5 Neon case which basically glides like its weightless and has two separate compartments, one of which I reserved for mum. “I got some things for your cousins in the Ocean Club boutique, don’t you love these swimsuits?” Those, along with several other miscellaneous items went straight into my suitcase. She then passed me a bag of fruit from the welcome tray in our hotel room, “I don’t think these will be allowed through customs.” I warned, “Nobody will check, just put them in your suitcase.” I said, “Ok” but I deposited them in the bin at reception and I'd tell her I got hungry and ate them en route home.
Depart back home at a reasonable hour
Don’t book a 9am crack of dawn wake up flight, choose something around 1pm instead. Those super early or super late flights might save you money but they certainly don’t make for a pleasant vacation and isn’t that what you’ve worked hard in the office for? An early flight ruins a blissful evening, night’s sleep, morning breakfast, and worst of all; it leaves you with a grouchy mother. Do yourself a favour and pay the extra dollars for a stress-free last day on hols, you’ll come home a happier son.
James and his mother stayed at Kempinski Hotel Bahia which offers a nightly rate in a Grand Mediterranean Room from 369 SGD (low season), 1185 SGD (high season) based on two sharing a double room on a B&B basis. They relaxed at Ocean Club Marbella which offers a starting rate of 208 SGD for a small round day bed for maximum 3 people and goes up to 1500 SGD for a Super VIP Square bed for maximum 12 people (which includes 3 bottles of Dom Perignon champagne and carries an additional minimum spend of 2308 SGD)