I seem to be known in academic circles for my research on family holidays, but this is mainly a reflection of having come late to academia and having completed my doctoral research with three children in tow. My life trajectory started quite differently back in Germany with an overwhelming passion for travelling and wanting to explore the world. After training as a travel consultant there I embarked on a global journey that eventually led me to New Zealand. Arriving in New Zealand in 1990, I toured the country on a motorbike, fell in love with it and decided to stay. Only then did I embark on my academic journey at three different universities in New Zealand, majoring first in philosophy and then later in tourism studies. My initial interests in tourism research were on environmental interpretation and ecotourism issues but given my family situation in mid-life I perceived a gap with a lack of research into families holidaying with children. Let me tell you a little bit about the importance of families spending time together on holiday and hopefully having some family fun along the way.
Families with dependent children represent a significant proportion of the world’s population. Children and families form the closest and most important emotional bonds in human society, and it is these social relationships that drive demand in tourism. It is estimated that families account for about 30% of the leisure travel market around the world (Schänzel & Yeoman, 2014). Family travel (defined as that undertaken by adults, including grandparents, with children) is predicted to grow at a faster rate than all other forms of leisure travel, mainly because it represents a way to reunite the family and for family members to spend quality time with each other, away from the demands of work and school. Grandtravel (grandparents travelling with their grandchildren) can facilitate significant bonds and contribute to intergenerational wellbeing and generativity (Gram, O’Donohoe, Schänzel, Marchant, & Kastarinen, 2019). Families, then, seem to put a high priority on taking holidays to allow for bonding, increased communication, and positive memory formation amongst family members.
Family holidays allow for a time to be in the present without the other pressures of work and school when parents can become childlike, and children be more themselves. This can encourage connections that are often missed in the frazzle of everyday life and create memories of memorable moments. Much has been written about these opportunities of ‘quality family time’ on holiday that allow for strengthening of family bonds (Schänzel & Smith, 2014). However, the reality of family holidays is that tensions can arise from conflicting preferences, such as children seeking fun activities whilst parents seek relaxation. Thus, ‘own time’ can supplement and even enhance ‘family time’ on holiday, offering respite from the obligations, over-intimacy, and intensity of family time (Backer & Schänzel, 2013), highlighting that each family needs to find its own balance of time together and apart while managing complex internal social dynamics (Schänzel & Smith, 2014). There is, thus, an intricate relationship between the individual wishes and needs of family members, or the individual ‘I’, and the overall aim and ambition of spending quality time together on holiday, or the ‘we’ of the family group. According to the central theory of Finnish philosopher Tuomela (2007), the ‘we-mode’ is seen as primary compared with the ‘I-mode’, making family holidays about collective experiences centred on sociality and togetherness rather than on individual pursuits. That means, it is the ‘we-mode collective intentionality’ that is ultimately needed for understanding social life on holiday.
Family tourism research has traditionally prioritised the heterosexual nuclear family and the increasing diversity of families is still underrepresented. There is a lack of research into single parents and fatherhood in tourism (Schänzel & Smith, 2011). Seeking a more balanced gender scholarship requires a critical appraisal of gender relations that is inclusive of the male voice in family tourism. Research by myself and John Jenkins (2017) focused on the experiences of non-resident fathers who holidayed alone with their children and the meanings of these experiences for those fathers. Our findings revealed that the positive experiences arising from holiday-based interactions with their children increased many non-residents fathers’ happiness and wellbeing along with a sense of contribution as a father. Continuing with a focus on capturing the voices of single parents on holiday with their children led to the following poetic reflections by a father and myself.
Reflections on single parent travels
Capturing these personal meanings for parents is at the centre of this endeavour here, expressed poetically; one a father and the other by myself as a mother, but both single parents spending time alone with their daughters. After all, families are considered the emotional heart of society and the parent – child bond is what brings much joy into our lives. These literary writings convey celebrations of motherhood and fatherhood through travelling. Using a father’s and a mother’s poem allows for a more creative expression of what intimate moments on travels mean to those involved. They extend conventional approaches of knowledge production and through embracing freedom and art transcend more amply into the heart of our emotional lives.
Travels with my daughter by a father
High above the air so thin
Stomach full and paper thin
A sigh, a smile, a gasp within
A daughters’ joy always wins
Caressing palm fronds and sandy loam
A springing step and freedom to roam
Encrusted in salty air and heat
A wet soppy grin hard to beat
One on one, laughter, chatter
Time stands still, nil else of matter
Shared meal, shared emotion
Intoxicated by the local potion
The aroma of gardens and tropical rains
More than six senses to flood our brains
Connecting family bonds stretched undue
Sleeping at peace a colourful hue
The travellers’ spirit ignites our core
Father daughter holidays tell a different lore
Child and woman fuse suspended
The joy of my life to memory commended.
(Dedicated to Sophie 2010, Dad).
Travels with my daughter by a mother
This is based on my travels through Myanmar in December 2014/January 2015 with my eldest daughter and is expressed as a poem of what it means to explore a different culture together without the presence of other family members. It signifies a culmination of years of dreaming about travelling together in Asia on the cusp of my daughter becoming an adult and embracing her independent life.
A walk in the hills of Burma
The pungent scent of dried chillies in the air
Accompanied by wood fires lit at night
A colourful parade of people at the
Wedding reception chanced upon
Our shared dreams come true
Sampling local delicacies along the way
Sipping endless cups of tea by the cooking fire
Huddling together on frosty mornings
Shared laughter and smiles to savour
Memories formed in these foreign lands
Mothers connecting with other mothers
Knowing glances exchanged
Inquisitive men seizing us up
My blond and blue-eyed girl
So different and yet all the same
Guitar songs around the fires in the street
Bringing us out under the stars
Connections made on this time of our lives
In the villages in the hills of Burma
Just you and me forever there
A long-tail boat ride through the floating gardens
Feeding seagulls on vast Inle lake
A fitting ending to our mother-daughter escape
Going back in time and move forward
Your time to venture into the world
(Dedicated to Anaïs, 2015, Mum)
Written by Heike Schänzel, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Backer, E., & Schänzel, H. (2013). Family holidays – vacation or obli-cation? Tourism Recreation Research, 38(2), 159–173.
Gram, M., O’Donohoe, S., Schänzel, H., Marchant, C., & Kastarinen, A. (2019). Fun time, finite time: Temporal and emotional dimensions of grandtravel experiences. Annals of Tourism Research, 79, 102769.
Schänzel, H., & Jenkins, J. (2017). Non-resident fathers’ holidays alone with their children: Experiences, meanings and fatherhood. World Leisure Journal, 59(2), 156–173.
Schänzel, H. A., & Smith, K. A. (2011). The absence of fatherhood: Achieving true gender scholarship in family tourism research. Annals of Leisure Research, 14(2-3), 143-154.
Schänzel, H., & Smith, K. (2014). The socialization of families away from home: Group dynamics and family functioning on holiday. Leisure Sciences, 36(2), 1–18.
Schänzel, H., & Yeoman, I. (2014). The future of family tourism. Tourism Recreation Research, 39(3), 343–360.
Tuomela, R. (2007). The philosophy of sociality. Oxford University Press.