Red, amber or green? Another week, another change in travel restrictions and the chance of a family holiday vanishes over the horizon.
The uncertainty of having to quarantine and the cost of multiple Covid tests means a holiday abroad has been nigh on impossible for the average family this summer.
For mine, in those distant pre-pandemic days, the long school holidays were always broken up by a couple of weeks in guaranteed sunshine.
This will be the second year we’ll be spending the summer in Costa del Scotland.
But I’m not complaining.
Now that we’ve had to get off the treadmill of religiously booking a foreign holiday, I’ve realised that they are – whisper it – not all they are cracked up to be.
Not when you’re travelling en famille, anyway.
I suspect most of us come back from a fortnight abroad and the minute we put the key in the front door, our holiday takes on a golden glow.
Like selective amnesiacs, we only remember the best bits – tucking into tapas in a beach bar, the kids playing happily in the pool while we relax on sun loungers, a cold drink and the latest summer read at hand.
Remember to pack the rose-tinted shades
What we instantly forget is how going on a Mediterranean break can be one long, gruelling ordeal.
Sure, there’s a sweet spot, when the kids are aged between five and 12 and all is wonderful.
My husband and I remember our first villa holiday in Mallorca fondly and, with not a little regret, the moment our son at that age called to us from the pool: ‘This is paradise!’
Simple pleasures abounded: eating an ice-cream along the promenade, getting an inflatable dolphin he named Bertha and wanted to sleep with, playing cards by candlelight on the veranda, building sandcastles, and swimming in the warm sea.
But rewind or fast forward a few years and it’s an entirely different story.
I used to look with wonder and disbelief at couples peacefully eating in restaurants with a sleeping baby in the pram next to them.
Our little one – colicky and fretful in the heat – waited until we’d ordered before starting to wail.
You could tell the parents of two-year-olds by their haunted look and the bags under their eyes
The first night we tried that, I spent the meal sitting on a wall out of earshot of the other diners, trying to feed him to sleep.
The toddler years were spent trying to keep him from damaging himself or the apartment – or escaping once he found out how to open the door and scoot off down the stairs.
You could tell the parents of two-year-olds around the pool by their haunted look and the bags under their eyes.
Holiday horror starts at home
Even just getting to the resort can be a nightmare.
When our flight was delayed one summer, some passengers spent the four hours in the airport bar.
When we finally boarded, the rest of us tried to avoid catching the eye of a garrulous drunk woman as she paced up and down the aisle trying to get a party started.
At the other end, picking up a hire car can be a battle of wits as the company tries to fleece you for extra insurance. It’s like fending off 20 cold calls in 40-degree heat.
Then there’s the teenage years.
By this time, I’d given up comparing myself to other parents but still took comfort from the sight of their teens also glued to their phones in restaurants.
I thought the problem might be having an only child but friends with bigger families had their own war stories of sullen, monosyllabic teenagers.
“I’ll take part in the conversation when you have something interesting to say” was one little madam’s reply to her harassed mum.
If you can’t stand the heat…
And don’t get me started on the heat.
We endured one of many heatwaves to strike southern Europe in recent years, spending the nights freezing with the a/c on full blast or soaked in sweat when it was turned off.
All the while, the eyewatering sum we’d spent on this family holiday was flashing before my weary eyes.
So, when the pandemic arrived and holidays were verboten, I was secretly relieved.
No more internet searches for the perfect spot and feeling responsible for everyone’s happiness. I felt liberated.
While we’ve had some great holidays over the years (that selective memory comes in handy), we had already reached the stage of reconsidering how we holiday with a teenager.
These last two summers in Scotland have saved us a fortune and allowed our son to mature enough to enjoy a different experience, hopefully next year.
He couldn’t possibly be bored in New York. Could he?
Although, he did scrunch up his face and ask in all seriousness, ‘What is there to do in New York?’ when we were chatting about holidays.
Wish me luck.
Maggie Ritchie is an award-winning author and journalist whose third book Daisy Chain is inspired by the eventful lives of the pioneering women artists, the Glasgow Girls.