Travel writer, Daniel, is new to all-inclusive holidays. He writes about why you might get more culture than you’d think from an all-inclusive holiday, and what his family took away from their recent trip to Tunisia.
I write this on a flight, at an altitude of 38,201 feet (thank you EasyJet’s on board info) having left around three hours ago from the airport of Enfidha (Tunisia). The latter being a very new and luxurious airport, but our flight seemed to be the only one leaving for the whole day!
Quite the opposite from Manchester airport, our current destination and where I always feel slightly claustrophobic, particularly at the security check with those horrible low ceilings and queues that reduce people to cattle. To my right, there is a sleeping boy who looks like his mum (luckily) and is probably exhausted from last night’s kid’s disco.
Now you know where I am, I’ll tell you a little bit about all-inclusive holidays. I lost my all-inclusive virginity in Turkey about six months ago, and prior to that I had always felt a little bit of shame at the way you’re “not really experiencing the country”. It felt like cheating. Like having someone complete the hard stages of a video game for you. Worse, it felt uncultured.
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As if my adopted home, Britain, had almost imperceptibly made me into one of those chastised hooligans just looking for a recreation of known comforts in the sun, without any interest in the country that turned skin red or (luckily for me) brown! Pas parle francés, no hablo español, big beer please! This was my concern, and my first time did not totally allay those fears.
I have always been an adventurer. My favourite stories growing up were those of Prince Valiant, who becomes a knight in King Arthur’s court after endless tribulations. I walked five hundred miles from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela over the fabled Camino. I spent a year visiting friends all over the world to celebrate/survive my turning thirty. So having everything done for me felt strange, as if that spirit had been extinguished. As if somehow I was prematurely preparing for being in a care home, devoid of initiative and freedom, at the mercy of other people.
However, nine days at the Jaz Tour Khalef Hotel in Sousse have irrevocably made me a fan. The pilot of the flight from which I write, has just announced we will be arriving shortly, so before the air hostess gives me the look and the Manchester weather unleashes its wet welcome, I leave you with five reasons why my all-inclusive stay was better than expected and against the typical stereotype.
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Access to a plethora of cultural intermediaries
One of the worries with inclusive holidays is that you are sheltered from the real culture. But this trip opened my eyes to an alternative world view; I was impressed with the approach of the Jaz Tour Khalef Hotel as we had a welcome talk with all the senior personnel working there, clarifying who we needed to speak to if we had any issues, explaining what the cultural norms of the country were, and they topped it all up by giving a free massage voucher!
So I realised that I had a lot of people I could talk to about the culture, including a masseuse who asked me if I was married (I answered “yes”, but wondered what would have happened had I answered differently). The charming young man in charge of day trips, Aladdin, explained how to avoid pesky sellers from taking your dinar and to barter by paying a tenth of the original price (something which was fun to then try out when the sellers approached us at the beach)!
Experiencing more than one culture at once
Another nail in the coffin for the argument that packaged holidays are uncultured is the fact that you experience so many different cultures at once. At the resort’s kids’ club, my son played with kids who spoke many different languages and learnt a Spanish song, which we both love singing now and I highly recommend. It’s called “Veo Veo”. This has led me to get him a Spanish teacher to keep teaching him songs and games so that he loves his daddy’s language. Totally unexpected that a trip to Tunisia would help my family’s Spanish language skills, but another sign that you can be exposed to more than initially expected in a package holiday!
Not wasting any time in finding the key spots to visit
We had a day out where we visited lots of places in a 4 by 4, and by doing that got a feel for the country, and asked any questions we wanted about the country and the situation there. Also, although the tour was expensive, it meant we did not waste time trying to plan it ourselves and could fit it with our own rhythm of rest. Although it is true that if we had visited on our own we would probably have skipped some bits and spent longer in others.
All inclusive is truly inclusive (not just for families)
It is true that there were a lot of families in the resort where we stayed. However, we met a French girl who was doing all-inclusive on her own and lone-parents too, so for them it was also a great way to enjoy somewhere and just focus on talking to others, learning about their lives, backgrounds and challenges without having to think of food or where to stay the night. I never thought someone would choose to do it on their own, but by the end I could see the value; it is an easy way to make connections as everyone will be in the same setting repeatedly.
Developing a sense of community
Staying for quite a few days meant that we had time to get to know the staff, different people from different countries and enjoy the rhythm of the place making it a more social experience than other holidays. I really enjoyed playing football with Daz, talking to the smiley receptionist, and hearing Loli tell my kid that she loved him when it was pick-up time from the kid’s club. Leaving felt like losing a community and saying a premature “bye” to new friends. If you explore a place a lot, chances are that you do not have the chance to have contact with the same people and hence a sense of community does not evolve in the same way.
Adios amigos, and adios to a wonderful time in an all-inclusive in Tunisia!