Less than a week after Rosy*, 26, dumped her boyfriend of two years, his mum pulled up outside her house, pushing him and his suitcase out of the car. The former couple were heading to Gatwick airport to go on a mini-break to Iceland that had been planned for nearly a year.
They had a full itinerary planned of all the normal tourist attractions – Northern Lights, Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle – only now they would no longer be travelling as a couple, but two individuals who happen to be sharing a double bed.
The pair, who are both from Surrey, had been dating for a couple of years but had broken up after he got cold feet about moving in together. On the day they had planned to meet and talk things through, he abruptly cancelled claiming to be too hungover from the night before.
Rosy saw red and ended things. “I hated his guts and was really pissed off,” she says. “But it was petty and not properly discussed.” The next morning she regretted her decision and insisted their holiday went ahead, and – backed by her partner’s family – she persuaded her ex to go along with it.
But the trip was doomed from the beginning. At the airport she saw him texting a woman he claimed was a friend. “I confronted him, he said it was an old friend from work but I’d never heard of her,” Rosy recalls. She then had a panic attack. The holiday went from bad to worse with long car journeys spent in silence, Rosy getting dressed in the bathroom because she felt embarrassed in front of him, and a ‘romantic’ sunrise trip to the Blue Lagoon that ended in an argument. When they got home they never saw each other again.
Holidaying as a couple can be intense at the best of times: budget airlines, sweaty temperatures, foreign languages, new places you don’t know, someone who insists on not wearing suncream (‘honestly, I never burn’) and a phenomenal pressure to have the best sex you’ve had in months. But what happens when you’re no longer a couple and are forced to vacation à deux?
We’re not talking ringing up your exes years after you’ve parted ways and asking if they fancy a trip to Butlins, but during those fragile months after the end of a relationship when you’re busy dividing up the spoils of a life shared. Houseplants, friendship groups, and the holidays you booked in more loved-up times.
Of course you could always cancel, and many couples surely do. But if you’ve been looking forward to some time away it can feel like a kick in the teeth to bail, especially after going through a break-up. So what about changing the names on the tickets and going with a friend? A move that not only requires a friend who can drop everything and doesn’t mind sharing a double bed, but can be costly, although name changes across airlines and travel accommodation does differ.
So some couples end up deciding to bite the bullet and travel together.
“I have never wanted the ground to open up underneath me more..."”
In 2017 Natasha*, 32 from London, tried to get out of a trip to Paris that was booked and paid for with her ex-partner of eight years. She asked friends if they were available to come, but no one was free at short notice. Eventually, they decided to go ahead and travel together: “I was already seeing someone new and he was seeing a few people as well so I thought it would be fine.”
The couple had broken up, she says, because of extensive infidelity on his part but she said she was willing to put that aside because the holiday was booked to celebrate her 30th birthday and she didn’t want to ruin it. But things weren’t to go to plan. “I saw his phone flash up one day and he had messaged some girl saying he wished she was with him and not me,” she says. “That wasn’t nice to see as I thought we were having an okay time.”
Then on the last day before they left they were having lunch in a restaurant and he confessed he had read all of her text messages while she was asleep and looked at photographs she’d sent to another man. “I have never wanted the ground to open up underneath me more. I just wanted to slide under the table. I was speechless that he would look through my phone like that,” she says.
Then, on the Eurostar trip home, he cried loudly for the whole journey and told fellow passengers she had broken his heart. She says: “Everyone thought I’d done the dirty on him! Talk about flipping the situation after years of him doing that and treating me like shit!”
Similarly to Rosy and her partner, Simon, 49, from Kent agreed to go on holiday with his ex-girlfriend of seven years because he secretly harboured hopes that they might get back together, despite her having started seeing someone else. They were also locked into the trip to San Francisco because they’d bought a cheap flight package in the month after 9/11, when people weren’t booking flights, that required them to travel as a pair or not at all.
The couple had split up over Christmas 2001 but decided to go on the six-day holiday the following February anyway. He says for most of the holiday they were able to be civil to each other, visiting Alcatraz prison, the Napa wine valley and going on a whale watching tour of the bay area. Although Simon wasn’t totally happy. “I remember brooding the whole trip on enacting some sort of revenge,” he reflects.
He says there was also lots of sexual tension throughout the trip (they even shared a hot tub at one point) and it all came to a head at the airport when they were waiting for a flight home. “We had an almighty row, lots of home truths were shouted at each other in the departure lounge,” he says. “It was an awful flight back we had to sit next to each other for 11 hours.”
“Looking back it seems ridiculous that we still went. Now I’m happily married and slightly bemused I put myself through all of it for a holiday. That’s the folly of youth,” he says. “I actually went back to San Francisco for the first time this year with my family. Lots of memories I couldn’t share with my travelling companions.”
Graham from Berkshire also regrets going on holiday with his ex-girlfriend to Bali in 2012 after the time away failed to win her back in the way he had hoped. “I had cheated on her,” he says. “But I was desperate to get back together with her and prove my worth so we went. She agreed to come because she hated the idea I’d get the holiday and she wouldn’t.”
The 31-year-old said he told her he wasn’t willing to give the trip up because he’d spent his savings on it, but really he had his hidden agenda. “I thought once we were there and could have time to talk about everything away from her family and friends and all those opinions, things would be right.”
When they got to their destination Graham says his ex then spent every minute trying to get away from him. “She must have read so many books she just kept going and spending ‘alone time’ so I barely got a word in,” he says. “And we didn’t sleep together she made me sleep on the sofa. The hotel had put rose petals out in some of them but she just brushed them on the floor.”
Graham says looking back he wishes he’d never gone and was wrong to believe he could convince her to come back when she’d obviously made up her mind already. “Whenever I think about Bali now, I shudder,” he says.