Paradise found! How to avoid holidays from hell
You've planned the dream trip, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare when friends or family are involved, says Deirdre Reynolds
You've been overworked and underpaid all year -- but after scrimping and saving for the past six months, it's finally time to let your hair down on holiday.
And with sun, sex and sangria all waiting on the other side, you're determined not to let anything or anyone ruin your overdue paradise escape.
Best go alone, then.
Whether it's a girly getaway, family break or romantic couples retreat, research shows that two out of five holidaymakers are at each other's throats by the time the plane touches back down on home soil.
Combined with blistering heat and copious cocktails, disagreements about where to go and what to do on tour have even caused 12% of couples to call it a day, according to the survey by holiday company Expedia.com.
For many sunseekers, it starts months in advance with tense discussion about where to go.
"Last year, I really wanted to go to Prague on holiday but my boyfriend was mad to go on a blowout holiday to Ibiza," says Michelle (32), a school teacher from the midlands.
"We could only afford one or the other, so we tossed a coin and I won. But he had such a face on him for the whole holiday that we might as well have stayed at home. I was furious for weeks after we got back."
As people get more and more stressed out and ever poorer, hyped-up summer holidays are fated to be a flop, warn relationship experts.
"As a nation, we're working harder than ever before and taking fewer holidays," says psychoanalyst Ray O'Neill, of Machna counselling centre in Dublin. "So by the time we go away, we're so wound up that it can be a disaster waiting to happen.
"Our summer holiday expectations have never been higher -- we want the fantasy of lying on the beach sipping a cocktail that you see in the brochure.
"But the brochures rarely show the reality of a rowing couple with a lobster tan throwing the room keys at each other!
"Holidays are a bit like Christmas Day," he adds. "There's so much pressure for it to be perfect that it inevitably ends up being an anti-climax."
Twenty years old this year, classic bra-mance Thelma & Louise (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, respectively) turned roadtripping with your BFF into a rite of passage for girls everywhere.
And last year's Sex and the City 2 took ladies-only hols to implausible new heights -- showing Carrie and her cohorts trotting across the Abu Dhabi desert in high heels and hauling Louis Vuitton luggage.
For twenty-something Irish women and their gal pals, however, bonding abroad isn't always so glamorous.
"I remember the first holiday I went on without my family," recalls student Sarah from Meath. "We had just finished our Leaving Cert and a group of four of us and a cousin of one the girls, whom none of the rest of us knew, went to Costa del Sol for 10 days.
"She turned out to be a total bitch -- talking about each of us to the others behind our backs. When we figured out what was going on, we confronted her and she decided to fly home early.
"But the only flight she could get was two days later, so there was a very awkward atmosphere until then."
Bust-ups over hubby tapping away on his Blackberry and wifey flirting with the waiter are just some examples of why 60% of couples end up sleeping with their backs to each other on holiday, according to statistics.
Some divorce lawyers have even joined the dots between the end of the summer holidays and the rise in couples splitting up every September.
"September and January after the holidays are traditionally our busiest times for couples counselling," agrees psychoanalyst Ray O'Neill. "At home, sometimes kids serve to distract a couple from one another and fill a gap in communication.
"It's only when they go away on their own together that they realise they don't actually have that much in common any more."
"Two years ago, I went backpacking with my boyfriend to Australia," says Jenny (28), an accountant from Dublin. "We had lived together for two years and were getting on great.
"But after about a month of travelling together, we were like an old married couple -- rowing about everything from money to whose turn it was to drive. We ended up breaking up over there and going our separate ways."
Nor is there 'strength in numbers' -- group couples holidays can be equally disastrous.
After a group holiday to Ibiza with both his wife and ex-wife, High Fidelity author Nick Hornby once quipped: "I think after about three therapy sessions I'll return to functional."
"I went on a couples holiday once and never again," concurs Dublin-based make-up artist Ciara (28).
"One of the other girls accused her boyfriend of constantly checking out girls on the beach and spent the whole time rowing with him and crying in the room. It was awful."
Not even honeymooners are safe from the holiday curse.
Earlier this year, a 36-year-old Italian woman sued for divorce just four weeks after getting married -- after her new husband brought his mother on their honeymoon to France.
Ireland AM presenter Sinead Desmond is currently holidaying in west Cork with husband Davie and his family. And she reckons if you want to really know someone, forget cohabitation -- just go on holidays together.
"Holidaying with someone is the quickest way to assess whether or not you're compatible," she says. "Davie and I are polar opposites when it comes to how we like to spend our holidays. My ideal holiday would be mountain climbing, whereas he just wants to chill.
"It can cause problems," she admits. "But it can also work out well -- I end up relaxing more than I would on my own and he ends up trying stuff he wouldn't normally."
So apart from cancelling that week in the Algarve, is there a way to survive the trauma of touring with others?
"It's not about agreeing on everything or spending every waking moment together," says Ray O'Neill. "It's about communicating your expectations to your partner or friends -- and giving others the freedom to go off paragliding if that's what makes them happy.
"Remember that the perfect holiday is an imperfect holiday," he adds. "Bags will get lost, tummies will get upset and people will be hungover -- it's all just part of the adventure."