In a few weeks my oldest and dearest friend and her delightfully eccentric mother will leave the cold of England for the warmth of the islands. It will take a long car journey, two flights, a taxi, and two boats before they will reach me. They will be tired and probably suffering from frustration brought about by the ineptitude of the Caribbean airlines but they will also be excited and so they should be, for they get to see me and live on a beautiful tropical island for a week. I’ve been anticipating their arrival since it was first discussed but the fact is, I live on an island and everything is difficult. It takes at least twice as long to do anything. Think of it as camping; everything is a little bit of a pain in the arse. So it is with this in mind that I am also slightly troubled for what the trip may entail.
I have of course loved every visit from friends and family; the sheer fact that anyone is willing to spend that much time in a third world airport to see me is heart-warming. But every time I have learnt more about the things I should avoid, the preparations I must make, the rules I must set. My colleague, a glutton for punishment, has been through this too many times that I fear his next guests may be his last. But from his difficulties I have learnt, armed with his spreadsheet and mine, I can plan this trip to almost perfection. We live in paradise, our guests are expecting paradise. If you, too, are about to be descended on by the relatives, follow these guidelines and their trip should be smooth (er), perhaps easy (er), and, hopefully, fun.
GIFTS FROM BLIGHTY
Your friends will no doubt offer to pick up some essential goodies from your home country and this offer must be gladly accepted, as you will no doubt be running low or have some small item on your wish list. Nevertheless, when they ask for a list, suggest ordering online yourself and send the items directly to them. They may well be flustered due to high excitement levels so brands in the store may seem confusing. Oral B satin tape is not specific enough; there are so many brands available in the real world and it’s just not worth the disappointment. If ordering online is not an option, try a spreadsheet. With columns for items, quantities, and suggested retailers, they will be far more likely to succeed. You could also try adding helpful pictures of the products; they will find it a useful reminder in the shop. Remember – a picture is worth a thousand words and will help people recognise brands. If you ask for Roses chocolates with no further explanation, you could end up with Quality Street; but provide a picture and you’ll be smiling all the way to tooth decay.
WHAT TO BRING
Provide a list of essential items for them to pack. As well as the obvious shorts and bikinis, they will need to be reminded of simple things, like cash. In my case, the nearest ATM is a 40 minute boat/taxi journey away. It’s imperative that they grasp this or you’ll be the one paying. Shoes are worth making a note of; if the guests fill their bags with them there will be little room for your online purchases. By providing a list of essential items, you will save room for you and save embarrassment at the beach bar when your friend inevitably topples over in her cute kitten heels. Jumpers (sweaters, if you’re American) are actually worn in the Caribbean. Your friends will no doubt be amazed, perhaps laugh at your hilarity, but assure them they are necessary at times. The English are especially deluded when it comes to temperature.
Preferences are essential to their happiness. People who live in the real world have little idea of what it takes to purchase fresh food when you live on a rock. Ask them for details. You need to know breakfast foods, lunch, dinner, snacks, wine preferences. They may mention they like tea but if they require a pot of Chamomile before they can sleep, you’re going to be screwed if you’ve only got English Breakfast. Plan menus, write a shopping list, and then make the trek to town a few days prior to their arrival. If you have the time, prepare some food in advance and freeze it. You will thank yourself when there is a table of tired people looking up at you, expectantly waiting for you to provide.
Your guests are to be stranded on an island, in my case, for 10 days. This is a long time to expect anyone to sit happy in 30 acres. If you’re in hospitality, treat it like work. Prepare an itinerary of activities on and off island; include approximate times and any associated costs. You will also need to schedule some downtime for yourself, as you’ll be working long hours. Make sure to set the standard on the first day: breakfast is self-service, activities begin at 10:30 am. That way you can have a lie in and make any preparations for the activities and meals at your own pace. If you’re growing tired of the conversation or are just generally tired, schedule a movie night. Make an event out of it. There’s nothing quite like watching a favourite pirate movie on the beach, lying back under the stars. With any luck, you’ll all be asleep in minutes.
You’ll find whenever you venture off the island, you will be asked odd questions like, Do I need my shoes? Should I take some money? Will I need my passport? I’m fairly certain that the aptly named Paradise Induced Mental Relapse is rampant among the islands generally and your friends will no doubt be suffering. Tell them what to do, when to be ready, how long they have to be ready, what to wear, what to take with them. Don’t offer up suggestions, just make the decisions for them. Choices are difficult enough in the real world but with a beautiful beach laid out before them and a warm breeze blowing through their hair, it will be almost impossible for them to decide if they want toast or cereal for breakfast.
For those of you intending to visit your island friends, please do not be offended, it happens to us all. We still adore you, your visits mean more to us than you can imagine, and we would rather have you here with half the brain cells than without.