From the hotel room window, you might see blue sea and a beach bar, a limestone mountain or a historic European city skyline.
But when Joanna Lovell, 40, goes on holiday with her fiancé Jack Harland, 46, she often finds herself hiding the view while she calls her children on FaceTime.
For when it comes to their many trips abroad, she and Jack don’t always tell the kids where they’ve gone — or that they’re going at all.
In fact, regular holidays without the children are all part of their recipe for a happy, long-lasting and, above all, exciting relationship, she says.
Call them sex-cations, if you will.
when Joanna Lovell, 40, goes on holiday with her fiancé Jack Harland, 46, she often finds herself hiding the view while she calls her children on FaceTime
‘We once checked into a hotel in Spain and didn’t even get to see the pool area because we didn’t leave the room. You can’t exactly do that when you’ve got kids in tow,’ she says.
A recent poll found that 47 per cent of parents surveyed would be happy to leave little ones behind while they headed off to a romantic destination abroad.
Meanwhile, the increasingly popular 777 relationship strategy (every seven days you go on a date, every seven weeks you go away for the night and every seven months you go away on a holiday alone) was recently adopted by Emmerdale star Amy Nuttall and her Broadchurch actor husband Andrew Buchan as a means of getting over his well-publicised affair. Holidays for just the two of you, it seems, are very much on trend.
And while some feel crippling guilt at the very thought, others such as Joanna are always planning the next week or even two of kid-free fun.
‘We go away so regularly that one time when we went to Palma, Mallorca, I didn’t mention it to the children,’ she confesses. Joanna has two children aged 12 and ten, while Jack, a photographer, has a son aged 14.
‘I always miss them,’ she says, ‘but they were with their dad, and I didn’t want them to be miserable thinking about Mum being on holiday in the sunshine without them.
‘When I did FaceTime them I had to hide where I was, so that they didn’t realise I was abroad. It’s daft but they seem to miss me more when they know I’m not just at home.’
When it comes to their many trips abroad, she and Jack don’t always tell the kids where they’ve gone — or that they’re going at all
In the past few years, Joanna and Jack have been on sex-cations to Paris, Rotterdam, Ibiza, Mallorca and Amsterdam.
For Joanna, it’s a way of reconnecting with the woman she was when they first met.
‘When it’s just Jack and me on holiday we get to do everything from lazing round the pool to dancing on pianos until the early hours,’ she says.
‘We have quite a lot of friends who tell us how envious they are that we have this alone time. We frequently book adults-only hotels because when we’re not with our children, we don’t want to be around other people’s either.’
Far from being taboo, such holidays without the kids can be vital for a couple to keep the spark alive, says relationship and sex expert Cate Mackenzie.
‘When we only see our partner as a domestic companion or a parent, it can be hard to see them as a lover.
If you aren’t careful, you forget you’re sexual beings
‘Thanks to the daily grind, the erotic hormones oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin can get cancelled out by the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
‘In sex therapy, for couples to reconnect sensually or sexually, there has to be some time to build connection naturally and without interruption. Holidays are great for that. But not with the children.’
While the term ‘adults-only hotel’ might raise eyebrows, in fact there has been a boom in age-restricted tourism.
In fact, regular holidays without the children are all part of their recipe for a happy, long-lasting and, above all, exciting relationship, Joanna says
Everyone from mainstream tourist operators such as First Choice and Tui to upmarket boutique hotel chains now offer adults the chance to relax without kids.
The appeal is obvious — no children screeching by the pool, on iPads in the restaurant or disturbing their parents in the bedroom.
‘When we go away our respective kids are with their other parent. We wouldn’t jet off otherwise,’ says Joanna.
‘In fact, we value our child-free time so much that it has been a factor in us deciding not to have children together. Whenever we’ve discussed it, we keep coming back to the fact that we’ve currently got a great lifestyle. We’ve got the best of both worlds: a family life, but with every other weekend child-free.’
Indeed, their trips away are more frequent than the 777 approach demands. ‘We try for one weekend away per month,’ she says.
The couple got together in 2018 at a work reunion. Joanna had been a single mum since 2013 and Jack was going through a divorce.
In the past few years, Joanna and Jack have been on sex-cations to Paris, Rotterdam, Ibiza, Mallorca and Amsterdam. Pictured: the couple on holiday in Palma in 2019
‘We’d known each other platonically for years, so when Jack asked me out to dinner, I was a bit surprised. However, he was very attentive, holding the door open for me and acting so chivalrously that I saw him in a different light.
‘From that night we were a couple, and we’ve always had a healthy sex life. It was a challenge at first because we had our children on opposite weekends and had to get babysitters in order to spend any time with one another.’
Lockdown forced the couple to make a decision about their future. Jack moved in and the couple sold Jack’s property and extended Joanna’s home so that each child had their own bedroom.
But for three months of the construction project, their bed was in the living room, alongside Joanna’s desk, which meant sex went out of the window.
‘We escaped more during the nine-month renovation period as it was cramped and stressful at home,’ explains Joanna. ‘Intimacy is important as it keeps us connected.
‘If you’re not having sex aren’t you just two people living together as friends? My girlfriends and I always say, “If you’re not having sex with your man, someone else probably is!” ’
Joanna ensures the family go on a holiday at least once a year together, and that the children are the focus when they do.
‘We put the family first when we’re on those holidays and do things that the children want to do. We have an itinerary in place because we have to pre-book all of the activities for the children.
IT business owner Danielle Holmes is another mum who categorically believes that the secret to a happy marriage is regular child-free holidays away with husband Kyle
‘On one holiday we’d got to the end of the day and I said to Jack, “It’s the first time I’ve spoken to you today”. That’s why our holidays alone together are so important to our relationship. ‘When it’s Jack and me, we can go with the flow and be more spontaneous. I can really unwind and, yes, of course we have lots more sex.
‘When we check in I’ll slip into a bikini, get into the hot tub and enjoy a cocktail or two. Afternoons are perfect for alone time; there is never any pressure or a need to rush to get somewhere with the kids.’
IT business owner Danielle Holmes is another mum who categorically believes that the secret to a happy marriage is regular child-free holidays away with husband Kyle.
‘We run a business together which means we spend a lot of time working and parenting in the same room, but rarely get any time to concentrate on our relationship.’
Intimacy is an important glue for our marriage
The couple, who live in Lyneham, Wiltshire, started seeing one another in April 2015. The following month Kyle, 31, moved in with Danielle, 36.
‘There was a strong sexual connection between us from the beginning. That hasn’t changed, and we still have sex at least three to four times a week.
‘We don’t have children together. Kyle has a ten-year-old son from a previous relationship and I’ve got a daughter, aged 11. They both live with us full-time.
‘Family holidays are very different. When the children were little, we might get ten minutes together when they were in bed, but now that they’re older they understand about sex and intimacy. We have to be less noisy and more careful when they’re in close proximity.’
The couple, who live in Lyneham, Wiltshire, started seeing one another in April 2015. The following month Kyle, 31, moved in with Danielle, 36
This is why the couple instigated a rule that they would go on regular holidays as a couple.
‘We first went to Snowdonia, where Kyle booked a log cabin with a hot tub. The children go to their respective grandmas all the time, so I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.
‘The first time we went away we told them we were going walking, which technically was true.
‘Did I miss them for four days? Hand on heart, no. If my daughter isn’t at my mum’s when we are away, then she’s with her dad, and she’s perfectly safe. It makes me sound heartless, but when you know who they’re with, it’s fine.
‘It’s very easy when you have children to just coexist as parents. If you’re not careful, you lose your own identity and you forget that you’re both sexual beings.
‘I have a high sex drive and I enjoy sex. Even if we’re not speaking, the intimate side of our relationship never suffers.
‘When we’re away, our identity as Mum and Dad takes a backseat. It’s not just about the sex — we get to talk honestly, too.’
It explains why the couple have been on ‘lots and lots of holidays’. They cite Paris, Spain, Wales and Devon as recent destinations.
Last month the couple went on a £3,000 adult-only intimacy retreat based in Mallorca
‘We’re not touchy-feely in public. I’ll hold his hand, but that’s my limit because I’m not usually keen on public displays of affection.’
Nonetheless, last month the couple went on a £3,000 adult-only intimacy retreat based in Mallorca. Danielle explains that they hoped to return home with new ideas to implement in their relationship.
‘It was initially my idea to do it. I’d met the retreat coach last year and straight away said “I’m in”, even though I had no idea what any of it meant.
‘We were taught about how to breathe properly and connect with one another. We learnt about harnessing energy to make more of a connection with your loved one, and how to worship each other’s body.
‘It was a bit out of my comfort zone, but we got to practise it together and it was actually really enjoyable. I like the fact that we’re both very keen on growing as people and using self-development techniques.
‘I didn’t tell my mum what we were up to. She doesn’t want to know the details, although I guess it’s crystal clear why we like to go away together as a couple.
‘Friends always ask: “What do you do together while you’re away?” Well, I would have thought that it’s pretty obvious.
‘I think it’s also important for kids to have time away from their parents, so they can grow as people. Just as they have their own lives, it’s important for them to learn that their parents do, too.’
It is an outlook on life wholeheartedly shared by Kathryn Strachan, 32, CEO of a content marketing company for tech brands.
Married to Matthew, 36, a mental-health social worker, she loves the holidays they take alone while their six-year-old daughter stays with her parents.
Kathryn Strachan is married to Matthew, and she loves the holidays they take alone while their six-year-old daughter stays with her parents
The couple, who live in Edinburgh, conceived their daughter Elizabeth while on a U.S. road trip in 2016
‘Sex is important to us, and going on holiday as a couple gives us the opportunity to find “us” again,’ she says.
‘Travel has always been an important part of our relationship. We met on a beach in Ghana, when I was studying abroad and Matt was working overseas as a volunteer.
‘We spent five days together before Matt had to go back to the UK. Three months later, I joined him and we’ve been together for 11 years.’
The couple, who live in Edinburgh, conceived their daughter Elizabeth while on a U.S. road trip in 2016.
‘She wasn’t planned, but we were married already and it wasn’t a big deal. We’ve never lost our love of travel, so having our daughter wasn’t going to change that.’
‘The problem is, Elizabeth likes to come into bed to be with us and she likes to snuggle in the middle! She calls it a family sandwich.
‘While I don’t remember how often we had sex before she arrived, I do remember that intimacy felt like an important kind of glue for our marriage, as it is for many people.’
The couple now choose to go on their romantic trips to countries off the beaten track, and are spending three weeks in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan this summer.
The family still take holidays together as a trio, including to Portugal, Latin America and South Korea
‘My daughter stays with my parents while we are away. They live in Maine in the U.S., and they usually have her for six weeks.
‘We miss her more than she misses us; she has her own bedroom and really loves her grandparents. When we collected her from the airport last summer Matt was in tears, he’d missed her so much.’
The family still take holidays together as a trio, including to Portugal, Latin America and South Korea.
‘It was hard to find nappies in South Korea and, in Portugal, it was a challenge to find formula milk on a Sunday as pharmacies were closed.’
But the real treat for all these couples lies in the moment they hand over their much-loved children and jump aboard a plane a deux.
Europe might be sweltering this summer, but for sex-cationers like Kathryn, Danielle and Joanna, a holiday abroad can never be too hot.