Which was your best holiday?
In my 20s, I spent two blissful years backpacking around the world with my girlfriend. We had no time limit, no commitments, no plans, no money. We were free. Our only communication with home was a letter sent to us at a poste restante. This escapade influenced what pleases me in a holiday, except for the drugs, the binges, the mysterious dark strangers and driving wantonly into bandit country. Since then and since children, our family has had many wonderful holidays, although I do recall the quote by an expert travel writer who said there are two types of travelling: first class and with children. If you have ever punished the plastic on a "luxury" holiday where your kids get stomach bugs and ear infections in the jacuzzi, or sunburnt, or stung by local fauna, or shunned by the French kids in the kids' club, you will understand. I crave adventure. Relaxing makes me anxious. Consequently, the best holiday I have had with the family was in January last year when we went to north Vietnam. It was foreign, exciting and challenging - what exactly are we eating? (We saw dog, frog and eel at the markets.) How exactly are we going to cross this road in Hanoi during the running of the scooters? (Hold hands, avoid eye contact, do not break into a run.) Hanoi traffic makes Bangkok look like a wet Sunday in Launceston.
And the best hotel you've stayed in?
The Sofitel in Melbourne, where the service is perfect. The Sofitel in Hanoi is also fabulous and steeped in history, and you can sit and contemplate in the same place Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward sat and contemplated while sipping snake wine.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
My family. We have such great fun. I think you need someone to say, "Hey, look at that! An active volcano! Right in front of us!" And also you need four for a good game of cards on the train.
What do you always take with you?
I always take baggy pants with lots of pockets. Jackets with lots of pockets. Hats with little pockets. Underwear with pockets. Deep pockets for everything, so you can have your hands free to hold the map and balance a bottle.
What's your best piece of travel advice?
Same old, same old. Travel light. As my husband says: "Anything we don't have, we can buy if we need it. If they don't have it, we don't need it." The exception is penicillin. And spare glasses. If you can't travel light, remember: children can carry amazing weights.
Where do you want to go next?
After south Vietnam? Spain or Italy or Greece. And for a month. I haven't been near the Mediterranean since 198-ahem. I know it's silly, but the past two decades have been busy - OK, disorganised - and we have only ever taken two-week holidays. There's no excuse, except cost. You can be anywhere in 24 hours nowadays. Unless you are flying certain domestic airlines, in which case you will still be at the airport.
Which was your worst holiday?
When I was a kid, my dad was lent a holiday house by a "friend". There was mum and dad and three children under seven. We arrived after a six-hour road trip and the holiday house was a shack. A humpy. No ceiling, just birds perched on the rafters, pooing on the lone mattress on the floor. A splintery floor covered in old fish scales; cold, smelly, draughty, no furniture but a fish fridge. The sort of place a few blokes go with an Esky and a fishing rod and drink in the shack and sleep in the ute. We left fish in the fridge. The electricity blew after we left. They had to tow the fridge out to sea.
And your worst experience on holiday?
Getting amoebic dysentery in Mandalay, in Burma. I think I was cursed by a woman to whom I refused to give money. I'd given money to lots of people. Why I decided I would draw the line with her, I don't know. Anyway, it was a big mistake and she cursed me long and hard and I knew I was cursed and as a result I got amoebic dysentery (it was either the curse or the dog's-liver stew I ate at the night market) and I was more or less unconscious by the time my friend got me out of the country.
What's the biggest packing mistake you've made?
Rocks, frankly. I like collecting rocks. Amazingly, they can really weigh down your luggage in a way that sandalwood souvenirs do not.
Which is the worst hotel you've stayed in?
I have stayed in dozens of bed-bugged, flea-bitten, mouldy-mattressed dives. From Bangkok to Marrakech. They would not necessarily be called hotels. Dosshouse, brothel, English B&B, yes, but not hotels. I have a theory that every hotel has a good room. Well, a better room. My family never unpacks or uses the toilet when we are shown to a room because they know I will always change rooms. Any country, any hour of the night, in any language. A bad room can ruin a holiday. And all hotels have bad rooms. A good room is often a case of aspect. You need sunlight. And a window that opens.
What do you avoid on holiday?
I really, really try to avoid doing things. Apparently, according to some persons with whom I travel, some person to whom I am married, and some persons to whom I have given birth, but whom I shall not identify, I am always saying, "What do you want to do?" When all they want is not to do. Doing is not what holidays are for; apparently, they are for being. Being by the pool, for example. Then there is frank discussion and they are always much happier when I get my way. So I really try to avoid saying, 'What do you want to do?' I just tell them.
What do you hate about holidays?
Taking the wrong book to a country where all the good books are banned.
Jean Kittson will host Opera in the Vineyards at Wyndham Estate, Hunter Valley, on October 13. operainthevineyards.com.au.
As told to Angie Kelly