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Why do we have such inflated expectations about our holidays? Why – most of the time – do our holidays not live up to our fantasies, our dreams, our hopes?

May I suggest it’s because we believe the advertising?  Who has not been hypnotised by the glossy brochures?  The Sunday supplements with the colour pics of palm trees, white beaches?  The TV ads that show bronzed bodies  frolicking in the waves?  The docile elephants conveying immaculately kitted visitors through Tiger Parks in Asia?  It all looks just too good to be true.  And it generally is.

Once you’ve factored in the breathtakingly short holiday breaks we take nowadays – 5 days in Phuket! –  4 days Tango in Buenos Aires! – 3 days ski-ing in Austria ! – added in the  maelstrom of mega-airports, topped off the cocktail with a generous splash of jet-lag : voila! You have one totally frazzled holiday maker staggering out of the airport into the confusions of a different currency, an unintelligible foreign language, traffic that drives on the wrong side of the road, cranky aircon in hotel rooms and  funny food on the menu.  Happy holidays, folks!  And this is supposed to be enjoyable ?

My childhood featured holidays of at least four weeks.  The theory went that it took you three weeks to unwind, and then, and only then, could you start to actually enjoy your holiday.  Gentle walking, a few rounds of golf, a bit of swimming, plenty of good food three times a day, pre-lunch drinkies, sundowners, and not too much early rising in the mornings.  In other words, you relaxed.  Whereas today’s holidays are more like an SAS Assault Training Course and you will need two weeks to get over the experience when (and if) you ever get home again.

And let me crossly add that you do not need to travel to Foreign Parts in order to have a disappointing holiday.  My visit to the  2011 Franschoek Literary Festival was supposed to be a luxury weekend getaway but was sabotaged by heavy fog for two out of three days (no beautiful scenery visible); workmen laying paving using a shatteringly penetrating angle grinder; astronomical prices; and wildly incorrect instructions to my hired apartment.  At one point, marooned in the back streets, lost in the foggy dusk, I seriously contemplated having to sleep in my car ……

But these are trifling complaints, compared to those hurled by disgruntled clients  at the venerable travel agents, Thomas Cook, and currently circulating on the Internet.  For example:

“On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”

“I was bitten by a mosquito – no-one said they could bite.”

“We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white.” (See ? my remarks about brochures are quite correct).

“No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled.”

But all this discomfort pales besides those related in American P J O’Rourke’s  Holidays in Hell .  Mind you, he does choose to visit El Salvador, Lebanon, Warsaw & Seoul which may have had something to do with his unhappy experiences. O’Rourke is an American journalist/political commentator with a robust attitude to absolutely everything. Unless its Republican of course, then there might be some glimmers of hope.

Finally, the prize for miserable travel experiences has to go to one of my favourite travel writers, Jan Morris, sending a pastiche of her horrendous experiences to Keath Fraser, editor of Worst Journeys, the Picador  Book of Travel. Listen to this:

“….. to have been robbed of my passport and plane ticket, my luggage having already been lost in flight, while suffering from extreme diarrhea during a high summer heat wave and severe water shortage, at a moment when the local electricity supply and telephone service have been cut off because of political disturbances, with nothing to read but a Robert Ludlum thriller, expecting a visit from the security police in a hotel room without a washbasin overlooking a railway freight yard on a national holiday in the Egyptian town of Zagazig.”

Be glad, be very glad, you stayed at home.


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