One of your greatest holiday reads for 2017 doesn’t have many words, and the pictures are dated, but I promise it’s a work of utter genius: enter Postcard from the Past, extracts from genuine postcards sent by British holidaymakers in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, decades full of cramped car journeys, discovering Spanish resorts, and trying to get a tan by covering yourself in cooking oil.
Holidays were still expensive, and there was no such thing as a budget airline or a Megabus, so getting a postcard from someone’s travels must have been pretty exciting. Imagine, for a second, how you’d react when this came through their letterbox from a friend or relative: ‘I can’t explain what it’s like here. So I won’t bother.’ Hopefully the sender didn’t go on to present travel documentaries…
Kathryn Flett’s searingly honest piece of travel journalism, By Waterloo Station I Sat Down and Wept, was published in the Observer Life magazine in 1997. I was eight at the time, preoccupied with buying Girl Talk magazine, so this wasn’t exactly on my radar. Thankfully she’s reproduced the whole feature on her blog, which you can read here. Quick, go and read it now, and you’ll see why it’s so legendary.
When Flett got the assignment, it was a straightforward one: review this romantic Belgian hotel package with your husband. However, life got in the way (the small matter of the marriage lying in tatters in the world’s most romantic city). This led to one of the most unflinching features ever to grace the pages of a Sunday magazine supplement. Flett basically wrote a stream of consciousness and, unusually, ‘I didn’t change a single word after I’d written it’. The feature was pure catharsis.
We’ve had ‘babymoon’, ‘baecation’, ‘minimoon’, ‘spacation’ and ‘staycation’. We’ve cringed at ‘glamping’, ‘greycation’ and countless other portmanteau travel terms invented to target certain audiences.
Here are some equally terrible potential buzzwords, not yet in common usage, that you might want to prepare for…
Holiday taken in the rainy season, because it’s cheaper. Pack your anorak and make sure that map is laminated, or live to regret it. Wonder why your glasses don’t have mini windscreen wipers. Drop your phone in a puddle and weep. Realise your shoes are nowhere near waterproof. Die a little inside.
A chapel in Naples, a Japanese boutique and an American road trip – just some of the catalysts for the clothing seen on the catwalk for Spring/Summer 2016 in New York, London, Milan and Paris, and currently filtering into the shops (as the industry works a season ahead, the current New York Fashion Week is showing Autumn/Winter 2016-2017, in case you’re wondering).
I’ve combed through the Ready To Wear collections and teased out the main places designers are championing this season. They’ll inform what we all wear – whether you buy your clothes from high-end boutiques or the high street – and where we travel.
Whereas 2014 was all about knee defenders, awkward profiles of Brits in the German press, and Outlander-themed tours of Scotland, this year has been very different.
We’ve seen terror on the streets, refugees in crisis, and a king reburied half a millennium after his death, and that’s only a snippet of what 2015 involved.
A World in Chaos
With ISIS/ISIL-led terror attacks tragically striking Egypt, France and Tunisia, and with parts of Belgium on lockdown following the recent Paris attacks, it’s been a sobering year. Western tourists have naturally been cautious, but holidaymakers are not the only targets. Locals socialising or going to work also lost their lives. Whilst the travel industry is under pressure to deliver better safety measures and tighter security, anyone driven to cancel their holiday and stay at home won’t be risk-free, because domestic threats are just as common. The sad fact is that we can’t always prevent these attacks from happening, however we can’t live our lives in constant fear.
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
When I was a child, family holidays involved picnics and windbreaks, intensive AA map reading and taking a punt on whether a hotel would be anything like the brochure suggested. Today’s families are so much better informed and really do have the world at their fingertips, with parenting blogs, specialist magazines, in-car SatNavs and travel review sites to help them plan adventures. However, with so much choice, making decisions can be just as tricky.
That’s where The Family Travel Show comes in – it’s the first consumer event designed just for families, providing hands-on advice and talks. Here’s what to expect, and how to save 50% on the price of your tickets (you’re welcome!).
The Royal Academy’s latest exhibition, Wanderlust, is like being given an intravenous drip feed of retro travel photos, postcards and scrapbook materials. It’s like swallowing hundreds of ‘vacation’ Pinterest boards in one go. For anyone with an incurable sense of escapism, this is a drug, and it’s delivered by a little-known bachelor from Queens, New York, who never went abroad.
A self-taught American artist, Joseph Cornell created mixed media collages using anything from Baedeker’s travel guides to old maps, tickets, compasses, adverts and newspaper clippings, calling his collections ‘explorations’.
There’s no failsafe seaside look that could carry you from the 1900s to the noughties, just as no destination has consistently ruled over all the others (for one thing, Dubai and Benidorm were barely on the map in 1900, unless you fancied a quiet fishing trip).
Zora Neale Hurston, the American writer and anthropologist, once said: ‘Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’ Yet, when it comes to travel, most of us do very little prep at all, then wonder why we end up with only a vague idea of where we’ve spent the last few days and what it meant to be there.
It’s great to be spontaneous and live in the moment, but a little research goes a long way and means you won’t waste as much of your time off. By all means don’t tie yourself down to specific times, or route march between sights, but do turn up with a fair idea of what you want to get out of your visit. Unless you’ve got deep pockets, you may well only visit a place once in your lifetime, so why take it for granted?