Brits abroad: a national obsession
comment 3 Written by on July 20, 2009 – 12:01 am

There was an interesting (and, as ever, entertaining) article by David Mitchell in yesterday’s Observer. He tackles something I’ve also been thinking about recently: the British obsession with holidays. Going abroad is not a luxury for us; it’s a need; it’s our right. As Mitchell says:

To deny us them is like a Roman emperor running out of bread and circuses, a French president failing to defend the Common Agricultural Policy or a Russian leader being pleasant: the people won’t stand for it.

Not long ago I was talking to an Argentinian who works in travel in Buenos Aires. She’d been doing some research into how tough economic times affect spending priorities and I noticed a few interesting cultural differences. Argentinians, for example, are still going to eat out: it’s not a luxury to pop to your local parrilla (steakhouse) for a quick bite with your family, it’s just something you do. However, for most Brits, eating out is still considered a treat and would probably be one of the first things we cut back on. We’d rather put that cash into a holiday fund.

One thing that I see all over the world and wish we did more in the UK is to take city breaks on our own doorstep. The way porteños take off for a day in the campo. It’s something my friends and I almost never did in London. Maybe that’s just us. I did once get a train to Broadstairs (a cute costal town on the south coast) for the day. It felt like a million miles away. "Wow, I should do this more often," I said. I never did.

Mitchell’s piece did have a ‘class’ undertone (deliberately  – he was tacking the "I don’t want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly" comment by Ed Miliband). But by concentrating on Ibiza, Disney World and drinking holidays in the sun, Mitchell forgets that those taking cultural breaks in Berlin, Paris and Hvar are just as obsessed with ‘getting away’.

Fair enough, you can still have a relaxing weekend in your own town or city and feeling in the need to ‘escape’ every single weekend would be an equal shame (I was recently in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, which is a somewhat a scary extreme – the city is deserted on Saturdays and Sunday, like something out of 28 Days Later). But making the most of freetime close to home is the ideal way to get the dose of refreshment we crave, and without getting on a plane.

It’s nice to see UK travel sections using these times to promoting more domestic travel, but I wonder has it made a difference?

A friend of mine on complained on Facebook the other day of everyone using their status updates to brag about exotic travel plans while he was ‘stuck’ in Norfolk.

A series of spoof updates followed:

Wow, Cromer rocked, the people, so friendly! Now off on the highway to Wroxham…wowsers

Stopped off on the B1150 highway for a local delicacy, a bacon bap. Stalham at sunset, amazing

They made me laugh. But perhaps we Brits be using these times to fundamentally change the way we approach our free time, so we’re not, as Mitchell says,  "living for two weeks of escape".



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3 Responses to “Brits abroad: a national obsession”

  1. Sorry Vicky but you can’t get away with writing an article like this without mentioning the Great British Summer.

    I’d be taking long leisurely extended lunches with my friends and family al fresco if I could do it without three fleeces and an anorak.

    I can’t tell you the number of times my sister in law, just back from the family week in Cornwall has vowed through gritted teeth that next year she’s definitely going somewhere HOT.

    We learned our lesson long ago – main holidays in a warm climate and the odd camping or sightseeing weekend in between, when we always pack our down duvet and usually come back a day early because of the rain.

  2. I have to say I am currently trying to spend six months living in the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors … I am trying to focus on all that is beautiful ‘here’ which for a long-time traveller, is quite difficult and a little unusual. However, I am really enjoying seeing my own country through the eyes of a tourist. I think we should all do it more. Great post.

  3. Thanks for your comments!

    Heather – Yes, the weather holds us back in the UK sadly. Making wkend plans in advance can always go horribly wrong. Good to make the most of the time between taking that main holiday in the sun though. Perhaps if we used our UK-based wkends more wisely, we’d probably still be gagging for sunshine, but we’d be in less desperate need of ‘a break’.

    Alice – Can be odd to be revisiting your own hometown/county/country with fresh eyes, but a great position to be in too – ie once you start becoming aware and not taking things for granted. Enjoy the Moors!

    By Vicky Baker on Sep 29, 2009 | Reply

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