Travel writer Ellie Aldridge asks whether our quest for new experiences is always a good thing.
It’s time to tackle one of the biggest travel taboos. No, I’m not talking about a secret love for budgie smugglers, sunlounger stealing or zip-off trouser shorts, but going on holiday to the same place every year. I love returning to the same destinations – and I know I’m not alone.
The way we travel has undergone a seismic shift in the past decade. Package holidays have been replaced by trips planned with Airbnb, Google Flights and Booking.com. Organised tours are increasingly passed up for ‘authentic’ local experiences. Tourism has become a dirty word. And picking one holiday destination and sticking with it has become about as fashionable as exploring the Uffizi while wearing a Panama hat and clutching a Baedeker.
City breaks continue to become more obscure, beaches have to be undiscovered and hotels should always be new. Better still, if you pick the right destination you gain entry into the secret holiday cool club. Last year: Mykonos. This year: Croatia.
Travel has become a competition sport. Sure, you didn’t really enjoy trying to ‘do’ Thailand and Vietnam in two weeks. What matters is that you went. Have you really been on holiday if you haven’t tried a new restaurant every night, taken a selfie in front of a waterfall or secured a one-off deal that’s a total steal?
Familiarity and security far outweigh the lack of playground-boasting potential
My love for bucking this trend began young. I spent many of my childhood summers in the same sunny bay in Corsica. My family had a well-oiled holiday routine. Mornings started with a walk to the nearest bakery for croissants. Afternoons were spent floating in rubber rings and watching hummingbirds feed by the pool. Evenings meant ogling fancy yachts – and their even fancier crews – in a nearby harbour. It was bliss.
The familiarity and security these trips offered far outweighed the lack of playground-boasting potential. We returned rested, tanned and rejuvenated. We cracked the quickest airport car-hire escape routes. Bit-by-bit we found the most impressive views, the least-crowded beaches and the best-value restaurants. Each year we got more from our time not less.
As our struggle to maintain a work-life balance intensifies, finding time to relax has never been more important. Kuoni’s Holiday Health Experiment is one of many studies to show that holidays can improve our ability to recover from stress, help us get better sleep and lower our blood pressure. Still, in the UK it’s estimated that only around 75% of people use all their holiday allowance. In the US, this drops to around 50%.
So why do we shun one-click return trips for hours of research into new destinations? Flight comparisons and hotel bookings take time and, for better or worse, lead to holidays that are often at odds with our expectations. We’ve all had a bed that’s too hard, stayed near an unexpectedly noisy bar or arrived on a supposedly tranquil coastline to find it lined with high-rises. Going somewhere new is an adventure, but it’s also a risk.
Have you really been on holiday if you haven’t been somewhere new?
Yet snobbery around returning to the same place year-on-year endures. These days, my go-to escape is hopping across the channel to Paris at any opportunity. Over the years I feel like I’ve got to understand a little of the city’s culture and quirks. I have favourite cafés, bars, parks and even ATMs. I rebook the same Airbnbs, I don’t need a map to find my way around and I know how to have a terrific weekend on a tiny budget.
For me, nothing beats arriving and feeling immediately at home. Travel is a huge privilege and the chance to feel like a local – if only for a minute – even more so. But I’ve had to become adept at counteracting the note of pity that comes with comments like, “Oh, you’re going back to Paris again?”. Talking about my fascination with the French capital is a fail-safe way to kill office chit-chat stone dead.
It’s time for the novelty factor to wear off
The greatest paradox is that the insider knowledge and Instagrammable adventures we crave come from experience. Anyone who tells you they just stumbled across a perfectly framed view, a super-cool cocktail spot or a once-in-a-lifetime hike has usually dedicated hours to trawling blogs, magazines, guidebooks and social media.
I certainly didn’t get past the door staff at Berlin’s most infamous club, Berghain, on my first try. It took two visits to New Orleans before I ate a halfway decent po’ boy. And after three trips to Amsterdam, I’m still in search of great coffee shops serving beans not buds. When you stop to think, it’s funny that we consider two days long enough to explore Rome’s myriad ancient monuments or a week ample for a sailing trip among Greece’s 6,000 or so islands.
I still love going to new places, just not all the time. We need to do away with the notion that a tick-list approach to travel destinations is always better once and for all.
It’s time for the novelty factor to wear off.
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