Should I stay or should I go?

Toby Young and James Delingpole disagree about whether to go abroad or stay at home during the holidays

Staycation

Toby Young

It would be easy to make a contrarian argument for never going abroad. You could draw on the letters of Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis who used to compete with each other to see who could sound the most curmudgeonly when it came to overseas travel. The idea was to poke fun at people who looked down their noses at those who’d never set foot outside the British Isles. “I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back the same day,” wrote Larkin.

Alternatively, you could point out the sheer inconvenience of foreign travel, something I find harder to manage as I get older. That’s true even if I take the Eurostar to Paris, which is about as simple as going abroad gets. It takes me hours of fiddling around in Settings before I can get mobile reception and I usually max out my monthly data allowance on the first day.

I often get flustered in shops, particularly if I can’t make myself understood in pigeon French. What I’d really like is a French-speaking butler to take care of everything for me, a Captain Renault to my Rick.

But the truth is, I just never tire of the United Kingdom’s natural beauty. These things are necessarily subjective, but in my view there isn’t much in the rest of Europe to match up to the Highlands, the Pennines or Cornwall’s north coast. I don’t subscribe to Samuel Johnson’s maxim that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life. But Britain is such a treasure house of spectacular delights, I really don’t see how anyone could tire of it.

At the beginning of every year I have the same argument with my wife Caroline. She wants to go somewhere hot where she can lie by a swimming pool, dozing, while I perform life guard duties and stop the kids from drowning.

I want to go to somewhere on the English coast, spend, at most, one day on the beach and then the rest of the time driving for miles and miles to see weird, family-run museums or – even better – going on long walks in the pouring rain.

Not surprisingly, my wife usually wins this argument, with the enthusiastic support of our children. But I’m confident that by the time they reach their 50s they will be on my side. Their children, on the other hand…

Vacation

James Delingpole

Of course I love a staycation as much as the next frugal Dad (mentioning no names, Toby). But the thing home holidays can never give you, no matter how hard you pretend otherwise, is that whiff of the exotic, that thrill of the unfamiliar, that sense of adventure you can only find abroad.

It hits you the moment you leave the aircraft: an inferno of heat followed by an unfamiliar odour, be it the foetid vegetation smell of the tropics or the ripe stench of southern Mediterranean drainage; or, if it’s a winter resort, a blast of bracing cold air.

“I’m here, I’m finally here,” you think. And in that moment, all the hassle of the flight, all the waiting you had to do at security and the tension of packing and getting up early, magically disappear. Your holiday – a proper foreign holiday! – has begun.

I adore the English, Welsh and Scottish landscapes. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing there to match the chocolate-box unreality of the Swiss and Italian lakes; nor any beach as bleached and shimmery and perfect as one on a Greek island where a local fisherman emerges from the improbably crystal clear blue waters to bash an unlucky octopus against the rocks; nor yet a contestant on the Great British Bake Off who can make croissants and baguettes half as delicious as you routinely find in France.

Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side (of the Channel, or the Atlantic, or the North Sea) – and sure you’d probably tire of it in the end. But for the week or so you’re there, it’s just intoxicating, all that foreignness and difference. I’m thinking of the eager, beaming welcome you get in parts of America, the beguiling languor of Spain and the deliciously clichéd coconut palms which let you know immediately that you’re on a tropical island and must drink a sticky cocktail this instant. Being abroad makes even ordinary things seem exciting and novel.

Having said all that, if my wife and kids see this I shall deny having written it. For years I’ve been pretending to be a staycation curmudgeon, only being dragged abroad by them against my will. “You owe me,” I tell them as we board the plane to some foreign destination, racking up the brownie points. But the truth is, I love it there.

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