The death of budget travel?



Revolutionary roads

As the recession hits, foreign travel is out, right? Not necessarily. Jessica Gregson welcomes the end of the budget break, while Kirstin Innes finds the best bargain for your buck

We must have known that it wasn’t going to last, and that future generations would look back on the early years of the 21st century as a lost golden age of rock-bottom-cheap travel, when you could zip to Paris for a weekend in almost less time, and for less money than the average Londoner’s commute to work. We all knew, at the back of our minds, that we were doing our budget travelling on borrowed time. It’s just that the end seems to have come so fast.

Just a year ago, it felt as though everyone I knew was jetting off for a glamorous European city-break every month or so, spending a couple of weeks in exotically far-flung destinations each summer, and still having enough time and money left over for a SAD-beating ‘winter sun’ break in the January gloom. Now, every day we’re hearing increasingly dire warnings about rising prices, and realising that we’re going to have to start burning our furniture to stay warm and eating our pets to stay alive over the winter. Travel, cheap or otherwise, seems to have been the first thing to go: the airline industry is reporting record worldwide losses of $5 billion for 2008. The remaining few who still have enough spare cash for a weekend break to Prague are so guilt-stricken by the sight of sad-looking polar bears floundering about on melting ice floes that they can hardly bear to board a plane. So what comes next for those of us who developed a well-honed sense of wanderlust in a time where cheap, easy, guilt-free travel was the norm?

As a self-confessed travel-addict, this is something I’ve struggled with, but now I’m starting to wonder whether the demise of easily accessible travel might not actually be a good thing. It’s refreshing to see everyone’s travel patterns changing, as people start to forego several long weekends away each year in favour of saving up money, and minimising carbon footprints, by taking one annual bigger, longer, slower trip. Cheap travel made us like children in sweet shops, manically grabbing for the widest variety of travel experiences we could afford. But then, really, how enjoyable were those rushed city-breaks? The epic treks through Ryanair-clogged airports that were so far from their advertised destinations that they were sometimes in different countries, followed by a day and a half’s desperate sight-seeing, schlepping around the same restaurants recommended in everyone else’s guidebook, before bundling our hangovers on a horribly-timed late Sunday evening flight, so we can arrive back at work on Monday groggy and fractious?

Now it looks as though the rising costs and the environmental impact of travel may lead people to concentrate on the journey almost as much as on the destination. I predict travel by train and ferry will make a resurgence this year, as we start to remember the simple pleasure of just allowing the landscape to unfold around us, rather than rushing hectically from place to place. Taking longer to get somewhere creates an incentive to stay longer, to really see the place you’ve chosen to invest your time and money into visiting. Of course I’ll miss the opportunity to flit, fret-free, over to the continent for a weekend, but the return to a more mindful way of travelling isn’t all bad, by any means.
On a more practical level there are still ample opportunities to make the most of budget travel. Here are a few practical examples:

Take a sentimental journey

All new recession-era holiday trends really do seem to be about getting back to a simpler kind of holiday. Industry insiders are predicting a 2009 boom in ‘nostalgia holidays’ – mainly spearheaded by parents and grandparents whisking their delightful offspring off on the kind of Great British Holiday they enjoyed in their own youth. A survey of 2000 parents through travel industry portal TravelMole recently revealed that 49% had swapped their charter breaks in favour of holidaying at home next year – but were planning to eschew hotels for caravans, cottages in seaside towns they visited in their own youth, and even barges. It’s boomtime for resorts like Butlins, too: their cheap deals for families mean that the Redcoat is the one travel industry job looking pretty secure for the forseeable future. Even if the thought of spending time at a caravan park or resort packed out with excitable junior holidaymakers fills you with horror, off peak (ie outwith school holidays), these sorts of accommodation options are likely to have excellent deals to capitalise on their popularity.

Extend your festival weekender

With Wax: On Live in Leeds and, more locally, Live At Loch Lomond already folding because potential revellers just don’t have the cash, we at The List consider it our patriotic duty as music lovers to ensure that the best from the recent bloom of festivals don’t go the same way. Why not combine the top travel trend with a service to Scottish culture, and book your week or fortnight’s holiday around the T in the Park, Wickerman or HydroConnect weekend? Get in there early and grab a bed and breakfast in Inverary, Perth or Dundrennan, not only avoiding the seriously sticky campsite situation, but establishing yourself with a good base for exploring the local area. Staying locally also maximises your chances of sharing scrambled eggs with whichever indie chancers are headlining the smaller stages this year. You can also take advantage of the buses back to your town of choice from the festival site every night, but because you’re not travelling back to Edinburgh or Glasgow at the same time as everyone else, your transport options will be cheaper and less prone to traffic jams/ rip off ‘festival special’ rates run by bus companies.

Have no morals, can still travel

While the Euro (and increasingly the US dollar) are rapidly gaining against the pound, meaning that holidays in the Eurozone and shopping trips to the States are going to shoot out of most UK tourists’ budgets, there are some currencies we can still beat up round the back of the bike sheds. The South African Rand and the Argentinian Peso, as well as the previously very costly Icelandic Krona (see feature, right), are all suffering and anxious for a dose of tourist pound.

Alternatively, and slightly less opportunistically, look for European countries outside the Eurozone – it’s still possible to have budget breaks in Croatia, which has some of the most beautiful beaches outside the Mediterranean, or Lithuania, an alternative to the historical spires of the Czech Republic.

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