TRAVELLERS' MYTHS glib by PAULA DAVIES IF you take a holiday in this country you will usually have a vague idea of what you are letting yourself in for. Holidays abroad tend to be a compound of dream and delusion.
You can spend half the year sunk in the travel brochures and the other half wishing you hadn't because the place you chose didn't live up to the 'technicolor' language of the brochure.
But whether the places live up to it or not, there is no doubt that more and more people are travelling abroad. Apart from the obvious fact that many people seem to have more money to spend—and spend it on foreign holidays— the numbers must also be due, either to the lure of the brochures or to a genuine travelling bug which can only be assuaged by the adventure of finding out what places and people are genuinely like.
This summer over five million tourists will travel abroad. Ten years ago it was a little over four million. They go by car or train, on the sea and through the air, on the spur of the moment or after long planning.
But the vast majority take what is known as a 'packaged holiday' where the hotel is paid for before you go and where the cost of an entire holiday is often less than the standard return air fare. The countries for packaged tours are in a kind of 'top ten', with Spain leading the field followed by Italy, France, Switzerland and Austria.
Wherever you decide to go, everything is organised for you. You should take care not to be misled by the various myths a bout different countries. According to our biggest travel agent, Spain is not as cheap as everyone likes to think, nor is France quite so criminally expensive as everyone makes out, especially when it's 'done' on a packaged tour.
Which sort of holiday would you choose? The packaged type with all the wearisome chores of finding rooms and food taken care of—and incidentally any spontaneity there might have been taken care of too? Or the go-as-you-please, stay-where-you-can t y p e of holiday which can be murderous on one's pocket not to mention one's temper, but is invariably amusing and can be `dined-out-on' for m on t h s afterwards?
Having tried both sorts of holiday, I prefer the second every time but there are precautions which ought to be taken before going off into the unknown. Anyone who has ever put up with a bug-ridden bed and exorbitant prices will know what I mean.
Before the intrepid adventurer sets out he is well advised to ask for recommendations from as many friends as possible whose tastes coincide with his own. Then it is essential to read something about the country and the places you hope to visit.
Don't be like the person who claimed to hate "sweating round exhibitions", not be.. cause they were particularly hard on the feet but because she was too mean to buy a guide book.
Guide books are almost invariably more useful than they appear. But there should be more like the one published recently, France—a Food and Wine Guide, by Pamela Vandyke Pryce (Batsford, 30s.), a book which, as she points out in her introduction, "would have saved me money, worry and embarrassment 15 years ago, and would greatly have added to the enjoyment of my holidays." She has applied this vital test to everything that has gone into the book. If some information would have helped her when she first started her travels in France she has included it.
A par t from suggesting fascinating places to visit and telling the reader how to choose the best of food and wine in all the regions, the author gives us phrases that are never to be found in the 'I have shot my uncle' kind of phrase book.
She tells you how to explain to • a waiter that you want separate bills, invaluable to friends on holiday together. Another problem she disposes of is the difference between a bar, a café and a buffet. The nuances are too complicated to explain here but the book has it all.
Probably the most useful piece of information for the tourist is one that many seasoned travellers have found. When it comes to hotels it is usually wise to choose the firstclass hotel or the smaller pension. Those in the middle have neither the comfort of the first-class nor the homely friendliness of the cheaper places.