It’s a mystery to me how anybody manages to go on any holiday, ever, given the range of destinations on offer. Aside from a few warzones — and even they will likely offer some sort of human-shield package tour — the budding traveller can go anywhere on Earth. How does anybody ever pick a destination? Literally the entire planet to choose from. I can barely manage to choose which loaf of bread I want.
So, I start with the entire, goddamn planet and whittle it down from there. There are many places I would like to visit: Italy, Spain, Iceland, most of the US, some parts of Canada and Cornwall to name a few. The initial list can be easily trimmed with the introduction of just two simple facts:
1) I only speak English
2) I am a coward
Now, while I’m dimly aware that there are places in the world where English may not be the first language but where natives will speak it anyway, often more fluently than I do, I’m also pretty sure that to increase my chances of finding myself in such a place I also increase the odds of finding myself amongst other English people, which in turn makes it more likely that I’ve found myself in a tourist trap and will end up eating steak and kidney pie and mash while sweating away on the Côte d’Azur.
I like to go off the beaten track, I like to find the more obscure and interesting bits of a city, but I can’t do that in a foreign country because, as noted above, I only speak English, and I’m a coward. Case in point: I spent a day in Paris a year ago or so back, and I was so intimidated by the throngs of Parisians at every pavement cafe that I was only able to eat from a greasy burger van that had a sign up reading “WE SPEAK ENGLISH” and I didn’t have a coffee until I was back in the Eurostar lounge. I actually made one, faltering attempt to buy a coffee while in the city, finding one totally empty restaurant/bar (which, now I think about it, was probably not a sign that great coffee was served there). The conversation went like this:
ME: Umm…parlez vous Anglais?
WAITER: Ah, non, je suis désolé.
ME: Umm…ok…un café s’il vous plaît?
WAITER: Ah, I am zorry zir, we only serve cafe with a meal at ze restaurant. Per’aps you may ‘ave better luck at the cafe across ze road or zere is anuzzer further down ze street.
ME: Right. Thanks. I mean, merci.
Ok. That’s your idea of not speaking English, is it?
Anyway, the point I’m making is I’m rubbish at being in a city where English isn’t the native language. This excludes a pretty big chunk of the world, but as I’m trying to whittle down my holiday destination list, that’s ok. Still plenty of world to go.
The next thing I do is start filtering by distance, because I can barely stand to be among the human race for 20 minutes on a bus, let alone several hours on a plane. I wrote recently about how I had to abandon the tube, partly due to the sensation of being trapped. On a plane, I can’t imagine how I could be more trapped, short of being in fucking space. The only way you’re getting off a plane early is if it nosedives into the ocean or never actually leaves the tarmac.
So that excludes even more of the world. The whole of Australia, for instance, and the entire west coast of the states. This still leaves the east coast of the states (just about — seven to nine hours on a plane would really be pushing me to my limit), but this is when I start filtering by cost, and I’ve been as yet unable to find a way of visiting New York in comfort without blowing half of my life savings.
I could probably do it on the cheap, by flying Easyjet or something, but I don’t think me and Easyjet would work well together. Call it a hunch.
I’m now basically left with the UK as my destination. Well that’s ok, there’s plenty of country out there I haven’t seen. So I start trying to visit St. Ives, and then discover it’s a six or seven hour train journey to get there from London which I think is taking the piss, so I don’t go there.
Then, with only days left before my holiday starts, I give up entirely and go and spend a few days in Oxford.