Thursday 10 July 2014

Making plans for BBQ (pt3) - Planes, trains and automobiles (and hotels)

The photo on the left was taken 20 years ago in Jordan, my first ever truly exotic holiday, with my dear friend Niall.

There's a lot of things that amuse me about that picture. The fact I still had hair. That I still wear exactly the same make of DMs. That we'd managed to get quite a stash of alcohol for an Islamic country. But most of all, what amuses me today is how lightly I packed. Just one small holdall.

I'm convinced things were simpler in those pre-internet days. The flight was booked through a travel agent (remember them?), plus we'd arranged accommodation for the first night as we didn't land until late. That was it - and even that we nearly got wrong, as it wasn't until we were in the taxi to the airport we realised we'd forgotten to pick up the tickets.

We had one guide book, a rough idea of itinerary (Petra looks nice, let's go there), and beyond that we'd work it out as we went along, finding accommodation and arranging transport as we went.

Nowadays, the Internet makes it possible to research, plan and book every little element of a holiday in advance. Tripadvisor (not always to be trusted) allows you to read reviews and see pictures of almost every single hotel and restaurant, regardless of how obscure the location. Google streetview allows me to check out the walk from every motel to the nearest diner. Every site and attraction is blogged about, dissected and debated.

Online booking means no more awkward international phone calls to people who don't understand a word you're saying - and it also allows you to be more ambitious in your planning. Why stay in one hotel when you book a different one for every night? Why not build a complicated network of interconnecting flights, trains and hire cars to get you to every place you read about in the travel blogs?

When this becomes a hobby, like it is for me, when you're prepared to spend a couple hours every week reading and researching, your only constraints are imagination and budget. I've never been lacking in the former, and fortunately this year, the latter is less of a problem too - a lucrative contract with a law firm has allowed the plans for this year to grow into a holiday of quite dizzying complexity.

I'm sitting in the pub looking at the master spreadsheet, checking and double checking every stage, and it occurred to me to count it up. Eight different interconnecting flights. Twenty one different hotel bookings. Three different hire cars. One train journey. One summer camp. Oh god, I hope I haven't forgotten something!

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