From Blackpool to Phnom Penh with love

It's summer and the British are packing their bags. Simon Calder maps our changing holiday habits over five decades and Paul Vallely pens some postcards home

1945: Post-war holiday habits did not become re-established until the summer of '46. But class divides survived the war: Gerald and Rose would not have been seen dead staying in Blackpool - they based themselves in prim Morecambe and made a day-trip into what was an unashamedly mass- market resort.

Post-war euphoria could not mask the fact that holiday provision in the late Forties was poor. The standard allowance was one week, to be taken at the employer's discretion, and holiday pay was unusual. An entire town would close down and move en masse to the same resort. Blackpool's illuminations were blacked out for the war and resumed only in 1949.

The main attractions in '45 were the Tower and the Pleasure Beach, already half a century old. In '95, the biggest draw is the pounds 12m Pepsi Max Big One rollercoaster, battling for trade with the brand new pounds 3m World of Coronation Street. A total of 17 million visitors are expected this summer, including 10,000 Arabs and 1,800 Russians.

1955: Owning a car was rare in Britain in the Fifties. In '55, 3.6 million were registered; in '95, 24.5 million. Taking it abroad was rarer still. The wealthy travelled to Cherbourg on the cross-Channel legs of transatlantic liners such as the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. Their chauffeurs could steer the Rolls to Lydd airport and on to a flying freighter of Silver City Airways for the hop across to Le Touquet.

Poorer motorists heading for Normandy took the British Railways' ferry service from Southampton to Le Havre. Vehicles were lifted by crane into the hold of the Normannia for a seven-hour crossing; P&O car ferries take the same time 40 years later. By 1964, the Normannia had had her passenger cabins ripped out and was turned into a drive-on car ferry between Dover and Boulogne. British Railways charged pounds 3 one-way for the car, with driver and passenger paying 41 shillings each. In 1995 terms, this is equivalent to about pounds 140 return, the average cost for a round-trip to Paris on Le Shuttle via the tunnel.

1965: Spain stagnated under Franco. In the Sixties, a solution to economic under-performance presented itself: to harness the rising disposable incomes in northern Europe by providing reasonably cheerful and indisputably cheap holidays on the unspoilt coastline and islands. The prototype was the coast of Catalonia, a province still being punished for its resistance to fascism. By '65, about 100,000 British people were arriving each month. Riviera Holidays operated package holidays to Lloret del Mar on the Costa Brava. Fourteen nights started at 32 guineas (pounds 33.60), flying from Gatwick or Manchester to Gerona aboard a Bristol Britannia. In today's terms, this would cost pounds 338.

Spain in '95 is king of the charter market, with nearly one million Britons flying in every month. Having done the beaches, many are discovering the inland gems - while the trendiest Hispanophiles are discovering the hidden delights of Girona (reverting to its Catalan name) and the Costa Brava.

1975: Following the ending of seven years' military rule by the Colonels in '74, Greece opened up to tourists. First in were hippies, carving the paths for modern backpackers. Across Asia on the Cheap led Australians through a haze of dope across Afghanistan and Iran to Europe. Twenty years on, Lonely Planet's Mediterranean Europe cautions: "Hitching is never safe in any country, and we don't recommend it."

The UK's travel industry had been rocked the previous summer by the collapse of Court Line, stranding 40,000 holidaymakers. A few charter flights had started to test the resilience of Crete, but many people still took the surface route. London to Athens on a bus (three days and sleepless nights in a standard 53-seater) cost pounds 55 return. Some UK currency restrictions, first imposed in summer '66, remained in force - limiting the amount of cash and traveller's cheques you could take abroad. Smuggling money out of the country was widespread until all restrictions were abolished in '79.

1985: Florida loved Freddie. Mr Laker (soon to be Sir Freddie) opened up the transatlantic market with Skytrain, and pioneered routes to Orlando and Tampa. Some say over-expansion caused his airline's demise in '82, but Richard Branson paid tribute to the aviation entrepreneur by naming one of the Virgin Atlantic 'planes Spirit of Sir Freddie.

Florida's tourism industry's only problem was how to sell empty capacity in summer, particularly August, when only a mad dog would head for the Sunshine State. The solution: fill it with Englishmen (and women), who flew in to enjoy Orlando. The fact that early in '85 the pound had hit an all-time low, descending to parity with the dollar, did not deter those who had reaped the benefits of Thatcherism.

Ten years on, the US is the most popular long-haul destination for Britons, and Florida the favourite state. In summer, you cannot find a flight to Florida for love nor money. Should you strike lucky, say hello to Sir Freddie - he now lives there permanently.

1995: Ten years ago, hardly anyone had been to Thailand: it was a punishing flight away, and an unknown quantity when you got there. Nowadays, with three Jumbos a day shuttling between Heathrow and Bangkok, it is passe. Trendy travellers are traipsing across Indo-China, but have become political pawns in guerrilla warfare.

London is the world centre of air travel, paring fares to levels that other countries find astonishing. It helps to explain the tenfold increase in long-haul travel between '73 and '93. Tamsin would need only 10 minutes to find a round-the-world fare for less than pounds 1,000, allowing stops in Delhi, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Sydney and Tahiti.

Tim could try the tunnel again in his campaign to woo Emma, with a cut- price trip to Bruges on Eurostar - pounds 62.50 each until 23 September. And if Fiona gets caught in a downpour in Blackpool, she need only page Teletext or surf the Internet on her laptop for a cheap trip abroad.

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