Record number of Brits taking foreign holidays

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The Independent Online

If the queue at the supermarket looks a little shorter today and the roads a bit less congested, there could be a good reason. Much of the country is on holiday abroad.

According to a study by the AA, at least in terms of native Britons, the country is at its emptiest on the second Saturday of August as the population begins an annual "mass exodus" on its summer holiday.

It is estimated that two million Britons will be vacationing abroad this weekend as families seize the final chance to get in their two weeks before the August bank holiday and the kids return to school.

More than 1.5 million people will be flying from Heathrow this week with Manchester airport expected to deal with up to 42,500 passengers on Saturday alone. Some 1,500 holidaymakers will board Eurostar today bound for Paris or Bruges, while 26,000 will set sail with Brittany Ferries.

More than a third of those going abroad will be sunning themselves on the Spanish costas while half a million people will have travelled to France where the top location remains Provence.

The AA study was based on an examination of hundreds of thousands of single trip insurance policies that showed today as the most popular day for the cover to begin.

Christian Young, chief executive of AA Travel Insurance, said the great get-away had been given a boost by the rain and floods that plagued Britain throughout June and July. "With so few opportunities for a lengthy holiday and not-so-hot British summertime, it's no real surprise that the weeks before bank holiday offer an added incentive to go on holiday," he said.

According to the latest figures from the Association of British Travel Agents, the number of UK residents travelling abroad continued to rise by 1 per cent in the first months of this year with the total holidays taken in 2007 expected to hover around the 44 million mark.

Traditional destinations in Europe and North America were slightly down however, though the number of people going to other long-haul destinations such as China and the UAE, was up by 9 per cent. Yet, while the top 10 holiday hotspots remain a fixture in itineraries of British travellers, there are subtle signs of change. More than half a million Britons now own a property in Spain and the demand for city breaks rather than the beach has been steadily rising.

The love affair with France seems to be on the wane - down by 1 per cent - while holidaymakers have been only too happy to take advantage of the weak US currency with bookings soaring since the pound broke the $2 barrier in April.

Further down the league table, Italy and Greece have swapped places, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics, with mounting interest in Italian culture, food and art.