HOW important is it for you to have a holiday? According to a survey carried out for the Lunn Poly travel agency chain, almost half of those questioned would cut down on eating out or would decline to buy a new car, new clothes or hi-fi equipment in order to be able to afford an annual holiday.

Since the debacle of the inaccurate election night opinion polls earlier this year, we have learnt not to take the findings of surveys too seriously. It seems that when presented with the questions of official pollsters, we tend to give the answers we think we ought to give rather than the ones we truly believe.

Based on an informal little survey of my own with friends and neighbours I would have thought that the importance attributed to taking an annual holiday had declined.

Until the start of our great economic decline, nobody would have dared admit that they were staying at home. We were judged by the sort of holiday we took, as surely as we could be summed up by the sort of car we drove or the house we lived in.

You were your holiday. 'We're going to a gte in that marvellous part of France in between the Dordogne and the Auvergne . . .' 'We always have a cottage in Cornwall, the children love it . . .' 'We're going yak riding in Uzbekistan.'

But these days you can unashamedly chip in with the news that you've decided to forgo a holiday next summer. If you are totally honest, you can plead poverty. If you wish to be more sophisticated, you could put forward plausible environmental or cultural reasons. Or what about: 'The more we've travelled, the more we realise we know so little of the place where we live, we want to get to know it better.' Of course, if you live somewhere like Croydon, this might sound slightly unconvincing.

It has to be said, however, that unlike my own research the Lunn Poly survey seems to have statistics on its side. Despite the fact that we are in the midst of the worst recession since the war, there is no obvious decline in overseas travel. This summer package holiday sales are up (by 11 per cent according to Lunn Poly) - and the growth of independent travel appears to be undiminished.

One plausible explanation is that in these gloomy days a foreign holiday provides the perfect escape. Who cares about the mortgage, bugger the

expense - let's go and get a suntan.

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