Sarah Barrell: With emigration on the rise, are holidays a way to test foreign waters?

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In Turkey, I considered living like a nomad with a man who drove a battered 1960s Enfield. In the Australian outback, I tried to see how long I could eke out an existence under the stars with nothing but a bivvy bag for shelter. (I lasted two days.) In Bali, I moved into an artists' commune in the middle of a rice paddy. It had no roof and I had no talents with a paint brush but each evening, housed under a burning pink sunset, this mattered not.

For me, holidays – travel – have always been about window shopping for alternate lives, about trying on someone else's exotic reality for size. Years on from my early anchorless wanderings, now married with a child in tow, I have to curtail my itinerant urges somewhat, but we still find a way, en famille, to do the grass-is-greener thing. Gazing in estate agents' windows, rather than churches, in Italy. In France, asking the waiter for an estimate of his average earnings rather than a glass of pastis. And wondering just how much it costs a year to air condition a stuffy old hacienda in Mexico.

This might be an expected occupational compulsion for a travel writer but it seems I'm not alone. There are lots of polls around at the moment detailing the record numbers of us wanting to emigrate/ take travelling sabbaticals/ use redundancy pay cheques to fund prolonged trips.

One in three Brits hope to emigrate by 2020, according to travel experience website Among the motivations given were a better climate/cost of living/government and, ironically, to escape increased immigration to the UK.

Preceding this poll was one saying that we were all moving to Canada, then another protesting that the Promised Land was, in fact, New Zealand. Then the Office of National Statistics revealed that in 2009 a record 427,000 people emigrated from the UK, many of them going to Australia. So there you go: Down Under it is. For now. Until we all come up again.

Recently The Independent on Sunday reported the start of the "come back boom". UK foreign exchange specialists Moneycorp said that 70 per cent of Brits living in mainland Europe are thinking of returning to the UK, driven by the drop in sterling's value against the euro. We're a fickle lot.

"In all honesty, I think that there's a higher chance that more of the population will be moonwalking courtesy of Richard Branson than emigrating come 2020," says Rob Holmes, who conducted the poll at

"However, these results are interesting because it shows that the public is fed up and wants to experience something different beyond the usual top 10s, such as skydiving and swimming with dolphins."

So are our holidays fuel to this fire – not a getaway but a potential life get-out clause? Is the rise of "voluntourism" and holiday home exchanges part of our need to make our annual two weeks less of a holiday and more of a life experience? I, for one, am off to Mexico this week. I haven't even packed yet, but I am already decorating that hacienda in my head.

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