Tony Wheeler: A change is as good as a rest... or is it?


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The Independent Travel

As holidaymakers we arrive back home tanned, tired and with credit card bills to be faced. But hopefully we're relaxed, rejuvenated and, if we've had an active holiday and not overdone the food consumption, perhaps a few pounds lighter.

Who knows? If it's been stress-free and our red wine consumption has been sufficient, but not excessive, we may even be measurably fitter.

Or it could have all gone wrong at the last minute. The final hotel bill is a confused mess. (We ate out on the last night so have you charged us for dinner? Whose laundry charge is this anyway? And no, I definitely did not take advantage of your expensive honour bar.)

Why on earth do we do it? After all, the stresses start long before the outbound journey. It isn't just the Indians, the Russians or various African countries that compete for the most annoying visa application award – even the Americans, with their incomprehensible visa-waiver website, are in on the game. Then there's the hotel booking site which crashes right at the last step, the airline site which makes an extra charge for the privilege of paying by plastic, but offers no alternative method of payment. And one day there'll be a Nobel prize for economics bestowed on the genius who deciphers the model rent-a-car companies use for their rates.

There's the inevitable chaos at the airport security line-up. Why on earth don't they ask any of the supermarket chains how to process a queue in a fuss-free manner? Of course, the flight's delayed. And once you're in the air an officious flight attendant demands that you pull your window blind down when the view outside is spectacular, just because most people want to watch some dreadful movie which failed in the cinemas.

Inevitably, when you finally arrive at your destination, the immigration department will have decided to model their customer service on JFK, Miami or LA International rather than Changi airport.

The journey home is equally fraught, but without even the reward of a holiday to look forward to. The taxi driver thinks he's Lewis Hamilton, but on one of his really bad days. You have a lousy meal on board. The queues at immigration at Heathrow are endless and it takes a lifetime for the bags to come through. It could be worse – at least the luggage turned up in the end – but if the ticket collector on the Heathrow Express measured passengers' blood pressure the results would be shocking.

Throw in restaurant meals which you could easily cook better at home, hotel Wi-Fi charges which border on extortion, that light which you cannot turn off despite trying every possible permutation of the hotel room's switches and you begin to wonder why the word "holiday" even exists.

Yet, somehow, even bad trips are fun. Lately, even bad places seem worth a visit. A week home and already I'm getting itchy feet. Or I will as soon as my lost bag turns up.

Tony Wheeler is co-founder of Lonely Planet travel guides