Repeat tourism: Southwold every July – that's the ticket

Why are we – particularly the males among us – such creatures of habit when it comes to holidays?

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The Minister for Tourism, Helen Grant, reckons, "This bank holiday weekend is set to be a bumper one for tourism." More than five million Britons will be spending at least one night away within the country. According to Visit England, a further 7.6 million are poised, "waiting to see what the weather's like". Two million Britons are also estimated to be going abroad, encouraged by the strong pound.

For many of those millions, the excitement of the trip will be that special brand (the highest of all, I believe) that comes from doing exactly what you've done before. A survey recently commissioned by LV= travel insurance revealed that two million Britons revisit the same resort year after year. Two-fifths of those visit the same restaurant, and over an eighth of them admitted to sitting in the same seat of the same restaurant.

I'm part of that stodgy mass. I know it's not cool. I'd rather be mercurial and unpredictable, like Sherlock Holmes, who, asked what time he'd like dinner by Mrs Hudson in The Mazarin Stone, replies, "Seven-thirty, the day after tomorrow". Instead I'm more like his brother, Mycroft, who "has his rails and runs on them", and is in the Diogenes Club every night between quarter to five and 20 to eight. This year, my wife and I went to the pretty Suffolk town of Southwold in July, as we have done every July for 20 years. In August we went to Nice, as we have done every August for five years.

I may have learnt my stolidity in childhood. Every summer, we would have two family holidays: the first to some foreign resort that varied every year; the second to Blackpool. The foreign jaunts I associate with trauma: the shock of realising the half an hour on the beach at Lido di Jesolo would give me heat rash; the fact that the cramped, hot lift in a certain Spanish pension would get stuck between floors if you pressed the buttons too hard. If we had ever gone back to those places, I wouldn't have made the same mistakes again.

Blackpool was more relaxing. A veteran of the resort by the age of 11, I knew all its wrinkles. Of course, there was no danger of heat rash; rather, hypothermia was the hazard to be avoided, so I never went swimming in the sea until late afternoon because it was necessary to follow up with a hot bath, and it was only after four that the hot water was available in the guest house. (We went back three years in a row, nonetheless).

That was in the mid-Seventies, when the better seaside landladies could still pick and choose their customers. I researched their habits once for a novel. They would put a tick in their visitors' books for the guests they'd have back, and they might write to those people, offering the best rooms for next season.

Cottages and the lighthouse in the centre of Southwold, which has been described as ‘Kensington-on-sea’ Cottages and the lighthouse in the centre of Southwold, which has been described as ‘Kensington-on-sea’ Offences incurring a cross included drinking beer from the neck of a bottle in the dining room… and one man had the appalling hobby of collecting seaweed, which he would leave "to dry out" in the bath. He also complained about the food.

The best book about seaside regularity was published in 1931: The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff. It concerns the Stevens family of London, who always go to the same guest house in Bognor. "They had often talked of a change – of Brighton, Bexhill, even Lowestoft – but Bognor always won in the end. If anything it held them stronger every year."

I find the same with Southwold. It has admitted me to its bosom, and it would seem disloyal to abandon it. When I go into the Lord Nelson pub, the landlord says, "White burgundy, Andrew?" He hasn't seen me for a year but a continuum has been established. I actually hold a Southwold library ticket. I like to think I have the air of a local in the town – proved, I think, by the frequency with which people ask me directions.

I know there is a dangerous psychological tendency here, possibly related to maleness. A couple of years back, in connection with a television programme I wanted to make about people who do the same thing all the time, I quizzed a psychologist. He told me that women have "deeper priorities" than sustaining habits.

Certainly I am the one who dictates the geographical constancy of our family holidays, whereas my wife will occasionally lob out wild suggestions such as various places in Greece, Berlin, or – a worryingly persistent one, this – Copenhagen.

On the face of it, society is pulling us away from regularity. Fish on Friday, church on Sunday, jobs for life – these are things of the past. But it might be that we create regularity where we can to compensate. The net effect, my psychologist believed, was that regularity was fairly constant in society.

The popularity of repeat holidays may not relate to any psychological tendency so much as the desire to save money in cash-strapped times. I suppose I might have a good time in Copenhagen but it would be a financial risk to find out. Come to think of it, that's a better argument to use on my wife than my traditional recourse, which is that I don't want to go to Copenhagen because I've never been there before. She always replies, "Well, there was a time when you hadn't been to Southwold before, you know?" I suppose – hard though it is to conceive – that must be true.

Andrew Martin's book, 'Belles & Whistles: Five Journeys Through Time on Britain's Trains' is published on 3 September by Profile Books

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