Natalie Haynes: Travel agencies are just like penny-farthing repair shops

The thing is...

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The thing is that travel agents have become an entirely generational phenomenon. When my mum goes on holiday, she books it with a travel agent. When I go on holiday, I book it online. I would no more enter a travel agency than I would go into a penny-farthing repair shop. But news that Thomas Cook's profits are down are somehow worrying to me. I don't like the thought that we will soon all have to book our holidays ourselves.

Firstly, some people don't have computers, or don't like using them. Secondly, booking holidays online is a miserable experience: getting away from it all requires the same level of planning and risk avoidance as escaping from Colditz. For a start, you have to choose flights, of which there are nine million going everywhere, which range in price from 1p to £10,000. But the 1p ones fly you to an airstrip in Mogadishu, which they blithely refer to as "a short transfer from Cyprus". And even the £10,000 ones contain screaming babies who will steal all the plane's oxygen and convert it into a piercing noise that might well damage the navigation equipment, and force you to land in the sea (another short transfer from Cyprus). Then you have to print out your tickets, ESTA forms, and insurance documents: all things that companies used to do and send to you, before realising that they could persuade you it was more convenient for you to do it, allowing them to spend all that ink and paper and postage money on leadership courses in Wales.

Finally, you have to go and get a visa from an embassy, which is easy, as long as you can get up before dawn to stand outside a building in the pouring rain for three hours. When you do finally reach the front desk, you discover that you needed to run round the building widdershins three times before you got in the queue, in order to be eligible for the crucial stamp or sticker in your passport.

To be honest, it's a mystery to me why anyone goes on holiday at all. When I think of all the paperwork involved, and the chances of volcanoes erupting, snow falling, or heat occurring – any or all of which can result in trademarked travel chaos – not to mention the undeniable fact that virtually every country in the world has bigger and more alarming insects than Britain, I think I might never leave these shores again.

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