Rhiannon Harries: When did traipsing round an airport in socks 'improve' our lives

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The Independent Online

If you have passed through an airport recently (volcanic ash permitting), you will probably have experienced the feeling of powerlessness specific to international travel. They've got something you want, and if you're to be sure of getting it, you're going to have to toe the line – whether padding sheepishly around security in odd socks or biting your tongue in the face of those officious types so often gainfully employed in transport hubs. At such moments, physical reality gives the recent declaration by EU Commissioner Antonio Tajani (below), that travel is a "right", a run for its money.

And he goes further, insisting that all European citizens should be entitled to travel for tourism. "The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life," he said, unveiling proposals for a scheme that would offer young people, pensioners and the less well-off subsidised breaks to other parts of the EU.

Tajani's statement seems outlandish, but it skewers an undeniable feeling of entitlement. A "proper" holiday, an "awaycation" rather than a "staycation" as marketers ludicrously have it, means air miles to far-flung climes. Time off work doesn't count, and – unfortunately for the commissioner – I'm not sure a few days across the Channel cuts it as the escape we feel we deserve.

If most of us would not describe travel as a basic right, we at least view it as a personal necessity. A few years ago an internet travel company ran a campaign based on the Government's fruit and veg five-a-day recommendation, suggesting that five trips a year – from city mini-breaks to long-haul adventures – were indispensable. Without them, we would shrivel and die – or so went the implication.

It was only during a few weeks off in India this year that the luxury of the holiday fully struck me. It wasn't the white beaches fringed with exotic foliage – modern markers of "paradise" – but walking through a small industrial town with everyone around us hard at work. We weren't snapping pictures or wearing bikinis, but it still felt like an indecent display of our leisure.

Of course, tourism is based on just that – when you have satisfied all your other needs and find yourself with money and time to spare, you can celebrate and flaunt the fact by lolling around on a beach. Nonsensically, mass tourism means that those who don't necessarily have either can, and feel they ought to, do the same.

Therein lies the rub in Tajani's words – holidays as "an indicator of quality of life". If you can't improve the quality, go direct to its indicator and improve that instead. Neat idea, Signor Tajani, but Brussels' time, and ours, might be better spent considering the other 50 weeks of the year.

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