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Why on earth do people go on holiday?

Slim Aarons/Getty

One of the most “mysterious of news items” on TV every summer, says AN Wilson in The Oldie, is “the sight of miserable families sitting on suitcases at airports” as their flights are cancelled. It’s a similar story this year, with 30-hour queues of unhappy travellers lined up at Dover. I can’t help but wonder: why do they do it? It’s not like what Dr Johnson said about second marriages: the “triumph of hope over experience”. Once you’ve had two or three holidays, all hope is gone. You know – “absolutely know” – the whole affair will be more trouble than it’s worth. “Expensive. Uncomfortable. Boring.”

It’s no coincidence that early pioneers of the travel industry like Thomas Cook were “ranting preachers” – their “misleading, colourful brochures” echoed their peddling of a “sunlit, blue-skied afterlife”. But all credit to them: they invented an activity that’s “almost never enjoyable” and sold it as the “most desirable thing in life”. Think of the blank, unhappy faces of those being led around cathedrals or stately homes, subjected to “usually inaccurate and always dead boring accounts” of the kings who once walked there. Has anyone ever enjoyed sitting behind “75,000 social menaces” in caravans clogging the A9 to the Highlands? Yet time and time again, we pack up our bags and head to places “no sane person would wish to visit”. And all the while, we claim it’s “such jolly fun”.