Summer holidays are something most of us look forward to with eager anticipation; a couple of weeks where we get to do what we want when we want, curtailed only by the size of our bank balance or the credit available on our credit cards.
Many cities shut down for swathes of time during this time. In Ireland, the first two weeks of August used to be known as Builders’ Holidays as it was then that most construction sites hung up their tools for their summer break. Given the sad state of the construction industry today, I’m not sure this is any longer the case.
Paris clears out in August as do Milan and Rome. Even in Budapest there are far fewer people on the streets in the summer, particular at the weekends, when the city seems to decamp en masse to the shores of the Balaton. Yet only last week, our editor wrote: ‘a whopping 70% of Hungarian families did not even make a long-weekend getaway’ last year, which he says is not all that surprising considering ‘85% of the country does not make enough money to save for a rainy day’.
This bothers me – a lot. Yes, I realise that I’m privileged in getting to travel as much as I do. Some of it is work-related but I know that given the choice between new clothes and a weekend somewhere new, there’s no question which I’d choose. What others spend in bars, restaurants, and shopping malls, I prefer to spend on train fares, flights, and accommodation. And, yes, I realise that even having a choice as to how I spend my money makes me one of the new ‘rich’ – those with any income to dispose of at all.
Yet I firmly believe that holidays are important for the soul, for the mind, for the heart. And while we don’t need to go far to get away from it all, were I Queen of the World for a year, I’d try to construct a society where taking a lengthy break was mandatory, and if necessary, state subsidised. I love the fact that in Norway, employees get extra pay in June in the summer to accommodate just this (due to some convoluted system whereby payment for their five weeks of statutory leave is deducted and then tax-free holiday pay is added). And yes, I know … Norway can afford it.
In conversation with a friend recently, we found ourselves arguing about the need to travel internationally. I see it as a need, a necessary part of broadening horizons that opens the lid on new perspectives. Had I not travelled, I would never have the appreciation for Ireland that I do, or for Hungary for that matter. My friend reckons that holidaying at home can be just as insightful. We both agreed that the important thing is to take that break.
Books have been written about travelling in situ – Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage around my Room comes to mind. He describes his 42-day journey in 1790 in exquisite detail, putting paid to the argument that ‘travel’ is a luxury requiring money: Indeed, is there anyone so wretched, so forlorn as not to have some sort of garret in which to withdraw and hide from the world? For such is all that is required for travel.
That Hungary is in such dire straits that so many families didn’t get away last year is indeed a First World problem. But as clinical psychologist Francine Lederer observes: ‘most people have better life perspective […] after a vacation’ and its impact on mental health is ‘profound’. That’s surely a good enough reason to go somewhere?
First published in the Budapest Times 11 July 2014