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What the Travel Brochures Don't Tell You


An ancient proverb says it well: 'To lie about a far country is easy'.

And while travel brochures - those wonderful glossy productions pitched somewhere between a coffee table decoration and a work of art - don't set out to be actually misleading, the end-result sometimes strays a little from the truth.

In these publications the sun always shines, everyone smiles, all food is fresh, the water safe, fish line up to be hooked, and exhausted adjectives like 'beautiful, stunning, super, azure and  dazzling' end up needing a vacation themselves after their workout.

But if you are alert (and perhaps a trifle cynical) other phrases can take on a whole new meaning too:

  • 'Natural beauty' may mean that the resort is still developing. This is fine if you like sand in your shoes and frequent power blackouts. 
  • Beware, too, any compound word that begins 'eco...'. It may be a synonym for unfinished. Or at least more 'natural' than you might choose.
  • 'Secluded' (also 'quiet, remote') strikes a chord if you are frazzled by the speed of city living, but do check whether you will be so sidelined that you must trudge a kilometre from the end of the bus route, or down/up a cliff from the road to get there. 
  • 'Private' conjures up visions of silence and peace too. Hope that this is what it means, rather than a room so far from the restaurant/swimming pool/bar that you walk blisters getting there.
  • 'Self-contained accommodation' can mean you've just bought a package where you have become your own maid and cook. Check there is also room service or somewhere to eat before you become the newest (unpaid) staff member.
  • 'Friendly staff' are a hotel's greatest asset. Or they can spell the end of your privacy as they drop by at all (the wrong) times with everything from the day's activity sheets to clean towels and the offer of a massage, or they quiz you in the corridors.
  • 'Walking distance to the beach'. Walking distance from where? And for whom? Some places assume that they are addressing marathon entrants and speak accordingly. When I am on holidays, anything over 50 metres in resort-speak should more accurately be described as 'a bracing hike'.
  • 'Family atmosphere' is fine if you like pint-sized service, but draw the line if junior starts to take your dinner order and pour your wine.
  • Phrases such as 'for the corporate/business traveller' hope you will imagine all sorts of glamour inclusions from fax outlets and a private spa to conference rooms and beyond. Be aware that in some less civilised contexts it might simply mean the room has a phone.
  • For most of us 'tropical' conjures up visions of swaying palms, brilliant waters over coral reefs edged by sparkling sand. Just remember the flipside, though - 90 percent humidity, frequent rain showers and spiders the size of small monkeys!
  • And when it comes to local attractions, the same sorts of definitions may hold true. 'Popular' can spell long queues, fast-food stands that run out of burgers just as you reach the counter, and a noise level that makes sitting in the middle of the airport runway sound like a quiet alternative. On the other hand 'uncrowded' might mean that even the locals are staying away in droves.
  • 'Leisurely' may be subtitled 'boring' if you are unlucky.
  • 'Open-air' can simply refer to the fact that the roof blew off last season; 'air-conditioned' could mean the windows open easily.
  • Being advised to 'book ahead' is not always a sign of a place's great popularity - it might be the difference between 'open for business' and 'closed for the season'. 

It's all in your interpretation. Often.

One thing is certain. If you make a mistake in your choice of vacation spot, no one need ever know.

When your friends ask how was the trip, all you have to do is say: "Tropical, secluded, leisurely... walking distance from everything. And the staff were so-o-o friendly."

You can do it. As the proverb says: it's easy!

by Sally Hammond


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