We're a nation of travellers, the British. Our history is built on stories of people moving from one place to the next, whether it's a pilgrimage to Canterbury, a voyage to the New World, or just the gradual movement of people that's made the world what it is today.
Although we're more likely to head off on holidays than on expeditions in the 21st century, Brits still love to keep moving. Statistics show that, on average, we take about 60 million trips abroad per year these days – and that's not to mention the 120 million plus trips we take within the UK itself.
There's something inherently British about every method of travel for holidays – flying appeals to our cultural ability to stand in queues and tut about delays, the top deck of ferries and cruise ships speak to our sea-faring past, and industrious English engineers were trying to build a tunnel to France for nearly 200 years before the Channel tunnel was begun.
Although all three still transport millions of Brits abroad every year, the way we use each has changed. Unsurprisingly, air travel has become more popular with the introduction of budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, and the slower ferry has become used less and less – with the newcomer, the Channel tunnel, stealing some of the above-ground business.
The effect that low-cost airlines have had on how regularly people fly is obvious – after their launch in 1985, the number of people flying abroad shot up at a remarkable rate – within three years the number of air journeys made had topped 20 million per year, and in 2004 the figure topped 50 million for the first time.
However, the recession took its toll on all forms of transport. Ten million fewer people set off on a holiday in 2009, and a further three million fewer in 2010, than in 2008 – the majority of them air passengers.
Still, Brits are beginning to head off on holiday more and more once again, with travel figures in 2014 approaching the 50 million mark once again, and an overall growth of around 4.5% every year.
The ferry and the cruise, on the other hand, haven't regularly taken ten million holidaymakers off on their travels since the 90s, with numbers generally falling. At first this did seem to coincide with a rise in use of the shiny-and-new Channel tunnel in the mid-90s – particularly in 1998, when British football fans flooded the Eurostar for trips to France 98 – but usage has dwindled once again. Currently just over four and a half million people head through the tunnel every year.
Air travel remains by far the most popular way to get away from it all. Does this say something about how Brits like to enjoy holidays now? With less emphasis placed on the journey taken – across the sea, or by Europe's roads and rails – and more placed on getting to our destinations as quickly as possible, it looks like Brits are getting increasingly impatient to leave the British weather behind in a hurry!
Maybe this means we're missing out on the joys of a slower-paced holiday, where we watch the beautiful scenery pass rather than watching the in-flight entertainment. Next time you come to book a flight for your holiday, consider taking an alternate route – you might find something you enjoy in the path less travelled. You'll definitely find shorter queues than the ones at Terminal One, that's for sure.
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