In a patronising new campaign, the UK Foreign Office warns young travellers off drinking and having sex.
Whatever people say, for young people their holiday expectations are sun, sea, sand and sex – not necessarily in that order. (Backpackers just do it on the cheap, might smoke more dope and probably have less sex.)
Tuscany and Andalucia are appealing once you are over 30, but in your twenties you have other priorities – which do not, it seems, fit with those of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
On 30 April, the FCO launched its ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign, aimed at young people (aged 16 to 30) travelling this summer. According to the FCO, new research shows many young travellers are unprepared for their travels. Why extensive research was needed to find this out is one question – why this lack of preparation should be seen as a problem is another.
According the FCO report, 33 percent of the 16- to 30-year-olds questioned said that they cannot be bothered to plan their holiday. Some might find it more surprising that two-thirds of young people do do such planning. In any case, many of these travellers are 20- to 30-year-olds, also known as adults – why should the FCO worry about how they organise their holidays?
The study goes on to state that ‘many of the young people surveyed admitted to creating their own problems on holiday, with a third confessing to doing “stupid things”‘. Isn’t doing stupid things on holiday part and parcel of the whole experience? Bungee jumping or even all-night drinking – which, given UK licensing laws, is part of the holiday package regardless of age – are hardly sensible activities.
At a time when even activities like sun-bathing come with health warnings attached, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at confessions of doing stupid things. The majority of us have to be sensible Monday to Friday most of the year: does the FCO advise that we should continue this on holiday as well?
More worrying for the FCO were the people whom it views as being ‘at risk’ on holiday. ‘Naughty’ would be the description used in the past – often by parents, not the government. Thirty-five percent of the young people questioned believe that holidays are all about ‘partying hard’ and ‘doing things to excess’.
Seventy-one percent said they drank excessively, 28 percent said they had been swimming while drunk, 27 percent admitted to having casual sex (presumably meaning that three-quarters try hard and miss out – obviously many don’t have as good a time as they’d hoped), and eight percent – the really bad ones – admitted that they had taken drugs overseas. Ibiza was obviously missed out when compiling this survey.
The report goes on to warn us that ‘travelling can be a great experience and holidays are a time to have fun and relax. However, preparation is needed before any overseas trip’. Well, thanks for that. What business it is of the government what young people do on their holiday – planned or not? Being young generally means that plans change and holidays are carefree, and that this is the whole point of them. Butlins used to offer tailor-made ‘risk free’ holidays, rather like a big playpen – thankfully young people have better opportunities and aspiration to travel these days. Maybe the government would prefer it if all 16- to 30-year-olds went to Centre Parks instead.
With the current panic surrounding SARS, you would think that the FCO would have more pressing concerns to communicate to potential young travellers. But then again, the FCO has hardly been a sober voice when advising travellers of the potential risks of SARS.
The campaign does go on to more sensible ground, in advising that taking adequate travel insurance is essential and that checking our inoculations with our GP in a good idea. While this is a useful reminder to holidaymakers old and young, we could do without the accompanying ‘warnings’ not to go for a swim after a San Miguel or six.
Peter Smith works for a leading independent travel company.
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