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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > January 2017 > A WORLD OF TRAVEL NEWS AND DISCOVERIES

A WORLD OF TRAVEL NEWS AND DISCOVERIES

NEW FLIGHT

Let the good times roll

BRITISH AIRWAYS has just announced the start of the first direct service from London to New Orleans. Flights, which are bookable now, start in March 2017 and will take 10½ hours. The Big Easy has long been known for its exuberant love of music so be sure to catch a few performances when you’re there – whether an impromptu gig on the streets in the French Quarter, a traditional second line band parade in Marigny, or a live show at Preservation Hall(pictured), a venerable old jazz venue(from £709;britishairways.com).

SOMETHING TO DECLARE: Why I secretly love the trauma of travel in the UK at Christmas

In the UK, we should add a third item to Benjamin Franklin’s seminal list of life’s certainties: death, taxes and chaos for travellers at Christmas. The national press has already forecast rage and ruin on our sclerotic roads and overstuffed trains, as breakdowns and strikes threaten to freeze the country’s transport infrastructure yet again.

While Santa’s elves ramp up production north of the Arctic Circle, the old gremlins crawl out from beneath piles of last year’s unloved toys to engage in their own brand of merrymaking. They urge union bosses to petition for yet more stocking fillers; they transform our clogged motorways into diabolical chicanes of bollards; they snap up the cheapest train tickets months in advance.

There’s nothing startlingly new about any of this, of course – with minor variations, we witness a seasonal spasm every year; it’s as much a part of Yuletide as mince pies, mulled wine and ill-advised knitwear.

The nadir of my own travel experiences featured a much delayed flight from Lisbon to Heathrow, an agonising journey to Victoria (strikes, overground and underground), and a nightmare crawl up the M1 aboard a rammed Megabus (after a dusting, perhaps a centimetre, of snow). Compare this day-long ordeal with the Christmas I spent in Australia, one of the few places where I’ve celebrated it abroad. After a faultless flight from Melbourne to Sydney, my hosts and I sped down free-flowing roads (named, mockingly, the M1 and A1) to Jervis Bay. Christmas Day was a scorcher, a beaut: surfing, prawns on the barbie, kangaroos and cockatoos in the backyard.

And yet… for all the surface shimmer of that dreamy experience down under, I still felt a stab of longing for the UK that went beyond mere homesickness; call me a masochist, but some perverse part of me secretly yearned for the trials and tribulations that our sceptred isle serves up so reliably.

For my memory of those hours spent stripping the last few molecules of oxygen from the stale air at the back of the Megabus is not as grim as you might expect; in fact, the abiding impression is one of spontaneous camaraderie – a well-documented phenomenon here at times of crisis.

Slowly but surely, perfect strangers struck up conversations and swapped stories in the gloom, as rivulets of condensation streamed down the windows and the blinking lights of passing roadworks became an acceptable proxy for the twinkling LEDs of home.

Some kindly soul even sacrificed a present for the greater good, unwrapping a family-sized Toblerone and distributing chunks of choc among the denizens of the back seat to shore up their plummeting sugar levels.

The shared suffering created a sense of solidarity, I think – just like me, those travellers were battling to reach a distant place where family and friends had gathered, and some of them had overcome even greater obstacles. There was a quiet heroism about it all; an unspoken belief that, however much hassle travel at Christmas might involve, the effort would be worth it. In the end, perhaps, the pain of the journey is equivalent to the pleasure of arrival.

JAMES KAY is the editor of lonelyplanet.com. He will not be handing out any Toblerone this year because of ‘shrinkflation’.

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About Lonely Planet Traveller (UK)

In the Jnuary 2017 issue... It’s time to choose whether to embrace the winter or escape it – and we’ve got a list of great hotels around the world for either option. Among our features this month is a Great Escape to Taiwan, where it never really gets cold; a trip to the west of Iceland to discover this land of sagas; a Perfect Weekend in Riga – Latvia’s charmer of a capital; a snowshoe walk up to an age-old refuge on Switzerland’s Great St Bernard Pass; and much more
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