Jump to main content

Charting 50 years of holiday trends

Each decade has its crazes, and travel is no different. In honour of High Life magazine’s 50th anniversary this month, social historian Lucy Lethbridge imagines where five fictional couples would have spent their hard-earned holiday cash across the past five decades


08/03/2023

Illustrations: Andrea Mongia

1970s

Malcolm and Denise take advantage of cheap package holidays. They go to Germany by coach in 1970 but, as the decade moves on and Malcolm’s income and the family expand, they follow the sun, flying to Mallorca, and to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca. They try a sporty Club Méditerranée in Sardinia, enjoying its celebrated all-you-can-eat free buffets, introduced in 1967, and making good use of the ‘Gentils Organisateurs’ on hand for childcare. Back at home, their duvet (continental quilt) and newly purchased bidet are proof of their exposure to sophisticated European mores, and they watch Wish You Were Here with Judith Chalmers and wonder if they might be ready to try Florida.


1980s

Heather and Martin met at a Club 18-30 holiday in Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava in 1975. The sun, sex and sangria were a revelation after strike- and recession-hit Britain. But now older and wiser, the couple feel they’ve grown out of Club Med, which often hit the headlines with reports of hedonism and drunkenness. More adventurous destinations appeal and, with a double income and no children, the world is theirs. Bali has become a favourite of celebrities (Mick Jagger, most recently), and they stay at the International Hotel in Sanur. In these days, there are few hotels, the roads are unpaved and tourists are discerning types: with their bum-bags and Sony Walkmans, they feel like pioneers.


1990s

Steven and Liz, in their mid-20s, take a gap year in 1995 to travel the world, taking in South Asia and Australia, returning via California. Time rich but cash poor, and armed with well-thumbed Lonely Planet guides, they stay in guesthouses where they meet similar travellers with tales of $5-a-day frugality to share. They return a year later exhausted but with a taste for adventure that a fortnight in Magaluf can no longer satisfy.


2000s

Sam and Sunita, high-earning and self-employed, work long hours and plan their holidays well in advance. Nor do they restrict them to the summer. They discover the pleasure of short city breaks for birthdays and anniversaries. Tourism in European cities grows by 20 per cent in 2005: Barcelona is a favourite, as are Dublin, Prague and Krakow. But as the decade progresses, Sam and Sunita become enthusiasts for expensive, guided exploration holidays. They watch whales in the Azores, enjoy nights under canvas in the Serengeti and go on an Antarctic cruise.


2010s

Tariq and Bethany are fans of ‘destination’ holidays. One year, they go to Maya Bay in Thailand, where The Beach was filmed – and find a lot of other people have had the same idea. In 2018, they visit Dubrovnik, which appeared in Game of Thrones. Always up to the minute with tech and social media, they are devotees of Airbnb (which started in 2008). As foodies, they are particularly keen on places where they can try new and exotic dishes and spend hours scouring the web for the latest food haunts. In 2015, they reserve a table, a year in advance, at Noma in Copenhagen, where they eat reindeer penis and yeast caramel, and then post the pictures on Instagram, which continues to be the perfect medium for making your friends jealous.


2020s

Martha and Daisy have emerged from the pandemic feeling conflicted about holidays. In 2019, they enjoyed a week of sun-soaking in Dubai, one of the most popular holiday destinations for British tourists. But, after two years of staycations, they are longing to travel but nervous about Covid restrictions and anxious about their carbon footprint. Daisy has been experimenting with a photo-editing site that makes it look as though they’re Insta-posting from abroad. Lakes, waterfalls or waves are apparently desirable because the colour blue gets more likes than any other. Worried that their addiction to social media might be out of control, Martha and Daisy wonder about ‘impact experiences’, including wilderness glamping in Argentina and a week’s digital detox in a remote cabin in Norway.