8 things that were great about a holiday in the ‘80s

Andrew Dickens

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’80s holidays were very different – and bloody great (particularly if you were a kid) – as anyone in their 30s and 40s knows. Here are eight fab things that will whip up some summertime nostalgia

1. Your mum packed a suitcase full of food

We take it for granted now that basically, every food is available in every country. This was not the case in the ‘80s.

If you went to Spain or France on your holiday (almost certainly a beach holiday), you could not get Walkers crisps (not even under the Lays label), you could not get Robinson’s barley water, you could not get Heinz baked beans, and you most definitely could not get tea bags.

If you were lucky, there might have been a very expensive box of Kellog’s Cornflakes somewhere.

Bearing in mind that you weren’t ever going to suggest a tapas lunch (because nobody non-Spanish knew what tapas was 30 years ago) and feeding your kids chips and baguettes three times a day was frowned upon even then – and as there were no airline baggage limits – it meant mums (mostly) would often shove half a Safeway shop into one of the family’s suitcases, with anything that had more than a 60% chance of surviving the journey.

2. Everyone worried about ‘the water’ in the ’80s

Travel abroad in the ‘80s and you would have thought that governments were pumping liquid cyanide out of the taps. “Don’t drink the water!” was a warning cry heard from literally any friend or relative who had watched Wish You Were Here, long before you’d even decided which Speedos to pack.

The first thing anyone did once they got to a foreign destination was head to the local supermarché and stock up on enough bottled water to rehydrate the Terracotta Army. (The second thing was to buy a cheap plastic football and/or some of those wooden ‘tennis’ paddles.)

This stockpile was never allowed to fall below ‘Olympic swimming pool’ quantities and, alongside the food suitcase, made the most paranoid prepper look positively laissez-faire.

Read more: 10 life lessons to excel in your 40s, by adventurer Ed Stafford

3. Holiday coke tasted better than normal coke

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Everyone knows about holiday beer: how a glass of local lager that you’d never let within two miles of your lips at home transforms into divine nectar when served cold on a small, rickety cafe table alongside some complimentary olives. Well, the same went for cola.

Both Pepsi and Coca-cola (but let’s be honest, mainly Coke) tasted so much better on holiday. Maybe it’s because Coke is made in different ways in countries (fact). Maybe it was because it came in sexy glass bottles. Maybe it was because it was always served with a slice of lemon. Maybe the ice cubes made from cyanide water gave it an almondy tang.

On top of this, you also had Fanta ‘limon’ and Fanta ‘naranja’ which were very exotic and increased your Spanish vocabulary, and those puffy European crisps that you could only get abroad in the ‘80s but are now sold in Waitrose and M&S like middle-class crack.

4. Everything took longer and it was great

Pretty much every part of the holiday process was slower in the ‘80s. Even reading this section will take longer than the others.

Now, you can book a holiday on your computer or phone in seconds. Back then, you had to visit a travel agent, shove 17 brochures in a bag, spend three weeks debating the contents of those brochures, go back to the travel agent, pay a deposit, go home, wait, go back to the travel agent, pay the balance.

Or, if you were really tech-savvy, you’d book Teletext holidays! You’d sit for hours watching the Teletext pages go round, noting the best deals, deciding which one you liked, wait for the relevant Teletext page to come round again, phone the number, send a deposit, etc, etc. And you usually did this in January for a July holiday.

You sent postcards, not emails or Instagram updates. Postcards that required thought and the ability to express emotions and impart facts in fewer than 50 words. Postcards that sometimes had naked people on them (pictures of naked people were much rarer pre-internet). Postcards that often arrived at their destination weeks after you’d got home.

Your photos arrived (or were collected) from the developers days or weeks after you got home, each one a complete surprise and potentially massive disappointment. That said, you gained at least 5% more time while actually on your holiday by not taking 567 variations of the same picture because the lighting on your ear wasn’t quite right.

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Even the news took longer. Now you can, again, look at your phone and know exactly what’s going on in the world at that time. Then, if you were ‘on the continent’, you’d get the British newspapers at best a day or two late.

The Queen could’ve been eaten by Godzilla and you’d be sipping on your holiday Coke and eating an out-of-the-suitcase peanut butter sandwich, blissfully unaware of this monstrous regicide.

And, of course, holidays were nearly always a fortnight. Long weekends hadn’t even been invented.

5. There was no screen time

Screens in the ‘80s weren’t portable*: TVs and computers were massive. You wouldn’t watch TV anyway, because it was all analogue and therefore all in ‘foreign’. So, unless there was a World Cup on, you spent your entire holiday bathing your eyes in the splendour of reality.

*the exception being digital watches and the Nintendo Game & Watch, of which I had the Donkey Kong II version, bought in Menorca, 1982.

6. You had to use actual maps

If you were driving or walking or basically moving towards any place in the ‘80s, you had two choices: ask directions or use a map. On holiday, because you might not speak the local language or trust the local people, the latter was the best option.

It was a paper map, too. Not on a phone, not even printed from the Internet. It might be a foldable map or an atlas or an A-to-Z or photocopied from a library or a map that your over-confident neighbour Alan drew for you, but it was paper and if you didn’t know how to use it, well… adios and bon chance.

Read more: 9 unexpected and wonderful things I discovered in my 40s

7. Choosing your holiday music was really hard

Assuming you’ve chosen your data plan wisely or know how to sniff out some free wifi, practically the entire musical output of the human race is available to you on your holiday. In the ‘80s, your music was on a cassette or, if you were way ahead of the times, a CD. Thus you had to decide which 10 albums were going to sustain you for the next fortnight.

This was a great life lesson. It hardened you, made you make tough life choices, separating the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the milk, the Prince from the Princess (see below for one of the greatest songs of all time and also Princess).

It also made an entire generation skilled in the art of the mixtape: which was basically like creating a playlist but with added mental torture. Character-building.

8. Wherever you went in the ’80s, it felt like the other side of the world

The planet has shrunk in the last 30 years. It’s basically the size of a golf ball. But for British kids in the ‘80s, unless you had family in some far-flung part of the world, nearly all holidays were in the UK, Spain, Greece or France (I knew someone who went to Yugoslavia and that was like knowing someone who’d been to the moon).

You might dream of going to the USA in the hope of meeting and marrying Molly Ringwald, time-travelling in a DeLorean or making an alien best friend, but that was a rare and fortunate treat. A family trip to Thailand or Mexico just wasn’t gonna happen.

But because of that, wherever you went it felt a million miles from home. The tiniest thing, like a different supermarket or a West Country accent (unless you were from the West Country) or a regional variation on an everyday item made the place feel exotic. Everything was just a little bit different there. Which was nice.


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