I've been on vacation for the past two weeks, which you may have noticed if you found yourself going, "Hmm: I am enjoying the VICE website a little bit more than usual and can't quite put my finger on why." It's because I've been away. I went to Dubai and then flew back and then out again on a press trip to the Maldives, the greatest press blag of all actual time. Yes, thank you, I feel wonderful. Yes, thank you, I have the rawest dad tan of all actual time.
The reason the above is notable to me is because I never really went on vacation before. As a kid, I grew up poor, so all our family vacations were to bleak driving distance seaside towns: a week at a caravan in Cleethorpes, where the beach is 100,000 smooth large pebbles covered in great green scabs of seaweed; a fortnight in Filey, where one of the attractions is "you can drive to Whitby." Once I was promised we could go to Torquay, when an old friend of my mom's called and invited us, but my mom conspired to fall out with the woman friend over something trivial, and the plan was rescinded. Like, imagine my life. I was excited to go to Torquay. And when we didn't get to go to Torquay, there was no vacation that year. Another time we drove late through the night to Filey and settled in for the evening. Then when I woke up in the morning I was told we were going immediately home again. Turns out my parents had been up all night listening to the distant sounds of the hotelier beating his wife and decided not to stay at his establishment any longer for obvious reasons. But there was no chance of getting another B&B to stay at, so we just drove home in silence, another year's vacation over. A year earlier, in Filey, I'd achieved my greatest human achievement to date: a hole-in-one up a great knobbly concrete volcano in the middle of a wind-whipped seaside crazy golf course. This year, there was no euphoria. This year, the highlight of the vacation was sneaking three miniature breakfast buffet boxes of Rice Krispies home with me to enjoy while all my friends were on actual vacation. God, actually: Being a kid is really shit, isn't it?
I was 22 when I got my first passport, and the first country I went to was Poland, to Krakow, where the beer cost a pound a pint, and we spent four days saying "LADS ON TOUR" and drinking lots of it. Then I got home and put my passport in a shoebox for safekeeping and entirely forgot which shoebox I put it in. For five years. The form to reapply for a passport is really long, and it costs like $100 [almost €90] to renew, so I just didn't. For five years. Then I found it again and went briefly to Amsterdam (Amsterdam, in review: Everywhere seems to sell waffles. I honked on a jazz cigarette and subsequently laughed so hard I thought I might die at an episode of Masterchef: New Zealand) and then the aforementioned bumper special Conservative Party double vacation bonanza. You're all caught up.
Anyway there are certain vacation insights you can only really get from a man who first spent more than an hour on an airplane two weeks ago at the age of 28, and here they all are:
PEOPLE WEAR SOME EXTREMELY WACKY SHIT ON VACATION
I mean, I can't say too much because I was rocking the entire Uniqlo range of collarless button-ups while on vacation, which made me look like something between a 1920s prisoner and your granddad during his dying breaths, but still: In Dubai, I saw someone wear a Real Madrid/Barcelona mash-up shirt to the pool. Real badge, Barca stripes. Real sponsor, no manufacturer. That was, I thought, the maddest sartorial choice I'd ever seen made, until I saw the dads.
Oh, dads. Dads in wraparound shades, dads with fannypacks. Dads in sandals and socks. Dads in flip-flops from dad-friendly surf-inspired high street shops. Who Let Dad Go To Fat Face Again. Who Let Dad Resubscribe To The Billabong Newsletter. Dads in practical fleeces. Dads in off-brand nylon running jackets. Dads in Warner-licensed Daffy Duck T-shirts from George by ASDA. Dads in sportswear brands you've never heard of: Locker For Men, Viking Sportwear, SZykko. Dads in new tans, dads in adidas Climacool. A 12:30 hotel-wide fire alarm teaches me that most dads sleep in full beachwear. A harrowing trip to the breakfast buffet teaches me dads don't give a slip of a shit about wearing money belts. Dads.
AIRPORTS ARE WHERE DIGNITY AND SELF PRIDE GO TO DIE
It is 04:00 outside Globe Burger House at Gatwick Airport—the kind of place you only get where cultures morass into one amorphous blob, where diverse footfall sands away all the rough edges of cultural identity, a lineup of restaurants so inoffensive and nationality-less that they could be anywhere, London or Bangalore or Mississippi—and I cannot stop looking at an old man sitting alone and eating a patty, chewing with his mouth open, chok-chok-chok like a toddler. Truly, airports are where we come to lose our inhibitions. Nowhere else is there no threat of seeing these people again. Nowhere else can we be so sure not to see someone we know. And so the belts loosen, and the shoes come off—hey, what, I gotta be comfortable, I'm going on a plane for eight hours!—and we lose all decorum, all control of our fart holes, all respect for ourselves. Airports turn us into simple monsters designed to nap fitfully and guard luggage like Rottweilers. They are a morass of concrete and air conditioning hidden behind chain-link fences, a great space in the middle of a concrete spaghetti of logistics and exit ramps. The bizarre, unique architecture of airports is designed to drive us all to our end. It's like getting lost in IKEA a thousand times in a row. It is horrible.
BREAKFAST BUFFETS MAKE ABSOLUTELY ZERO ECONOMIC SENSE AND WILL TRANSFORM THE WAY YOU EAT FOREVER
My usual breakfast this past two weeks has been a bowl of fruit, some tiny pastries, about a gallon of fruit juice and/or coffee, a freshly made omelette by a man who stood in stiff chef whites and whose job exclusively between the hours of 7 and 11 is to rapidly make omelettes to order, few more pastries, maybe a bit of salmon, then some cake. And still there was food left over, a great banquet of food, endlessly stretching forever, the kind of food I could live on for—no lie—about two months. Where did the food go? Wither happened to you, tiny uneaten danishes? Are the dogs that live near resorts just exceptionally well fed?
'I'M ON VACATION' IS AN EXCUSE TO LIVE A LIFE OF EXCESS THAT GUILT NORMALLY FORBIDS YOU FROM DOING
"I'm on vacation" has you eating most of an entire cheesecake to yourself for breakfast. "I'm on vacation" has you ordering $20 [€17] cocktails to drink by a pool. "I'm on vacation" has you sitting in an oily pool of your own sweat and indulgence, reading a Kindle and wallowing in the sun. "I'm on vacation" has you unashamedly napping. "I'm on vacation" has you change almost immediately into some sort of overindulged princeling. Day two in Dubai and I walked into a bathroom and was outraged at the slightly-lower-than-I'd-grown-accustomed-to quality of the hand towels on offer, neatly rolled and presented in a pile. "I'm on vacation" is a state of mind that real life cannot prime you for, and frankly, that's a good thing. Left to fester for another couple of weeks, and Vacation Joel would be some sort of obese dictator, eating trifle with his hands and throwing coins on the floor for wait staff. "I'm on vacation" is an escape from the peculiar and unseeable rules we live our everyday lives by. "I'm on vacation," more than anything, is an escape from yourself.
BEING ATTENTIVELY WAITED ON IS WEIRD UNTIL IT ISN'T
Going on vacation to any kind of resort is essentially embarking in this weird, slow wrestle with your own guilt: People approach you constantly and attentively, offering you food and water and moist towelettes to dab your face and hands with, and clean your room for you, and tidy up your shit, and day one, you are like: This is bad, I shouldn't be enjoying this. And day two, you are like: I mean, I guess everyone needs a job. And day three, you are throwing dressing gowns out of windows and shouting, "Clean my shit up, sub-scum!" At times, I find myself yearning for a disinterested shop girl to indolently chew gum at me, the kind Hollywood has primed me to always fall in love with: At others, I am so taken in by earnest service that it becomes dangerous. Service culture is so full on that it's genuinely hard to extricate yourself from a shop once you're in there. I accidentally walked into a Build-a-Bear and almost ended up making myself a Stormtrooper-shaped cuddly based on solely on a man in a polo shirt being really polite to me.
WATERPARKS ARE EXCEPTIONALLY DOPE DON'T @ ME
Tired of going down an acutely angled slide on a big inflatable donut, tired of life.
BEING ON AIRPLANES IS AWFUL
To go on a long haul flight is to give your humanity up for the duration of the journey—you say to an airline, "Here is $700 [€610], please cram me into legally the smallest possible space for eight hours and show me standard quality movies." In the air, we are reduced to drones: We are fed salty blocks of hot food and given tiny bottles of whisky to drink and given weird, foil-sealed pots of water to drink, and we watch three episodes of Modern Family until we are stiff and broken. Flying long haul is akin to that feeling you have when you've been bed bound with flu for a few days, and now you're feeling better, but the act of sitting in bed makes you ache. Flying is confusing on a primal level: People forget how to wait for the bathroom, babies start crying, your ears hurt, you're only half drunk, so instead of being a fun Don Draper figure, you're just a tired man with a headache, and then the plane lands, and they flip the air conditioner off, and the heat of 800 bodies simultaneously reaching for their carry-on bags overwhelms you. An airplane is essentially a big elevator with a tiny cinema in it. Spending time within one is a special form of hell.
JESUS, BE SUN SAFE
Listen, kids, I know you come to VICE for the hot and groovy yung news topics that matter to you, like how much NOS you can honk before you get brain damage or how limbless people fuck these days, but let me tell you: If you are a weak pale boy like me, wear SPF 50 and a big hat, unless you want to get so much sun you get a headache and start crackling like a baked pig on the plane home.
DUTY FREE IS AN EXTREMELY CONFUSING BREED OF CONSUMERISM
Duty free is the place you go once you have passed enough security checks to be deemed non-hazardous to flight staff and pilots and so, as a reward and an escape from the three-to-four hour wait for your flight, you are allowed to buy a liter of whiskey or some makeup for 20 percent off. Like: Eat in an airport restaurant, and they do not trust you with a knife long enough to chop a muffin with. But you are allowed to buy a gallon of hard spirits and enough jelly beans to immediately induce Diabetes. Airports are wild.
There is this weird desperation to it all: a rush to buy more vodka than you are capable of drinking in a lifetime, eye shadow palates, gigantic bags of Maltesers. You're about to embark on a vacation, but you have a bizarre compulsion to buy $30 [€26] worth of Kinder Eggs. You're coming back from vacation, and instead of converting your money back to pounds or whatever, you enter this sort of timeless shop, a 24/7 artificially lit consumer paradise, and buy a load of Gucci for Gucci and 500 tabs. And then, as you reel away with your thick bag full of bounty, you hear a whisper, up there, in your cranium, deep in the guilt cortex: What even is Duty anyway.
SEEING BRANDS YOU RECOGNIZE IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES NEVER GETS OLD
Most of my vacation photos are just of the Marks & Spencer sign written in Arabic.
DUBAI IS A WEIRD IMPERSONATION OF A CITY
I can't stop looking at the Burj Khalifa: It's too huge to comprehend, too huge to be real. When I was ten and first came to London and saw Canary Wharf, I was similarly blown away: the fact that a building was so enormous you could see it in sharp focus from miles away, that it needed a glittering light on top to stop airplanes accidentally hitting it. The Burj is a thousand of those lights, glittering alone in the desert; it's shaped like a knife, a talon, a shard of broken mirror, but also curiously soft and inviting, innocent in its hugeness. It's also $100 [€87] to go up in the day, so Fuck. That. Shit.
Dubai is the closest we have to Atlantis, the ancient engineering feats: the kind of architecture we will not believe existed in 1,000, 2,000 years. It's also the closest man gets to God—that we forged this land ourselves, in the most absurd shape possible, an island in the shape of a palm, a palm it turns out one of the most impossible-to-traverse shapes in all of existence, the retconned monorail on top of the Palm Jumeirah, a sort of million-dollar monument to man's folly. There is something doomed about it, Babylonian: So many of the towers come in pairs, like the ancient statues; the logistics of the place make absolutely no sense at all. We travel done a herringbone paved motorway, and I wonder how long it took. We look at a skyline unburdened by cranes and machinery, and I wonder where this city came from. There is something featureless about it: The sea doesn't move, and people barely touch the pavements during the heat of the day. Dubai is like a rushed video game: It could be alive, one day, when it's finished, when the algorithm that blows trash around the streets is finally coded. Until then it is just blocks in the approximate shape of a city people could live in. It's GTA III.
AIRPORTS CREATE TWO SPECIFIC ANXIETIES AMONGST OTHERWISE INNOCENT PEOPLE
Airports are designed to freak you out—they are long white corridors created to make you think you've lost your passport, even though you're holding your passport—but there are two specific steps in the dance that make the lay people freak out and forget their personhood. The first: waiting at a baggage carousel for your plain black Tripp pull-case, the exact same case every other person on the plane bought from Debenhams that week, yours not turning up, the anxiety slowly building amongst you and the crowd, lobsters boiling alive as the water turns from cold to hot, until you are 25 minutes in, and at a moment of high stress, what about your iPad, your toiletries, those pants, oh God will the insurance cover it, oh God do I— oh, no, there's my bag. And secondly, routine bag and body searches, security checks that make even the most ardent socks-and-sandal law abider have a major paranoid wobble and briefly suspect they might have accidentally packed their case full of smack.
DON'T FORGET TO BUY A BAG OF MINIATURE TOBLERONE FOR EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW OR THEY WILL BE MORTALLY OFFENDED SOMEHOW
It's strange, this wordless language we have, the passage of miniature Toblerone from vacation taker to non-vacation taker, this infinite contract we sign with our work colleagues to always bring them small duty-free snacks to them after having the temerity to take annual leave, this bizarre ritual we have. But people really do get emotional about miniature Toblerone. Do not forget about them.
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