Over the past three days, I have been permanently jammed into the internet, toggling furiously between metric conversion sites and the magnificent AA Route Finder, merely to find a safe, simple, cheap, timely, direct, fuel-efficient, reliable and, above all, bookable way to get to our nearest neighbour, France, for a convention in July; the challenge being, I have only a 24-hour ‘window’ in which to travel out, but wish to take my time coming back. I have resultingly come to hate:
- The sites that assume you are only leaving our blessed shores because you and your automatic partner and one-point-three offspring are on the traditional two-weeks summer sunshine holiday, and therefore desiring to be trapped between one Thursday 3 a.m. flight and the next-but-one, unable to contemplate travelling out and back on different days of the week or to change your location once delivered. Any such variation, travelling on one’s own, or not being certain of ones return date (because, if one is taking one’s car at ruinous expense, it is usually because one wants the freedom to come and go as one pleases and not when the ferry company tells one one has to), constitutes ‘business travel’ and therefore costs five times as much. While one accepts despairingly that the magic words ‘End of July’ and ‘Olympic Games’ are causing the fares to quadruple hourly in the first place. What a damned silly time and place for a convention in the lost middle of rural Aquitaine.
- Those that expect you to tell them a year in advance, exactly which airports or train stations or seaports you will be travelling from and via and to, using which carriers, on which days of the year, at precisely what hours of the days, and for how much; what items of luggage you will be carrying, how much they will weigh, what are their exact dimensions, and which version of the Ford Focus DTi you will be driving (pre- or post-2005?), before they will divulge the secrets of which airports or train stations or seaports you can actually travel from and to, in order to get within 90 miles of where you need to be; on which days and at what times and what the f***ing fare is (there is never only one simple return fare, you always have to negotiate separately and pay twice as much to get home, when you’re presumably more desperate to travel, although in my case now maybe not). Then there are the compulsory ‘extras’… when crossing the channel overnight, a cabin booking is mandatory, only they’re all taken mysteriously months in advance, presumably for the ticketing staff, but you can pay extra to slumber fitfully in a torn chair while backpackers blunder into your legs and burly men with tattooed necks and rotting trainers puke lager and crisps over your shoes.) The interesting thing being, the travel company’s vision of your itinerary never coincides precisely with yours.
- EuroRail, who can’t tell you when their trains are running, to where, and/or even how much the fare is going to be, more than three months before your planned departure, or even then; and won’t help you to book the UK leg of your journey. Meanwhile, the fares have already started to rise in anticipation and will continue to rise the nearer you get to departure time, so buy now! This is based on the modern notion that passengers should jolly well pay more, the more profitable the booking schedule looks to be getting, the more crowded and uncomfortable their journey on the insufficient services available – making travel a Dutch auction, rather than looking soberly at the actual carriage cost-per-person and pricing fairly by the mile (1.6093 km.)
- All of those whose website refuses to recognise your valid postcode, thus ensuring you have to go through the entire booking procedure several times over, by which time the fare has already risen by £50. Special mention for Brittany Ferries, who offer passengers the emergency option of booking over the phone. Cost 75p per minute, and who refuse to refund a penny of your pre-paid fare should you give them a month’s notice of cancellation, insisting they are only obliged to issue a credit note for your next crossing… but who then presumably consider themselves entitled to sell your torn seat to someone else, thus ripping you off twice.