Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How to be excited about going on holiday without wanting to buy new things.

I've booked a holiday. After months and months of closing my eyes and visualising Greek Islands and Majorcan lemon groves and tentatively asking my friends if they fancy popping off somewhere for a week (understandably resounding "no"s because they all either wait tables or work in kitchens or find themselves in post-graduate skint-dom) I've gone and done it. I'll be going to Berlin for a week where an actual friend already lives. This is all very exciting, I feel tired and I'm ready for a to-do list that consists of restaurant choices rather than artwork specs.

There's a funny thing about booking a holiday though. You can be canny as anything when it comes to unchecking boxes and hidden costs with your budget airline ("Skis? Nope. Car rental? No. Health insurance?....") but the notion of a holiday wardrobe eternally beckons. Like a hot, naked siren the holiday wardrobe is eternally attractive even though, in reality it's another indulgent tickbox that can be spared. That's what I'm telling myself this year, anyway. After moving into the flat and booking the holiday itself I'm on a tight budget. I'm on a mission to learn how to be excited about going on holiday without wanting to buy new things.

I was lying slapbang in the middle of a grassy patch in Piccadilly Gardens recently, absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible on my lunchbreak. There was a toddler creeping closer and closer, she was about two years old and wearing one of those strange headbands that some parents think are adorable. They're in the same category as piercing your toddler's ears and unnerving to the extreme. But this child remained lovely bar this parental mishap and spent a lot of time handing me an apple, taking it back and then hiding it in my straw bag. I lay on my back and talked to my Aunty on the phone. Eighteen years older than myself, Mary has always been a big part of my life. When I was 15 I started taking trips to London on my own; her flat was the base from which I learned how to use the underground, and would return to after attending surreal but wonderful fashion week parties attended by Chloe Sevigny, Carine Roitfeld and Mario Testino, when this blog was more fashion-orientated and getting me invited to cool, strange places. Now she lives in Bristol, just around the corner from my home and has two small children. We catch up less often because we're both occupied with our different daily lives but I always feel inspired and very happy after our phone calls. We egged each other on with the subject of frugality. We talked about how easy it is to get caught up finding the perfect pair of sandals or denim A-line skirt ahead of a holiday and allowing these wants to become a part of how we visualise our week away. It's really easy to do...

I often associate memories of particular holidays with the clothes I wore. I think we all do; memories and clothes are forever intertwined. There was the time I visited the Italian Lakes with my Dad, my Stepmum and my younger siblings. This was the first holiday we'd all taken together. We stayed in a mobile caravan on a park full of children and those kid-sized picnic tables and marginally relaxed parents. I shared a bedroom with my younger brothers, aged 18 or 19 and tucked up along side them thinking how bizarre it all was. It was lovely in parts, we took a boat out onto Lake Garda together and it was novel to be in the company of each other all at once. I wore a pair of brown Jesus sandals and a thin cotton smock. I felt like Jane Birkin and one day, at the end of my tether with then four year old Hector's constant whining, I hired a bike and cycled out of the village, along a river. It felt cool and romantic but I did also spend some of the time worried about getting raped on the empty path. That may have had something to do with the fact that I spent the evenings outside the caravan reading American Psycho, the pages were all clothes hangers in the wrong places and dark pavements as I sat eating cubes of dark chocolate whilst the kids slept inside and my parents had a drink together in the village. Then there was Jamaica where everything was caked in a thin layer of sea salt and suncream and sweat and maybe some Red Stripe but that just made everything better and I wore this little white crochet shirt over everything.

Those memories are great but they're not items of clothing that I had to buy especially. It's really sort of silly if you're on a limited budget and you start to view those things are pre-holiday necessities. "It's really not about a pair of Birkinstocks that you don't yet own, it's about how good that feeling is of warm, tanned legs and being in a new place. With more money to spend on seafood," Mary said on the phone, or words to that effect as the toddler stood above me apple in hand, conveniently blocking the sun from my eyes. I also find it helps to imagine Phillip Green cackling atop a pile of his own money somewhere in Monaco because I got suckered into the "Holiday Shop" section at Topshop.

I permanently veer between finding frugality very seductive and just really enjoying the feeling of buying a fantastic new outfit. Of wearing it over and over and walking along the street with that slight 'I'm in a music video" swagger. Like Richard Ashcroft in Bittersweet Symphony. Of course it's slightly different if you have genuine 'holiday holes' in your wardrobe. I have swimsuits older than at least two of my siblings. But come on, we all know that spending an evening having a dig around your wardrobe and trying on some of the things you always passively look past can fill in those gaps. It's true, and that's coming from me who always eyerolls at suggestions of 'swap parties with friends'. (I can think of a lot of less awkward ways of saving money on clothes. Do swap parties ever work? Do they ever not involve one person scoring 5 great things and everyone else feeling like it's Christmas and having to fake-gush over an old H+M dress they don't actually want?)

But I digress. I've given myself the following semi-rules in order to avoid falling into the pre-holiday money trap: 1. Avoid online shopping. 2. No clicking on those tempting emails from Cos telling you about their sale. No browsing Topshop Boutique (I've turned that into a link to test your resilience and I will know if you click.) 3. Start visualising yourself doing a sassy music-video walk/ Ursula Andress sea-exit in clothes that you already own. 4. Break down the cost of the things you want to buy and convert them into the delicious meals/ gallery admissions they will buy you once on holiday. 5. Consider how good the phrase to "Live within ones means" sounds and the fact that you've always dug it but maybe not practised it as much as you'd like. I am completely projecting my Alvin Hall-insecurities onto you. 6. Remember that the allure of the pre-holiday shop is mostly a conspiracy designed to make you spend your money. You are completely allowed to, but don't buy new clothes because you think it'll make you look more attractive/better/"holiday ready". I'm a non-smoker and I constantly visualise my holidays as a sexy smoke-filled scene, all tanned arms and espadrilles and lungs full of Camels. So it's okay, you can have a sexy holiday visualisation that just stays in your head and never gets played out.

So far I've been doing well. God knows I want those Peach Melba Teva sandals I saw the other week more than a lot of things right now. But I'm enjoying the stubborn battle with myself, and of succeeding one day at a time. *Imagines a calendar full of red crosses, harp plays* For now my holiday fantasies consist less of shiny new sandals. Instead it's all about lying on the sands of Lake Wansee with a Patricia Highsmith novel, pausing occasionally to stop the gradual slide of sunglasses down a sweating nose or to take a swig from that bottle of beer which was, for a short time icy and now sits quite rightly on the happy hummock of a beach tummy.


Camille said...

Your posts have always been excellent, but as of late, they've really been fantastic (I mean, that podcast!). This post is really arriving at just the right time for me, especially after I succumbed to yet another ebay 'deal' (which really isn't) last night, and that I actually have a few small trips in my horizon. I haven't been out of the country for way too long, and I really should be saving up for my upcoming visit to NY, which will NOT be a shopping trip, haha. I will be bookmarking this and drawing myself a calendar off which I can cross out the days in red!

Unknown said...

So many head nods and murmured yesses whilst reading this. We all get sold the idea that life will be better with xyz and this is never more true than at holiday time. Seeing as holidays usually end up with me eshewing most of my suitcase and wearing three trusty items for the entire trip, I always remind myself not to buy anything else. But it is hard not to be sucked in, for sure. The lure of instant gratification is strong and marketing works all too well! I try to counter it by heading to a charity shop with a cash in hand budget and find one great thing that goes with the holiday. It lets me invest all the feelings of nostalgia into that item and still saves the money and regret! I can't wait to see some photos from your trip away, you always capture the mood of things so beautifully.

Chambray & Curls /

Helena said...

Stevie, as you are so wont to do, you have captured perfectly my thoughts leading up to my holiday this year, which (unfortunately!) I have returned from, with no prospects of travel for the foreseeable future, but that's a different matter! I feel like, finally, I have made some progress in separating 'things' from experiences in the manner you describe here. I must admit to buying a new pair of shorts for my holiday out of necessity, but as I wore them every day and they most definitely erred on the side of practical clothing I feel somewhat excused. Thank you for the beautifully written post, and the enduring deterrent of Phillip Green cackling over my hard earned and meagre wages!

Joy said...

I'm sure you'll have a great time in Berlin!!

Dreaming in Brighton said...

Your posts are always so spot on. Such a pleasure to read. Managed to reflect my current state of being perfectly. That pre holiday scrimping where you keep telling yourself "it will all be worth it once you're lying in the sun without the vision of bank statements looming over you ominously". Hope you enjoyed Berlin, it's such a beautiful place.