IT’S NOT THAT I’VE NEVER DONE A PANICKED, last-minute smash-and-grab round the shops the night before a holiday. Or – as is proper – followed the hard-won tricks flogged by many a women’s magazine on how to totally rid myself of proof of a winter spent eating M&S cottage pie in a mere three days.
Far from it; I’ve always looked to a trip as a chance to reinvent myself – albeit temporarily – as either some kind of free-spirited boho princess or neon-loving Miami party girl, and packed accordingly. I’ve then lived out the dream for all of six nights, generally in a cheap, polyester manifestation of it courtesy of an overstuffed rail in H&M. Polyester that it’s highly unlikely I’d wear again, I might add.
And why have I done it? Spent money I don’t have on things I don’t need for a jaunt that lasts no longer than a week? Escape, I guess. Fantasy. The promise that if you get your ensemble just right, then the alternate universe you’ve cast yourself in will seamlessly come together around you; holiday alchemy enabled by the perfect bikini. Truly finding yourself on beach in Bali – but only if you’re wearing exactly the right kind of hat. That’s the power of fashion, chaps. It can transport you to a different world, but also helps you stay firmly in the moment once you’re there. Silly? Perhaps. But I’d argue it’s also healing.
At least – it was. Those were the reasons I used to do those ill-advised shopping hauls. For me. For my little bubble. Where the pressure was less, the livin’ was easy, and the only person who would actively be judging my holiday pictures would be the bloke developing them in Boots. I didn’t care about looking cool, or cultured, or connected for the benefit of an internet full of strangers. I just wanted to get a tan and meet a boy.
Now, though? Now I pack because: photos. I go to restaurants because: photos. I jaywalk, cajole, annoy and do everything apart from chill out because: photos. My Instagram becomes a factory of smug where I don’t just eat cheese, I compulsively photograph it on a rooftop. I have willingly spent Dhs2,000 on a swimsuit that I know rides up my bum but will look good in a picture. In fact, according to The Guardian, ASOS estimates that only 70 per cent of the swimwear it sells is actually used for swimming.
So yes, all this may make me an example of everything that is broken in society, but I also certainly know I’m not alone. There are 79 million pictures hashtagged ‘holiday’ on Instagram. Granted, most of them are mine, but still – you do it too. Don’t pretend you’ve never suffered the undignified acrobatics of trying to get a photo on an inflatable flamingo. I see you.
Social media’s omnipresent, vice-like grasp has meant that now, the way we vaycay – and, by extension, shop, pack and even itinerate – is almost unrecognisable. Travelonline.com recently did a survey where 15 per cent of people said they choose their holiday destination by how it would look on social media. And, for me at least, it’s lead to mean that what should be a crucial, re-energising break is now a festival of competitive holidaymaking.
Case in point: as I type, I’m sitting in what could be described as the epicentre of an Insta-dream. I’m in a room at the Andaz on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Outside, palm trees sway against a startlingly blue LA sky. It’s a location so pivotal to rock’n’roll – Led Zeppelin drove motorbikes down the corridors, Jim Morrison was evicted for hanging off the 10th floor balcony by his fingers – that it’s putting me on edge. Why? Because simply sitting back and just being inspired by the history seems impossible. All I want to do is document it. I want to find the perfect corner, the perfect light. Do a selfie in the chair Lemmy wrote Motörhead in. Write the wittiest yet most nonchalant-sounding caption of my Insta-career. But – first and foremost – I want people to know I’m here. And that I look thin.
What once would have been a special experience is now wracked with anxiety. I’m living with constant FOMAP – fear of missing a picture – and spending far too much time thinking about angles and whether I’ve wasted the wrong outfit on the wrong place. Honestly, girls that do it for a living – fair play to you. You must be knackered. There’s a real art to capturing so much choreographed spontaneity, let me tell you.
There’s one critical difference, though. For them, it’s work. For me, it’s supposed to be a break. And the sooner I realise that, the sooner I can go back to eating cheese completely uninterrupted.