In it for the long-haul

In it for the long-haul

Forget bargain breaks an hour away - these days, travellers are increasingly discovering the joys of flying to distant shores and holidaying in an out-of-the-way part of the world. Whether it's exploring bazaars in the Middle East or backpacking through south-east Asia, there's a dream destination for everyone beyond the confines of Europe.

The rise and rise of far-flung holidays

There was once a time when most Britons would be perfectly happy holidaying in France, Spain or even the likes of Blackpool year in, year out. But recent years have seen a boom in the availability of reasonably priced flights to all kinds of destinations, giving travellers more options when booking their annual break.

It might also be reasonable to assume that the recent explosion in people from far-off countries visiting the UK has also sparked a small revolution in where we travel to, with no less than 8.1 million people flying to our rainy island from overseas in the last three months of 2006, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Coupled with the generally better currency exchange rates found outside of the eurozone, improved access to information about distant climes via the television, travel books and guides and the internet, and potentially being able avoid the crowds that pack onto Spain's beaches every summer, it's no wonder that holidaymakers now have a thirst for the exotic - the ONS says that a significant 17.2 million Brits hopped on a flight overseas between October and December.

What's out there?

So what kind of destinations do travellers look to when searching for the perfect long-haul break? Looking east, the tantalising shores of India, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Singapore, China and the United Arab Emirates beckon. If you fancy heading west, you have the likes of the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and the Caribbean to explore. There's no end of choices for those wanting an altogether different holiday experience - the only problem is settling on just one.

Many people like to settle for where they are likely to feel most comfortable. The USA, Canada, Australia and the Caribbean are 'safe' options because they are mostly English-speaking countries and the day-to-day lives of the local residents are likely to be relatively close to your own. Of course, each of these destinations have their own 'foreign' elements that make them especially exciting, but if you want to jump out of your comfort zone completely it might be better to head to somewhere like the Middle East.

This region offers lush beaches, ancient landmarks and sites of historical importance, and a host of religious and cosmopolitan festivals and events to entertain all the family. The biggest draws in the Middle East at the moment are probably the big city lights of Dubai and the resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, but don't be afraid to wander into more intriguing territory such as Jordan with its stunning scenery and age-old temples, or Yemen and its majestic palaces and impressive mountains.

Elsewhere, South Africa is fast becoming a favourite for those setting their holiday sights a bit further afield. Tourists can't help but be attracted to the vibrant atmosphere of Cape Town and the rest of the country has much to offer animal and nature lovers with a host of parks, reserves and safari opportunities. The country is also hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup - the ideal break for football fans and anyone who wants to be where the party is.

The other side of the world

Asia has always been a big temptation for those wanting a truly exotic experience. Everything about it - the food, the languages, the architecture, the people - is hugely different to life in the western hemisphere and is therefore one of the best options for a long-haul holiday. While the region has become increasingly modern over the past few decades - take the likes of Tokyo and Beijing for example - it still retains a unique sense of ancient history and mystique that cannot be found anywhere else.

Key places to visit in Asia include the Goa region of India, where the weather is at its best between November and February, Singapore for its complex mixture of the old and the new in its buildings and festivals, Malaysia for its melting pot of Malay, Indian and Chinese elements, and the backpackers' favourite, Thailand.

While Thailand has something of a reputation for being the place to visit if you're young and almost penniless, holidaymakers with a bit more cash in their wallets can enjoy a range of different holiday experiences in the country. As the most popular destination in south-east Asia, Thailand offers something for everyone - it has sweeping scenery, crumbling temples, huge national parks, mile upon mile of beaches and forward-looking cities where you can be sure to find an event on most days of the year.

Down under

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Australasia is another popular choice for UK holidaymakers, due to its sizzling summers, cosmopolitan cities and vast outback. Australia itself draws the majority of travellers to the region every year, but don't dismiss New Zealand just yet - it has seen a recent spike in visits from overseas due to the massive amount of publicity generated by scenic shots of locations such as Waikato, Wellington, Queenstown and Ruapehu in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy - and there's a lot more where that came from.

Back to Australia, the obvious options are the big, buzzing cities - Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, for example - but with its immense natural landscape encompassing rainforests, sandy beaches, deserts and snow-capped mountains, holidaymakers should get the most out of their break by heading for the less trodden path and seeing where they end up.

Still not sure?

Probably the biggest thing putting most people off from switching their annual holiday from the Costas to the Middle East is the money factor. Long-haul holidays have always been perceived as significantly pricey compared with their short-haul counterparts, but this needn't be the case in every instance.

Flight costs are coming down all the time and with major airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic recently announcing the expansion of their long-haul fleets, the multitude of travel options continues to grow - bringing prices down with them.

In addition, the strength of the pound compared with the likes of the US dollar and the Thai baht means that once you're actually there you can get by on very little. The Royal Bank of Scotland conducted research last year that found distant destinations tend to have a much more favourable rate against the British pound than the euro - reason enough to begin looking into long-haul breaks immediately.