The sadness of what happened in Tunisia will stay with Ipswich travel agent caught up in devastating terrorism attack

The beach at Sousse

The beach at Sousse - Credit: Archant

It is not just because of our own soaring temperatures that travel and holidays have been a hot topic of late, writes travel agent Andrea Powell.

The markets of Tunisia are popular with tourists

The markets of Tunisia are popular with tourists - Credit: Archant

With the shootings in Sousse, the Greek debt situation and the knock-on effect on pricing and availability that these two events have had on ‘safer’ short haul destinations such as Spain and Portugal, holidaymakers can be forgiven for wondering where to go and what to do this summer.

And it has been quite a time for our own agency

My newest member of staff, Charlotte had been with us less than two weeks before she left for Tunisia on the Wednesday.The excitement before she left was palpable.

We had the fashion show of new dresses and shoes, the debate over which of the eight bikinis to take with her (we were spared the fashion show of that, fortunately – and the answer was all eight) and even the fake tanning to make sure she was already ‘tanned’ so as not to show herself up when she arrived looking lily white.

Charlotte in Tunisia

Charlotte in Tunisia - Credit: Archant

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As we laughed and joked about not drinking too many cocktails and how to decide which bikini to wear each day, the forthcoming events in Sousse were inconceivable.

I remember the moment I found out.

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It was an email from Hubby: “There has been a terrorist attack in Sousse. People have been killed.”

He had just let me know in case I had customers there.

Camels walking on the sands

Camels walking on the sands - Credit: Archant

My heart stopped momentarily. I needed to find out the hotel. Email came back. “Imperial Marhaba”.

Going ice cold I had convinced myself it was the one. I couldn’t wait for an email reply this time – telephoning him instantly instead.

Fortunately, Hubby had done his homework and quickly establishing the exact name of the hotel, I realised she was staying close but elsewhere.

I knew there may still be a chance that she had been caught up in trouble but there was relief that it was not THE hotel.

Along with other staff members, we wished she would just phone – to let us know everything was alright.

As if telepathic, my mobile went. It’s her, it’s her I announced.

Upon hearing that she was OK, there was further relief. We then focused on establishing email contact and at the same time contacting our suppliers to get arrangements in place for an early return home.

An hour or so later and we had sorted a flight and transfers for Sunday.

That evening as Hubby and I sat at home, watching on the television in the comfort of our lounge, we still felt quite uneasy.

These pictures had taken on a different context and seemed all the more real, knowing someone who was still there.

And it also seemed like a long weekend. Sunday came and I kept frantically checking the time. OK she should have been picked up by now.

And now at the airport. And now the plane has taken off. And now she should have landed.

Getting to work on Monday, we had an anxious wait before the familiar face strolled through the door later that morning. It was so good to see her and her boyfriend back safe and sound.

For all of us here, the outcome was a good one. For other people though, some living in Suffolk, we have all sadly learned that the story did not have such a happy ending.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that at present many holidaymakers have a heightened feeling of risk as to where they will consider going.

For others, as we also saw on our television screens, they remain determined not to let the terrorists win out and want instead to support the country affected.

So who is right?

The answer is clearly both.

As a travel agent, I spend all of my time booking holidays – often to exotic and exciting destinations. Some of them to so-called ‘risky’ areas even. And I myself have had the opportunity for several once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

But whatever your views, my advice remains unchanged.

Holidays are about those special moments. Just spending time with those closest to you. Yes, there is no denying that when cruising Antarctica for example, the ‘wow’ is all around.

But equally, within my Top 10 Holiday Moments, at least a handful are holidays spent here in the UK, some just a few miles from home.

For me it is indeed about the sights you see, maybe the foods you taste or the sounds you hear. But more than all of that, it is also about the more personal experiences you have.

Maybe a special smile from your son or daughter, the joke that you shared with your partner that had you doubled in laughter.

Above all, a holiday is an escape from the norm. A chance to live a little. Irrespective of how far you may travel.

So this year, wherever you go and whatever you do, be sure to come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. But above all, as the memories begin to fade and ‘Real Life’ takes over once more, cling onto that Special Moment – because no-one can take that away from you.

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