There can be few characters in English literature who are worthier of our compassion than the wedding guest who is cornered by Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. The "greybeard loon" is hell-bent on recounting his adventures in faraway places and the hapless guest "cannot choose but hear".
For 138 stanzas the guest has to stand and pretend to listen. He tries not to yawn too often and gazes longingly into his well-drained wine-glass, a victim of that summer malady, the traveller's tale. He should be a dire warning to all of us never to utter those lethal words, "Been anywhere nice on your holiday?" At least, the wedding guest wasn't subjected to snap shots or the 180-minute video compilation - but you might not be so lucky.
The only antidote to someone else's holiday anecdote is to have a tale of your own to tell. The moment you are fixed by that "glittering eye", be ready to mount a counter-attack. When your tormentor pauses for breath, launch into your own reminiscences of golden beaches, local brews, romantic sunsets, wily natives, chronic couriers and Heathrow horrors. In order to have enough to talk about, it's important to choose your holiday destination wisely, and the obvious first step is the Internet.
Whatever you want - brochures, gazetteers, maps, lists of hotels, photographs, contacts, timetables, hints, phrase books, - you'll find them here. If you attempted to read a fraction of the free information on offer, you'd never have time to take a holiday again. I doubt if there is a tourist organisation anywhere that isn't using the Internet to attract visitors.
The Internet is ideal for the intrepid explorer, but if you don't plan on anything more adventurous than a cottage in the Lake District or a day out at a National Trust property, it's well worth getting on-line before getting in the car. If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do, go to Yahoo or any of the other search engines, type in a suitable key word - "holiday", "travel", "hotel", "wind-surfing", "bungee-jumping" etc - and be amazed by the wealth of data that's available and which, unlike printed material, is always up-to-date.
I'll offer an example. I have to go to Luxembourg for a week. There's precious little about the country in my local library and nothing in Dillon's. So I turned to the Internet and within 20 minutes I had filled two double-density floppies with information. As well as all the offical tourist information, there are sites compiled by individuals offering the refreshingly unofficial point of view. There are also dozens of individual Web sites hosted by hotels, towns, tourist traps and sundry musees de this, that and the other. I was disappointed that there wasn't more on the Duchy's gastronomic specialities. But, I suppose when your national dishes include fierkelsjhelli (jellied suckling pig) and kuddelfleck (boiled tripe) it's wise not to go into too much detail. I don't know how to cram two floppy discs into seven days, but I'll try. If you ever see me at a wedding, I'd advise you to stay well clear.