The world is opening up again. Well, bits of the world. And it’s got me thinking about where I want to go over the next few months. Read on for my opinion piece and scroll down to the bottom for some recommended destinations…
On Friday, UK quarantine rules were relaxed for holidaymakers and returning citizens travelling via so-called ‘air corridors’ or ‘air bridges’ from 59 countries.
Countries on the list include many European neighbours (though Portugal’s a glaring exception) as well as some long haul destinations including New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.
Following this news, and as the travel industry asks us to travel further and wider, I’ve been asking myself something: should I stay or should I go? Do I give in to travel FOMO or join the UK staycation conga line? And if I stay in the UK, where do I really want to go?
I decided to look at both sides and weigh up my options…
Part I: travelling abroad
The UK government’s air bridges are one thing, but each country has its own rules. In Iceland for example visitors must take a test or quarantine for 2 weeks, and for others the relaxation of rules applies only to its citizens or those with visas. New Zealand immigration states that its border is ‘currently closed to almost all travellers wanting to travel by either air or sea’.
Meanwhile, news of what travelling abroad is actually like at the moment has been mixed.
Alongside reports of reduced numbers on flights, breezy check-ins and empty iconic landmarks, there have been less than welcome stories and headlines in the past few days: ‘Brits left sleeping on beaches after hotels found closed’, Italian beaches labelled a ‘paradise from hell’ as social distancing struggles to be upheld, huge traffic jams heading for Croatia, just as it announced a record number of infections.
And yet. There’s just nothing quite like the pull of a faraway, remote or just ‘different’ destination. If rules permit, it seems inevitable that more of us will consider heading abroad for whatever escapism we can find, whether we’re tempted by booking offers and refund promises or a bad case of cabin fever and itchy feet.
On Friday i paper reported on an Office for National Statistics survey detailing that less than 10% of UK adults are likely to travel abroad in the coming months. However, those who have so far made it abroad report tourist numbers more like April than July.
It’s a tantalising prospect, a beautiful beach or world famous landmark like the Alhambra fortress in Granada almost to yourself..
Part II: staying in the UK
In the same survey, around a quarter of adults said they would be going on holiday in the UK. That still leaves a significant chunk of the UK population who are either undecided or resolute that they will stay put. Which is very worrying for the UK hospitality and travel industry, already on its knees.
However, some areas of the industry are doing well. Cottages and campsites have reported big upsurges in bookings since late June, with numerous companies reporting selling out until September. Many travel operators have needed extra time to prepare following the recent changes in government policy, which means we’ll see more availability and opportunities to travel. And as for England’s beaches…
My first post-lockdown foray to the coast was a cliff top walk between Weymouth and Lulworth in June. We struck lucky with gorgeous weather and the walk was fairly quiet most of the way. A glorious picnic on White Nothe cliff and a speedy zigzag down the steep Smuggler’s Trail, completely alone. Alone, that is, until we reached the bustling beach around Durdle Door. This was days before thousands descended on the beach, an event that launched a thousand articles on the resulting abusive behaviour and bad toilet habits.
But there’s more to the South West than a couple of insanely popular tourist hotspots. The same goes for the UK as a whole. It’s just about doing your research and getting there. The journey, not just the destination. And for me, it’s a journey that may solely rely on public transport, as I don’t drive.
But, hey, I like a challenge.
I started today torn between two travel mindsets. Fearing that I’m missing out on an opportunity to discover countries in a way I probably won’t be able to again – and the same feat that I’ll miss a golden opportunity right here in the UK.
Traditional holiday destinations outside the UK need our support, but I think we have all come through lockdown more appreciative of what’s just beyond our doorsteps. There is a true excitement to exploring our own home turf, whether we find ourselves living in familiar lands, or distant.
There is a massive opportunity, too, to assess our personal impact on the planet and climate. Slower travel, like slower living, is more desirable than ever before, and I do think there is already a tidal shift in our attitudes towards reducing our carbon footprint.
Right now, the allure of what’s closest to home is strongest for me. Which is handy because I’ll be in East Sussex visiting family next week! Coastal walks, wildlife, outdoor swimming, fish and chips. Heaven.
I’ll tell you my plans for 2021 another time…
On the wish list
Galway is 2020 European Capital of Culture and it’s such a blow that a lot of their quality programming can’t go ahead, although they have permission and funding granted to extend into 2021. I had to cancel my May visit, but I hope to rebook and still make it there.
Can you sense a running theme?!
And some of my favourite wild places
They’re close enough to the mainland that you can spend a week or less exploring, which will never feel like enough time! On Mull you can live among soaring golden eagles, join a marine life boat tour and visit the basalt rock splendour of Staffa, or wander around peaceful Iona with its 1,500 year old Abbey.
I wrote a bit more about Mull in a piece on Awesome Island Getaways a few years back.
Best time: September
Running 80 Roman miles long and dating back to AD 122, Hadrian’s Wall makes for spectacular walking, perhaps especially when the landscape and weather is moody, stormy. If you’re not sure where to start, Milecastle 37 is one of the best preserved guarding gateways and this walk takes you to the famous Sycamore Gap tree that features in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. And you’ll find walks along wilder sections of the wall here.
Best time: Autumn-Winter (for extra breathtaking)
The best walking in the South West, and England’s only World Heritage Site. Skirt the more crowded spots of Durdle Door, Bournemouth beach and and Lyme Regis (great as they are). Aim instead for the walk between Osmington Mills and White Nothe (which starts at the brilliant Smugglers Inn pub), which includes the steep descent and ascent of the smugglers’ path, if you’re feeling brave. Or the Isle of Portland is wonderfully windswept, and for a beach I recommend Chesil Beach on the other side of Weymouth to Durdle Door. It’s way less touristy and far bigger.
Best time: all year
Everyone will have their own favourite corners of Cornwall and for me, the stretch of cliffs and crags known as the Penwith Heritage Coast has some magnificently memorable areas. From Portcurno beach and the famous open air Minack Theatre to the beautiful countryside around St Just and the quiet heritage of the Geevor Tin Mine. One day I’m keen to get to Lizard Point, Britain’s most southerly tip.
Best time: all year