Why holidays abroad are so overrated

Long live the grand reopening! English residents can go on holiday abroad from Monday. With fanfare, Boris Johnson’s government has announced a “green list” of countries whose holidaymakers will not need to quarantine on their return.

Do not inflate your travel pillow yet. The list is made up of only 12 countries and territories. They include: the Falkland Islands (return fare: £2,222), the Faroe Islands (max temp this weekend: 7C) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (only accessible in summer, by boat, and currently it is winter). The English summer holidays once involved a stick of rock; this year they involve being stuck on a rock.

Another volcanic outcrop, Saint Helena, is also on the green list, but remember Napoleon’s words“I should have stayed in Egypt.” Some other options, such as Australia and New Zealand, do not accept visitors. Singapore has reimposed a semi-confinement. This is also not the time to flock to Israel/Jerusalem.

Overall, the Green List is the government’s most disappointing set of names since the cabinet appointment. The only real options are Iceland, Gibraltar and Portugal. The latter could also soon disappear from the list. Wherever you go, there is a significant risk that your most memorable memory will be a Covid variant.

The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has asked people to avoid traveling abroad at this time. Amen. Who really needs a summer vacation abroad this year anyway? Not me. Rather than doing predictable things in foreign countries, I want to do unpredictable things at home. I could go see a four-day cricket match or invite myself to stay with those friends I lost contact with years ago. I could cycle in East Anglia or enjoy pub fare north of Leeds, while watching Wimbledon and the Euros. Crumbs, I could even go to the National Gallery or a village fete. If there was ever a time to be a tourist in your own country, it’s now.

Do you want to go abroad for the weather? Britain is warm enough. Last August, temperatures exceeded 34°C for six consecutive days. You can’t guarantee sunshine on any particular day in the UK summer but, thanks to climate change, there will be at least two scorching weeks. Want a change of scenery? The end of confinement is enough of a change for me. Food? Show me the kitchen you can’t find.

Not so long ago, traveling abroad was a rare luxury. Thanks to the easyJet era, this has become a regular expectation. ‘Now you have an unforgettable holiday three times a year’, as one man puts it, in the surprisingly touching BBC documentary The people against climate change. As holidays abroad have become more frequent, they have become detached from the cultural exchange that makes them interesting.

If only we had realized that vacations weren’t essential. The coronavirus has been a form of marshmallow testing – an experiment in how far we can give up short-term gratification for long-term gain. When the official inquiry takes place, it will be difficult to understand our impatience from last year. Why did we open tourism so quickly in the summer of 2020, with minimal controls on overseas travel?

Foreign travel has been linked to the second wave of coronavirus in countries including Scotland, Ireland and Germany. British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was so desperate for foreign climates that he flew to Spain two days before the Foreign Office advised against all non-essential travel to the country. We should have been more patient then, and we should recalibrate now. Traveling thousands of miles is not the answer to all stress: it will never take you away from yourself.

There are things many of us need to take a break from: Zoom, social media, our own cooking. Britain is not one of them. When you’re sick of London, you might be sick of air pollution. But when you’ve had enough of Britain, you run out of imagination.

henry.mance@ft.com

Comments are closed.