When our homeland remains undiscovered, it’s time for domestic travel
Some years ago, long before Covid, a taxi driver told me that she didn’t go on holiday abroad because she enjoyed being a tourist at home. Each week she would choose a place of historic interest or local beauty, and read everything she could about it. Then, on her day off, she and her husband would visit their chosen destination ‘as if they were on holiday’. And somewhat prophetically, she recommended I try it.
Widespread accessibility of overseas holidays is a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, only the upper classes could afford overseas travel. Indeed, it was a tradition for young men of affluent backgrounds to take the Grand Tour – a chaperoned trip across Europe – when they came of age. But for the working classes, overseas holidays did not become a reality until the mid-20th century. Paid holiday leave did not become a legal right for workers until 1939. During the first half of the 20th century people would save all year for seaside breaks, and with the advent of package holidays and holiday camps in the 1930s, the British beach holiday became a national pastime.
The 1970s heralded a time of great social and economic change. Amid these changes there emerged new attitudes to travel and increased demand for overseas holiday destinations. The emergence of low cost airlines, coupled with increasingly affordable accommodation, opened up the world of foreign travel to a broader UK market. The overseas holiday became a mainstay of British culture and by the millennium millions of us were travelling abroad each summer. Our hunger for foreign travel seemed insatiable; according to the Office for National Statistics, UK residents made 58.7 million holiday visits abroad in 2019.
MACKAYAN: HOLIDAYING AT HOMETweet
Then came Covid. The shock advent of the pandemic signalled an unprecedented downturn for the seemingly indestructible travel industry. Fear of the virus, financial uncertainties, travel restrictions, and rapidly changing quarantine legislation have resulted in massive losses in both income and jobs. And in its wake, we have seen a boom in the popularity of staycations and domestic holidays.
Through staycations, we are rediscovering what previous generations once knew: that adventure is never far from the beaten track, and that beauty and tranquillity can be found on our own doorstep.
Through domestic tourism, the stress associated with long distance travel is reduced, holidays are inexpensive, and spending benefits the local economy. Environmentally, the carbon footprint is far lower than that of overseas travel. But we have also seen negative environmental and cultural impact, with reports of fly-tipping, littering, and disturbance to wildlife and local residents. Last year’s environmental protests appear forgotten; the pandemic has averted our gaze from environmental concerns at a time a renewed focus is needed to protect the world on our own doorstep. We need to look to the principles of ecotourism, to promote positive experiences whilst also finding ways to minimise the physical, behavioural, environmental and social impact of staycations and domestic travel. The UK is part of the world and not separate to it, and as with more far flung destinations, we are reminded of the words of Chief Seattle, “Take only memories. Leave only footprints”.