With all the talk of overnight accommodation restrictions being eased, my FOMO grew strong. After four months within the same four walls, the desire to book a couple of nights away became all-encompassing. At the same time, there was trepidation. Our home had been our safe haven since mid-March. How could we be sure that any accommodation we booked would meet our standards? Where would we eat? What if we encountered crowds?
It’s natural to feel anxious as we consider our travel options. Some don’t feel comfortable travelling, and won’t for a while. Others have booked up foreign jaunts while they can. Many, like us, plan to travel in the UK only in 2020, close enough to home that we can return without too much bother should situations change.
One of the most important things is planning. The destinations you choose may not be fully back to pre-COVID strength. Attractions, restaurants, museums etc. may all have different opening hours to those on their website, and some may not be open at all. If something is important to you to see or do, check their social media.
(I may have messaged a gin bar on Facebook to see if they were planning on extending their opening hours in time for our mid-August visit. I may also have been prepared to move our travel dates in order to visit).
Have a contingency plan, especially for bad weather. A UK beach holiday can be wonderful in the right weather, or a complete washout. And also don’t forget to check local guidelines if you are travelling to a different country within the UK as restrictions are easing at different times.
We’ve taken the decision to use this year’s annual leave quote on lots of short UK mini-breaks. The UK tourism industry has been hit hard by shutdown, particular in some of the destinations which usually attract the most foreign tourists, such as London, Edinburgh, Bath, the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon.
More families will replace their annual foreign trip with travel to a UK destination instead. But this may also affect your choice. We don’t feel comfortable just yet booking anywhere that may be overwhelmed with crowds. So we’ve chosen rural areas instead of the beach. Small villages instead of cities. Places where we can indulge our love of independent shopping and sampling the local produce. Taking pleasure in simple things like riverside strolls and ambling through the countryside rather than heading for popular spots where social distancing may be more difficult.
We’ve also chosen to take our annual leave rather than use our weekends – after all, we have plenty to take with the days clawed back from our cancelled Japan trip. This means that we can take mini-breaks mid-week, avoiding the peak weekend times, particularly over the summer break.
In my blog post “The Future Of Travel (and Tentatively Making Plans)” I discussed how accommodation options may change. And so far, we plan to self-cater in cottages, caravans and (train) carriages in 2020. For our recent Shropshire getaway, we decided to book an Airbnb, mainly because having our own space was important to us and it meant no awkward communal areas to navigate.
I wrote about our experience at The Skyloft here.
AirBnB introduced an Enhanced Cleaning Protocol prior to the hospitality industry opening up in July. With stringent cleaning and sanitation processes, hosts who commit to this will have this added to their listing. There is also a “Booking Buffer” available which allows hosts 72 hours between bookings in order to complete thorough cleaning activity. This may also mean a later check-in and earlier check-out time. Most hosts will be happy for you to drop them a message beforehand to check anything you may have questions about.
We selected The Skyloft because of of its location, surrounded by countryside, and we were quietly confident that the area wouldn’t be crowded by others. There was everything we needed for a no human contact break if that was what we were seeking. There were even the details of local takeaways should we decide to eat in rather than out.
Always thinking of my next meal, we took plenty of supplies with us on our break. If you do plan to self-cater, opt for an accommodation with a well-equipped kitchenette. On this occasion, there were no cooking facilities, only a fridge but for two nights this wasn’t a priority for us. If I were having a longer break I would probably arrange either a supermarket delivery or click & collect on the way.
Before our trip, I’d checked Google Maps to identify our closest pubs and restaurants. I used social media to check which ones were open, and what their guidelines were with regards to opening time and reservation policy. The Stiperstones Inn was a short drive away from the Skyloft, and I pre-booked a table for the night of our arrival as recommended on their Facebook page.
When we rocked up, we were asked if we wanted to be seated in the lounge or the dining room. After eating alone for the past four months we chose the lounge, and we were seated well away from the two couples already in there. All waiting staff wore visors, there were screens up at the bar and our contact details were taken. Three weeks later, we haven’t heard from them, which can only be a good sign.
Feeling safe there, we returned to eat at Stiperstones Inn on the following night. This time we had no problems being seated as a walk-in customer, and we chose the lounge once more. A quick walk through the dining room to the toilets showed it was empty, although there were a few parties in the small beer garden.
Gazing out of our Airbnb over at the Welsh Hills, we almost felt like the world was normal again. Visiting a ridiculously quiet tourist town like Ludlow reminded us however that some things are still far from normal. Cafes and restaurants that would usually be bustling had shut up shop by mid-afternoon.
It felt good to be travelling again, even if it was only 70 miles up the road. It felt good to do something we love and had missed dreadfully. The weather didn’t play ball unfortunately, so long evening walks in the countryside were replaced with Father Ted reruns on the telly. We revelled in the luxury of just being somewhere different after four months of lockdown. A change of scenery.
Well, I’m not planning on getting on a plane anytime soon. Whilst I appreciate that foreign tourism is the lifeblood for some countries, I think borders have been opened too soon. Travel exacerbated COVID-19, and until this pesky virus is gone or is no longer considered a risk (any more so than any bug you might pick up travelling) I’m not sure that international travel will be an option for me. Travel should be relaxing and stress-free, not fraught with anxiety.
Just because you can travel doesn’t mean you should. Rules and guidelines are changing all the time – you only have to look at the recent changes to Spanish travel to see that. So saying – you do you. If you’re allowed to travel, and you have considered all scenarios, and the possible impact, then go for it.
Replacing international travel with local travel will hopefully give us – and others – even more of an appreciation for the UK and all it can offer us. And already we have more UK mini breaks planned, to Wales, Cornwall, Norfolk, the Peak District and to the North Yorkshire coast for Christmas. This may well be the first year in 20 years that I haven’t touched down on foreign shores. And I’m surprisingly okay with that.