All hail the great reopening! English residents can go on foreign holidays from Monday. To some fanfare, Boris Johnson’s government has announced a “green list” of countries from which holidaymakers will not need to quarantine when they return.
Don’t inflate your travel pillow just yet, though. The list is made up of just 12 countries and territories. They include: the Falklands Islands (return fare: £2,222), the Faroe Islands (maximum temperature this weekend: 7C), and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (only accessible in summer, by boat, and currently it’s winter). English summer holidays used to involve a stick of rock; this year they involve being stuck on a rock.
Another volcanic outcrop, St 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, aren’t accepting visitors. Singapore has reimposed a semi-lockdown. Now is not the time to flock to Israel/Jerusalem either.
Overall, the green list is the most underwhelming government set of names since the appointment of the cabinet. The only real options are Iceland, Gibraltar and Portugal. The latter might be off the list soon too. Wherever you go, there’s a non-negligible risk that your most memorable souvenir will be a Covid variant.
Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford has asked people to avoid travelling abroad for now. Amen. Who really needs a foreign summer holiday this year anyway? Not me. Rather than doing predictable things in foreign countries, I want to do unpredictable things in my own. I might go to watch a four-day county cricket match, or invite myself to stay with those friends who I lost contact with years ago. I might go cycling in East Anglia or glory in the pub prices north of Leeds, while watching Wimbledon and the Euros. Crumbs, I might even go to the National Gallery or a village fete. If there is any time to be a tourist in one’s own country, it is now.
You want to go abroad for the weather? Britain is plenty hot enough. Last August temperatures exceeded 34C for six consecutive days. You can’t guarantee sun on any particular day of the British summer but, thanks to climate change, there will be at least a couple of scorching weeks. You want a change of scene? The end of lockdown is enough of a change for me. Food? Show me the cuisine you can’t find.
Not so long ago, foreign travel was a rare luxury. Thanks to the easyJet era, it’s become a regular expectation. “Now you have a holiday of a lifetime three times a year,” as one man puts it, in the surprisingly touching BBC documentary The People Vs Climate Change. As foreign holidays have become more frequent, they’ve become detached from the cultural exchange that makes them interesting.
If only we’d realised holidays weren’t essential. Coronavirus has been a form of marshmallow test — an experiment of how far we can forgo short-term gratification for long-term gain. When the official inquiry happens, it will struggle to understand our impatience last year. Why did we open up tourism so rapidly in summer 2020, with minimal controls on foreign travel?
Foreign travel has been linked to the second wave of coronavirus in countries such as Scotland, Ireland and Germany. The UK transport secretary Grant Shapps was so desperate for foreign climes that he flew out 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. Travelling thousands of miles is not the answer to all stresses: it will never take you away from yourself.
There are things that many of us need a break from: Zoom, social media, our own cooking. Britain isn’t one of them. When you are tired of London, you may just be tired of air pollution. But when you are tired of Britain, you are just short of imagination.