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When can UK travellers go on holiday again?

Here’s how UK travel rules and restrictions could change this year, and when we might be able to travel again – overseas or here in the UK

Huw Oliver

After the nightmare of the past year, we could all do with a lift to see us through this particularly grim start to 2021. As the UK lockdown lifts gradually over the coming months, wouldn’t it be nice to have a splashy holiday later in the year to look forward to?

Travel within the UK or overseas is currently banned, with non-essential journeys and overnight stays illegal under the third national lockdown. But the UK’s rollout of the vaccines is now well under way – and taking place much faster than many expected. This should definitely have us all feeling optimistic about things opening up sometime soon. So what can we expect?

When will we be allowed to travel abroad?

There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome before holidays beyond the UK become possible again. To start with, all non-essential overseas travel is currently banned, and these restrictions will not be lifted until at least May 17.

Even if we were able to travel right now, most destinations are currently requiring British travellers to quarantine. For any given country, it’s hard to say when such restrictions will be lifted – especially given the British origin of several new variants. (And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of infections rising and new restrictions being introduced in your chosen destination just as you’re packing your bags.)

There’s an extra barrier too now, with the UK itself introducing increasingly harsh border restrictions to curb the spread of new variants. You could even end up having to pay £1,750 per head to spend ten days in a ‘quarantine hotel’ on your return, if you’re travelling from a country identified as having new variants. Home secretary Priti Patel confirmed earlier this month that the list of such ‘red list’ countries will be updated on a weekly basis – meaning any destination could be added with very short notice.

Unless you’d happily spend that much to self-isolate in a hotel room after your week in the sun, that could mean that most foreign holidays are just not worth the risk this year. A government report looking at rebooting international travel will be published on April 12, and may provide some more clarity on specific destinations British travellers can visit this summer. But for now it’s probably safer to look within the UK for your summer holiday.

When will hotels and self-catering holidays reopen in the UK?

Domestic holidays are a much safer bet. Though government messaging around planning summer breaks in the UK has been confusing – health secretary Matt Hancock saying he’d booked his own trip to Cornwall one minute; transport secretary Grant Shapps saying no one should be booking trips the next – it seems we will be able to travel more widely within the country from April 12.

Today Boris Johnson set out his latest lockdown exit strategy, and confirmed that it will be possible to stay in self-catered accommodation again from that date. And as long as cases and infection rates continue to fall over the coming months, he said that hotels, hostels and B&Bs would also be allowed to open again from May 17. That means holidays in the UK should be on again just after spring and throughout the summer.

So should I book a summer holiday in the UK?

It’s worth noting that the most popular locations are already getting booked up for July and August – no doubt because, like last year, many people who’d normally go abroad will be taking a ‘staycation’ this year. So if you want to go on holiday this summer, it could be wise to start thinking about your plans sooner rather than later.

To help boost confidence, most accommodation providers are now offering flexible booking policies, to allow for risk-free trips. The Competition and Markets Authority also says you should be able to get a full refund if new restrictions foil your holiday plans. That makes it seem reasonable enough right now to go ahead and book, as long as you make sure you aren’t paying any non-refundable money upfront.

While our hopes could still be dashed – especially if the vaccine rollout falters or virulent new variants emerge in the UK – it appears we should all be pretty optimistic about a holiday at some point in 2021. And once you are finally able to go away, it’d be a real bummer to find that everywhere is booked up.

More news on the UK’s reopening:

When will shops reopen?

When will pubs and bars reopen?

When will restaurants reopen?

When will gyms reopen?

When will hairdressers reopen?

When can I take a day trip?

When will cinemas reopen?

When will hotels reopen?

When will campsites reopen?

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