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Travel has had a terrible year – but I’m excited for a slower-paced future

Before all this, I used to pack in as many mini-breaks as I could. Now I can’t think of anything more stressful

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

This week is one year since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. To mark what we’re calling the Pandemiversary, Time Out is looking back at the past year in cities around the world, and ahead to what the future may hold.

My last holiday before the pandemic now feels like a distant dream. Paris, February 2020. It was a flying visit, just me and four pals. The main event: Stormzy, live at the Trianon – an unforgettable show. The next day, we traipsed around a museum in the Marais, knocked back a bitter espresso, marched straight back to the Eurostar terminal. And that was that. Our trip was over almost as soon as it began.

‘Just because.’ That phrase pretty much sums up my approach to travel in the Before Times. Everything was planned at the last minute. City break here, city break there. Cheap flight deal? Excellent, let’s go the weekend after next.

How damn, damn complacent I was. At this point, many of us may well struggle to remember what it’s like to holiday carefree, without thought as to the risk of lockdowns and quarantines and actually getting ill ourselves.

Here in the UK, for instance, all international leisure travel is banned for at least another two months. (Other countries have been even stricter: in Australia, Singapore and many other places, there has been literally zero international travel – for fun, anyway – for the last 12 months.)

Even on May 17, when the rules may lift here, there’s no telling whether I or anyone else will be able to go abroad without encountering the sort of restrictions that could totally ruin a holiday, nor whether we’d really want to chance it.

So is this end of spontaneity? The end of frivolity? The end of fun?

Well, one thing that’s certainly true of this past year is that it is possible to cope when we’ve got absolutely no plans: nothing to look ahead to, no scope for jumping into a spontaneous night out or a last-minute weekend away.

But 2020 also taught people like me that holidays can be different. They don’t have to involve rushing around, and they don’t have to pack in as many sights and activities and generally indulgent holiday stuff as possible.

Doing absolutely nothing seemed just as worth aspiring to as doing absolutely everything

I have a specific trip to thank for this realisation. In the brief period of time when it was possible to travel last summer, I did manage to get away, for a week, to a rural cottage in Cornwall. There I enjoyed unusual activities like ‘sitting in the garden’ and ‘walks’ and ‘spotting rare seabirds’. I spent hours cooking. I caught the train back and stared out the window for going on six hours.

Holidays could be relaxed, it struck me. Doing absolutely nothing seemed just as worth aspiring to as doing absolutely everything. Why had no one told me this before?

I’ve decided that I’m kind of into this slower pace of travel. The next time I get to properly go abroad, I’m going to do things this way. I’m going to plan well ahead and I’m going to go away for a long time: two weeks somewhere, not two days.

I might head somewhere far-flung I’ve always dreamed of going (Mexico, maybe, or Colombia). I’ll find an Airbnb in a rural village – stick there, get to know the place, really immerse myself in the culture. I’ll even get up to speed on Duolingo ahead of time so I can try and chat to people, rather than just flipping through an online phrasebook while waiting for the plane to take off.

Next time, I’m going to plan well ahead, go away for ages, actually get to know the place

I’ll seek out the best local food, but I won’t kick myself if not every dish is a corker. If I can, I’ll take the train: I miss the strangers across the carriage, the scenery flashing by, the meticulous choosing of travel snacks. Above all, I will be away, anywhere, in novel surroundings, and that will simply count for a lot. I know wholeheartedly that I will appreciate everything a heck of lot more.

But that’s all a way off. With options still very much limited, the only trip I’ve currently got planned isn’t quite as adventurous or novel as my new self might have hoped. In fact, it’s… a weekend jaunt to see Stormzy, this time at a British music festival.

Almost eighteen months to the day, I’ll hopefully be able to relive that night in Paris with pals – albeit, this time around, in the slightly less glamorous surroundings of Reading, just outside London. Maybe not much has changed this past year at all.

Find out more about the future of travel

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