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  • Rachael Unsworth

Staycation, save lives and the planet

Updated: May 18

A late April Ipsos Mori poll suggested that the UK public was very cautious about lifting lockdown. Seventy per cent said they didn't want it lifted until the virus is 'fully contained'. Seventy one per cent said they'd be 'nervous' about leaving home even if it was.

As a geographer, I’m horrified by the differential effects of the virus across society. But I can’t help being fascinated by the impacts on patterns of daily life and the potential to reconfigure the way we live in future. There are some high probabilities and some hopes.

One outcome in the former category is that a rapid and complete return to pre-COVID19 levels of foreign holidays looks unlikely. Many households will be unable to afford such luxuries and yet more will be put off by the potential dangers of being cooped up in airports, aircraft, a hotel or cruise liner. There will also be some enduring fear of being marooned far from home in the event of a sudden re-imposition of travel bans. All this is on top of a trend towards greater awareness of the environmental implications of increasing levels of global mobility and a swell of support for not returning to the most damaging aspects of pre-pandemic behaviour.

Territories that manage to get on top of the virus will not want to risk opening up to anyone, let alone holidaymakers. Many countries have banned incoming non-nationals. Some potential destinations will insist on health checks and/or quarantine for some time to come. Tourists might bring welcome income but also a completely unwelcome resurgence of infection.

How would holidays even work? Would you want to be in a Plexiglas cage on an Italian beach, as has been proposed as a solution to distancing? Would you want to stand in an even longer (distance and time) queue for a museum? You wouldn’t be able to go up the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower because lifts won’t be viable. A show won’t be on the itinerary because theatres won’t be able to function safely. Even open air cafés (Vilnius is being bold) and restaurants will struggle to convince customers that there is an acceptably low risk of infection from staff and fellow diners.

Cooped up home birds may long to spread their wings, just as businesses dependent on tourists may be keen to welcome them back, but it’s not going to be easy to return to jetting around the poor old Earth and enjoying ourselves with ease and in safety when we get there.

An alternative is for households to go exploring on foot or by bike, in countryside or town, on day trips. It’s already got a name: ‘staycationing’. The pandemic version would mean that as well as still sleeping at home, you travel independently to a destination on some of your days off work, taking drinks and food with you. Don’t touch anything apart from sanitised toilet facilities, where you wash your hands well. Enjoy a break from routine, a change of scene and learn about areas that you’ve repeatedly rushed past on your way to the airport.

If you do stay away from home for a weekend, a week or a fortnight (that uniquely British stretch of time) you'll be likely to rent well cleaned self-catering accommodation. You'll go to open-air visitor attractions that will restrict entry on timed tickets – much like museums and galleries have to do to limit crowding. Avoiding crowds and queues, you'll go to wide open spaces on coasts or hills, and walk the streets of towns and cities.

Ah yes – including the streets of Leeds. So it turns out that what I offer will be potentially appealing to many people who might lack the usual range of options and had not previously thought of learning about the city where they live, or that’s just up the road. I cover a wide range of routes and topics which have already been enjoyed by many locals. Arranging a private tour for a small group is an option.

Optimism is still my only underlying condition. Hoping to welcome you soon.


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