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  • Writer's pictureImogen Hall

What trips can we plan for 2021?

This is the time of year when you start to plan where you will go in the summer, often with the aim of securing some sun. In fact, it was January last year that my Family Travel Handbook (published by Lonely Planet) was published, specifically timed to tap into the market of families planning their year’s travel with their kids. Brilliant timing that turned out to be.

Fast forward to January 2021 and if you are anything like us the need to plan something, both to give some semblance of normality (this is what we do in January when the nights are long) and to have something to look forward to, is deep-seated and powerful. But, in the ever-evolving pandemic world we now live in, what should we book and how should we do it and should we even be booking anything?

As I write we are in lockdown in the UK and just last week government ministers were telling us all that we were going to have to holiday at home this summer. While this particular instruction may change, there is no doubt that the pandemic is going to continue to impact international travel throughout 2021 and it’s unclear when and how any sort of normality will emerge. If you are yearning to get away from good old Blighty this is a depressing state of affairs. But wait! Hope is not lost. Here is what we’ve planned, and why.

Make the most of domestic, and do it now

Based on last year, domestic travel should resume in the late spring or early summer, making some sort of break AWAY FROM YOUR HOME possible by the school summer holidays at least.

Most accommodation options now offer pretty flexible cancellation policies (for example, all the places we have booked via Airbnb this week are offering cancellation 24hrs before the start date) so there’s nothing to lose in terms of booking somewhere. However, with many people carrying bookings over from last year and a lot of savvy travellers having already booked, availability is decreasing fast especially for perennially popular destinations like Devon,Cornwall, Norfolk and all-inclusive sites such as Centre Parcs and Hoseasons. Being creative with where you go and how you do it can pay dividends. Northumberland, Lincolnshire and parts of Yorkshire don’t get the visitor numbers of other parts of England but that doesn’t mean they offer any less in turns of new places to explore - and actually in a Covid world the fewer fellow tourists you are fighting to get that breathtaking view of the sea or that long-promised ice cream with the better.

Within the realm of domestic holidays, although it’s realistic to think things will be fairly open by the summer, it’s worth noting that the different nations have different approaches to Covid restrictions. If you live in England, remember that last year travel was restricted in Scotland and Wales for longer than it was in England.

Lastly, while the inclination might be to book self-catering places with top-notch cleaning arrangements, it’s worth remembering that hotels also have adapted to the brave new world we will live in. Most have stringent hygiene regimes and policies in place to minimise contact such as the way luggage is handled (or not, now) and how food is served (bye bye to that great institution, the hotel buffet). As we’ve all been stuck in groundhog day preparing meals day-in-day-out the idea of staying somewhere where you don’t have to work is certainly appealing.

So far we’ve booked a few days in a cottage near my folks in Yorkshire at Easter (highly optimistic), we’ve rebooked our May half-term plans from 2020 which involved some family history exploration in Cornwall (cautiously optimistic) and we’re very excited to have snagged a converted barn in the Peaks for a break with another family and a mid-range cottage in the Lakes with a private beach no less for August (both realistic, we hope).

We are also looking forward to a weekend of camping and a vaccine-dependent multi-generational bank holiday extended family gathering. It’s natural that families are going to want to come together after so long apart but it will be interesting to see how big-group dynamics play out when everyone has got out of practice.

So remember:

  • Get a wriggle on if you’ve not booked yet

  • Champion the underdogs of British tourism and try somewhere most other people won’t

  • Consider staying within your specific nation of the UK if you want to maximise the chance of being able to go

  • Good hotels have very robust hygiene measures in place and may give you more options than self-catering

If you are looking for inspiration, there have been a number of articles in the travel press but we particularly liked the Guardian’s 30 UK cottages and campsites to book now, although we suspect most will now be booked.

Last thought on this, if you can’t quite bring yourself to book something yet, why not start a list of day trips you would like to take once we’re allowed to move around a bit more freely? Under our current circumstances a day of exploring someone new is as restorative and stimulating as jumping on a plane to somewhere that you need a passport to enter.

If you want to get to Europe, be prepared to be flexible

After so much time at home and on British soil, the holy grail for a holiday may feel like it exists literally just on the other side of the Channel. But will we ever get there in 2021?

It’s hard to tell. You can tie yourself up in knots trying to work out how vaccine passports will work, when quarantine hotels will be introduced and which travel corridors are likely to open and shut. Instead, we humbly suggest that, based on our experience last year, the key is to be flexible and take advantage of the opportunity to get to Europe as and when it arises.

Booking a last-minute flight to Venice in August 2020 felt like a leap of faith and we have to admit to being nervous when telling people what we had done. We also spent the intervening couple of weeks anxiously watching the Covid cases in Italy and wondering if we had done the wrong thing. In our case the risk paid off, the reward was three days exploring one of the world’s most beautiful cities with our children and without the usual cruise ship crowds. A true highlight in an otherwise dismal year, and something we would never have done under usual circumstances.

First glimpse of a city built on canals, August 2020

The impact on our plans for this year is that we’re keeping a couple of weeks in the school holidays free and will keep our eyes firmly on the situation, and book if we can. We’re not expecting to go particularly far as you need to be able to get back relatively easily at short notice if necessity requires and we wouldn’t plan to go for a particularly long trip. Based on last year our comfort levels were better with a short sharp burst of the continent, knowing that we were more in control if the numbers suddenly soared. And there is no doubt we were lucky: we took the sleeper from Venice to Vienna and flew out of Vienna a week before the travel corridor between the UK and Austria, which had previously seemed unshakeable, was swiftly removed as Austria saw a rapid rise in cases (from having had one of the lowest rates in Europe).

This may not be the year to set your heart on your dream destination or wow accommodation option, but it is the year to be ready to take a risk, be rewarded by visiting somewhere you might not have planned to, and - reality check here - be prepared for it not to happen.

Know your comfort levels: airlines have put in place excellent cleaning regimes, rules for customers in terms of masks, queues and so on, and also worked on issues such as circulating air and so on, but if you are going to worry the whole time that an aeroplane is a festival of Covid just waiting to happen it’s not worth it. Living in the UK we are lucky enough to be able to drive or take the train so make the most of these options. However you travel sanitiser and wipes always were your family’s friend but this was never more the case.

Get planning for long haul in 2022

You might be keen to rebook those milestone holidays to New York or Australia that you had planned for 2020, or maybe just maybe you have some money to burn after all this time spent at home and fancy a holiday of a lifetime to make up for everything we’ve missed. And maybe just maybe you might be allowed and feel confident enough to do these trips towards the end of 2021. But in reality it’s going to be tricky to mentally commit to a big trip, with all the expenditure and planning that involves when you are taking a family.

We are definitely keen to do a ‘big’ trip again and we are lucky enough to be able to afford to do so, but we’re not booking anything for this year. Instead we will use the time to research and consider options and then plan something slightly mind-blowing and in the true spirit of YOLO (albeit with a focus on sustainability) for 2022. Who’s with us?

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