“Abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends,” according to Nancy Mitford’s Uncle Matthew, who shared the sentiment with King George V, or possibly George VI (a similar line is attributed to both of them).

Of course, a substantial chunk of the British population has always had a taste for xenophobia, to the degree that quite of few of them are willing to apply it to fellow countrymen who happen to live more than a few hundred yards away. Even those free of this tendency, however, may be tempted to mull over what there is to be said for it, since there isn’t much abroad abroad, as it were.

There is the exciting “green list” of about 10 countries that the UK government will let us travel to, though that’s no guarantee that the countries themselves will. But the choice is limited. You can go to St Helena, the South Sandwich Islands and the Falklands, but in Europe your options are Iceland, Gibraltar or Portugal.

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No doubt more places will go on the list as we get towards the summer, but there will still be some people hesitant about the wisdom of piling into a tube of recycled air and wall-to-wall strangers in order to get to some country where, on the EU’s record so far, most of the population won’t be vaccinated.

The experience of previous rises in coronavirus cases after the Easter and summer holidays last year may also lead some to think that it will be safer to stay in the UK. And the fact that countries that chose to close their borders and keep their economies open, rather than the other way round, seem to have had better results may be one reason why the UK government is slow in reopening travel.

Though they will be worried about the airline industry, the authorities’ chief concern is probably encouraging tourists from other countries to come and spend their money here, rather than worrying too much about whether we can go to Torremolinos or Ayia Napa to spend our money there.

Even those of us who are enthusiastic travellers sometimes forget how very recent such journeys are for most people. Many of us have got used to the idea that good weather, major landmarks and decent food are readily available within a couple of hours, often with a plane journey costing less than the anorak you’d need to buy if you were going to spend the summer in this country.


But it’s only in the last 50 years that this has been an expectation for many people, and only really in the past 25 or so, since budget airlines became commonplace, that it has been readily affordable for almost everyone. One of my grandfathers, born in the centre of Glasgow, never travelled any further than the Isle of Wight, and I’m not sure the other one ever left the country, either.

Even when I was growing up in the 1970s, foreign travel was still relatively exotic: I was well into my teens before I went as far as England, and my sole experience of abroad was a single trip to northern France. I was 18 before I had been on an aeroplane, and my impression is that that wasn’t especially unusual in those days.

Yet by the time my own children were teenagers, they’d notched up visits to at least a dozen countries, partly because taking them abroad on holiday was usually a good deal cheaper than going somewhere in the UK. Vacations in Cornwall, the Scottish islands, rural Wales or the Norfolk coast now have more social cachet than going to Benidorm, and a price tag to match. While we’re at it, the word “staycation”, which is so ugly it shouldn’t exist anyway, can only mean staying in your own house while you’re off work; going anywhere else in the UK is a holiday, just not a foreign holiday.

The fact that the UK attracts nearly 40 million foreign visitors a year (in normal circumstances) suggests there’s plenty to do here – there’s hardly an international list of top destinations that you ought to visit that doesn’t have London in the top three, but the sheer diversity of British landscape and heritage more or less guarantees somewhere interesting to go.

If you can afford it. Presumably British rental accommodation, hotels and holiday parks will be even more expensive this year, if people can’t travel abroad, or are deterred from doing so, either on health grounds or because they may get saddled with an unexpected and expensive quarantine requirement if anything changes while they’re away. It’s possible this will be a lasting trend, too.

There’s growing disapproval, especially among environmentalists, of cheap plane travel – in fact, ordinary life having been shut down comprehensively is, it turns out, exactly what some environmentalists want, and quite a number of them have been proclaiming how much better everything is without travel, traffic, cities, restaurants or shops.

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But it is also true that the growth in travel in recent decades has been happening at a time when there is less and less necessity to do it. You can always bring abroad to you. There are countless books, internet material and television programmes about almost every corner of the globe: if you really wanted to, you could probably find out more about Vientiane or Mombasa or Port-au-Prince in a few hours online than you would by going to those places, without any of the cost, discomfort or time involved.

The collections of almost all the world’s important museums are available in (often astoundingly detailed) digital form. The most exotic foods are available in every high street: in the 1970s, olive oil was a specialist ingredient; now your corner shop will sell you kaffir lime leaves, plantain or za’atar.

There’s just one element that can’t readily be provided: sun. At this time last year, the strictures of lockdown, still a relative novelty, were offset for a lot of us – or at least, those with access to the outdoors – by uncharacteristically good weather. May 2020 was the sunniest calendar month on record, with much of the country having an average temperature of 60F. Unless we get a repeat of that, perhaps the airports will be busy this year after all.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.