After the hell storm of 2020 and the sudden hope of vaccine success, I was unbelievably excited about getting back to normality in 2021. I wasn’t naïve – I didn’t expect everything to go completely back to normal, and I was never going to jet off to Absolutely Everywhere Straight Away. Other countries would still have their problems and, no doubt, we would still have ours.
And oh boy, did we still have ours. On Boxing Day last year, Scotland went back into a circuit-breaking lockdown that could end up lasting a month. And then two. And then… it was the end of April before we were even allowed to leave EDINBURGH. Not Scotland. Just the ability to travel mere miles from where we lived.
Forget travel to other countries – I was excited to travel to other COUNTIES.
By April, I had resigned myself to the fact that 2021 would not be the international-travel-filled year I was hoping for, but I’d also come up with so many plans for travel within the UK that it really didn’t matter any more. I took one trip abroad to Iceland, and I’m really glad I did as the trip was incredible.
Meanwhile, other travellers have been jetting off left, right and centre. Many have moved abroad while they have the chance to get off this rock of insanity. Others have been making the most of unusually quiet destinations and unmissable flight deals.
And I totally get it – if I had had a less manic year (i.e. not planning a wedding), I would probably have done it too. There are lots of reasons I didn’t, though.
It’s been a lot of hassle
Green lists, red lists, quarantines, overpriced PCR testing, changing rules – you name it, it’s probably been a setback for anyone wanting to travel this year.
We’ve had constantly changing lists, in which you could safely book a trip to a “green list” country, only to have it change to amber or red while you’re there. The risk was massively prohibitive, and ended up costing people thousands of pounds as well as putting their jobs at risk. Not only that, but what if you tested positive before you flew home and ended up stuck out there altogether?
The idea of going on holiday to relax and then not actually being able to relax or enjoy yourself out of worry is just not appealing to me in the slightest.
Apart from anything else, it’s the uncertainty of what you’re supposed to do to be able to travel. Will this PCR test be the right one? How do I fill in a passenger locator form? What if my PCR test results don’t come back in time? Do I need day 2 *and* day 8 tests? When do I need to self-isolate? Do I need to take a test to get into the country I’m visiting? Will they accept my vaccine passport? Will the NHS app even work?
Things got slightly simpler for a few weeks (thankfully right in time for my Iceland trip), but it’s still extra hoops to jump through for something that we’ve always taken for granted.
It’s been too risky
As well as the changing rules, it really has been a year where anything can happen. People have had flights cancelled while they’re already away – I know of people who have had five trips in a row cancelled, many of them already postponed from last year. I’m pretty sure our Italy flights were cancelled because the rest of Europe was opening up while the UK wasn’t, so easyJet moved most of their fleet to the mainland. There has just been too much uncertainty.
I’ve also heard of several people taking a test 72 hours before their flight and then being unable to take the flight because the results haven’t come back in time, having to then fork out another chunk of money for a new test AND a new flight.
And if the country you’re in suddenly changes to red? You suddenly have to pay £2,000 to stay in a hotel and live off scraps for two weeks. Not exactly a risk that many people were willing to take, especially if you have a job or other responsibilities to get back to.
And then, again, what if you catch Covid and can’t come home? What if the country you’re in suddenly goes into lockdown and you’re trapped? What if what if what if, that’s all travel has been this year.
It’s been too expensive
Weekend trips have been completely out of the question this year with the prohibitive costs of testing. PCR tests would double the cost of any short trip, meaning that you really needed a week minimum to travel to make it worth it.
Even when we went to Iceland, we were required to pay for a £20 lateral flow (antigen) test, which is drastically better than the £40+ PCR tests of which you often needed two or three – but when the NHS offers free ones, why not just use those and charge a nominal fee? I wouldn’t mind paying £20 if it was going to the NHS.
I pretty much refused to travel while we had the PCR tests – not just because of the cost, but because of the principle of paying a private company in the government’s pockets for a health issue, especially when the system was a complete shambles anyway. And now we’re back to doing it again, thanks Omicron.
I’ve been furious with the UK government for* prioritising excessively priced testing from private companies over getting travel back on its feet safely.
*well, a lot of things actually
We’ve been too busy catching up with friends & family
A big one for us has been the fact we haven’t had much time to travel abroad anyway. We had a wedding to plan, and any time off from work was used catching up with family and friends.
In May, we took a week off to go to Orkney, where we saw some of our closest friends for the first time in two years, and we were also helping my parents move house. In June, we met up with Ash’s parents in the Lake District and they stayed with us in Edinburgh for a few days. And in October, we were meant to be going to Italy, but when the flights were cancelled, instead of risking a failed re-booking, we jumped at the chance to see Ash’s brother and friends on the Isle Of Man, where we finally got to say goodbye to his best friend eighteen months after he passed away.
Outside of a few mad weekend trips, our main holiday was to Lewis & Harris, which you’ve all heard enough about by now.
(Or have you? Click here for my mega five-day itinerary!)
I wanted other places to be safe
Coming from Plague Island, it felt irresponsible to be going to safer countries and spreading our Delta germs. It’s a bit late to worry about that now that it’s everywhere anyway, but at one point it was a high point of concern and I was amazed that anybody would even let us in!
I decided back at the start of the year that I wouldn’t want to travel abroad at all until I’d been fully vaccinated – back then, it was showing the likelihood of my age group being vaccinated by summer as very slim, but eventually we got our second dose in July and I almost booked a trip to Iceland for August immediately until I decided against it (for all the reasons above) and we went to the Outer Hebrides instead.
Funnily enough I ended up going to Iceland anyway, under different circumstances!
But now we’re back to being banned from other countries.
We’ve got a lot here in the UK
While 2020 was most definitely the year of the staycation, the one thing I learned was that one year (or in reality, between lockdowns, a few months) was not enough time to discover everything my own country has to offer. So 2021 becoming the Bonus Year Of The Staycation was no issue with me at all, and the second it was announced that lockdown was lifting in Scotland, I made a list that ended up spanning thirty weekends. Have we done it all? No we have not!
I don’t want 2022 to become the third consecutive year that we’re confined to exploring Scotland, but there’s still plenty for us to do; a journey that I feel will never really end, and one for which I am grateful to live in such a great place.
And, of course, it’s not even just Scotland – we’ve also had time away in England and Wales, in two of the UK’s most beautiful national parks.
Anyway, whatever 2022 brings, I hope it involves more international travel! I feel lucky to have got away once this year amongst the madness, and at the end of the day we followed all the precautions and had to take tests to enter Iceland and on our return to the UK. Let’s be honest – most other countries are safer than us anyway.
So here’s hoping for a better year next year – I miss travel, and I’m sure many of you do, too!
And let’s not forget, for many people international travel is the only way they can see their families, and I’ve seen so many torn apart. A British friend in Australia resigned to the fact she may never see her grandad again. A cousin unable to meet her grandson in New Zealand; her daughter having to bring up a newborn baby half a world away from anyone she knows. Endless people who live thousands of miles away from their families throughout one of the most turbulent eras of our lives.
For us, none of my Canadian family could come to our wedding, but that’s nothing compared to what a lot of people have been through.
It’s for these people that I’m hoping travel opens up again, but for my own selfish reasons I want to get back out there and explore again! After two years, I think we’re entitled to desire normality again.