Friday, 18 Sep 2020

Calling your UK holiday a ‘staycation’ reeks of classism

Growing up, my holiday excitement usually kicked in at our first service station stop-off. 

After a spot of lunch and some squabbling with my siblings in WH Smith, we’d hop back into the car and trundle along to whichever UK coastal destination we were heading for that particular summer.

From caravans to camping, domestic holidays have always been the summer break of choice for low-income families looking for a getaway on a budget. Despite the poor and gaudy reputation of working-class favourites like Butlin’s, there is – and always has been – plenty to enjoy during a UK-based holiday. 

When the outbreak of COVID-19 left thousands of Britons with cancelled plans, many looked to repurpose their annual leave with an at-home recreation of the holiday ‘vibe’; mojitos on the patio, sun loungers on the lawn. 

‘Staycation’ became the word of choice when describing a holiday-in-place alternative in the midst of a pandemic. It means taking some time off to spend doing activities near your house. 

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But as lockdown travel restrictions lessened, something odd began to happen. People were  tagging #staycation posts not merely to describe a holiday at home, but trips taken to locations across the UK. Tenby, Devon, Cornwall, the lakes – all these places suddenly became so-called ‘staycation’ hotspots.

While it would be easy to dismiss the misappropriation of this word as unimportant semantics, a more sinister classism lurks beneath this particular label.

By definition, a ‘staycation’ positions itself as a compromise – something that’s not a true vacation. 

This may seem innocuous enough, but as someone who grew up taking numerous happy and fulfilling domestic holidays, I resent the idea that they’re somehow less-than.

Needless to say, my memories of our family getaways are precious to me –  it’s frustrating to see others resentfully trade in their usual trips abroad for local travel with an ‘it’ll do’ attitude. Frankly, the whole thing stinks of middle-class privilege, and ignorance to boot.

We’ve all made sacrifices this past year, but having to spend a week relaxing in one of the UK’s many spots of natural outstanding beauty is hardly one of them. After all, there is so much more to a British break than some seaside fish and chips. 

The narrative around UK holidays heavily implies that they’re not as life-enriching as trips abroad. Surely a good holiday is about a break from the daily grind of life and leisure time with loved ones, not a lengthy plane journey or flashy hotel?

In June, 70% of trips booked by Brits on Airbnb were domestic. The uptake of UK holidays is, in itself, a good thing – and not just for the tourism sector and economy. Holidaying closer to home has environmental benefits too. 

Indeed, the global drop in carbon emissions has been one of the few positive side effects of the pandemic – but if we’re to keep up enthusiasm for holidays taken sans-aeroplane and make tourism more sustainable, we’re going to need to represent them better. 

The fact that Boris Johnson and his family are reportedly taking a two-week ‘staycation’ to Scotland is only fuel on the fire. The 300-plus miles between London and Scotland hardly qualify as ‘staying’ – especially when you consider that Johnson is quite literally crossing the Anglo-Scottish border.

The PM has been vocal in praising ‘staycations’ – last month, he said: ‘all my happiest holiday memories are of holiday vacations here in the UK’ – but it’s hard to take his word for it considering the barrage of exotic holidays he’s taken in the past (including his controversial escape to the Caribbean just after the 2019 general election).

If anything, the Government’s newfound enthusiasm for ‘staycations’ feels like another disingenuous instance of encouraging the general public to do one thing, while ministers do something else entirely.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps was among those forced to quarantine after returning from a holiday in Spain. In truth, it’s hard to believe that most government officials won’t be jetting off on their usual luxury getaways once the public’s attention has shifted.

Right now, going abroad poses a risk, not just in health terms but logistically. As we’ve seen with the narrowing of the ‘travel corridors’, breaks away may end in two weeks of quarantine.

When holidays at home are incentivised primarily by the pitfalls of going abroad, we strip domestic breaks of their genuine appeal and guarantee their classification as a short-term solution. 

We don’t know how long COVID will be with us, but we do know that we’re facing a looming recession of catastrophic proportions. Domestic holidays provide a lower-cost solution to holidaymaking while also pumping money back into the UK economy. 

With the future uncertain, and climate change raging on, it is paramount we move beyond this ‘staycation’ terminology and start seeing domestic holidays for what they really are: genuine and worthy vacations that pack as much fun, beauty and relaxation as any other global destination.

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