It started with what I thought was an eminently reasonable, even pleasant, suggestion. I had been browsing Airbnb and told my partner I’d found us a beautiful villa in Cadiz. From the expression on his face you would think I had suggested we rob a charity for baby animals.
What I saw as a well-earned break, to a sunny place that the Government has said we can travel to, for him is a moral red line — and he is not the only one digging their heels in saying that it is too soon to go on holiday abroad.
During the past year, it has become clear that people interpret rules in a range of imaginative ways — and no action is free from severe judgment. “Shall we sit inside?” has become an emotionally charged question. Now it is holidays that are dividing us. A friend who usually posts freely on Instagram about her holidays has stopped — she can’t take the judgment.
On the one hand, we are allowed to travel for leisure to destinations on the green list. Orders of champagne are at a record high at Heathrow, where people are celebrating their new freedom.
But it is not so simple. Going away marks you out as a certain type of person — and with half-term next week, those who holiday abroad are the subject of vigorous gossip, tinged with moral superiority and, yes, a bit of jealousy.
In one camp there are those, like my partner, smugly occupying the ethical high ground. It may be cold and rainy in the land of rectitude but at least they aren’t super-spreading around the world, going to areas where the vaccine hasn’t been rolled out. Lord Bethell, a junior health minister, is on my partner’s side. He disagrees with his politician colleagues and has said bluntly “travelling is not for this year”. Ouch.
However much I have threatened to fly off alone and have a Spanish affair with someone who is more of a laugh, in the spirit of Hot Vax Summer, I do understand my partner’s argument.
A new variant is not the holiday souvenir anyone wants — and what about whether you infect people there who do not have as good healthcare as we do? Could you really enjoy your holiday knowing that while you sipped your piña colada on the beach you may have given Covid to the waiter who brought it to you, who can’t get as good medical treatment as you? “It is awful imperialism,” said another friend. “We’ve waited for so long to go on holiday — surely we can just wait a few more months until there is less of a risk of bringing back new variants?”
She showed me a picture of a mutual friend on Instagram who somehow has wangled a jolly to Rome, telling people it is for work (we are yet to establish how). While we are happy that she has the Sistine Chapel to herself, we will be watching to see if she quarantines when she returns. This is another flashpoint — this woman has two children, who didn’t join her on holiday. It doesn’t seem fair for them to have to quarantine with her, and miss school, but if they don’t and she is at home with them, anything she has picked up on her holiday would still spread. How long, though, can we be fortress Britain for? Isn’t the point of the vaccine roll-out that at some point we can resume our normal lives? And countries like Greece, which rely on tourists for their economies, are desperate for us to return — whole eco-systems that are fuelled by tourism are in trouble.
Tourism has never been straightforward. In 1848, an essay was published saying that European tourists were a “desperate evil”. How little has changed. There’s also the expense for tourists of tests and the hassle of queueing at airports for tests. But hopefully this will be one blip in a complicated and long story of travel. For now, I am reluctantly going to Cornwall. Let’s hope the sun shines.