Many people who’ve been asked this question around the world have tended to pick the tropics: jungles, coral reefs and beaches – with warm sun and sparkling sand between their toes. But the future of travel may be less exotic, at least at first. Social distancing is likely to continue for some time, ruling out many of the far-flung travel experiences we normally hanker for. The first step towards international travel may be “travel bubbles” – small groups of neighbouring nations who can agree on common rules for visitors – but most people will take their first post-lockdown holiday much closer to home.
That’s no bad thing, though. Aside from the carbon savings, domestic tourism has a huge role to play in helping Britain’s struggling travel industry get back on its feet. Within mere miles of your home there are hotels and restaurants clamouring for your custom; and national parks where social distancing has always been the norm and heritage sites whose very future depends on visitors.
Here are some of the top ways to make your first trip post-lockdown count.
Camping is possibly the most socially distanced holiday you can get: you’re in the great outdoors; you have full control over where you stay and who you see, and getting away from the crowd is really rather the point. Britain’s national parks have seen a huge drop in revenue since the coronavirus outbreak, and staying at a national park campsite is one way to direct money straight to the park authorities and rural communities that need it – and you can’t beat relaxing in some of the UK’s most stunning natural scenery.
When it reopens, secluded Inchcailloch campground in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park could well be the perfect spot. The only way to reach this car-free island is by local ferry, and the campground itself is only accessible on foot, with composting toilets a modest creature comfort. If you’re not quite ready to give up flushing loos, consider Fieldhead Campsite at Edale in Peak District National Park, or Malham Dale, set at the mouth of the gorge in Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The National Trust doesn’t keep all those gardens, castles, abbeys and stately homes looking so amazing all by itself. An army of up to 65,000 volunteers a year help out with everything from cutting the grass and weeding paths to rebuilding dry-stone walls and dusting rooms full of Queen Anne furniture. When the 2020 lockdown ends, the institution that preserves the nation’s heritage will need volunteers like never before to undo the months of damage caused by lockdown austerity.
The National Trust has openings for people with all kinds of skills and experience, but don’t just turn up with a spade and a positive attitude – opportunities are advertised as they come up online. Nor is this the only organisation conserving the nation’s history; there are more opportunities with National Trust for Scotland and the similarly venerable English Heritage and its partner organisations, Historic Environment Scotland and Cadw in Wales. If nature is more your scene, speak to the Wildlife Trusts about volunteer placements at British nature reserves.
Lighthouse keepers were social distancing centuries before Covid-19 put in an appearance, and dozens of Britain’s historic lighthouses are now preserved as offbeat places to stay, offering maximum peace and privacy while you enjoy the (usually stunning) coastal scenery. Many of these architectural treasures are kept from dereliction only by the revenue provided by paying guests, so you won’t just be staying in a historic place, you’ll be preserving history for future generations.
The Landmark Trust has a string of historic forts, water towers, train stations, mansions and other architectural oddities on its books, including the wonderfully isolated Lundy Lighthouse, balanced atop rocky Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. More sea-cliff escapes can be found through Rural Retreats, which lets a string of converted lighthouses in locations that see more seabirds than people. Taking the same idea upmarket, English Heritage offers accommodation in everything from historic country cottages to castles.
Pirate movies often overlook the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson based Treasure Island partly on the island of Unst in Shetland. The under-explored isles that make up the Shetland group are fringed by gravity-defying cliffs and machair-backed white sand beaches that see only a trickle of visitors even in peak season; indeed, you’ll probably have more seals for company than sunbathers, while seabirds swoop overhead. And when you tire of the sand and sea air, it’s hard to walk more than a few yards in any direction without stumbling across another ancient tomb or tumulus from Shetland’s rich Viking and Iron Age history.
Reaching Shetland can be a very low-carbon enterprise. Take an easy train connection to Aberdeen, where Northlink ferries depart for Lerwick, Shetland’s friendly, pint-sized capital city. Come by bike (braving some sustained climbs and unforgiving winds) and you can reduce the carbon count even further, travelling on to outlying islands such as Unst, Yell and Fetlar by local ferry (and supporting local ferrymen in the process). Stay in romantically remote böds – seasonal fishermen’s shacks poised in front of empty ocean vistas – and you won’t have to share the splendid isolation.
In the Victorian era, a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads was considered the height of sophistication, but with the arrival of international air travel, this network of meandering, light-reflecting water channels and marshes became a sleepy backwater. In a socially distanced world, however, a cruise you don’t have to share with hundreds of other passengers has a definite appeal. Put images of Alan Partridge out of your mind; this may not be yachting in the Bahamas, but the landscape could have been plucked straight from a 19th-century watercolour.
Supporting rural communities, live-aboard boats can be hired all over the Broads, with companies such as Richardson’s and Herbert Woods providing a nostalgic introduction to the way Brits used to holiday before easy air travel opened up the beaches of the Mediterranean. Cruisers can sleep from two to 12 passengers, and have a galley kitchen; get here by train with a bicycle in tow and you’ll have a carbon footprint most package-holidaymakers can only dream of.