Opinion: When did an overseas summer holiday become a human rights issue?

The post-pandemic new-normal is forcing us to rethink the fundamentals.

Opinion: When did an overseas summer holiday become a human rights issue?

Getting “back to normal” has been the light at the end of the tunnel that has pretty much kept us all going through the fever-dream of Covid-19.

There’s an undeniable ache to get back to some semblance of what life was like before we’d even heard of this virus.

Beyond the too-big-to-process number of people who have died as a result of Covid-19, we’re all acutely aware of what the virus has taken from us – the things we haven’t been able to do, the experiences we’ve missed out on, the sacrifices we’ve made, and the hardships we’ve endured.

Since the vaccine solution emerged, the ‘end’ of the pandemic has been tantalisingly on the horizon, frustratingly just beyond our reach.

But, with each vaccine dose administered, there’s been a growing sense of momentum that there is a roadmap we can follow – a roadmap that can be relied upon to take us “back to normal”.

The milestones on this roadmap include the roll-out of the vaccine, the end of lockdown, and the lifting of restrictions. Steady as she goes and – with a fair wind – before you know it, we’ll be there. Normal.

Obviously, there will be some bumps in the road along the way. One of the bumps that we’ve encountered this week is summer holidays.

Back in February – which already feels like a lifetime ago – the UK government published their post-lockdown roadmap. Under a headline of ‘Data not Dates’, the government proceeded to set out a list of dates which we all dutifully put in our diaries – schools reopening on 8 March; stay-at-home order lifted on 29 March; pubs and hairdressers reopening on 12 April; and overseas travel possible from 17 May.

Whatever messaging you try and put around that roadmap and those milestones, ask anyone in the UK what the key take-out is – it’s clear, we’re going to be having an overseas summer holiday.

Why are British people so obsessed with going overseas for a summer holiday?

It’s a bit perverse – the one time of the year when it’s occasionally bearable to be in the UK is during the summer months. Yet, everyone is desperate to get on a plane and get to the beaches of Europe.

How did this become the ‘normal’ that we’re all so impatient to get back to?

The invention of holidays

Wanting to take a vacation is nothing new. The Ancient Romans are often credited with inventing the concept – wealthy Roman families had the time and the resources, and the reach of the Roman Empire meant that it was feasible to travel significant distances and experience new things.

Travel for the sake of travel – for leisure and relaxation and entertainment – remained the preserve of the wealthy throughout the centuries. For everyone else, you were lucky if you ever managed to leave the village in which you were born.

It was during the Industrial Revolution that things began to change. In 1871, the first Bank Holiday was declared – creating a three-day weekend. This small slice of extra leisure time – combined with the increased mobility enabled by the emergence of steam trains – meant that getting away and spending a few days at a beach became an attainable proposition for many more people.

In the UK, holiday camps began to emerge in the 1930s, but they really took off in the post-war era – boosted by the introduction of a two-week paid holiday for many employees.

From the early 1950s, charter flights and package holiday firms fuelled an increasing demand for overseas holiday travel. The eastern beaches of Spain were particularly popular.

Cheap flights and package deals often meant that it’s been cheaper to fly to Europe for your summer holiday than to spend it in the UK. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, and it’s the ‘normal’ state of affairs that we’ve all become accustomed to.

A summer snatched away?

The difficulty that we seem to be facing is that Covid-19 isn’t following the same roadmap that the rest of us have signed up to.

While progress is being made with the vaccine roll-out, Europe is – regardless of your interpretation of the data and the geo-political landscape – in the midst of a third wave of infections.

No one has yet said that the date of 17 May is now off the table, but the government is starting to float the idea that it’s probably best not to book your overseas summer holiday just yet.

The official line seems to be that a relaxation of travel rules this summer risks further lockdowns in the future.

Aren’t we all entitled to an overseas summer holiday?

It’s such a first-world problem of the privileged – how will we cope if we have to endure another summer without spending time on a beach in Europe somewhere?

Obviously, there’s bigger problems out there. Lots of people around the world manage to cope just fine without getting on a plane and travelling long distances to sit by a pool and drink cheap cocktails.

It’s not even that spending the summer in the UK is such a hardship – it’s actually quite nice.

The challenge is that the overseas summer holiday is so ingrained in the national psyche that it’s a fairly key indicator on where we’re at in a post-pandemic world. Are we getting back to “normal”? Are we anywhere close to getting back to somewhere relatively adjacent to “normal” or whatever life was like before Covid-19?

If we’re all still stuck on this island with no prospect of sticking our face in a jug of sangria, then it’s clear that there’s still a long road ahead of us.

Maybe we need to redraw the roadmap.

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