Staycation: a journey that forces us to go deep not wide

As Easter comes around again, we can be forgiven for feeling frustrated that our wings remained clipped and we are forced to spend the holiday in our own back yards.

Most of us would once have planned a short trip abroad or at least a jaunt to the other side of the country. However, Covid restrictions have meant that in Spain, for example, we have travelled 66% less on high-speed trains and 72% less on planes, according to data compiled by the country’s national newspaper, El País.

The fact we have curbed our wanderlust to such an extent seems staggering, but holidays and foreign travel are in fact a relatively recent phenomenon. Paid holidays did not exist by law in the UK until 1939 and in Spain until the 1960s.

With regard to going places, the first passenger flight service was only introduced in the UK in the 1950s, with foreign travel becoming increasingly widespread in the second half of last century when our consumer culture began to accelerate.

In recent years, we have consumed travel in the same way we have consumed fast-food. Pre-Covid, it was not uncommon to be booking three or four flights to foreign pastures each year. In fact, sometimes we travelled so much, it was hard to recall all the places we had visited or much of the sights and culture we had been exposed to.

We have been in such a rush to see the world, that we have often been blind to its more buried treasures.

US artist and filmmaker, Julian Schnabel once asked this probing question: “Do you know the territory, or are you just a tourist?”

He is not, in fact, talking specifically about travel but about our growing tendency to go wide rather than deep and if there is one thing this pandemic has encouraged, it is the reverse.

The good thing about standing still is it can mean a far more meaningful travel adventure down the line. It gives us the chance to really think about where we want to go and, instead of rushing across the world, seeking an immediate travel fix, we can actually explore the culture, language and politics of our destination ahead of the trip, allowing for a deeper experience once we eventually go.

More than a few phrases in the local language is a sure fire way to have fun with the locals. If the people of a country see us investing time and effort in trying to communicate with them in their own language, it is generally seen as a sign of generosity and respect with engagement all but guaranteed.

Meanwhile, visiting the backdrop to a novel or movie deepens our interest in a country’s people and architecture in a way that no travel brochure could hope to do. And imagine how much more fascinating people-watching will be if we know something about the country’s religion, politics and culture.

All of this preparation, does of course, require the one quality that our reliance on instant gratification has gradually diminished: patience; in this case, the patience to make the most of what is still within our power to do.

As Sinews Psychologist and Counsellor at King’s College Alicante, Irene Magallón González, says, “Losing something is different psychologically than knowing it is there but not available to us right now. We feel the same nostalgia, but tinged with anger and frustration. But while the situation is hard to cope with, I also think this period has taught us to appreciate what we have a little more. Maybe two years ago, when the long-awaited holidays arrived, we would complain about having the same old plan. Now we would do anything for that old plan.”

Irene also believes that during this hiatus in our lives, our priorities have inevitably shifted with our relationships and the beauty around us becoming more of a priority.

“When the alternatives are reduced, our preferences change because we are trained to appreciate the details,” she says. “When we are finally able to decide freely what we want to do, I think these details will weigh more in the balance. I say ‘details’ because when everything is possible, we take the nuances for granted.”

But the doldrums is not always easy to navigate and Sinews Psychologist and Counsellor at King’s College Murcia, Jorge Jiménez Castillo, points out that some of us may need to call on our friends and family for support.

“For those who still struggle to find enjoyable activities, it is always a good idea to ask for help,” he says. “Maybe our friends and relatives have had new hobbies for a while and are in a better position to teach us about them.”

It may seem as though we are treading water in a never-ending confinement, but this enforced interlude has, in fact, provided us with the space we have long needed to really invest in the here and now – our relationships, our surroundings and our communities. And this appreciation of our own environment will inevitably make us more appreciative and respectful of the far-flung places we plan to visit when the pandemic is finally over.

As Irene says, “We are already closer to the end. When that end comes, what will we do on holiday? Our answer may well have changed from what it was two years ago.”