oday marks a year since lockdown was first introduced in the UK. It’s also another anniversary: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office telling Britons abroad to return home immediately, prompting a web of complex journeys across the world.
Every industry bears scars from a year like no other – but none so much as the travel industry, which is still grappling with when it might be allowed to restart this summer.
What are grounded travel writers to do in These Times? The Independent travel team shares what they’ve been doing during a year of little or no travel, alongside a group of professional travel writers and editors. The answers might surprise you.
Helen Coffey, deputy head of travel, The Independent
Being a travel journalist is one of those jobs that everyone assumes is more glamorous and exciting than it actually is. “Ooh, do you get to travel loads for work?” people will ask, and you’ll um and er and say, well, yes, a bit, but not all the time. “Most of it’s just sitting at a desk, banging out articles about people getting drunk on planes,” I used to say, with an air of rank martyrdom.
But after 12 months of staying grounded, what I wouldn’t give for a pissed-up passenger story. What I wouldn’t give for that under-appreciated “bit” of travel, which took the job from simply pleasant to, let’s be honest, bloody brilliant. I look back at pre-pandemic Helen, in fact, and want to shake my fist at her while declaring, “You don’t know yer born!”
So, what does a travel editor do during a year where she can’t travel and no one else can either?
For some of it I abandoned my patch completely and wrote for the Lifestyle desk instead. For some of it I wrote lengthy, comprehensive Q&A-type articles about where you could and couldn’t go on holiday at any given moment, what the rules were, what hoops you had to jump through when you came home – only for it all to become obsolete two days later when everything had changed again. In hindsight, it feels like I spent at least 65 per cent of my time refreshing transport secretary Grant Shapps’ Twitter feed for updates to the blasted travel corridors list, and amending every single article I’d ever written to reflect his latest proclamation.
Serial stowaway reveals how she snuck onto more than 30 flights without a ticket.mp4
I actually rather enjoyed it when the regular “drunk passenger on plane” news trope was replaced by the “maskless passenger on plane” one – at least it meant people were travelling again. It hasn’t all been downsides. I’ve edited some wonderful features about local travel in the UK; scouted for sustainable travel pieces to furnish The Independent’s new Climate section; and been forced to think outside the box when creating our new series, Home Towns, for which writers from all over the British Isles have penned love letters-slash-travel guides to the places they grew up.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then having-bugger-all-else-to-write-about must be, at the very least, its creepy uncle. But though the constant rule changes and roadmaps and U-turns have kept me busy enough this year, I can’t wait for that first taste of real travel. I can’t wait for someone to hear what I do for a living and assume it’s more glamorous and exciting than it actually is. And I can’t wait to play down how much I love it, while secretly knowing it’s the best job in the world.
Simon Calder, travel correspondent, The Independent
Alaska and Blue are twin sisters, born in 2018 and adopted soon afterwards. After a succession of sadly short-lived gerbils and surprisingly long-lived Laura the goldfish, my daughters Daisy and Poppy decided they wanted to upgrade to ragdoll cats.
While I was delighted that they wanted pets to care for, my interest in these new arrivals was close to zero – beyond concern about who would look after them when the whole family was away. It turned out that there is a community of cat carers in my part of south London, so that arrangement worked out fine for a year and a half.
Because I was travelling frequently on my own, Alaska and Blue barely recognised me, and vice-versa. They may have confused me with the catsitter, except she provided them with nourishment.
When lockdown began, the creatures presumably concluded that I could not bear to be apart from them and therefore had decided to hang around the house in order to let them out into the garden at the slightest miaow.
Over the past year, with Daisy obliged to study at York University remotely and Poppy largely confined to barracks rather than classroom, Alaska and Blue have been worth their weight in cat food – providing company and entertainment. And, as someone who has always found humanity more enthralling than the animal kingdom, I am astonished to have become extremely fond of them (the cats, as well as the daughters).
When I am finally allowed to travel, I might even miss them.
Cathy Adams, head of travel, The Independent
I don’t really qualify for this feature given I gave birth a few days after the government banned all international travel, and spent the rest of 2020 on a very strange maternity leave. In some ways, it was a relief that the world was grounded, given I couldn’t go anywhere anyway with a tiny baby – I was dreading the inevitable travel Fomo from the moment I saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy test.
Still, I was desperate to spend my leave bouncing between European countries, baby strapped to my front, but of course it didn’t quite happen like that. I did manage to spend a week in Athens and Hydra in September, before the travel corridor slammed shut; and I squeaked a fortnight in Dubai on an absurdly good BA Holiday deal the moment the second lockdown was lifted in early December.
Since returning to work and editing endless stories about how, when and why we might finally be able to go on holiday again, it’s only now that I’m realising how much travel formed such a huge part of my life, both personally and professionally. I’m not alone in feeling lost and flat without a trip to plan; I’ve lost what made me tick. It’s hard to feel creative and inspired when faced with yet another weekend walk around the local park. Rest assured, colleagues, that from 17 May, when we can hopefully travel once more, you won’t see me for dust.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel
Walking up and down streets in Google Earth. From main street Eagle Pass, USA to the snowdrifts of Svalbard…I’m addicted.
Lauren Keith, freelance travel writer
I sort of still travelled, but only when I’ve been forced to move on. I’m a travel writer and a digital nomad, so it’s been an interesting time to not have a permanent place to live. I have experienced the pandemic and ever-changing rules in three countries now.
Tamara Hinson, freelance travel writer
Buying anything with a map on for my house.
Hannah Summers, freelance travel writer
Below Deck, Married at First Sight, Selling Sunset – you get the idea.
Rhonda Carrier, freelance travel writer
Finished a novel, started a memoir, home-schooled my kids, volunteer as an NHS Responder doing errands for self-isolators and shifts in a vaccine centre, s**tloads of yoga, endless dog walks, stared and swore at every plane I saw and CRIED A LOT.
Lebby Eyres, freelance travel writer
Walking even more than normal. Around London, along the canals, over the Heath and up the local disused railway line. Plus discovering the amazing beauty of the River Lea, the Walthamstow Wetlands and the Marshes (and realising what a secret party place it is in the summer!)
Sarah Baxter, contributing editor, Wanderlust
Past year? Stuck in Peru. Then reacclimatising to not being stuck in Peru but being stuck at home. Then walking almost every green-dotted line on the OS map, within a 15 mile radius of my front door.
Ross Clarke, freelance writer and tutor at Cardiff Journalism School
Bought a lot of old travel guides to see how travel writing & the destinations have changed – or not. Loved this from Brown’s Madeira, Canary Islands and Azores (1913): “It is unnecessary to cement friendship by asking an acquaintance to put his legs under the household mahogany.”
Xenia Taliotis, freelance travel writer
Eating a lot of almond croissants while looking after my mum, and also getting to know the lady who lives two doors down. She’s 80 and I thought I was checking in on her and entertaining her with my best stories. Turns out her tales trump anything I’ve got.
Lottie Gross, freelance travel writer
I joined the vaccine trial in hope it would help get travel off the ground again… Also because I wanted somewhere to go every now and then and I rather like the drive from my house into Oxford.
Lilit Marcus, editor of CNN Travel
I visited at least one outlying island in Hong Kong per month, finished cancer treatment, and got conversational in Cantonese.
Sunshine Flint, freelance travel writer
I did what I call ‘microtravel’. Bought/pored over a detailed Nat Geo hiking map of the Catskill Mountains and planned driving routes to get to blue (easy) hikes (for my kids) through backroads and found restaurants with outdoor seating. Also stared at my blank passport renewed in January 2020…
Jeanne Oliver, travel publisher
I spent the past year working on a book about the place where I live. Nice Uncovered: Walks through the secret heart of a historic city. If you can’t travel far, travel where you are.
Cathy Toogood, freelance travel writer
I’ve turned into my mum and have started birdwatching. I’ve become slightly obsessed with a kingfisher who lives a short walk from my house.
Sian Anna Lewis, freelance travel writer
Mostly writing about secret corners of Britain and the joys of adventures on foot and by bike close to home (when not looking sadly at my collection of Lonely Planets).
Caroline Harrap, freelance writer
I’m very fortunate to live in Paris and have loved being able to see some of the more famous parts of the city sans tourists. Whereas normally you can’t move for selfie sticks at certain spots, it’s been really special to experience the capital in this calmer configuration. From the silence of the side streets around Montmartre and the newly serene splendour of the Sacré-Cœur to the eerie emptiness surrounding the Egyptian artefacts at the Louvre, the city has felt very different this past few months. It’s as if it has become more real somehow – and a little more akin to how it must once have been in days gone by. It’s not that we don’t want the visitors back – on the contrary, we can’t wait for their return – but it’s meant a lot to us residents, just this once, to have the magic of the city for ourselves.
Robin McKelvie, freelance travel writer
When the pandemic hit I just had to find some way to “travel” as I normally make dozens of trips a year all over the world. It started as a joke, but by the time Scotland’s first lockdown eased for the summer I sported a fully-fledged travel-themed bar in my garden, complete with hot tub, an Aldi bar and a waterproof gazebo. Endless curios too, from Concorde posters and cheesy motivational signs, through to an old propeller my neighbour found beachcombing and a whisky barrel to enjoy a cosy dram at. The highlight is, of course, the genuine BA drinks trolley culled from a retired 747 – who knows, maybe it recognised me after serving me drinks over the Indian Ocean in the days when I could travel beyond my garden. And, yes, completing the look is the pilot hat and shirt. I know, but at least I’m one pilot who doesn’t mind serving the drinks. Slainte!
Shilpa Ganatra, freelance travel writer
I moved! My local area is now Brighton, and I’m discovering its nooks, crannies, idiosyncrasies and delights with the same joyous fervency as with any international destination. So I still feel like a travel writer. Just without the travel. Or the writing.
Jamie Lafferty, freelance travel writer
I’ve been on Universal Credit since May 2020 and my biggest employer for this tax year is the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. It’s been a howling disaster from which my career will probably not recover.
Jini Reddy, author of Wanderland
I’ve spent the last year on my bike, exploring locally as many did, and also walking the North and South Downs. (I live in Wimbledon.) I managed one holiday to the Isle of Lewis in early August, travelling by train to Inverness, bus to Ullapool, and then ferry. By some stroke of luck we happened upon the best weather they’d had all year, so it was akin to being in the Caribbean. Just heavenly.
Sophy Grimshaw, editor of MO Magazine
Fortunately for me, having had two children in quick succession was like a dry-run of the pandemic. Having toddlers at home is pretty indistinguishable from lockdown, so for parents of young children, the coronavirus just meant the rest of the world suddenly joining us. As a parent, I had already discovered – because I had to – that I could still live a rich and full life without really going anywhere.
Stuart Kenny, freelance travel writer
I’ve always been someone who likes to spend as much time as possible outdoors, or at least to keep busy and be working on a project of some sort, so I was hit with a big wave of restlessness when lockdown one kicked in. The novelty factor of lockdown was still very real back then, though – in the halcyon days of toilet roll scraps and tinned-good hoarding – and with my small Edinburgh flat cluttered with outdoor gear, the obvious answer seemed to be to get creative, and re-enact all my outdoor hobbies in my living room.
David Atkinson, freelance travel writer
I shifted my workload to focus on travel on my home patch of Northwest England and North Wales. I’ve started a newsletter, Hit the North, about travel local to me and worked with audio-tours app company, VoiceMap, to create a self-guided audio tour of my home city of Chester. Until regular Chester tours can resume, this is perfect for socially distanced lockdown strolls with GPS maps and a simple download to your smartphone.