In any normal January, as we shiver in the gloom, the holiday companies rightly prosper as they seduce us with prospects of summer days on exotic beaches and nights in exciting cities.
In travel, anticipation should always trump apprehension. But 2020 was such a shocking year that many people may prefer to sit out 2021 rather than take on the multiple risks that seem to lurk in every corner of travel.
For those contemplating an adventure, though, I believe that confidence will be rewarded with rich, much-deserved experiences. These are the five tests the traveller must pass before breaking free of the emotional lockdown with which 2021 has begun – and venturing in search of uplands (preferably sunlit).
Are you happy to commit financially?
Millions of frustrated travellers had their plans cancelled last year, and a good few of them are still battling to get their money back. It is not unreasonable to expect you should receive either the holiday you booked or a full refund. Improve the odds in your favour by booking a proper package holiday through a human travel agent. Many of those still out of pocket, coronavirus having killed off their travel plans, used online travel agents and/or decided to put together a DIY holiday.
Are you prepared for the rules that the destination country is imposing?
Holidaymakers should tolerate swift and reasonably cheap tests at the airport; it will become just another tedious element of the whole experience, like aviation security.
I predict the current requirements for testing before departure and/or upon arrival will dwindle. Vaccination should steadily reduce the rate of infection, hospitalisation and deaths.
It remains to be seen if there will be a workable scheme of certification showing that you have had the vaccine – or indeed the virus. But there is not yet any international agreement on how a passenger’s health status can be recorded and recognised.
Are you comfortable with the travel process itself, whether by plane, train or ferry?
There is a significant number of risk-tolerant people who are content to accept the airlines’ argument that air-conditioning on-board flights makes the chance of infection very low. In the past few months I’ve found planes increasingly crowded.
But there’s also a strong cohort for whom “hell is other people” during the coronavirus pandemic. They will be the motorists taking the Eurotunnel to Calais, where their interaction with the rest of humanity is almost zero. But driving sharply increases the risk of exposure to an accident compared with flying or rail.
Can you accept some risk that rules may change while you are abroad?
Last year, at the start of the crisis, British holidaymakers woke up to find that there were armed guards outside their Tenerife holiday hotel preventing them from leaving because of coronavirus cases inside. Others were aboard one of the cruise ships hopelessly drifting, trying to find a port that would let them off the ship that had become a Covid hotspot in its own right.
Those were shocking events for the travellers involved, their families and friends, and the rest of us hearing reports. The only way I can see to build confidence is for pioneering holidaymakers to return with a relaxed air, a suntan and a report that it is all quiet on the Mediterranean front, with no sudden disruption to holiday plans.
And that leads on to the last test…
Are you prepared for unwelcome surprises from your own government at home?
UK quarantine restrictions were lifted for a wide range of European destinations in July last year. But within a fortnight the most popular holiday spot, Spain, was suddenly back on the no-go list at five hours’ notice – with hundreds of thousands of people obliged to self-isolate for two weeks when they got home.
Quarantine bingo at teatime on Thursday, presided over by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, seems more extreme than ever.
But the Covid storm will soon subside. However much the travel goalposts may move, keep dreaming of distant lands.