Will I ever get to travel again?

The experience of this year has had many of us asking that question. We have become used to going online and booking anything from a weekend at an airbnb in Brighton to a safari in the Serengeti and it came as a rude shock to find that all of a sudden we couldn’t.

John Haycock has spent many years working in the travel industry, from being the advertising account director for Thomas Cook in its heyday to setting up his own travel firm Africa Explorer with his wife Sue. He argues that we can’t just pick up where we left off and expect to fly anywhere at the drop of a hat, but all is not lost. We just have to think about travel a bit differently from here on in.

Image above: Cheetah and cubs

Those far-away places. . .

How many times this year have you packed your bags, metaphorically – or worse still, actually – only to have your trip cancelled, postponed or just left in limbo? Is it going to be better soon – or do we now have to rethink how, why, where, and when we get away?

I’m going to disappoint you I fear, because there are no magic solutions to the current woes we’re all suffering. And nor for some time to come. In fact the World Economic Forum has stated that “…the pandemic has set the global tourism industry back by 20 years, and placed millions of jobs at risk.”

And here’s another truth: at present, because we have a very high infection rate, we British citizens are not welcome in many countries that we’d like to visit. And all the above is just due to Covid. Now, add in Brexit – and think about the effect on the millions of us who just pop over to Europe for a day trip, a long weekend or bomb off down the autoroute to the Med.

But the third of these triple-whammys is of course the most important – the climate: climate change, pollution, depletion of natural resources – and, above all, the responsibility we have to future generations. I often think of the much-attributed saying: ‘we did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrowed it from our children’. And for both our – and their – sakes, we must consider how, where and how often we travel – as sustainably as possible.

We have, therefore, the imperative to re-think our leisure travel totally. And that’s not just us, the travellers; it’s the airlines, hotels, lodges, car hire firms, big and small travel agents and tour operators; in short, like many other industries, we have to insist on everything possible being sustainable. A huge and sweeping statement. But it is not all gloom and doom, as there are things we ourselves can do now.

Images above: Gemsbok in Namaqualand among the flowers; leopard

A new way of thinking about holidays

Firstly, accept a slower, quieter pace in our travels – and relax more, instead of trying to cram a quart of experiences into a pint pot of holiday time. Let’s be really positive and make a virtue out of the necessity to rethink our leisure life. Look at the way our lives have changed for the better in 2020. The main improvement has been of course our ‘work/life’ balance; many no longer commute, wasting hours daily.

We’re more productive – and have a better life. Win-win. Working from home, WFH, is actually a bonus. And that means we could also WFA, work from abroad, or WOH, work on holiday. Therefore we can rethink where we go on holiday, and for how long. And, vitally, the impact these make on our planet and the future.

We expects our holidays to stimulate us, recharge our batteries, refresh us mentally, so let’s put more into them. I’ve now had well over 25 years in the travel business as an African holiday specialist, I see both sides of the coin, too. I know how important holidays are to us all.

Image above: Victoria Falls looking downriver

Long stay discounts for more sustainable travel

In my youth in South Africa, I had two ‘long holidays’ a year. Summer was spent at home; enjoying local events, the neighbourhood, outdoor pursuits, the beach. Winter was for travel; a change of climate, yes, but often only a few score or so miles away. We stayed in hotels, sometimes, but more often in boarding houses, farms, B&Bs, cottages, holiday camps. We stayed on working farms, we went on adventure holidays – and we camped. Was this mostly ‘sustainable’? I think so.

Today, you can add in a much wider choice: cruise liners, adventure parks, glamping, yurts; in as much luxury as at home. Those shiny big places were only built because there was a ‘demand’ for them. And remember too that they work out the costs they charge you to ensure they get a good profit, even if they change the linen daily. So, if you book a week-long stay, ask for a discount. And check how full or empty they are; their managements knows full well they have to adapt, become sustainable – or die.

We are now noticing a remarkable new trend; lodges, hotels, guest houses are all offering substantial long-stay discounts for both long weekends and fortnights. And that’s because they make good savings on long stays. If you are able to afford a long-haul trip, say a safari, then remember that in any game reserve there are both posh, expensive lodges and good affordable ones – and the animals are the same, whether you pay £100 or £250 a night.

So now you’ve reset your expectations, and are looking for a relaxing break, adding a few days. Great! But there are other ways you can help the planet. While you are away, be extra vigilant with the resources you use. Cape Town is a shining example of how everyone – locals, visitors and businesses – worked together to save one of the Earth’s most precious gifts – water.

Yes, for a year or so, everyone had to get by on 50 or 60 litres a day. A clean car was a mark of shame, indulgence; showers got shorter and perhaps less frequent. But the reward was spectacular: from having reservoirs that were a few percent full, the city now has brimming water storage. And, with care, may never suffer like this again.

Power/electricity, too, is an area where modern technology is working. Solar panels, small solar lights, rechargeable batteries – all help. Ask your destination what they are doing to conserve power, to save the world.

Finally, wherever you go, remember the last of the ‘wise sayings’: take only photographs, leave only footprints. Yes, that is a bit of a cliché. But does that make it even a teensy bit less valid?
I started this article with an old song:

Those far-away places
With the strange sounding names
Are calling, calling me.

Heed the call: go, visit, stay, relax: but do it responsibly, sustainably, please. Taj Mahal, Colosseum, Pyramids. Wonderful. But don’t forget: ‘east, west, home’s best’ so do at least enjoy your homeland as much as abroad.

Oh, and if you do – one last thing: please help us all eliminate the ghastly word ‘staycation’. In Britain, we go on holiday, take a break, chill out. We do not go on vacation; ergo, we must not ever think of a ‘staycation’. Please.

John Haycock grew up in the Cape, learning practical bushcraft from his grandfather, a fourth generation South African. He has lived in England for many years, pursuing a career in advertising. After turning 50, he and his wife Sue decided to return to South Africa by road, driving through 22 countries, serendipitously arriving in Cape Town two weeks before the April 1994 elections. Returning to London, they decided to put their travel knowledge to work, starting Africa Explorer 23 years ago, specialising in inexpensive, imaginative safaris. He is known widely in this market, enjoying the description in Bradt’s Travel Guides “Jovial, knowledgeable, tiny company”.