Has it ever been more difficult to plan a family holiday? At the time of writing, it is illegal to travel abroad from the UK for non-work purposes. That restriction is expected to be lifted in due course, although not before 17 May, and replaced by a traffic light system, with countries ranked green, amber or red depending on how they’re coping with the virus. Only eight places are expected to be on the green list — Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel, Gibraltar, Iceland, Malta and the USA — and holidaymakers will be required to take a PCR test before boarding a plane home and another within 48 hours of returning. At present, the cost of a PCR test from a government-approved provider is around £120 — so if, like me, you’ve got four kids, that adds £1,440 to the cost, assuming the official test costs no more when you’re abroad.
Not that I can afford to book anywhere. Malta, for instance has just 39,500 hotel beds. As the Telegraph recently pointed out, this means that 458 people will be competing for each bed if the 18.13 million Britons who visited Spain in 2019 decide to go to Malta this summer. Just imagine if those hotels have surge pricing!
Then there are the queues at Arrivals back in the UK. The waiting time at Heathrow can be up to six hours at the moment thanks to all the Covid security checks. God knows what it’ll be like when the travel ban is lifted. I suppose the Home Office may deploy more Border Force officers to ease the bottlenecks, but I’m beginning to suspect the government is deliberately making it difficult to go abroad this summer because it wants us to spend any money we’ve saved during the lockdowns at home.
The Young family had planned to go on a driving holiday in Transylvania in late August last year, but had to cancel over concerns that Hungary might close its borders. Sure enough, it did on 1 September, which would have meant being stuck in Romania. I managed to change our easyJet flights to August of this year, thinking the pandemic would be over by then. But it now looks like Hungary will be on the amber list, meaning there’s a risk we’d have to self-isolate at home on our return. If it ends up on the red list, we’d have to check in to a quarantine hotel for ten days. For a family of six, that would cost £5,000, partly because the government has classed children over 12 as adults for charging purposes. Cheers, Boris.
For a few hundred pounds I can switch the destination to Reykjavik, but that comes with complications too. The only way to avoid quarantining on arrival is either to be fully vaccinated or to produce evidence that you’ve already been infected and have the antibodies. There don’t appear to be exceptions for children, and I’d be reluctant to inject them with a double dose of AstraZeneca even if that were possible. Iceland may open up between now and August; but if it does, the price of changing the tickets will skyrocket. After all, easyJet does have surge pricing.
All of which points to a holiday in Britain as the best option, but by the time Caroline and I looked into that almost everything was booked up. The best we could manage was a Welsh longhouse for six days in July for £3,134.04. It’s in a place called Llanbadarn-y-garreg, which is miles from anywhere. My 17-year-old daughter Sasha has refused to come and rather optimistically arranged to go to a music festival in Croatia with four friends instead. Her flight is due to depart the day after we leave and I’m fully expecting a plaintive call from Heathrow asking me to drive down from Wales and pick her up.
I’m resigned to this trip being our only holiday this summer. Caroline is more depressed about it than me, and to cheer her up I suggested we hire a live-in housekeeper for a week in August to do all the cleaning, washing and cooking — a hotel experience, but in our own home. I tried to sell it to her as the ‘ultimate staycation’. To my surprise, she quite liked the idea, but I daresay I’m not the only husband to come up with this brilliant wheeze, so the cost of temporary housekeepers will have gone through the roof too — and I imagine they weren’t cheap to begin with.
I think the only solution may be to start planning a winter holiday in Jamaica so we can at least fantasise about lying on a Caribbean beach as we stare at the walls in Acton. I might even be able to persuade Sasha to come on that holiday. Surely by then the world will have opened up again? If I have to wait another year to leave the country I think I might go mad.