Have you found that any discussion of holiday plans this summer is accompanied by an eerie sense of deja-vu? All the trips I hear about are thoroughly retro affairs. Some belong squarely in the 1980s, like a cheap-and-cheerful family camping trip to Brittany by ferry, my first taste of European travel as a child, when even a baguette seemed thrillingly sophisticated (they’d only just started selling these strange tubular loaves at our local Tesco).
Other plans are all a bit 1920s Jazz Age, like decamping en masse to a fancy hotel on the French riviera, the sort of vacation F Scott Fitzgerald considered passe and worth lampooning by the time Tender Is The Night was published in 1934. A travel editor friend who typically found reviewing shiny new Aman spas in exotic spots like Bhutan, is instead driving with her family to Lake Constance in Germany, to stay at a holiday home owned by relatives, much as Swiss, English, Austrian and German aristocrats did in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As a lover of all things vintage – fashion, wine, my parents – this sudden revival of retro holidays holds a lot of charm for me. This summer, travellers have been liberated from our thirst for ‘newness’ – new hotels, new destinations, new transport routes – and we’ve fallen back, gratefully, on the old tried-and-tested classics. We’re rekindling our relationship with our closest European neighbours, like France, Germany, Portugal and Italy. We’ve rediscovered ferry routes, and no-fly driving holidays. British holidaymakers have always been fond of a glampsite – and arguably we do glamping better than any other nation on the planet – but travel this summer is an even more nature-oriented affair, with spaced-out individual lodges, cabins and yurts appearing infinitely more appealing than jam-packed resorts and busy cities.
As well as our holiday plans being significantly simpler, they’re also more intimate affairs, with a greater focus on good company, family and friends. I’ve never heard so many people gushing about the other family they’re decamping to a villa in Tuscany with, or enthusing about taking their parents to Normandy.
During the long weeks of lockdown, I could virtually hear the clunking of machinery in my soul, as my priorities reshuffled and rearranged themselves. Suddenly I saw who my most precious friends were: the funny, the kind, the wise ones. I realised that – other than human connection – nature was my greatest treasure, and it was the beach here in my hometown of Margate that would see me through the strict days of lockdown, and keep me sane when the world felt crazy. The pandemic changed my tastes in culture, with so many books, TV shows, films and albums seeming hopelessly irrelevant or unbearably depressing. Almost overnight, I stopped being remotely attracted to ‘misunderstood artist’ types, and the only men I was interested in were the ones working the wards, producing or delivering food, or building chicken coops in their gardens. I’m sure I’m not alone in observing how much my tastes have changed during lockdown – and so we shouldn’t be surprised that our travel tastes have similarly turned radically retro.
Some of this, of course, is down to sheer practicality; travel insurance, quarantine regulations, flight routes. But during these still-strange days, we’re all finding comfort in the familiar, the classics. And, perhaps, there’s an acceptance that the old way of travelling might actually have been better – for travellers, for destinations, and for the planet.
This summer, when friends tell me about their travel plans, there are no strange, unfamiliar place names that I need to pretend to recognise, because Todos Santos is apparently the “New Tulum”. Nobody is namedropping glossy, newly opened boutique hotels, tutting if I don’t already follow them on Instagram. There is no talk of “bucket-list” destination events like Burning Man festival in Nevada, or New Orleans Jazz Festival, requiring a dutiful display of regret at having not snagged a ticket myself.
No, this year, the pressure is well and truly off holidays. They don’t need to be anything other than a perfectly pleasant way to spend a few days, and frankly, even Devon sounds stupendously exotic to lockdown-wearied Londoners.
I suspect most British holidaymakers have accepted that the travel landscape is going to look fairly different for the next few months. But this doesn’t need to be a bleak picture. This is the time to rediscover forgotten classic destinations and itineraries, to celebrate the tourism destinations we have on our doorstep. If you can just apply a sepia tint to the future, a retro Instagram filter, the future of travel looks pretty charming. Because it looks rather like the past.