Staycations: My family’s experience and top tips after nationwide tour – Jayne Dowle

Jayne Dowle has become a convert to staycations.Jayne Dowle has become a convert to staycations.
Jayne Dowle has become a convert to staycations.
JUST after we received the final confirmation that our long-planned summer holiday to Croatia had fallen victim to pandemic travel restrictions, I had an illuminating exchange with a devotee of sun-soaked Tenerife and Majorca.

“I’d never, ever go on holiday in this country,” she said. “If I was you, I’d stay at home and get some jobs done.”

The prospect of seven days fettling my kitchen cupboards filled me with horror. I went home and started googling alternatives. Who would book a last-minute holiday abroad in the middle of a pandemic?

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Lots of people did, I know, but the prospect of a sudden 14-day quarantine, a potential rush to get home and cancelled return flights alarmed even this seasoned old traveller.

Jayne Dowle's family road trip took in Lytham St Annes.Jayne Dowle's family road trip took in Lytham St Annes.
Jayne Dowle's family road trip took in Lytham St Annes.

We – my husband, 14-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son –were about to join the millions of ‘staycationers’ who have opted for a summer holiday on British shores this year.

No chance of finding anywhere in budget to suit us all to stay for seven nights. I looked up some of the few remaining cottages in places that sounded nice; £3,000 and upwards for seven nights in Norfolk or Cornwall in the equivalent of a two-up/two-down seven miles from the sea.

I know we came late to the party – apparently a British holiday was being booked every 11 seconds back in June – but some of these companies are massively cashing in and I hope that greed isn’t going to get the better of the British travel industry if ‘staycationing’ becomes the norm. I was even quoted £1,500 for a week in a chalet in Lincolnshire. That’s £200 a night. For a chalet.

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After an ahem, heated debate, we decided to plan a road trip. At least that way no-one could complain that they were bored.

new bear cubs at Chester Zoo, another venue on Jayne Dowle's staycation road bear cubs at Chester Zoo, another venue on Jayne Dowle's staycation road trip.
new bear cubs at Chester Zoo, another venue on Jayne Dowle's staycation road trip.

I was reminded of this when it took us almost four hours to inch our way down from Chester to the Forest of Dean in driving rain. If nothing else, holidaying in the UK develops resilience.

It also requires imagination; I told everyone to choose a location they had always wanted to visit; Liverpool for my son, as he wanted to see Anfield and Bristol for my daughter as she’s eyeing it up as a potential university location. My husband picked Chester Zoo for the simple reason that he loved it when he went on a school trip in 1985.

Things were taking a westward turn, so I put down Lytham St Annes in Lancashire as first stop and, as organiser, got to add the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, because my great-grandfather walked from there to find work in the Yorkshire coalfield. The kids rolled their eyes at the prospect of ancestor-hunting. I reminded them of the first rules of family holidays; patience and tolerance.

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We all agreed that after five nights on the move some seaside relaxation would be in order. At 2am, after five hours online, I finally found a decent hotel with vacancies for two nights for four people in Torquay. Next morning, when I broke the news, cue the Fawlty Towers jokes. Second rule of family holidays; don’t judge until you’ve experienced it.

The ‘jewel of the English Riviera’ might not be as trendy as St Ives (which was full anyway), but it was nowhere near as overcrowded. And it turned out to be the best surprise of the trip. The hotel décor and ambience – like several we stayed at along the way – may have needed to get with the 21st century, but the service was second-to-none.

It’s a simple equation really; people complain about lumpy beds and mouldy bathrooms all over TripAdvisor, but if British hotels could attract back the numbers, more investment would be forthcoming to upgrade rooms.

As I pointed out slightly huffily to my sun-worshipping acquaintance, 14 days tethered to a pool lounger is not for me. However, since the children were old enough to pull their own hand luggage and get themselves through passport control without incident, we’ve enjoyed our slightly idiosyncratic jaunts abroad; exploring France by train, trekking around Marrakech, and most poignantly, our New Year trip to Naples just weeks before the pandemic devastated Italy.

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On the way home, I sat in Naples airport people watching and had a strange moment of prophecy. What if all this global to-ing and fro-ing was suddenly to end and everyone stayed at home?

And now, everything I pondered has come to pass. Which is why we found ourselves dodging flying deckchairs as we battled our way along St Anne’s seafront in the middle of Storm Francis. There is nothing you can do about the weather, but there is a lot you can do to make a holiday at home your own.

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