By Toby Feldman
This piece was originally published at Student Travel Tips.
Rolling back the clock to January, I remember I had big plans for the year. Little did I know back then, that 2020 would turn out to be the year of the devil, of the plague and, most importantly, of plans-gone-awry! As I geared up to finally finish my undergraduates degree, my gaze had begun to turn to summer plans and off I went, down my little rabbit hole thinking of all the dreamy, idyllic and overly-ambitious plans I could think of.
“Yeye I will just get a job in a bar, save up a bit then go back to Mexico” was a shameful statement I would utter with horrendous regularity back in the days of maskless, stress-free travel! I had grand plans to road trip up north, reunite with dear friends in the home of my heart, Mexico City, and taco my way into a sweet daze for a few months… and then it struck.
“My summer plans went from Tijuana via Mexico City to Tunbridge Wells via Charing Cross. Not quite as exotic and exciting, but c’est la vie. ”
COVID-19 spoiled these plans as well as wreaking havoc on the lives of millions, putting the whole notion of travel into perspective. Much needed introspection was happening by me but more crucially, by the wider public and industry giants. Now, as life in the United Kingdom tick-tocks its way back towards a semblable version of normality, the itch to travel and be adventurous has caught up with me once again.
With numbers of cases low, perhaps not as low as we may wish, but sufficiently low that we can now begin to lead our lives again with the purpose of joy as well as mere survival, with our duty of care to our community extending now more than ever to supporting small independent companies fight the economic crisis as well as the health one, travelling within the UK begins to make more sense.
Look, we have to be careful, we all know this. Wear a mask, don’t be an ass about it, just put it on. Be it on the tube, on a train going somewhere new, on a bus- wherever it may be inside- just put on your mask when you are near people. Simple. Buy yourself a bottle of handsan. It is 2 quid, put it in your bag. Use it.
With all this in mind, I booked a train to go and visit a close friend from university in his hometown in Kent. Whenever we bantered about where he was from, he would always say “the Garden of England” and upon arriving, I saw why. The freshness of non-London air was very welcome as I got off the sweltering heat of the train and neatly folded away my mask, ready for the next time I would need it indoors. Bliss! Sweet, fresh air. The downplayed hustle and bustle of a beautiful little town met my ears and off we went exploring. We had a great takeaway coffee and sat on a hill looking over the famous shopping district of Tunbridge Wells, the Pantiles. We got some genuinely quite wonderful Turkish food from a joint that my friend recommended! I, a self-professed foody, was impressed with the food and the £7.50 non-London price point did not go unnoticed either.
We then took a break from the sun at his family home, playing some bat-and-ball in his garden with his little nephew. We then popped back into the centre to enjoy a cold pint on the beautiful boulevard of the Pantiles before a quite impressive walk through the Common. As a city boy, the sight of real, true countryside fills me with awe, excitement and a quite sensational sense of liberation that never gets old, and this has only been heightened since the time spent indoors over lockdown. The beautiful sun-blushed our faces and he took me on a walk through a gorgeous private road adorned with some rather large houses (!) (how the other side live, hey?) and then off we went exploring in the woods.
We then said our farewells, and off I trotted back to London!
The truth is, what I did that day is travelling. I went and explored a new part of the world, my own country no less, and created beautiful memories and experiences with a dear friend. We all have the ability to do this and I sincerely feel that, during these strange and uncertain times, there is no better time to explore our own country. We live in a wonderful country, and despite the legitimate fears and concerns that we are all harbouring at the moment, the show must go on. When you feel safe, pick a place you have always wanted to go to this country and seize this opportunity.
My summer plans went from Tijuana via Mexico City to Tunbridge Wells via Charing Cross. Not quite as exotic and exciting, but c’est la vie.