Last month, I read a piece in The Telegraph by TV personality and writer Victoria Coren, on “the joy of proper British holidays,” and it got me thinking.
The UK travel industry has reported record levels of demand for “staycations” in 2021.
This year, the country’s most popular holiday spots include Cornwall, Devon, North and South Wales, Cumbria and Yorkshire.
Growing up, our family holidays were largely spent in South Wales, separated by the occasional trip to Scotland or the Isle of Wight. And it was brilliant.
As a child, I flew just twice. We have continued that same tradition with our own children, four and seven, and have enjoyed many memorable holidays in South Wales in recent years.
As Brits, our sights are so often fixed on overseas destinations, and our minds on “escaping”, that we risk overlooking everything that this country has to offer.
According to an independent think tank, the Resolution Foundation, in pre-pandemic times the UK’s “tourism trade deficit” (the amount we spend on overseas holidays versus the amount spent by tourists visiting the UK) equated to an incredible £30.5bn.
The economic benefit of staying and spending here in the UK is impossible to ignore.
So, what about the environmental cost of overseas holidays?
Around 2.4% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from aviation, and the industry is thought to be responsible for around 5% of global warming, by the European Federation for Transport and Environment. Yet only half of us in the UK fly annually, and just 3% of the global population flies regularly.
I have never been a big flyer but I have been very fortunate to visit several wonderful countries – often typically gravitating towards those where nature lies at their heart.
Costa Rica, today one of the most biodiverse places on earth having returned from the brink of environmental disaster just decades earlier, is the most incredible place I have been. It should be viewed as an example of what can be achieved by world leaders on a global scale.
Unfortunately for me, those fond memories are now tinged with a growing sense of guilt, having watched the climate crisis continue to escalate in the decade since.
We currently have no plans to fly again as a family. Our next big adventure will be to explore Scotland in a couple of years’ time, and if we do go to Europe it will be by train.
The Canary Islands, around 3,500 miles away, or a four-hour flight from the UK, are among the most popular destinations for British travellers.
For a single person, return flights from London will equate to 1 tonne of carbon dioxide (that person’s share of the planes’ total emissions) – around 10% of the total emissions the average British person generates annually.
For a family of four, that figure is of course 4 tonnes. It is worth noting that if you are flying business class or first class, your emissions are calculated to be up to four times higher than if flying economy.
By contrast, a family car journey covering the same distance would chalk up 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide – a reduction of over half. Taking the train would reduce your emissions by just over half again.
Of course, if choosing to holiday here in the UK, we won’t be driving anywhere near that far – equivalent to travelling up and down the UK twice over.
Our recent family holiday to South Wales will have resulted in around 0.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide – emissions 20 times lower than if we’d hopped on a plane to somewhere like Gran Canaria.
It means that we could take our boys to Wales every year of their childhood and still not quite match up to that single overseas trip.
The simple point is, do we really need to fly or travel long distances in search of the perfect holiday?
Or, given the climate emergency that faces us, is this one significant and relatively easy change that we can all make now.