Reframing annual leave – a win for mental health, the environment and local businesses

Whether it’s our environmental conscience, Brexit-fuelled visa uncertainty or – yes, you guessed it – the pandemic, the way we are thinking about holidays has changed.

Firstly, we’ve been forced to reconsider how we approach annual leave. In the past taking days off from work almost invariably meant travel, often travel overseas. Over the past year of course things have been different, and the pandemic forced us to rethink how we use our annual leave entitlement. There’s a reason the Government makes it compulsory for employers to give their staff annual leave – and it isn’t because they want us to be catching flights to exotic locales! It’s because working continuously without any breaks is bad for productivity, results in poor mental health, and the risk of burnout.

The mental health benefits of taking time off are well-documented and understood. In 2020 many employers reported their staff weren’t using up annual leave, hoping to save it up for when international travel resumed. Sadly, for many, this wait wasn’t fruitful and just resulted in unclaimed holiday being lost, and months of break-free work. With this came the realisation that annual leave is more about a break from work than it is about travel.

Even before Brexit and the pandemic were upon us, the green-minded among us had started reconsidering how they travel for leisure. Many had started swapping flights for train travel, which invariably meant local holidays instead of international ones. Greta Thunberg memorably inspired a movement with refusal to fly during her 2019 trans-Atlantic tour and other environmental activists are now similarly boycotting the airline industry. The UK tourism industry, expectedly, responded to this consumer demand for sustainability. The National Trust for instance has made changes to their holiday cottages to make it easier for everyone to enjoy an eco-friendly getaway without compromising on comfort. Their ‘eco-cottages’ are run on eco-heating and solar panels, and 100% of the profits are reinvested back into conservation work – a win for the environment, a win for local communities.

Now there are a few more reasons for traveling locally. We’re realising that a holiday is meant to be just that…a holiday. It’s supposed to be uncomplicated and hassle-free. There’s nothing relaxing about planning travel amidst changing restrictions, quarantines, PCR tests, and Covid passports.  Herein lies the beauty of the staycation, in all its simplistic glory. There’s no need to worry about foreign car hire, visas, screaming children on flights, or long queues in baggage claim. Instead, you can lazily roll out of bed, jump into your car, and within a couple of hours find yourself in unflinching “holiday mode” in an idyllic British setting. Shorter travel distances also mean you can get more bang for your buck; it’s likely that more of your precious annual leave is spent enjoying your break rather than in transit.

For now, it seems like the sunny beaches of St. Tropez have been swapped for the Norfolk coast and Neapolitan pizza replaced by Cornish pasties. Google searches for “staycation” increased by over 500% in 2020 and ‘glamping holidays in the UK’ by 400%, which does suggest a change in attitude towards holidays. As the world receives the vaccine, it may not be long before we can hop on a flight and holiday halfway across the world. But let’s hope we also retain our appreciation for what’s right on our doorstep and take breaks from work because we need the break – not just because we got a good Ryanair deal.

This article was worked on by our fantastic summer intern, Amelia Coleman.

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