Disclaimer; this blogpost was written with Covid restrictions in Scotland as of May 2021 in mind. If you do make travel plans please make sure you check the current restrictions in your local area and any area you will be travelling to or through and stay safe.
It has been a while. For those of you who are like me and prefer to be on the go 24/7, discovering new places, meeting new people, trying new dishes and completely stepping out of your comfort zone, the roaring feeling of wanderlust must be relatable. If you have also spent most of your time this semester restlessly staring out of the window, thinking of all the places you could be travelling to and creating imaginary itineraries for world trips that would not be put into practice any time soon, this post is here to give you some hope, but also perspective.
Even though we might want to hop on the first plane to Bangkok as soon as the restrictions allow it, I think we should also take the pandemic and the consequent travel ban as an opportunity to reflect on the way we travel, which in many cases is everything but sustainable. Many of us university students in the UK are rather privileged, and hopping on a plane for a two week holiday halfway across the globe, or even just a weekend city trip somewhere in Europe does not seem foreign to us. However, with the current travel restrictions, expensive PCR tests and a two week quarantine periods that many countries have been enforcing over the past year, the idea of going abroad for a quick break has become more alien. Even when possible as per the COVID restrictions, for many travelling abroad is still too much of a hassle, too time consuming or too expensive. Of course we all hope that travel will soon become less complicated, but its current complexity can also make us realise how incredibly, and perhaps excessively, simple it used to be. No matter how enriching travelling to far-away and unfamiliar destinations and discovering new cultures can be, maybe it should not be as easy as it was before the pandemic. Mass tourism has been damaging the environment and local culture of many places for quite some time now, and one return flight across the Atlantic already accounts for half of the average carbon footprint of someone living in Britain. I am not saying that we should just stop travelling altogether, that thought alone crushes my soul, I am just saying that we should use the past year as a lesson that taught us that being able to travel is a privilege, and if we want to keep doing it we should do it as mindfully and sustainably as possible. The pandemic showed us that it might not always be necessary to go as far to experience something new, as travelling locally, staycationing if you will, can also be a great way to get away from our busy lives at home. And if we do want to go a bit further, we need to do it mindfully, and spend some proper time there to make it worth the hassle.
According to the guidelines at the time of writing, unrestricted travel is allowed both within Scotland and between Scotland and England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man – with the exception of any areas of Scotland in Level 3* or Level 4. According the current traffic light system we should only travel to green list countries for holidays, and arrivals from green list countries will not be required to quarantine or isolate on arrival in Scotland, but will need to take a PCR test shortly after arrival. Unfortunately all the countries on the green list so far would involve flying, and it is impossible to say whether some countries from the amber list will move to green anytime soon, so for a safe, quarantine and stress free holiday this post will only include locations within the UK. Please do make sure to check the most recent restrictions and guidelines when planning your trip!
That being said, here are some amazing places you can travel to this summer without breaking the restrictions (as of the time of writing) and harming the planet.
The four most amazing places to travel to this summer
1. The Cairngorms
You really don't have to go far to have an amazing holiday if you enjoy being in the great outdoors! Put on your hiking boots and appreciate the stunning views of Lohnagar, or go for a more leisurely woodland walk at Rothiemurchus, close to Aviemore. If you’re in Aviemore and enjoy water sports, why not go windsurfing on Loch Insh or canoeing or paddle boarding on the river spey? In case you want to stay a bit closer to home, you can easily drive or take a bus to Braemar, where you can hike up the Morrone and walk around the charming village. From Ballater, which is also accessible by bus, you can walk the Sgòr Buidhe circuit or the more casual but beautiful seven bridges walk. If you'd like to see something a bit more unusual, pay a visit to the Secret Scottish Pyramid in the woods surrounding Balmoral castle! This pyramid is one of the eleven Scottish cairns that commemorate members of the royal family, this one being dedicated to prince Albert. You can easily walk there from the car park or bus stop at Crathie. There is a walk of approximately 10k that passes several of the cairns and will also reward you with stunning views. If you have the time, you can also take a tour of the royal family's holiday home itself! Just keep in mind that Balmoral's grounds, gardens, exhibitions, gift shops and restaurant are only open to the public from Monday 26th April until Monday 2nd August.
Stunning view of the Sgòr Buidhe circuit
2. Sutherland and Caithness & the North Coast 500
Blue water and beautiful sandy beaches? The water might be a bit chilly, but with a little bit of imagination being the stunning Scottish north coast is just like being in Portugal, and if you have a good wetsuit it might even be better. If you like beautiful views and perhaps a surf, don't miss out on the beauty of the northern coast of Sutherland and Caithness. Torrisdale Bay, Farr Bay, Strathy and Melvich will not let you down. If you have the time, why not consider driving, cycling or even hiking the full NC500, Scotland's 500 mile long scenic coastal route around the north coast? En route, don’t forget to walk the final stage of the John 'o Groats trail, a trail which covers and impressive 147 miles from Inverness to the most northern point of mainland Scotland, and stop in the picturesque fishing town of Ullapool.
3. Jupiter Artland & Edinburgh
Do you want a little bit less hiking and a bit more art, whilst still being in nature? Jupiter Artland is just the place for you. This large-scale contemporary sculpture park and art gallery just outside of Edinburgh hosts several exhibitions, installations and sculptures that blend into a stunningly green landscape. Tickets are £5 for students and a regular adult entry is £10. Just make sure to book your tickets online in advance as they cannot accept walk-ins due to the current COVID guidelines. Want to extend your stay and soak up some more culture? Head into Edinburgh, where you can wander around the charming Dean Village and visit the nearby Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Head a bit further into town and you'll find the National Gallery of Scotland, the National museum of Scotland and of course Edinburgh castle.
Dean Village in Edinburgh
4. The Cotswolds
Do you want to venture a little bit further and get that feeling of truly being away from home by crossing a border? Why not consider going down to England? In the Cotswolds in southwest England you will find beautiful rolling hills and charming little villages. Visit the historic town of Woodstock (no, not the festival), where you'll find the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, the UNESCO world-heritage site Blenheim Palace. You’ll find Woodstock at just a 20min drive or a 30 minute train ride from Oxford, which is also worth a visit if you want to add some more urban and architectural vibes to your itinerary. If you visit the Cotswolds in summer, you'll be lucky enough to witness lavender season, which stretches from June to August and accounts for stunning views and heavenly scents. You can visit Hill Barn lavender farm between 16th June until 5th August 2021. The area is also famous for its chocolate box villages, owing their names to the picturesque scenes on Cadbury’s chocolate boxes in the mid 20th century. Excellent suggestions for such pretty little villages are Castle Combe and Bibury. For the more adventurous souls the area also has plenty to offer. You can hike the 102 mile long Cotswold Way, cycle at Flyup 417 Bike Park, enjoy an array of water activities including kayaking, wakeboarding, water skiing and windsurfing at Cotswolds waterpark, or go one of the many shorter walks.
Apart from being mindful by the restrictions, also keep in mind that the tourism industry has been hardly hit by the pandemic and has left many people without an income. Where possible, go to those small guesthouses and B&B's, eat in local restaurants and tip generously. This way you help the industry get back on its feet, and you get the full local experience!
 Timperley, J. 2020. Should we give up flying for the sake of the climate? BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200218-climate-change-how-to-cut-your-carbon-emissions-when-flying