Unintelligible languages, indecipherable currencies and airport delays; travel abroad is fraught with stresses and worries. Once the ordeal of packing has subsided there still remains the issue of endless airport security and the looming worries of lost luggage or delays. Even when the plane has landed safely and you have beaten the odds by surviving the aeroplane food, the new battles with jet lag, foreign transport links and navigation are beginning to loom.
Holidays are meant to be relaxing, a time to escape the dull monotony of everyday life, but by the time you’re tucked away in your 5 star bed, relaxed is often the last emotion that you feel. It’s more like an intense survival course than a calm week away.
Last summer I travelled through Europe with two friends. Upon arriving in France unscathed and luggage intact we found that the metro system only accepted coins. Debit cards and crisp new Euro notes clutched in our eager hands, all of our payment methods were rejected. With no way of conveying the situation to the single member of staff who was working at 11pm at night and no shops open to change our notes into coins, we were stuck. So we scrambled onto the tram and prayed that there were no people on the other side to fine us for our fare-free ride.
Two hours later when we arrived at the hostel we dared to believe that we were safe. How wrong we were. The floor length open-window next to my bed was the least of my worries—at least I had a bed! Once the hostel owners had thrown out the man who had walked in off the streets (past the non-existent security) and claimed my bed as his own, the 12 dead flies that I was sharing my pillow with seemed like a small price to pay.
Don’t get me wrong, travelling with friends can be an unforgettable experience. You return home in a haze of stories, the buzz of your own freedom and a whole plethora of Insta-worthy snaps that will make your social media popularity soar. But when we scroll through the endless bikini pics, the staged photos by national monuments or delectable foreign food, what are we really jealous of? We all know that behind each photo are 100 others, before each meal came the obligatory argument of where to eat and the whistle-stop tours of cities give you no time at all to appreciate the sights before you’re whisked off to a new monument without the time to even think up your Instagram caption.
So this year I decided to try something new. Inspired by Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes from a Small Island’ I realised with some regret that my focus on seeing the sights of the world had turned my gaze far from the wonders that our country holds. Captivated by images of Europe and beyond, I had forgotten the beauty of our national treasures, often ignored and forgotten by those who live closest to them. With friends scattered across the country there was no better time to travel the UK.
Spread across the length of Britain are some truly fantastic places. Edinburgh proved to be an interesting first stop. Caught up in the vibrance of the Edinburgh fringe I wandered around the small but picturesque city, popping into the free Scottish National Gallery and cathedral before watching some of the small fringe shows. The talent astounded me and I was shocked that the unique theatre experiences cost a mere fraction of the price of similar performances on the West End. It was a cheap and exciting experience, improved only by the even cheaper train fare to my next stop, Newcastle.
I had expected the northern city to be drab and dull, the stereotype of an industrial wasteland, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The up-and-coming city has recently been ranked amongst the best in the world, and I could easily see why. With its happy atmosphere and small but lively centre, I fell in love. The people were friendly, the newly created quayside was bursting with trendy bars and if for some reason the city wasn’t for you (although I don’t see how it couldn’t be) it was less than 30 minutes to the coast. Perfect. I never wanted to leave.
Every location made my heart yearn to stay there for longer, but as I unwillingly travelled on, the next stop always proved to be just as exciting. Although the Lake District seemed like a world away from the vibrance of the cities, the looming mountains and clear lakes rivalled even those of the Alps. Kayaking, abseiling and mountain climbing called to my inner adrenaline junkie, interrupted by day trips out to quaint old villages that had walked straight out of an Enid Blyton novel. It was as though I had been whisked away to another world.
I passed through countless towns and cities that I had never even considered visiting before, but that I will definitely return to. Durham, beautiful in its small bubble, the buzz of Leeds and Sheffield, the joys of the winding streets of York, the fields of Dorset and the beauty of the Welsh coast. There were so many hidden gems, often forgotten about in favour of continental adventures.
Although the European alternatives can provide exciting experiences and a chance to escape the monotony of the British weather, we often forget that such beautiful places exist on our doorsteps. It was easy, it was cheap, and most of all it helped me to appreciate the country that so many of us take for granted. So next time that you engage in the endless circulating arguments concerning where to travel to next, maybe the answer lies closer to home than you expected.