The New Year is a time for new beginnings. As we shake off the excesses of Christmas and leave the previous year behind, the start of January offers us new opportunities: new jobs to aspire towards, new people to meet and new events to fill out your calendar. We have already struggled through the harsh winter months so as the days begin to get longer and spring finally rolls around, we always try to look forward rather than back. Some of us use the advent of the New Year to catalyse changes to our diet or broader lifestyle while others push themselves to achieve sporting goals like running a marathon. The overarching motivation is to commit to doing things we have always wanted to but long put off, to add some notches to our individual bucket lists.
This year more than most people are welcoming the New Year and the promise of freshness and change that it invariably brings. Having spent the best part of a year under a variety of lockdown restrictions, we have all had ample time to run through our aspirations, set new goals and dream up new ways to shake up our lives. We have all talked the talk and now, mercifully, it is time to make those dreams a tangible reality. With all the time in the world to browse Instagram and Facebook, we have exposed ourselves to parts of the world we never knew existed so, naturally, many far flung, exotic destinations have made their way into our dream travel itinerary. Yet, at least for most of us, the COVID 19 pandemic continues to keep us confined, and as nations the world over fight their own battles with this deadly virus, we are looking a little closer to home when planning our next getaway.
A rural escape offers us just that. It is an opportunity to finally break out of our homes and breathe in the freshness of the country air, free from the dust and grime of the city. Although the British countryside might not be as exciting as a St Lucian beach, it nevertheless offers us the freedom we have been so desperately craving. Better still, a countryside retreat is a cheaper, greener alternative to an exotic trip and it helps support local businesses who have really been feeling the strain of this virus. So you can travel with a clean conscience and a clean carbon footprint. Here are some things any rural traveller needs to know before they head off along the open road into the countryside.
Get the right gadgets
There are two types of rural traveller. There are those who embrace the rural experience as a chance to reconnect with nature, to reacquaint ourselves with the more basic necessities of life and generally enjoy a change of scene from our urban everyday. Others remain resolutely attached to our cosmopolitan creature comforts, unable and frankly unwilling to leave behind their social media feeds, electric toothbrushes and plush duvets. While, as you can probably tell, I fall more into the former rather than the latter, I can also empathise with the difficulty of moving outside one’s comfort zone –especially when we haven’t left it for months.
Fortunately, there is a vast abundance of products available to coax even the most reluctant townie into a rural adventure. Whether you pack a blow up mattress to sleep soundly, a solar portable power station to keep your GPS device powered up or a fold up toaster to put over a camping stove, you can give any tent or teepee the feel of a luxury hotel. Who said camping out in the woods had to be uncomfortable?
Timing is everything
Just as important as the ‘where’ of your trip is the ‘when’. Obviously, different destinations are more popular at different times of the year so unless you don’t mind getting swept away in a tide of other tourists, it might be best to schedule during the off season. Under current circumstances, however, it might be best to keep track of the ever-changing state of Coronavirus restrictions more than the rates of tourist footfall. Most countries are currently imposing different levels of restrictions at the regional level which can change subject to increasing or decreasing infection rates. As such, it is important to do a five-minute analysis of trends in COVID 19 cases in the area you plan to visit before booking your trip. At the very least check the cancellation policy before making any reservations or you might be unable to claim a refund if the premises are suddenly forced, by law, to close.
On an ethical note, you should always be wary of travelling from a big city, where cases are likely to be higher, to a more sparsely populated rural area with fewer cases. Nothing will dampen your holiday spirits more than infecting the local population with a potentially deadly virus.
Weather is king
Outdoor activities like camping, glamping, mountain trekking are far safer in terms of the risk of COVID 19 than conventional city breaks or hotel stays so you are likely to encounter fewer restrictions. However, you will be at the mercy of the weather. Weather conditions can be the difference between the serene rustic holiday you had always dreamed of and a drenched, windswept, muddy nightmare that no amount of stoicism can overcome. Most of us do not have the luxury of short notice to suddenly plan a week-long getaway so it is advisable to choose a type of rural retreat which is ‘resistant’ to adverse conditions. Camping during the monsoon season is unlikely to furnish you with too many happy memories.
This should go without saying but when we venture out into the countryside, all of us bear a burden of responsibility to take care of the natural environment as we travel. We are guests in Mother Nature’s house when all is said and done.
Most campsites have good recycling facilities so try not to dump all of your rubbish into one bag, even if it saves you an extra thirty seconds. When you are out enjoying your new rural surroundings, keep to designated footpaths as closely as possible to avoid disturbing vulnerable species and don’t even think about dumping plastic containers when you are done with them. Nature is there for all to enjoy but we must not take it for granted.
As the world opens up and travellers far and wide shake off the cobwebs, it is worth remembering that some of the most beautiful destinations you can find might be on your doorstep.