In January, when I lived on another planet, I made a major resolution for 2020: to restrict myself to five return flights this year. For a travel journalist, trust me, this is a big commitment and serious sacrifice. I spent weeks planning how I could continue to cover international festivals for this newspaper while minimising my air miles, and made a business case for this to my (blessedly understanding) editor. I carefully mapped out and booked an Amtrak rail journey across the American Southwest for a few months in 2020, ticking off music festivals as I went.
Now, of course, the joke is on me: I’ll be lucky if I manage to take two return flights this year, let alone five. What I’d loftily called “my five-flight challenge” is now a joke my friends use to taunt me, as the very idea of completing five flights in 2020 grows increasingly laughable. (I’m fine about this, I’ve always believed that if something can’t be fun for me, it should at least be funny for my friends.) The one and only air journey I’ve made this year was to California in February, and back, hurriedly, on the last flight out of Austin, Texas, in March, days after the city had cancelled SXSW, the first major international culture festival to crumble due to Covid.
My carbon footprint has never been this abstemious, but here’s the thing: “responsible travel” felt a whole lot more gratifying when it was a choice. In 2019, going flight-free was a millennial badge of honour. Now it’s just boring. In 2019, shunning package trips abroad in favour of staycations seemed quirky and woke. Now it’s bog-standard. I’m happy for the planet and everything, but damn, I miss feeling special!
So even as a traveller determined to embrace a life of low-impact, responsible tourism, I can understand my fellow millennials who have determinedly forgotten the flight-free movement like a bad Tinder date, and lost their head for numbers when it comes to counting carbon. Sorry, Greta Thunwho?
“Revenge travel” is how tourism industry experts are describing this new consumer behavioural trend. Demographics – like millennials – that were previously associated with restrained, responsible spending, are hitting back at the world for keeping them grounded for so long. And booking the most environmentally debauched holiday they can muster; carbon footprint be damned; don’t spare the single-use plastics.
Experts are comparing “revenge travel” to the phenomenon of “revenge spending” observed in 1980s China, a spree of post-Cultural Revolution conspicuous consumption following communism. If there’s one thing people of all political creeds can agree on, it’s that humans are strange creatures with a perverse streak about a foot wide, and when told what to do for a prolonged period, we start to fixate on quite the opposite.
I’m not quite at the stage of stir-crazy lockdown rebellion where I’m furiously clicking through long-haul flight searches to Costa Rica, and not giving two hoots if I’m staying in an eco-lodge or dedicated do-your-own-fracking retreat. But I’ll admit to starting to feel like I’ve really earned a corker of a longhaul holiday next year, by confining myself to Kent for most of 2020. I’m in such a huge carbon deficit right now that I could take a private jet to Cartagena and still have carbon miles to play with. I won’t, of course; like most travellers, much as I don’t enjoy feeling trapped, I’m very aware how lucky I am to be grounded on this particular island, with plenty of travel to sustain me for the rest of the year.
With travel, as with love, it’s wise to replace the concept of “revenge” with that of “reward”. I’ve read a lot of selfhelp books about this, and I intend to plan my next big international trip in a classy, cool-headed fashion, not like a furious, embittered ex-lover, who feels like they were led up the garden path by the responsible travel brigade. And in the meantime, I can show International Travel that I’m getting on fine without him, revelling in my day trips around Kent, thanks, and thoroughly loved-up with my holiday plans for Wales in September.
I refuse to give International Travel the satisfaction of seeing how sad I am without him. Revenge never tastes as sweet as we hope. And when I do reward myself for making it through the emotional, financial rollercoaster of this pandemic, I want that first international holiday to taste delicious.
To read more articles by Anna Hart, see telegraph.co.uk/travel/team/anna-hart