Sun, Sea and Sanitiser

Commended in the Bradt New Travel Writer of the Year Competition 2024.

The following piece was commended in our 2024 New Travel Writer of the Year Competition. You can find the full list of long and short listed entries – including the winner – here.

The sun shines as brightly as it always has, sparkling on the surface of the sea and dancing on the edges of the gently breaking waves. Children crouch at the water’s edge; groups of Spanish teens sit among pinkening British families, and vendors weave their way through the crowds. It is a normal day in Tenerife. Except that it’s not quite normal. Not if you start to look more closely. The vendors’ cries are slightly muffled, the shouts of “cerveza”, “agua” and “fruta” filtered through fabric face masks; the shops and cafes are closed; the beach patrolled by inspectors in high-visibility jackets, enforcing rules relayed by brand new signs. Signs that are topped with a small spiky sphere on a warning triangle.

“Recuerde adaptar todas LAS MEDIDAS HIGIÉNICO SANITARIAS COVID 19.” They say. “Remember to abide by all the Covid-19 HEALTH AND HYGIENE MEASURES.”

It had been in the calendar for nine months, this trip, a 10-day highlight in an otherwise unremarkable year; a routine family holiday within the regular family routine. A break from work, school and nursery. But it hadn’t worked out like that. As the coronavirus had closed in, as we had been sent home from work, as the schools and nurseries had closed, and as the foreign office had advised against all but essential overseas travel, those 10-days in the calendar had looked increasingly unreal. A taunting reminder of a life that we no longer lived; a life we were warned might never return.

It would be cancelled, we knew, and we would forget about it. A minor disappointment in a year of fear and upheaval. Until it wasn’t. After more than 3 months of lockdown, 17 days before we were due to depart, the government ruled that Spain was safe, that we could go.

Only we weren’t sure that we wanted to. We had barely left home in months, and had interacted with the world only through the paraphernalia of a pandemic: google classrooms, sanitising wipes and social distancing signs. We had avoided human contact as much as we possibly could: did it really make sense to spend four hours on a plane? To eat every night in a restaurant? Were those risks really worth taking?

Confined to four walls for most of the year, starved of almost all interaction with the outside world and not knowing when we might get an opportunity to travel again, we decided that that they were. And leaving our bubble was like having a veil lifted from in front of our faces: seeing the world thrown back open in all its glory. Everyday experiences – the sun on our faces, the sand in our toes – were charged with new meaning. The pandemic was not over, we knew, but our lives were no longer on hold. Until we were told that they would be once more. We had been in Tenerife for two days when the news came in: that the virus was surging; that Spain was not safe; that we would have to quarantine on our return. It was a moment of frustration, but a moment that inspired a new intensity of purpose. This was our opportunity, perhaps our only opportunity. In a year of endless uncertainty, of disruption, confusion and unpredictable change, we had eight days to enjoy ourselves. Eight days before we returned to our four walls, walls that would fill with reports of excess deaths, local lockdowns and second waves.

We hired a car to traverse the rugged and rocky crater of Teide. We picnicked under the watchful eyes and darting jaws of hordes of hungry lizards. We explored cobblestone paths and mountain ridges. We splashed in the foaming waters of Garachico’s lava pools. We swam, we snorkelled, we laughed, and we played.

It wasn’t normal. We wore masks; we socially distanced; we sanitised obsessively. Many things were closed and everywhere was quiet. But more than any other holiday, it was an escape. A splash of light and laughter in a year stripped of colour and joy; a reminder that there is more to the world than fear and isolation.

So the risk was worth taking, right? In the weeks after our return, I would have told you that it was. And at the end of 2020, in lockdown again, I would have told you that Tenerife had been the highlight of my year. But in 2021, scientists showed that, during 2020, increases in international travel had led to increases in covid infections. If nobody in the UK had travelled overseas in the summer of 2020, there would have been fewer covid cases. And there might, perhaps, have been fewer covid deaths. So although I enjoyed our trip immensely, I still find myself asking the question: was it definitely worth taking the risk?

More information

For more information about our New Travel Writer of the Year Competition, head to our competitions page.