meI’m lying alone on my back on a huge concrete plateau that juts into the sea – sun-warmed and strangely beautiful in its brutality – staring at the sky. I’m not crying like that. Good Lord, no! Then why are my cheeks wet? Um. Well. So maybe a a couple The tears have somehow made their way down my cheeks – just because of how gorgeous it all is, you know. The hazy June sun, edged out by a stunning whisper, set in a washed denim sky; the crash of the teal-matte waves on rock is the only sound that breaks the otherworldly silence.
I often get this way when I travel: overwhelmed by the surreal beauty of faraway destinations when I have the ability to fully experience them using all my senses, unfettered by the constant distractions of work emails and social media and the “ping!”, “ping!”, “ping!”, “ping!”. of Whatsapp. But now I’m not in some exotic locale; now, I am on vacation in my own hometown.
Cast your mind back, if you can, to a simpler time. Post-time lock system, but pre-traffic light system. A time when pandemic restrictions meant Brits could only travel within the UK. And so, at a time when the hottest debate in travel suddenly came to the fore whether the term “residence” referred exclusively to a holiday taken in your own home, or a holiday in your home country Generally.
The first was the original meaning, the second what the portmanteau was changed in some way. Unlike many travel journalists on Twitter, I was unable to muster sufficient emotional investment in either argument. If pressed, I’d probably say: “Well, if most people now think it means any home holiday, then it obviously does.” Language changes, and we must change with it.
In the post-pandemic world, when travel is largely back to normal, it seems even less important. I only bring it up because I had my first real “home” in years. And when I say “staycation”, I mean it in the fullest sense of the word – I didn’t go anywhere. And it turned out to be one of the most relaxing holidays I’ve ever had.
It is part of the aforementioned concrete range the Warrena largely unnamed wilderness area (and Site of Scientific Interest) with veritable parkland full of wildflowers, winding coastal paths, and rugged beaches off the tourist trail in the town of Folkestone.
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I’ve been living in this wonderful seaside place in the District since September last year, but what with the hustle and bustle of building a life somewhere new – making friends, signing up for all the local events, figuring out a new commute and work-from-home routine – I haven’t had a moment to stop and just be in the place I now call home. And so I did something that travel editors rarely do, what with the whole world of destinations: I booked a week off in the height of summer and made exactly zero plans.
What followed was the kind of frivolous free week that is only possible when you don’t have to keep track of seat reservations, hotel reservations, restaurant opening hours or museum ticketing slots. The kind of idyllic holiday that is only possible, in fact, when you stay firmly put.
It takes some getting used to, at first. On the first day, I felt a frenzied panic in my throat as I stared down the barrel of seven days of … nothing. What a crazy waste of annual leave! I could be anywhere, doing anything: watching Flamenco dancers in Seville, kayaking across stunning blue water in the Austrian Lake District, spinning pecorino-coated strands cheese and black pepper in Rome. What the heck was I thinking?
The wall-to-wall sunshine I’d planned to see also failed, and I set out for the town’s trendy Harbor Arm redevelopment on a colder-than-expected Monday under white-clad skies with the feel of gloomy stocks. Well, I could only keep my expectations low and make the best of it. Address Box, a new lunch and brunch place, had opened up, and I had not tried it yet. Maybe that’s a start. Half an hour later, I was shoveling battered fish tacos into my mouth with greasy fingers; Meanwhile, my gaze drifted from my book as I gazed back across the sea, each and every ivory buffering wave, to Sunny Sands beach, with its alluring strip of mustard sand. I sat outside – even the sun made it look casual – and relaxed over the kind of two-hour lunch I rarely, if ever, take.
Next came the aforementioned Warren ride, along with a can of cold beer and some fizzy sweets that I usually indulge myself on long distance runs. Again, I kept picking up my book and putting it back down; the view was too wide, the kind that inspires thoughts of boxing (or, if I’m up to you, some funny singing into the wind). The hours passed in minutes, and as the sun was setting, I finally stripped off and let myself be immersed in the gasp-inducing waste of the English Channel as I basked in the dim glass of the sky.
The following days went by in similar frenzy: a 10km run to Sandgate, the next town over, with the reward of cinnamon buns and iced coffee from Orchard Lane; freshly baked banana bread and yoga classes at a newly opened studio and cafe yoke; beach reflection after an endless ocean swim; frozen margaritas at the Goods Yard and beer at Brewing Brothers. I felt so refreshed that I even mustered up the energy to finally repaint my bedroom, leaning into the mental process of rolling sage green on bare walls.
The most adventurous thing I did all week was drive with a friend 20 minutes out to the countryside on Folkestone’s doorstep. We tramped through Madams Wood, hoods slicked with rain, before retiring to the Five O’clock a pub for cauliflower pakora burgers and too many pints of Kentish cider. I finished the week filled with a bone deep peace that I haven’t experienced in a while.
It helps, of course, if you live in a coastal town, or in any particularly attractive beauty spot or rural location. But that’s not even the most important thing when it comes to the magic of the stay. For one, it offers a less stressful version of a vacation that can’t be recreated any other way—unless you have a PA and unlimited cash reserves. Even then, the best laid plans are no guarantee: nothing can stop your flight, lose luggage, or have a hotel hit by a freak wave of norovirus cases.
But, more importantly, it gives you the opportunity to get out of the mad, non-stop pressures of everyday life and see your surroundings in a new way; Seriously experience where you live, and enjoy it like visitors. To enjoy a series of small pleasures – a flat white at that cafe you’ve always wanted to try, a walk in that patch of green you saw on the map but never explored, an afternoon at the pokey local museum you’ve been to a hundred times but never got into – that adds up to much, much more than the sum of their parts.
Maybe it’s time to get the original meaning of “staycation” back this summer – I guarantee it will be the cheapest, and probably the most relaxing holiday you’ll have all year.
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