Thousands of American service members and civilians employed at the 11 U.S. military bases in the United Kingdom — and their families — have been confined to their local areas for much of the past 15 months. England enforced some of the world’s longest COVID-19 restrictions, with three national lockdowns closing shops, restaurants, hospitality, tourism, and schools. Families who arrived overseas after the summer of 2020 were not allowed to venture out for more than essentials until late May this year.
Travel from the U.K. to other countries has been even more restricted. The government is currently implementing a notorious traffic light travel warning system. This system, reviewed every three weeks, labelling countries as green, amber or red to indicate from which countries residents are permitted to return without facing isolation, if non-essential travel is banned, or if arrivals must pay to quarantine in a designated hotel. The complexity and dynamic nature of this system has left commanders with the difficult decision to restrict their service members from visiting countries they may have looked forward to as a perk to being stationed far from family.
The easing of the first lockdown in July 2020 allowed vacation rentals to open for overnight stays, people across Great Britain rushed to enjoy a change of scenery. Popular destinations such as Cornwall and the Jurassic Coast filled with British tourists. A return to normality seemed close as the government introduced a discount incentive for people to dine in at restaurants.
Not long into the next school year, however, the government implemented “the rule of six,” limiting gatherings to just six people. A new national lockdown was announced by Halloween. This second lockdown lifted at the start of December only to make way for a new tiered system that imposed stricter restrictions in areas with higher infection rates. By Christmas, national plans to allow three households to celebrate together over a few days were tightened to allow just two households to meet only on Christmas day.
A day before students were to return to school in January of 2021, yet another national lockdown began over concern for a new variant of the virus, keeping students at home for two further months. Shops and outdoor dining remained closed until mid-April. Then indoor dining, hospitality, overnight travel within Great Britain and international travel to “green list” countries resumed mid-May. Now American families stationed in England are waiting to hear that their destination of choice has made the green list.
Meanwhile, many U.K.-based families are seizing the opportunity to explore England, Scotland, and Wales as they wait for a path to open to Italy or Paris or Bruges.
“There are actually a ton of beautiful places to visit in Great Britain. It’s just that we get so excited about the big bucket list destinations that we overlook what’s right here,” said Dawn C., whose spouse has been stationed in England for three years.
“My family just decided we’ll take a road trip to hit all the little places that are all about our personality that we wouldn’t bother with if we were traveling to Europe,” said Danielle Slocum at RAF Mildenhall.
Her family recently traveled to Wales to visit the Led Zeppelin house, Queen’s recording studio and other off-the-beaten-path destinations.
“It’s so nice just to get out and have a change of scenery.”
Families that arrived in the summer of 2020 haven’t had many opportunities to meet other local spouses or explore Great Britain until recently. While many are disappointed to have to delay plans to travel to nearby Europe, they’re adapting by discovering nearby places to visit that might have otherwise been far down their travel goal list.
For example, the capital cities of Great Britain alone are brilliant destinations. London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff all have rich and varied histories and offer a wide range of activities to appeal to anyone. Nature lovers can enjoy the lochs of Scotland, England’s Lake or Peak Districts, or Snowdonia in Wales. As an island Great Britain boasts numerous and diverse beaches, from the clear waters of Cornwall to the sandy beaches along the piers of the Jurassic Coast to the shingled shores of the East. History lovers of course will find an abundance of castles, historic manors and battle sites, Roman and Anglo-Saxon ruins and more.