If we are at war with Corona, can history of war teach us anything? Part IV: Corona-cation, or Holidays at Home

The summer holidays of 2020 are approaching, and the only thing that can be said with certainty is that they will look and be quite different: social distancing instead of crowded beaches, mandatory mask-wearing and hygiene rules instead of carefree personal encounters. International and domestic travel restrictions (who may travel and where to) are still subject to change, with politicians trying to navigate between the uncertainties of a pandemic, a suffocating tourism industry and their electorates longing for diversion and recreation.

For years, international tourism has grown, generating revenue of 1.450 billion US dollar in 2019.[1] Ever-increasing and faster mobility is one of the cornerstones of globalization, even if travelling for fun is the prerogative of those with money to spare and the “right” passport. For many Europeans, the Coronavirus has threatened what they perceive to be the greatest, most tangible achievement of European unification: the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area. With international travels up in the air, many decided to spend their holidays in their own country, or even stay at home. It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that in May, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projected a decline of international tourist arrivals of sixty to eighty percent for the year.[2]

But even spending the summer holidays in your own country is not risk-free. After all, from mid-March until very recently, private mobility had been restricted to the point of week-long lockdowns. In Germany, all non-essential travel was prohibited until May, and in the UK, some travel restrictions still remain in place. Also, no one can say for sure that there won’t be a second “wave” of Corona, with all its consequences.

With people preparing to spend some or all of their holidays at home (if they still have unused vacation days), some talk up the not-so-voluntary staycation this summer, giving suggestions on how to sweeten a “holiday at home”, for example by embracing the principles of Slow Travel or by implementing these “20 Relaxing & Affordable CORONA-cation Ideas”. The demand for hammocks, swimming pools, barbeques and construction material for beautifying the balcony has gone up considerably. Of course, you could also try to acquire a private jet to spend a weekend away from the crowds, as these gentlemen tried to do in April, which ended in what must have felt like a humiliating return home.

1940, © IWM Art.IWM PST 0144

For historians of war, talk about “holidays at home” sounds surprisingly familiar. When the war broke out in 1939, domestic and international travel as a leisure activity came to an abrupt halt. Ships and railways were now used for transporting supplies, troops, prisoners of war and the wounded. At the so-called home front, restrictions on the freedom of movement in the Allied countries became a part of life, just like paper restrictions, food rationing or the experience of celebrating holidays during the war. In the summer of 1941, the Ministry of Information, responsible for domestic propaganda at the home front, launched a campaign to discourage travel by appealing to a national sense of duty. The Ministry commissioned posters asking “Is your journey really necessary?” and calling upon workers to travel outside of the peak season. The campaign should not be mistaken as the result of a coordinated, driven effort to provide for the welfare of workers, however. The Ministries of Labour and Information remained somewhat sceptical and aloof, refusing to clear additional funds and even declaring the programme “a broad farce”[3]. Local authorities undertook to organise activities and events, featuring dances, concerts, games, donkey rides and fairs in summers of war.[4]

ca. 1941, © IWM Art.IWM PST 15210

In what is supposed to be a humorous take on the issue, historian Megan Westley includes in her “10 tips for surviving on the home front during the Second World War” the following advice: “For a wartime holiday, embrace the landscape around your home: take a walk, pack a picnic, or become a tourist for the day.” Westley feeds into the ever-enduring myth of the Second World War generating a sense of solidarity and equality, glossing over the fact that Holidays at Home was an immensely political issue. However, research on everyday life in Britain during the Second World War has shown that people experienced the Home Front very differently, depending on their social status, financial resources, and cultural practices. [5] What was just a disturbance for the well-off meant a severe restriction on their freedom of mobility was for others.

Comparing Corona to war hints at this connection: democratic values and freedoms are undermined in the name of a greater good, i.e. combating the enemy. Demonstrations are prohibited, public movement restricted, travelling out of the question. While the analogy should not be overstretched (as Julia has pointed out in her articles on Corona), the history of everyday life in Great Britain during the Second World War evokes striking parallels. Interestingly, appeals to spend a vacation “at home” are not limited to wartime. In 2012, the British National Tourist Boards launched a campaign called “Holidays at Home are Great!” to encourage people to spend their holidays (and money) in Great Britain. In just 1:30 minutes, the ad features all things essentially British: Stephen Fry, Rupert Grint, Michelle Dockery, Julie Walters, the young Queen, Loch Ness, tea, scones and (a large number of) Union Jacks. After all, invoking patriotism and a sense of national duty are not particular to emergency situations like war or Corona.


[1] Statista Research Department, Statistiken zum Tourismus weltweit, 15.11.2019.

[2] https://www.unwto.org/news/covid-19-international-tourist-numbers-could-fall-60-80-in-2020

[3] Home Intelligence Weekly Report 44 (July 1941), quoted from Chris Sladen, “Holidays at Home in the Second World War,” Journal of Contemporary History 37 (2016) 1, p. 72.

[4] Megan Westley, Living on the Home Front (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013), pp. 226­­–228.

[5] Sonya O. Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain 1939-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Sara Weydner (June 30, 2020). If we are at war with Corona, can history of war teach us anything? Part IV: Corona-cation, or Holidays at Home. The London Moment. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/onmo


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