I was pulling out of Castle Cary station last weekend, when the words of the plumber, who’d been sent to our Airbnb to fix a leak, rang in my ears: “Yes, I’d heard there was a group of DFL-ers in town”. (Down From London. Shudders). My five friends and I had been in Somerset, celebrating a 30th birthday. It was, in fact, my third staycation of the summer. And this comment, well, it struck a chord. See, we like to think of ourselves as respectful and agreeable young ladies, not ones that stick out like sore thumbs and irk locals, even if they “didn’t mean it like that”. Maybe it was the convoy and chorus of thunderous suitcase wheels as we trundled through the village to the house? Or that we asked in the local cafe if there was oat milk? No, it must be the walk we did, uphill and down dale, in Ganni dresses and trainers, because how else were we to get to lunch, nearly four miles away? Phone signal was terrible, UBER was in a countryside induced coma, and apparently, all the taxi drivers in the area are dads, and were therefore busy with their kids on Father's Day.
Yikes! It’s with this, and the news that in January 2020, Airbnb's website had 91 million visits, that I’d like to offer up some tips on how to staycation successfully. Things I’ve learned. Stuff I wouldn’t do again. Stuff that I've never done, but want to reassure you not to, anyway.
You must pack sensible shoes. Trainers are fine, but nothing you had to queue outside a store for on the day that they ‘dropped’. Ideally, you’ll go for walking boots. Preferably, ones that show some sign of wear and tear. A scuff here, a smattering of mud there. Even if your weather app shows unequivocal blue skies, a cagoule is key. Celine sent a camouflage one down its SS21 runway, and while the brand is enduringly fashion, this is not obvious to the outside eye, and, thanks to the military motif, it’s got an air of practicality about it. After all, what is camo for if not a tool to blend in? Or, for ultimate normcore vibes, take a leaf out of Andy Burnham’s book, and go for something by The North Face.
It is an unassailable fact that when ensconced in bucolic landscapes, Londoners will attempt some kind of walk. It doesn’t matter whether we're prepped, interested or able, the birdsong, solitude and silage prove all too irresistible. To avoid turning your phone 90 degrees every kilometre, plan a route before, preferably on a map. Now, while social convention in cities is to keep shtum with strangers, greetings in the great outdoors are encouraged. When you see walkers on the approach, take nice astute strides, make eye contact and issue a non-smug, octave-appropriate “hi,” “hello,” “morning,” or “afternoon”.
It’s fun to gawp at the windows of estate agents in the city, let alone somewhere where you might actually be able to afford some bricks. But that doesn’t mean you should. Locals are fed up of hearing the vexingly predictable refrain of: “OMG look what you can get for £500k”. Ignore the siren song, and instead, move swiftly and silently along. To the antiques shop, which no, you should not descend on as a group of six, or worse ten. Items are precariously perched; such spaces can not withstand the pretend-careful shuffling of a group who had one too many bottles of rosé at lunch. Groups of two and whispers will do.
The owner might not mind that you're an overexcitable gaggle, because there's this thing that butters them up called cash. Neighbours though, well... They're understandably not keen on the whole second-home, hollowing out communities thing, so chances are they're harbouring resentment for your host. And they're probably looking for a reason to complain. You know like, if you blocked their parking space with a Pizzarova (a Land Rover that serves sourdough, naturally), or if you leave a mountainous pile of overspill rubbish out... on the wrong day. Be observant and respectful. Is cigarette smoke wafting into their garden? What's the decibel level of shrieks outside? And the thudding reverberations of the bass line inside?
Think of your staycation location as you do, say, Soho House. Cameras, as a rule of thumb, are banned. If you must take a photo, be discreet. Behind the doors of your Airbnb? Sure. Go full Influencers In The Wild if that’s your bag. But out and about, draping yourself over styles in fields, while seasoned dog walkers try to make haste is inappropriate and annoying. The spectre of a ginormous group doing ‘silly poses’ on bridges in Cotswolds villages only feeds into the local view that we're abundantly steeped in self-confidence. No no, that's not a good thing.