In praise of the summer staycation

Andrew Connolly argues that for many, spending the summer in Ireland is the best option

Illustration: Isabelle Griffen

Casting my mind back to the more innocent time of September 2015, I recall friends worrying about comments by Donald Trump on his plans to end the J1 programme. At the time, our worries were tempered by the belief that Trump could never be elected. While the danger of a student visa programme ending pales in comparison to everything else that Trump stands for, at the time the orange-skinned threat to our summer plans was of the utmost importance.

The summer ritual of college students is vibrant, distinct, and all-consuming. We spend months in advance talking and planning for how to spend those warm and relatively sunny months: volunteering in some far-flung corner of the world, picking up a new Tinder pic in the process? A cheeky weekend away to Amsterdam for “cultural reasons”? Not getting into Berghain? The world is your oyster – or so we’re told.

At some point, we all realise this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you just want to stay at home. Sometimes, it’s not up to you. The summer sessions culture in college, as enticing as it can be, isn’t the be-all and end-all of the months from June through September.

“it eventually hits you that holidays don’t pay for themselves”

I spent most of the summer of 2016 in Dublin, by my own choice. A few factors in my decision included the fact that I really needed a job, that there wasn’t anywhere I wanted to go, and that I just never was that big a fan of travelling anyway. A family holiday every so often has made me realise I’m a pain to have as a travel companion: I’m the person who sleeps in, complains about how there’s nothing to do, and then goes home. And honestly, the hassle of travelling isn’t made up for by having fun somewhere abroad.

The pressure to go abroad is real, and widespread, if relatively passive: that excitement that bubbles under the surface when someone asks what you’re doing or where you’re going for the summer, and the disappointment when you reply with “nothing”. Maybe the concept of staying at home is a foreign one for some. Maybe (probably) travel plans are just a piece of gossip everyone likes to know. At the same time, it can be a bit disheartening when it seems the idea of staying at home is just plain weird.

This sort of reaction is kind of strange when you consider what Ireland has to offer. We are quite lucky to live in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. I got to stay in Dublin and enjoy the various events the city offers during the summer. I got to hang with friends. And this is far from being a Dublin-only thing. Spending a summer in Cork, Galway, Wexford or whatever corner of Ireland you call home is far from the worst thing that could ever happen. Even if a weekend away in the West (or East, or the North whatever takes your fancy) is what it takes to keep you going until term starts again, then fair enough. Ireland’s growing number of music festivals, beaches that actually aren’t awful in the sun, and much more besides means there’s something for everyone.

The need to seize the day is something we are all familiar with. In that cozy period between being legally required to attend secondary school and becoming another office-dwelling hack, our college years are sold to us as the perfect time to explore. It’s easy not to notice it, or at least underestimate this, when it’s in line with your own thinking. A getaway to some sunnier locale has obvious appeal. Sure, I’ll admit it even skiing does look like it could be some good fun.

We are hardly the first wanderlust generation: my own parents went interrailing when they were young, and the idea of a sun holiday is not exactly a new concept. We are not the first gaggle of young adults who want to leave the nest when it gets warm and bright. Perhaps it is just a part of the typical youthful psyche to strive for more, and to break the shackles of childhood. But this is not something wholly inclusive.

The ability to go on holidays is easily taken for granted. As a child, you probably aren’t too worried about the cost of flights, how expensive renting a car is, or the fact that tickets to Disneyland Paris for a family of four cost about a week’s worth of wages. And then it eventually hits you that holidays don’t pay for themselves. And that’s where things get uncomfortable. A summer spent working may be a necessity for some, if not most.

Colleges invariably bring people of all kinds together in courses, societies, and clubs. And taking the view that summers are meant for fun alone is, possibly, exclusionary. Wanderlust is a pressure that is fine for many, but far from all. We need to to be just a bit more considerate, and more conscious of the fact that summer holidays are far from “fair”. I can talk all I want about my choice to stay in Ireland for most of the summer, but it will never be more than that: a choice. Enjoy your J1. Enjoy your charity trip you’re changing lives for the better, and I genuinely respect you so much for it. But we need to recognise that for some, these shores are all they need, or at least, all they have for now.