Vacation or Staycation? Wise Words From a Viral Happiness Guru



David Holzer found himself caught up in the need for COVID testing towards the end of his holiday in Mallorca. Could he get back to Hungary? What is the future of foreign vacations?

Photo by Shutterstock/Photoroyalty

“I didn’t realize how many Hungarians there were on the island,” said the British woman at the clinic as she handed me the results of my two COVID-19 tests for the third time.

Like me, the Hungarians she was talking about had been caught out when their government changed Spain’s safety status from green to yellow.

Now the Hungarian government was demanding two tests within five days of traveling, 48 hours apart and 48 hours before departure.

“Hungarians are like everyone else,” I said. “They love the beach. Even more so than the Brits because they don’t have their own sea.”

“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know that. Now, just check those tests again. Make sure they’re correct now.”

It didn’t seem to bother her that she’d only given me one test at first when I’d paid for two. Worst of all, she hadn’t picked up on the fact that the tests were dated July instead of August.

As I checked the printouts again, the woman did her best to cheer me up even more.

“When do you fly?” she said.

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“We had a woman last week waiting for her test results, kept calling us from the airport asking where they were. We sent them to her phone and they were positive. She’d got the virus. Couldn’t get on her plane anyway. Can you imagine?” I shuddered. She laughed.

Vacation Island

She presumably lived on Mallorca all year round and had forgotten how much a vacation on the island means to me or the Hungarian, German, and British tourists who’d now suddenly discovered their government was demanding they quarantine for 14 days or pay for a test.

We weren’t talking about the simple EUR 50 blood test. To avoid quarantine, I had to go for the nasal swab at EUR 100 a pop. Twice.

If you haven’t had it, the nasal swab doesn’t hurt even though it feels like it’s tickling the underside of your brain. When I had my first, the Spanish nurse said “OK, let’s go!” as if we were about to have the most fun ever.

Anyway, having to sort out the tests put paid to most of the last week of my vacation. When I wasn’t schlepping gloomily to the clinic, I was on the beach wondering if I had the virus and scowling at anyone who looked around 25 and came too close. (I’d read somewhere that it was 25-year-olds who believed they were invincible that were spreading the virus.)

Despite this last week of wracked nerves, I can’t say that I regretted my decision to take a vacation in Mallorca over a staycation in Hungary.

I’d spent a long weekend in Siófok on the south shore of Lake Balaton a month or so before and quite enjoyed it. But the simple truth is nothing compares to the Mediterranean, especially Mallorca.

Half Empty

Those of us who made it to the island enjoyed beaches that were half empty and seas far cleaner than is usual for August. We wandered down streets unthronged with pink-red-brown tourists, faces like smacked bottoms. Everyone looked happy, or at least relieved.

We enjoyed the novel experience of Mallorcan waiters and shop assistants being nice to us because they were so delighted that they had any customers at all.

Make no mistake about it, much of Mallorca is on an economic knife edge. For years, Mallorcans have complained – quite rightly – about the environmental devastation caused by mass tourism to the island.

But with approximately 80% of the island’s economy dependent on it, they’ve now been forced to admit that unless something changes dramatically, they need some form of tourism to survive.

Everywhere I went on the island, I was reminded of just how deeply this dependence is rooted.

The African Looky-Looky Man with hungry eyes who tries to sell you plastic crap on the beach, the restaurateur in the celebrity bolt hole village of Deià and the clinic where I got my tests all need our money. That’s just the tip of the ice-cube.

At the moment, reconciling the economic need for mass tourism, at least in the short-term, and the appalling environmental damage it does seems impossible.

Health Boost

One afternoon at the beach, to distract myself from wondering whether I or the bronzed young couple next to me, or their cherubic child, had the virus, I pondered the question of how European governments might manage tourism in a new normal.

Countless studies have demonstrated that vacations have tangible physical and mental health benefits that save government health systems money and make employees more productive.

For example, a study by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that men who take frequent vacations are, as a Huffington Post article put it, 32% are “less likely to die from heart disease than their counterparts who forewent vacations.” The Framingham Heart Study found similar results for women.

According to the esteemed Mental Floss website, the many mental health benefits include what environmental psychologists describe as a “viral happiness epidemic” when we return from vacation, spreading good vibes.

A light bulb went off in my head. I am now officially a Vacation Viral Happiness Guru. For a reasonable fee, you can hire me to take a vacation. I will endure airport paranoia, cancelled flights and COVID-19 tests on your behalf.

On my return, I will spend an agreed amount of time in your company or government offices. Bronzed, serene and ready to radiate viral happiness vibes for the benefit of your employees.

As I show them photos of me on a yacht or tucking into a giant lobster at a seven-star restaurant, I’m sure they’ll agree with you that hiring me was a wise investment.


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