In any normal January, as we shiver in the gloom, holiday companies prosper as they seduce us with prospect of summer days on exotic beaches and nights in exciting cities.
In travel, anticipation should always trump apprehension. But 2020 was such a shocking year that many people will prefer to sit out 2021 rather than take on the multiple risks that seem to lurk in every corner of travel.
Yet I believe the world will lighten up surprisingly quickly as those most vulnerable to coronavirus are protected. Travellers who keep faith can hope for rich experiences.
But there are no guarantees. These are the five tests the traveller must pass before breaking free of the emotional lockdown with which 2021 has begun.
Are you happy to commit financially?
Millions of frustrated travellers had their plans cancelled last year, and a good few are still battling to get their money back. It is not unreasonable to expect you should receive either the holiday you booked or a full refund.
Improve the odds in your favour by booking a proper package holiday through a human travel agent. After coronavirus killed off travel plans last year, many people who used online travel agents and/or decided to put together a DIY holiday are still out of pocket.
Are you prepared for the rules that the destination country is imposing?
Swift and reasonably cheap tests at the airport may soon become standard, and be accepted as just another tedious element of the aviation experience, like security.
We urgently need a workable scheme of certification showing that you have had the vaccine – or indeed the virus. But there is not yet any international agreement on how a passenger’s Covid status can be recorded and recognised.
Are you comfortable with the travel process itself, whether by plane, train or ferry?
Many risk-tolerant people are content to accept the chance of infection on trains, boats or planes is very low. But there is also a strong cohort for whom “hell is other people” during the coronavirus pandemic.
They will be the motorists taking the Eurotunnel to Calais, where their interaction with the rest of humanity is almost zero. But driving sharply increases the risk exposure to an accident compared with flying or rail.
Can you accept some risk that rules may change while you are abroad?
Last year, at the start of the crisis, British holidaymakers woke up to find armed guards outside their Tenerife holiday hotel preventing them from leaving because of coronavirus cases inside.
Others were aboard one of the cruise ships that drifted helplessly, trying to find a port that would let passengers leave a vessel that had become a Covid hotspot in its own right.
Those were shocking events for the travellers involved. To build confidence, pioneering holidaymakers must return with a relaxed air, a suntan and confirmation that all is quiet on the Mediterranean front, with no sudden disruptions to holiday plans.
And that leads on to the fifth and final test...
Are you prepared for unwelcome surprises from your own government?
UK quarantine restrictions were lifted for a wide range of European destinations in July last year. But within a fortnight the most popular holiday spot, Spain, was suddenly back on the no-go list at five hours’ notice – with hundreds of thousands of people obliged to self-isolate for two weeks when they got home.
This wretched pandemic has been punctuated by UK government advice changing abruptly – such as the sudden ban on arrivals from Portugal, Cape Verde, Panama and a dozen South American countries.
Quarantine bingo each Thursday, presided over by Grant Shapps, gets ever more extreme. Even after the outright travel prohibitions at teatime, the transport secretary still had room late in the evening to place Qatar and a sprinkling of Caribbean islands on the no-go list.
But the Covid storm will subside by spring. However much the travel goalposts may move, keep dreaming of distant uplands. And sunshine.