Wanderlust: Travelling During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Dec 11, 2020

Health & Lifestyle | Lauranne Heres

In this month’s Wanderlust, we talk to a group of people who have travelled during the

pandemic. They have the answers to your most pressing questions about going away during

tough times. Meet Jean-Michel, a retired journalist from London, Florimond, a student from

Leiden, the Netherlands and Emilie, a teacher from Arequipa, Peru.

Where did you travel from and where to?

J-M: My wife and I travelled from London to Brittany. It was supposed to be by plane, but the route was cancelled so we took the car, which took about 10 hours via the Eurotunnel. This was the safest option for us.

F: From Amsterdam to Split, Croatia.

E: I travelled from Arequipa, Peru, to Washington DC, USA

What were the government guidelines about travelling where you came from?

J-M: France was on the quarantine list, so we had to stay in for 14 days upon our return. That was our second quarantine in a month!

F: The Dutch government marked Croatia as 'yellow' when we booked two weeks in advance. Shortly before we were left this was changed to 'orange', which means they advise you not to travel unless necessary.

E: In Peru, the guidelines just said you had to wear a mask, face shield, and have a signed form swearing you didn’t have any COVID symptoms.

Why did you choose to travel and how safe did you feel about it?

J-M: We were going for my daughter’s wedding, so a can’t miss event. I was aware of the risks and before leaving I checked out what zone the city was in (red or yellow or green). We did tests earlier in the year, and my wife tested positive and I did not. So, when we travel, she gets out of the car to refuel or buy things. We have gel and masks (I have many masks in different colours and I love matching them to my outfits.)

F: We travelled for leisure. We learnt that because Croatia had a lot of new cases near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the risks were going up. Because Split was still relatively safe, there were significantly less cases than in Amsterdam (and we could not get a refund) we decided to go. We did agree beforehand to skip indoor activities.

E: I chose to travel because I had some unexpected time off and wanted to make the most of it by going to see family. Going to France was out of the question (new lockdown there, too much time difference to continue teaching, etc.) so I chose to visit my brother and his family in the USA.

Were you able to travel direct or did you have layovers/several stops?

J-M: We did it direct, left at 6am and arrived at 5pm.

F: We flew direct and paid extra to do so. This was also partly because of the time it saved us. For a large price difference (more than €50) we would have taken the layover.

E: I had two layovers (which is normal); one in Lima, then one in Miami. I didn’t feel so safe in Miami because wearing a mask wasn’t very well enforced (they would wear it just over their mouth, or hanging off their ears) and people didn’t seem to be respecting any kind of social distancing at all!

What precautions did you take personally while travelling?

J-M: Masks, gel, always the same person who gets out to pay/pump gas etc. When I go to a public toilet, I try to touch the door away from the handle hoping that fewer people have touched it. And one the way out I take a piece of paper to flush and open the door.

F: Although not mandatory at that time, we wore our masks at all times when inside public buildings (including the airport). We stayed in a rented house instead of a hotel, so we did not have to eat out. Although all bars and clubs were open in Croatia at the time, we did not visit them. When we went to a restaurant, we always opted to eat outside to avoid contamination. We also wore clean masks and disinfected our hands very often.

E: I made sure to wear my face shield, to be socially distanced and to sanitise my hands whenever possible. Sleeping on the plane with the mask and shield was impossible, and it was quite irritating for the skin on the long flights.

What security measures did you observe around you while you were travelling?

J-M: Getting out of your car is forbidden inside the Eurotunnel. Some staff wore masks, others were outside with no masks. Toilets were closed inside the train. At service stations there is often a one-way system to get around. It looked like tables were being cleaned more often.

F: At Amsterdam Airport many people wore masks and there were a lot of hand sanitising stations. Due to there being very few flights, one of the departure halls was closed in Amsterdam, which made it impossible to socially distance there. After the security check, people kept their distance, which was easy to do as the terminal was not busy at all. The Airport in Split had almost no social distancing in place, and it’s really small. There were some glass screens hand sanitiser available but that's it. It was required to wear a mask at the airport at all times. We also had to give our contact information so that we could be informed if someone on our flight was to test positive.

E: In Peru I saw temperature checks at every corner, and face masks and shields enforced everywhere. Arriving in the US only the face mask rule seemed to be enforced (less in Miami...) and social distancing encouraged but not enforced. In DC face masks are required and social distancing encouraged (but not enforced....).

Did you feel safe on the plane/train?

J-M: Yes, absolutely.

F: On board I did feel safe. Masks were worn at all times and the crew gave clear instructions. The aircraft also seemed to be clean. Disinfecting wipes were handed out, as well as a small snack. The service was not as good as it was pre-COVID-19 on KLM, but the crew explained this was to reduce contact moments with the crew, which all passengers seemed to understand. Besides, service does not really matter that much to me on a two-hour flight. When leaving the aircraft everyone stood up and started pushing towards the exit, even though the doors were still closed... Some things never change.

E: I felt safe on the plane to a certain extent: it felt weird when people would take off their masks to eat, but on the other hand it felt like a bit of relief to take it off because it felt suffocating after a while.

Where do you think you are more at risk of catching Covid? Where you came from? Where you went to? The travelling?

J-M: If I were taking the train, I would be more worried about getting it while travelling, like at the station or on the train/public transport. I think it really depends on where you decide to go, what situations you are in. We went to restaurants while we were there and while it was small, they put folding screens up between tables.

F: I think the highest risk of catching Covid for me would be at home. At the time there was a sudden rise of cases in the Netherlands and the infection rate was a lot higher than in Croatia. The airplane felt a lot safer than my local supermarket.

E: I think the travelling exposed me to risk of catching it, more than the destination. Again, I was shocked at the lack of social distancing and lack of mask enforcing at Miami airport, I felt the need to put my face shield back on (it wasn’t obligatory like in Peru) and just pray that I would be okay.

How full was your flight? Did they leave seats free?

J-M: Not applicable.

F: Amsterdam to Split was about 2:3 occupied. The return flight should have been the same, but KLM decided to change to a smaller aircraft and so it ended up being completely full.

E: Even though the plane was only half-full, we were still forced to sit together. No one was encouraged to spread out.

Did you take a test before travelling? Are you planning on getting one later?

J-M: We took one many months ago, but not since.

F: When we returned home, we all took a PCR test at the Airport (which was provided free of charge by the government for travellers returning from 'orange' countries). We stayed in quarantine until the results came back two days later.

E: I didn’t take a test, but I might take one while I’m here.

Did you travel for pleasure or business?

J-M: Leisure.

F: I travelled for leisure.

E: For leasure, to spend some much-needed time with family.

When are you next likely to travel?

J-M: We travelled to Dorset recently by car and we were in an Airbnb by ourselves. We would go to France for Christmas usually, but this year I’ve told my mother we’ll do it in January, and I’ll fly there instead of taking the train as I usually do. I got a great deal on it too!

F: One month later I went to Vienna by plane. The coming months I will have to travel to Brussels quite often, which I will do by car (also because of the short distance).

E: All being well, I’d like to travel to France in the spring!