September 17, 2020
Quarantine. PCR Tests. Passenger Locator Forms. Masks mandatory. High touch-points will be disinfected.
They’re hardly phrases that conjure up a relaxing, solo beach break. As someone who has been confronted by, and immersed in, the sector’s rapidly changing travel rules, restrictions and protocols during the Coronavirus pandemic, a moment has not gone by without hearing these phrases, having to understand what they mean and how this impacts the industry and, ultimately, travellers.
For most people looking to book a holiday though, a PCR Test and a Passenger Locator Form sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film – which is why I almost didn’t go. I thought it was going to be too much hassle - wearing a mask for seven hours for the whole journey, keeping up with ever-changing rules. Plus, as I’d left it so last minute, I had no one to go with.
In hindsight, Before Coronavirus (BC), travel had been something I’d taken for granted. I hopped on a plane on seven different trips last year and the week before the world as we knew it started to unravel, I’d been skiing in Austria, still not believing this virus was going to impact my life in any way.
Then one rainy Monday morning in August ahead of my week’s annual leave, with no plans in my useless 2020 diary and having been confined to the four walls of my flat for most of the previous six months, something in me snapped and on a whim I booked flights to Portugal. I needed a break. I needed some normality. So, off I went to Heathrow T5, with a suitcase stuffed with ridiculous sunglasses and outfits that no one else would see.
The airport was a dream, it was a quiet Tuesday morning so with my mask on, I breezed through security, now with added social distance markers in place and hand sanitising stations dotted along the way. I made my obligatory trip to Boots for essentials before heading to Pret for a coffee and a croissant. The rules in the airport and on my British Airways flight were that you’re allowed to remove your mask when you’re eating and drinking which instantly made me less anxious – meal times are sacred. We were boarded and disembarked in rows (much more refined – why had they not done it before?!), reminded of the health and safety measures in place, and were given disposable pouches to dispose of any used PPE.
The same but different
Once I reached Portugal, the rules were much the same as the UK. Wear a mask on public transport including taxis, in shops and when you’re walking through restaurants and maintain a social distance. The only thing was, I felt much more relaxed than I did at home. There wasn’t a feeling of people recoiling in horror if you sneezed (I have allergies) or being bombarded with the latest news from No. 10. Maybe it’s the laid-back personalities of the Portuguese people, but even though things were visibly different, I still had that holiday feeling which is what I had been craving.
When I travelled, Portugal had only recently been added to the ‘safe list’ of UK Government travel corridors and during my stay there was a huge amount of speculation that it would be removed. Whilst I did have some unease about this happening and having to quarantine on my return, it dawned on me that it would have been worth it. It may have been the sand between my toes, the scent of sunshine-warmed pine needles, the evening chorus of cicadas or the zesty Aperol Spritz that did it, but after months of uncertainty, sitting in the sunshine and getting lost in a book was what I needed.
Keep on keeping on
Holidays are what we all need to recharge and recalibrate, whether that’s by climbing mountains, sitting by a pool or soul-searching at a yoga retreat whilst eating chia bowls. In our fast-paced lives and during challenging periods like a global pandemic, reinstating your mental wellbeing is key for us to keep on, keeping on. But more than that, travel gives me that giddy feeling – that moment where you look around and feel so grateful to be alive and to be seeing what you’re seeing. And for that very reason, I will never think of it again as too much hassle.