Travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic
I want to share my honest experience of travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic in case it helps sway anyone on the fence to book that flight or opt for a staycation. I say 'during' as every middle has to have an end. In the meantime, I decided to travel to Italy!
So my summer holiday really was a third time lucky thing. My trip to Spain in mid-July was cancelled, which was pretty gutting considering the borders had just re-opened for travel again. All was not lost and my friend and I decided to re-book our holiday to southern France for the start of August due to the lack of flights available to Spain. Annual leave rescheduled. Spain then goes onto the 'blacklist' and I’m feeling glad I've chosen France as my destination. That's until the reports start surfacing that the rate is rapidly rising in France. More cancellations required, ouch. However, a WHO spreadsheet of worldwide infection rates later, we've booked Italy!
The outbound flight/departures
London Gatwick mid-Summer has never been so quiet! Face masks on, we were through security really quickly with a few stops for hand sanitiser. Most duty-free shops had reopened and as I haven’t done much shopping since stores reopened in July, it was fun milling around. At that point, I was suitably impressed with all the COVID-19 measures in place. That was until I got onto the plane. I won’t lie, I was quite taken aback that every plane seat was taken. Clearly Milan is a popular destination (pretty sure Lake Como is the pull). easyJet suggest on their site that measures are in place, but that’s not the case and people should know that it’s not half capacity or even two thirds. I think higher ticket prices for keeping a seat free between groups would be worth it.
The inbound flight/arrivals
In Venice airport everything was going smoothly until we were at the gate and about to board. Suddenly we were informed that without a paper declaration form (how backwards), we could not board. Everyone was scrabbling around, frantically trying to grab the few printed forms available on the desk and sharing around the one biro nabbed off an easyJet attendant. All social distancing and British queueing etiquette went out the window. I guess that's travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic for you. I picked up a form but it was in Italian and I realised that ciao wouldn’t quite cut it. It was a shame when everything else had been well executed in the airports. I also found it odd that there had been no form required when we landed in Milan, surely it's a bit late to trace me by the time I've left the country...
Upon landing back in the UK, I had to fill in a four page online form, which included info like where I’d be staying upon my return. At least it was a more modern approach than a paper form, involving scanning a QR code to open up the border force web page (quite impressed this has actually been signed off and is in operation.. cue contact tracing app). I didn’t realise this form existed until I got to the ePassport gates but clearly half the flight were the same as we all plonked down our carry on cases to sit on and began filling it in. 20 minutes later we were scanning our passports and out the other side. Pretty painless really. Unsure what happens if you don’t own a mobile device though...
I was super impressed with the hotels in Italy; face masks in the lobby and hand sanitiser were enforced. Both rooms and bathrooms were sparkling clean, I couldn’t fault them. Also, I’m not going to lie, the price was a bargain for both locations and we booked them three day’s before we went. We were only a five minute walk from Piazza San Marco in Venice! Of course, that’s a sad reality of coronavirus and no doubt all around the world where economies rely on tourism. We were supporting them in the smallest way possible and yet they could not have been more welcoming. I think some people may fear if they travel abroad, locals may see them as COVID-19 spreaders but it honestly felt the opposite. The Italians we met just want their lives and livelihoods back like everyone in the UK.
Italian restaurants have got coronavirus safety down compared to those in the UK. Of course there's way more outdoor seating, that's a given, but whenever we asked to sit inside a restaurant, our temperature was checked with the gun machine and we were supplied with hand sanitiser. Tables were always positioned a good 2m apart, whilst I’ve noticed in the UK, some tables are barely pushing 1m. Contactless payments were always an option, which is great as I am not a cash carrier (hello millennials). I must quickly note that the food was as delicious as I’d hoped for.
We did a group tour to the Prosecco region from Venice and our local tour guide Francesca was awesome. We were joined by just one other couple, which made it a really relaxing day and very COVID-friendly. There was plenty of space on the bus and Francesca gave us hand sanitiser every time we climbed in and out. Masks are obviously a given. All the stress of re-booking the trip was worth it when I was sat overlooking a vineyard in glorious weather sipping Prosecco and eating freshly chopped vegetables from the gardens, among other delights. I felt sad speaking to Francesca as she had not received any government support, so these tours are her lifeline. I loved that the vineyard had partnered with its local gym to create an outdoor gym for locals to workout safely! All around the world people are getting creative.
My conclusion? Travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic is something I would happily do again but I understand some people feel nervous at the risk of quarantine and/or falling ill. Travel and tourism is a massive part of the modern world and I think if you can do it safely in line with government guidelines (and those in the country you’re visiting), then there’s no reason not to. Equally, I had a fab trip down to Cornwall too this summer, so there’s never been a better time to explore the UK!