Sunday, February 25, 2024

A Whole New World: What To Expect While Travelling At This Stage of The Pandemic

The last time India Hendrikse was in the United Kingdom, she was thrust into a five-month-long lockdown. When she returned to visit loved ones, her leftover anxieties came with her. But as it turned out, travelling now is normal enough… you just have to be a bit savvier.

Behind me was a woman in a hazmat suit. She’d gotten on the plane in Hong Kong, equipped with a face visor and extra protective material, using it to create an extra layer between her and the seat. She slept like that, for 11 whole hours. With my sweaty fabric mask glued to my face, the Covid-repelling measures I’d taken suddenly felt rather pathetic.

That was September 2020, when travelling to London felt entirely apocalyptic. After the pandemic had separated my partner and me for six months, I made the bold (or reckless) choice to fly back to the United Kingdom from Aotearoa. Our poorly-timed relationship had begun at the very end of my two-year UK working visa and just before Covid kicked off.

The Bumble algorithm had dealt me fuckboys for seven years but decided the added challenge of starting a new relationship in a pandemic would be just swell.

As it turned out, on this reunion-themed trip to the UK, armed with just a tourist visa and a nervous stomach, London wasn’t the city I remembered. Soon after arriving, we went into a bleak winter lockdown, I caught Covid and subsequently spent Christmas without any taste buds.

Instead of the roaring twenties, we’re more in the restrictive twenties

Fast forward to 2022, and my partner and I are miraculously still together and now live in Aotearoa. After my Instagram feed was flooded for months with wide-eyed Kiwis chugging down wines at European beaches and flouncy festivals, I too decided to go back to the other side of the world to visit loved ones.

India: ‘Very excited to eat my favourite pizza again.’

While travelling now feels normal in many ways, it also requires a lot more forethought. Here’s what I learnt from my jaunt to the other side of the world.

Things are a whole lot more pricey than they used to be

The fact is, I couldn’t afford this trip. I used the money I’d reserved for paying my taxes and then set up a payment plan to myself for the next six months to pay said taxes. My money situation got worse when I arrived at Heathrow and in a jet-lagged stupor, put my phone on the roof of my partner’s car. Eventually, I found it on a motorway entrance after it had been run over by a truck.

The lesson here is to always have enough money for the unexpected – particularly in a pandemic-battered market.

In the UK, inflation has seen the cost of consumer goods rise by more than 10 per cent in the last year alone. The pandemic hasn’t been kind, and inflation is now a global issue. Wherever you’re travelling, make sure you have the funds to support yourself.

Every country has a different approach to Covid

When I was last in the UK, only essential services were open. So it was quite the adjustment to come back and see nobody wearing masks, even on a crowded London tube.

People were just huffing and puffing all over each other, so I had to catch myself before judging anyone or freaking out too much. Every country has had a slightly different Covid experience, and every government has forged their own path.

Check the rules of the place you’re visiting. Some countries are still wearing masks, some aren’t. Some countries still ask for certain entry requirements, some don’t. Being fully vaccinated is also viewed differently from country to country – check whether you need your double dose, a booster, or two boosters.

 A thatched cottage in Dorset for jet lag recovery.

Flying is still a bit of a faff

I wish every country could agree on the same shaped wall socket or pick a universal side of the road to drive on. But the powers-that-be love arbitrary points of difference, so here we are.

Airlines aren’t any different. Each airline has slightly different rules, so it pays to check their policies. Some will ask you to wear masks and some won’t. The prices are also exorbitantly high right now, so you’ll need to save up more money than pre-pandemic travel.

Unfortunately, one thing that’s outside of a traveller’s control is flight delays and cancellations. The pandemic severely affected the aviation industry, and many workers lost their jobs. Now, staff shortages are seeing chaos at airports from cancelled flights and delays. So take out insurance that covers for Covid-related mishaps, and then arrive at the airport early. If you’re there with plenty of time, you’ll be able to order an (expensive) bevvy and maybe even skip the queues.

“Pandemic fatigue” is real

For countries that have had higher Covid cases, longer lockdowns or more irresponsible governments (hey, Boris), the pandemic has been a different kind of gruelling. No country’s experience is equal, but there is a universal phenomenon called pandemic fatigue that can cause everything from exhaustion to complacency. Living in a constant state of uncertainty or restriction takes its toll.

The reality is, we all have different trauma responses. Some people are struggling with post-traumatic stress after the pandemic, and some are just putting on a brave face. As a collective, we’ve lived through a long-lasting public health emergency that has never had a clear endpoint. On top of that, we’re also living through the catastrophic effects of climate change and huge social unrest. It’s a lot to deal with.

If you’re travelling abroad, you’re choosing to enter a very different territory, where people, customs and socials norms may be different to our own in Aotearoa. This means you must have some level of acceptance of the attitudes of others. I’ve come full circle; previously, I was judgemental of the maskless or carefree. But judgement will just restrict the fun you have on your travels.

Your holiday most likely won’t look like your Instagram feed… and that’s okay

As I posted a photo of the beautiful coast of Cornwall, I didn’t share anything about the rain that followed for weeks after. I didn’t talk about gastro cramps (well, now I am), the UTI or my awful summer cold. But I still kept looking at the Instagram feeds of friends and influencers, thinking that somehow their glossy photos must reflect a European summer that I was missing out on.

Beautiful streets and blue skies in Port Isaac, Cornwall. 

The truth is: airport delays, nasal swabs and credit cards aren’t glamorous. Instead of the roaring twenties, we’re more in the restrictive twenties.

But despite the gloom of the world, there’s still beauty to be found in travelling. Regardless of the restrictions, costs and everything in between, us humans are adaptable. In London, I found people had rediscovered their love for the city, its art, food and parks. It wasn’t the bleakness I remembered from 2020.

Personally, I loved being anonymous as I wandered streets paved hundreds of years ago. I took wobbly videos when I watched squirrels skuttle about. I smiled in awe when buskers played violin and piano amongst frazzled commuter crowds. I loved looking at the different snacks in supermarket aisles and thrifting in foreign charity stores.

Now that I’m back to ‘real life’, I wish I could go back.

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