For this month's solo travel insight I share my personal experience of travelling during Covid
Deciding to travel during Covid wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. But travel for me isn’t a holiday, it’s a lifestyle choice and I am used to living on the road as a digital nomad.
I don’t want to say that I’ve found the last few months challenging, because there are so many people really suffering out there, but being back in a country that I no longer wanted to live in, and at my childhood home at the age of 44 (which I am extremely grateful for), was not what I had envisaged for 2020. Before Covid happened, I was planning to travel through France to see if I wanted to make that country my base. Forward 6 months later and both my business, and my mental health were both suffering.
I was constantly waking up with anxiety. Being surrounded by the news, the reality of losing the majority of my income from my travel blog due to the constant restrictions on travel, and not having my own space was really taking its toll. Unlike others who had used the lock down to have a break, I had pushed myself harder than ever, starting a podcast, a course, launching a membership site and creating an audio book. I felt a duty to be there for my Facebook community and to keep them uplifted when everyone was trying to survive.
But you can only go for so long without needing a break. It has been one of the most overwhelming times I have faced. I thought that this wouldn’t last that long and that soon people would travel again, but with each month that passed and each restriction, the reality that the travel industry wasn’t going to recover was getting too much.
It was also the longest that I had been in the UK since 2014 when I had booked a one-way ticket to Latin America. So I was struggling to adjust to a country and a society that I no longer resonated with.
I was also awaiting jaw surgery. If you’ve seen any recent pictures of me (which I hardly take nowadays), you’ll spot that I have braces that I’ve been wearing for more than 2 years. This was obviously affected too, and my surgery for the summer was postponed, yet I was hanging on to see when my operation was going to be rescheduled.
As soon as I had my pre-surgery appointment and was told that my operation could be January or February or even the Spring (depending on any new restrictions), I booked a flight, knowing that I only had to be back in the UK in December for my next appointment.
A friend and travel partner, who I had met when I was solo travelling in Israel, told me she was in Athens. Having only been to Athens two decades ago, it seemed like a good option. So we booked an apartment for a month, and as I prepared to leave, that bitter-sweet feeling of wanting to go and not wanting to leave people returned. It honesty never gets any easier.
I was also worried about people’s attitudes towards me within their country, as well as being judged for leaving my own. But I needed to get away. I’d honestly never experienced anxiety for so long in my life. My anxiety before I left was through the roof. And even the thought of travelling was fuelling it. What would the airport be like? Would I be chosen for a Covid test when I arrived in Athens? How could I navigate my way around Athens? Would I be okay on the flight wearing my mask for nearly 4 hours when just wearing it in a shop for 10 minutes made me feel panicky?
On the day that I was leaving, a strange sense of calmness enveloped over me. You know that feeling you get when you just know that you are doing the right thing? The train was a breeze, being in the airport was a breeze and not having to deal with so many strangers that usually added to my travel anxiety was such a nice feeling. Even sat on the plane with a whole row to myself felt so freeing.
It was only when the plane began to gain speed down the runway for takeoff that I started to panic. It had been months since I had flown and I had forgotten what it felt like. Up in the air, as the green, rolling landscape of the UK passed me by, I wondered what I was doing. I felt a lump in my throat for leaving the people that I loved. Travelling is always such a mixture of emotions for me. Because it’s a lifestyle choice and not just a two week holiday.
But as the plane circled around Athens, and the islands were romantically flooded in the moonlight, I knew that I was where I needed to be. I felt free.
It took me a couple of days to adjust. The adjustment from being at my parents house for nearly 7 months to then being in Greece’s capital city was a bit of a change. To step from one restricted and repressed reality to one where Covid barely seemed to exist. I could sit outside in bars and restaurants and not have to wear a mask. But I was in a capital city, one where I couldn’t speak the language, navigate my way around or even read the alphabet.
It was only when I was on a Greek island hiking to the monastery that I finally began to unwind and my anxiety subsided. There were no people, no noise except for a donkey somewhere in the distance, and no mention of Covid. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity and soaked in the silence. I finally felt free and I felt the anxiety of the last few months dissipate.
I’m writing this post from a small Greek island near Athens, where I have the left the city and am now solo, exploring the rest of the Saronic Islands for some soul searching.
I know that I am lucky, being able to escape England during these extremely challenging times, and I know that the travel restrictions won’t last forever but I need to think about another career path in the meantime.
I’ll still be writing posts once a week, and a solo guide once a month, and be active in our Facebook community but if travel doesn’t properly return in 2021, then I really don’t know what 2021 is going to bring for me…
My Tips For Travelling During Covid
How I chose my destination
Check your country’s foreign office website. As a British national, I checked the FCO website for the countries that I was considering travelling to (before I decided on Greece).
Wanting to be close enough to England in case I needed to get home, I decided on somewhere in Europe. I knew that Portugal was okay but if I wanted to spend some time in Barcelona before heading to Portugal, I would have to take a Covid test 72 hours before boarding the plane so that wasn’t an option that I wanted to consider. Where would I get a test from in Barcelona? How much would it cost and what if I had symptoms and didn’t know that I was carrying the virus?
Travelling directly to Portugal from the UK was easy as was Greece with the Greek authorities open to British nationals visiting. So Greece seemed like the best option at the time.
You can also look for destinations that are coping well with Covid and have a low probability of imposing a strict lock down at short notice. One of my friends recommended typing ‘Statista incidence of coronavirus in last 7 days in Europe’ into Google (if you’re planning on Europe of course).
If you are travelling in Europe, it seems as though any announcements for the air corridors are made on a Thursday and come into effect the following Sunday/Monday at 04:00 in the morning.
When I booked my flight I was asked to fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) where I had to write my departure date and where I was staying. This had to be completed 72 hours before I flew. I then received a confirmation email telling me that I would be sent a QR code on the day of my scheduled arrival. I was to show this QR code on my phone as I arrived in Athens and depending on my code, meant that I could either go straight through to immigration as normal or be pulled aside for a random test.
I was also recommended to download the Visit Greece app (for free). All of this sounds a lot more complicated that it actually is, and once I had the code, I just had to have it scanned when I arrived (I printed it off just in case). I was then diverted straight to immigration as a normal arrival.
Travelling around the islands I need to fill out a ‘Pre-boarding healthy declaration questionnaire' for each journey, which I then hand to the crew as I board. It takes 2 minutes to fill out and is for them to be able to trace and contact me if someone on the journey has contracted the virus.
Get travel insurance. I have always bought insurance even if it was just for medical cover but travelling during Covid has completely amplified the need for being insured. The last thing you want to happen is to be stuck in a country because there is a lockdown or worse still, catch Covid and have to be hospitalised. I chose World Nomads but it does state that it doesn’t cover me if I travel to a country that the FCO is advising me not to travel to. But I have it for the moment anyway. * Check their policies here
Take a few masks with you, and read the news for any change in restrictions for the country that you are in. Since I have been in Greece, we now have to wear masks everywhere and there is a curfew between 12:30 – 05:00. Look at what others are doing when you step outside to make sure that you are doing the same.
Keep a constant eye on the travel advice for your home country regarding having to self-quarantine. Luckily, not having to be back in the UK until 15th December means that I have enough time to keep an eye on the countries that I don’t have to quarantine from yet. Things are changing quickly so a last-minute holiday may be the best idea.
The Foreign Office Advice
The coronavirus pandemic is ongoing and travel advice is subject to change, often at short notice, so you should be prepared for the situation to change in your destination. Read the travel advice for your destination on GOV.UK to make sure you know what actions to take ahead of departure and sign up for email alerts for your destination via GOV.UK – you will be notified of the latest changes to travel advice, whether in the UK or abroad. Check this link for up to date information, and this link to find country specific information.
If you are thinking about travelling at the moment, I hope that my experience of travelling during Covid eases your fears and helps. I’m an experienced traveller yet I was so worried about travelling, but the reality is that it only takes a few adjustments and you’ll be so glad that you did it.