Before I share my Corona virus travel story, I want to assure you that I was not travelling for fun. I was travelling to return to my home country, to be closer to my parents and be in a place where I have access to health care.
I never planned to travel during a global pandemic.
I had actually planned to ride it out in my university accommodation in Oxford. My freezer and cupboards were already full of spices, canned goods and bakeware to help me endure self-isolation.
In fact, I didn’t decide to return to Canada until 3 days before I got on a plane.
Now, I’ve been spontaneous before. I mean, I moved to New Zealand for a year because I found a cheap plane ticket.
But I don’t think I’ve ever travelled with so little notice before.
- 1 Travelling During Corona Virus: How Bad Could it Be?
- 2 Travelling During Corona Virus: Doubts
- 3 Travelling During Corona Virus: Leaving Home
- 4 Travelling During Corona Virus: Airport Chaos
- 5 Travelling During Corona Virus: My Kryptonite
- 6 Travelling During Corona Virus: Lines and Lines and Lines, Oh My!
- 7 Travelling During Corona Virus: My Bad Place
- 8 Travelling During Corona Virus: Where’s the Mash?!
- 9 Travelling During Corona Virus: The Worst – and It’s Not Over Yet!
- 10 Travelling During Corona Virus: 2 Metre Rule
- 11 Travelling During Corona Virus: Landing On Anger
- 12 Travelling During Corona Virus: Welcome to Canada
- 13 Travelling During Corona Virus: I’m Sort of OK
Travelling During Corona Virus: How Bad Could it Be?
I’ve never travelled during a pandemic before, so I don’t have anything to compare this experience to.
But I know it was bad.
I hadn’t even left my flat before the trouble started.
People immediately began questioning my decision to leave.
Why was I bailing during a crisis? Wouldn’t I be infecting my family? Why would I go to an airport when I would certainly get infected there? Wasn’t I independent? Hadn’t I travelled before? Couldn’t I handle it on my own?
Most of these (misinformed) opinions came from people who didn’t even know me. A roommate I’m not close with. A friend of a friend. The list goes on.
I started to doubt myself.
Was I making too much of this? Was it ridiculous to leave the country I now call home? Would this jeopardize my visa or my education?
The answer: who cares!
Travelling During Corona Virus: Doubts
It’s hard when you don’t want to do something and people are trying to talk you out of it.
I didn’t want to come back to Canada. But I had to do it.
I needed to calm my family. I needed to be in a country where I have healthcare. I needed to be nearby people I care about in case something happened to one of them.
At no point was I happy with the decision. (I’ve been in Canada for a week now and I’m still not happy that I returned.)
So having people doubt me or accuse me of being weak nearly changed my mind.
It didn’t matter that they didn’t know me, that their opinions had no bearing on my life. I clung to their words looking for a way to stay in my new home. I let the doubt creep in and settle hard in my belly like a rock, anchoring me in the UK.
But the strain in my dad’s voice and the worry in my mom’s eyes was too much to ignore.
They needed me back in Canada – where they could reach me, could be sure that I was ok.
So I came back.
Travelling During Corona Virus: Leaving Home
Travelling on a normal day can be a nightmare.
Travelling during a pandemic is akin to hell.
Travelling during a pandemic, with three days notice is a nightmare version of hell I hope to never endure again.
I spent two days packing, throwing every item I had in two suitcases and stripping beloved possessions off the walls.
It left my room a bare husk of the home I’d made over the last 5 months, with empty spaces where my books should be.
I emptied my fridge, donating the perishables of my weekly grocery shop to my roommates. My weekly meal plan and the baking challenge I’d set for myself erased as my food was divided for the others.
I booked a private care for the airport, trying to avoid the crowded buses that were carting worried students out of Oxford.
The luxury was lost on me when the driver pulled out dusting mittens to load my suitcases in the trunk and the radio was blaring new statistics of Corona virus’ reach.
Tears burned my eyes as we drove. My mouth was too dry to speak. Each sign we passed signalled another step away from the home I’d fought for, another step closer to the country I’d left behind.
Travelling During Corona Virus: Airport Chaos
The airport was utter madness. There’s no poetic way to describe it. People were everywhere.
Some wore masks. Others were in full hazmat suits. A few had scarves tied around their faces, looking like cowboys lost in the maze of travellers.
It was impossible to navigate the throngs of people. Everyone was crowded together, brushing past one another in flagrant disregard to the 2 metre rule (or the 6 foot rule in North America). Trolleys were being wheeled over toes and into barricades.
Many flights to Asia were cancelled or delayed, leaving panicked travellers racing across the check in area to line up for new tickets.
The check in machines were overcrowded, many no longer working due to the plethora of sanitizer and disinfectant dripping into their circuits.
Airlines were operating on skeleton crews. Or so it seemed, with staff widely spread between different areas. The line ups were being manned by purple vested volunteers, who kept cramming people into overflowing lines.
Travelling During Corona Virus: My Kryptonite
I don’t deal well with crowds of people. Disorganization is my kryptonite. On top of all that, I wasn’t even going to somewhere fun and sunny where I’d get to explore a new culture or adventure through mountains.
I was headed towards a 2 week quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Each second in that airport made my mood drop tenfold.
By the time I’d gotten my baggage tags, I was frowning so intensely that it was actually giving me a headache.
It only got worse when I was ushered into one of those overflowing lines to check my bags.
I kept telling them that I was Premium Economy (a gift from my mom to make the journey more comfortable). I knew there was supposed to be a shorter line for me. But the two staff (actual staff, not those purple vested volunteers) told me this was the only line.
So I waited.
For an hour and a half.
Crammed with barely a foot between us.
In a line full of coughing, unmasked, loud-talking nightmare people.
I mean, I know I was in a bad mood, but seriously??
Travelling During Corona Virus: Lines and Lines and Lines, Oh My!
I was lucky my driver had picked me up 30 minutes early, or I’d have been running to my gate after that line.
A line that it turned out, I wasn’t even supposed to be in!
No, I was supposed to be in the premium check in line, which I had insisted existed but had been told wasn’t a thing. A line that, if it hadn’t been for the hoards of people wrapped around the counter in endless loops, I might have been able to see.
I was seething.
I swear to God I thought smoke was actually rising from my ears when she told me.
Angry tears pricked my eyes and made my nose burn.
I was ready to scream at the poor grounds crew member in front of me. Not even words – just a primordial scream of rage and anger and fear and every negative emotion that was making my heart feel like it had been dipped in acid.
But I knew that her day was harder than mine, so I fought to keep a polite smile on my face.
“Ah, what can you do?” I tried to say, but my voice caught halfway through.
Travelling During Corona Virus: My Bad Place
The baggage claim line had taken 90 minutes of my life. How much was security going to rob me of?
I was pleasantly surprised to see short lines, of no more than 5 people, at each security belt.
I’m pretty sure I let out a literal sigh of relief.
Until I got in line.
Apparently a side effect of the Corona virus (or the Corona virus panic anyway) is to lose all cognitive function.
Workers were yelling instructions to us in the lines: take out your laptops or tablets, have your liquids in a plastic bag.
Nothing new, right?
According to every traveller in every line around me, it seemed like it was.
None of them could grasp putting items in separate bins, taking laptops out of cases, removing your belt before the scanner.
Guys, I’ve been doing this since I was 6 months old – it’s not that hard!
I might have been mumbling that under my breath I was so mad. I think I kept having tiny rage black outs, but when I came to we still hadn’t moved.
Now, before you try to defend these people and say they may not have known, or they may not have understood the employees – I tried to justify it that way. But after listening in, I can tell you they all 100% were English speakers and were leaving this country to return to their homes. So they had to have flown to get here in the first place.
This is narcissistic, but I genuinely felt like the whole thing was designed to torture me.
Hear that, Bad Place? All you need to do to torture this girl is put her in incompetent airport line ups for eternity. She’ll crack in a second!
Travelling During Corona Virus: Where’s the Mash?!
My therapist is always telling me to look for positives.
What positive had I been focused on for those two nightmare experiences in Heathrow? Getting my traditional pie with mash and gravy before I got on the plane.
What new hell did the airport have in store for me? The restaurant was closed.
And not closed because of Corona virus – closed to become a goddamn Pret a Manger!
I usually love Pret, but at this moment it was my nemesis. It had taken the one easy takeaway eatery and my favourite meal in all of Heathrow.
To make matters worse, everything else was closed. The only options were WHSmith or Boots sandwiches, or lining up for 30 minutes to get a measly breakfast sandwich.
Did I line up for that sandwich? You better believe it.
Was it worth it? Of course not!
Travelling During Corona Virus: The Worst – and It’s Not Over Yet!
I swear to God this was the worst travel day of my life. And I’ve had a stomach parasite in a bare bones airport in Casablanca, Morocco before.
I’ve flown with an ear infection that nearly ruptured my ear drum.
I’ve had turbulence literally shake the vomit out of me on the way to New York.
Still, travelling during a global pandemic was worse.
Travelling During Corona Virus: 2 Metre Rule
It turned out the extra cost of premium economy means nothing in the disarray of Heathrow.
What should have been boarding zone 2 was somehow boarded after zone 3.
The man guarding the zone 1 and 2 lane refused to let us in, even after the zone 1 individuals were checked in.
The grounds workers kept yelling at people to stay 2 metres away from them (the workers), then yelling at them for not handing forward their documents (who has 2 metre arms??).
Boarding was slow and arduous. Everyone was suddenly a clean freak.
Which is great for the pandemic, but a nightmare for airline employees and those around you.
I got on quickly, stashed my luggage, disinfected my area, and was settled in a few minutes.
The obnoxious young couple next to me took 20 minutes to do the same. They kept yelling at each other “disinfect that!” as loud as humanly possible. They hit the chairs in front of them, kept knocking over my drink, stuck their butts in the poor people with aisle seats’ faces as they fought over who would sit where.
I was already at a breaking point. Hell, I think I’d broken long before I even got to the airport. My fingers were shaking at this point, rage and fear mingling to spur on my anxiety. The remnants of my stress cold were making my sinus’ throb.
I wanted to run away. To escape the hell of flying during a pandemic.
It didn’t matter that I was already through the worst of it – I only had to get through 8 hours beside the world’s most obnoxious people, and behind a child with a toy that I can only describe as seizure inducing; go through customs; grab my luggage and I’d be free.
Well, free to go to my Airbnb to quarantine for 2 weeks.
Travelling During Corona Virus: Landing On Anger
I won’t describe every minute of the flight to you, because even in quarantine no one has time to read that.
The flight was fine.
There was a lot of minor turbulence, but honestly the rumbling of the plane was nothing compared to the anxious thundering of my heart. Meal services were reduced due to COVID-19, but premium economy still got one full meal and a snack. I drank a beer just because it was free and immediately regretted it when it made my anxiety worse and I got very nauseous. I drank four cans of gingerale to fight off the nausea. I watched a ton of movies and wished I hadn’t checked my cross stitch in my suitcase. I tried to ignore the horrible people around me, the acidic smell of disinfectant choking me every few minutes, and the fears filling my mind with too few distractions and too much time to worry.
Then I was in Canada.
Everyone clapped when the plane landed – a pet peeve of mine due to the headaches I get from flying and the lack of novelty of landing.
While they cheered, I growled. My irritation and sorrow at returning to Canada had become primal anger.
I had to dig my nails into my palms to get through taxiing to the gate.
Travelling During Corona Virus: Welcome to Canada
It took twice as long to disembark, with special members having to make announcements about COVID-19 and the self-isolation requirements.
Walking through the airport, I was handed four different flyers from people much less than 6 feet from me regarding the strict quarantine.
The customs officer barely looked at me as I passed through, seemingly numb to the face of an annoyed, weary soul returning to Canada in the wake of the virus.
My mom called while I was waiting for my baggage and I broke down crying. I kept staring at the last plane’s luggage circling endlessly with tears streaming down my cheeks.
No one even looked twice.
In the world of COVID-19, breakdowns aren’t noteworthy.
Travelling During Corona Virus: I’m Sort of OK
I’ve been in my Airbnb for a week now, quarantined with a broken oven for 3 days and a poor radiator as it snowed.
I won’t lie, I’ve been miserable.
My anxiety was so bad that I had to increase my therapy sessions, tell my dissertation advisor I’d be AWOL for two weeks, and gave up all hope of productivity.
But my family is happy and that’s what matters to me. They’re able to take a breath and calm down with me just ten minutes away.
I can’t stay with them – we’d kill each other (and I have to be alone for my quarantine and they’re high risk – but mostly we’d kill each other).
Travelling during a global pandemic was worth it if it helps them feel better.
I’m just waiting for the crisis of Corona virus to lift so I can go back home and start to feel better too.
Stay safe and stay inside!