Travelling during a Pandemic!

We normally go on a two week summer holiday each year during the six week holiday. We occasionally have the odd break away in between but very infrequently! So it was ironic that in 2020, the year of disrupted travel, we’d got 3 bloody holidays booked! We were due to go away at Easter with my wider family to celebrate my Mum’s 60th at the end of last year. We’d then rebooked to go to a villa in Spain in August that we’d been to last year and then had finally bitten the bullet and booked a surprise trip to Lapland in December for what is likely to be our last Christmas when everything is genuinely still magical! An action packed year to look forward to… and then the pandemic struck!

Our family holiday at easter was cancelled a week before we were due to go, just as lockdown started. Unpacking suitcases without having actually been on holiday is the single most miserable activity in the world! There were much bigger issues in the world than our family holiday and it felt selfish to wallow in self pity when people were dying all over the world, but it was gutting. We’d had it booked for 18 months, been on shopping trips together to buy new holiday clothes, the kids had spent hours discussing who was sitting next to who on the plane! Not being able to go at the same time as being locked up on top of each other for months felt like salt rubbed in the wounds!

So we kept our fingers crossed that things would change by the summer and we’d be able to head to Spain for some sun and sangria with my parents as planned! We were going to a villa so if we wanted to, could choose to stay at home and bbq in the evenings rather than heading out and about. No en-mass dining in crowded hotel restaurants or sharing of spoons in a buffet queue. Basically continuing the theme of isolation but as a larger family group and with a pool and sunshine! We discussed the risks of flying and did lots of research into infection rates in the area we were travelling to and decided that on balance, our need and desire for a break versus the risk of flying was a gamble we were willing to take. Just as we were due to pay the remaining balance on the villa, the government announced the opening of an air bridge with Spain and we decided to bite the bullet and head off for two weeks in the sun.

BA then cancelled our flights from Manchester! Not ideal but we managed to rebook from Heathrow instead. We did briefly discuss the prospect of driving down to the South of Spain- my husband being the one driving was a big advocate- me being the one in the back dishing out 3 days worth of snacks and entertainment to three small children receiving the suggestion with a firm and not so polite ‘no thank you!’ And then 12 days before we were due to head off, the Uk government removed the Airbridge from Spain and advised against all but essential travel to the country, despite the fact that the region we were travelling to remained considerably less infected than the area we live in here! We hadn’t booked it as a package- BA flights were paid for with air miles and the villa had been booked directly with the owner after we’d stayed there last year, meaning we could have lost it all. Luckily, the lady who owned the villa was incredibly kind and fully refunded us and the BA points were restored meaning we now had options back open to us.

So it was back to the drawing board! Frantic searching and looking for a villa somewhere else. A tag team effort of searching online for availability as well as compressive googling and researching of where was safe to travel and would be likely to remain so for the foreseeable future! We also decided that we’d ridden our luck with booking direct and needed the security and back up of a travel agent who would cover us financially but also provide support should anything go wrong in this ever changing landscape of travel. An old friend of ours works as a travel consultant and got on the case for us straight away. We narrowed it down to Greece, Croatia or Italy. The latter seemed to have hardly any availability and the stats around Croatia niggled me- good job as it turned out as the day we would have arrived back was the first one that people returning from Croatia would have to quarantine from after a change in guidance. We settled on a Greek Island- any that would have us! After a frantic week of searching, we found a lovely villa in Kefalonia and booked it 6 days before we were due to fly.

I refused to pack anything before the Thursday as we were due to fly early on Saturday morning. I caveated all discussions about it with the phrase ‘we’re PROBABLY going on holiday on Saturday’! I packed the kids off to my in laws on Friday afternoon and packed up a storm, dragging last minute items from the tumble drier at 3.30am on Saturday morning as we bundled the kids into a mini bus transfer to the airport. In hind sight its the calmest I’ve ever felt going on holiday- doing it all in one go meant I knew we’d got everything and wasn’t second guessing what I’d already packed. I was also so sure we wouldn’t end up going that I didn’t allow my usual ‘we’re going on a plane and we’re all going to die’ panic to set in!!

The airport felt fine. Socially distanced queues at check in and everyone in masks. The masks were mandatory for the kids on the plane but not for under 12’s in the airport- we encouraged ours to wear them where they could and generally they were fine. We went for some breakfast which also served as a chance to remove our masks for half an hour while we ate and drank terrible airport food which we’d paid through the nose for! The only part of the airport experience which felt questionable to me was queuing at the boarding gate where the usual crush to get on ensued. We held back and tried to stay in some space but that was the only part where I felt social distancing went out the window. On the plane we all wore masks and the directive was to try to stay in your seat as much as possible. You could still get up to go to the toilet but they encouraged you to only go if they were vacant to prevent people queuing in the aisle. It worked fine for us; Esme clocking up an impressive 4 wee’s in 3 hours and 10 minutes! The boys were amazing with their masks on the plane- Esme needed more encouraging as she’s a thumb sucker and it got in her way! Her need to suck her thumb increases if she tired (3.45am start!) or anxious (stressed that she couldn’t suck her thumb, hence the vicious circle!!) so it was a bit of a battle but I think we stayed the right side of it. I’ve seen people interviewed subsequently who were on the flight from Crete which ended up with a high number of infections- I have to say this was definitely not representative of our experience and everyone was very respectful of the rules.

The holiday itself was amazing and just what we all needed. There were restrictions in place- when the villa was cleaned during our stay we had to be off site for example. This was actually great as it forced us away from the pool for a few hours and we got out and explored the island. In restaurants and cafes , staff wore protective visors and everything felt thoroughly cleaned between use. Plus we always ate outside which has a better feel in terms of ventilation and transmission of germs!

The sun was great. The kids having a pool to entertain themselves in was great, with the added bonus of being a great way to reintroduce them to swimming after 6 months off from lessons. Eating out was great. Being somewhere with no identified cases of corona virus and the security that brought was great. But my favourite aspect of the holiday was the break from 10 hours a day of lone parenting. As has been the case for most people, for the last 6 months we have been locked at home together. My husband has been working from home and has never been busier, basically meaning he goes to the top floor of our house at 8am and re-emerges sometime around 6. Every day since the end of March, I’ve woken up and had to find a way to entertain, educate, feed, exercise and nurture 3 small children within the confines of our four walls with the occasional wander out for daily exercise! There have been many times when I felt ‘mummy’ did not adequately sum up my role; keeper, handler, referee or haggler being far more descriptive titles! Being away with Jon and my parents meant that I got to read actual books and finish beverages and not wake up with an impending sense of doom, centred around ‘what the hell are we going to fill today with??’ It wasn’t all on me and that meant I felt I recharged my parenting battery and actually enjoyed the time I spent with them rather than counting down the hours to bedtime like some days from the last few months had become! The change of scene for the kids made the world of difference as well and they spent a much more harmonious fortnight playing together and being creative with games and pool based competitions instead of the constant falling out, bickering and scrapping that had become the norm at home.

It was the right thing to do for us but I appreciate there are many people out there who couldn’t think of anything worse! We did behave differently- on the plane in particular. I carried hand sanitiser with us at all times and basically doused them in it and my usual packet of baby wipes was replaced with antibacterial ones and I gave the seats, trays and any surfaces a good old clean down before we sat down. Also while we were away and since we’ve come back, more places have seen a rise and quarantine has become more likely so I’m not sure if I was trying to book now, I’d do it. I definitely wouldn’t travel anywhere against FCO guidance; Esme picked up an ear infection in our last week and saw a doctor two days before we were due to fly home. The total bill for the medical appointments and drugs was probably about £100 but the far greater concern was that he wasn’t willing to sign her fit to fly until he’d seen her the morning before we were due to come home. The bill for further nights accommodation and car hire and rearranged flights would have easily racked up into the thousands and it hit home to me how important holiday insurance is. In the end she was fine but we could have been seriously out of pocket. I also think the old saying that a change is as good as a rest has never been more relevant than it is during this ‘groundhog’ period we find ourselves in. I love sunshine and the kids love a pool so that was our go-to option but I also think going away somewhere here would have had the desired effect in terms of breaking the monotony of what Covid life has become!

Who knows what the next few months hold and whether we’ll make it to see the big FC in Lapland- all I know is that for us, a trip abroad this year was worth the extreme amount of hassle that it created getting there! Covid has had the effect of making our worlds much smaller; it was great to be up above the clouds, looking down at the Italian mountains or beautiful, sparkling Adriatic Sea and realise that the world had not disappeared beyond the limits of our own bubbles. It’s all sat there waiting for us.

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