Thoughts after our first trip abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic

I wasn’t sure if travel summer 2020 was a good idea, but weirdly, ever since the lockdown began mid-March, and I saw how airline after airline stopped flying to Gothenburg, I began to long. More than ever before. It was almost as if the mere fact that I couldn’t fly made me want to fly even more. We had been in Switzerland for a week for ski week in February and had made preliminary plans for a short trip to see my husband’s mother and some relatives over Easter, none of which materialized due to a national travel ban. But apart from Easter, we normally don’t travel until the summer. Yet this year, I longed and longed.

My immediate family, what’s left of it… With only one parent left, we want to make sure our son gets to spend as much time with his grandpa as possible.

Homecation, the new normal

Our government informed us early on that we shouldn’t expect a normal summer and that it would be most likely that we’d have to vacation at home, i.e. in Sweden. As the summer approached and after our previously made plans had been canceled we decided that we still wanted to travel to Switzerland, but replace the week of a previously planned cruise, we decided to show our son one of his two native countries. We had also planned for a few short trips across the border to Italy but had to cancel all but one of those (more about that later.)

After having spent several months talking to my dad on Facetime, we were looking forward to seeing him again, and for our son to get to spend some time with his only remaining grandparent.

Same, same, but different: rules

Unfortunately, this pandemic has shown just how little the world cooperates. Not just within the WHO framework, but also within the EU. Every country did their own thing, which was okay given how quickly things escalated in the beginning, but after the Italian shutdown, I feel the EU should’ve sat down and begun to plan how to do things in a more concerted way. To see borders closed and fences going up in the middle of neighborhoods that had worked as one for decades was weird. The blame-game across borders which is still ongoing is even worse and will damage European relations for a long time to come. Yet, weirdly, as I look at the different countries we’ve been to, the rules (post lockdown) are largely the same, with a few differences. Here in Sweden, the elderly (70+) are still in lockdown and aren’t supposed to meet their kids and grandkids (and most certainly not hug them.) In Switzerland, this restriction was removed as part of their opening up of society. Therefore, we had no ‘legal’ hinder to go visit my dad who just turned 79. But we were careful, of course, because we really didn’t want to risk his health. No hugs, no handshake when we arrived, and my dad’s house is littered with soap and hand sanitizer.

Same, same, but different: hotels

We traveled for a week, by car. We figured it was easier than taking a train since Switzerland requires face masks and those things itch after a bit, so we only wore them when necessary and mandated. Social distancing works well, wherever we were, but how hotels organize things is very different and it was interesting to witness the differences, what works and what doesn’t.

Buffets are a challenge, of course, and I think most of us will see buffets through different eyes. Our first hotel, one we’ve visited many times before, kept the buffet, but added single-use gloves (few used them) and hand sanitizer and a one-way system. It didn’t really work because if you needed something from the “end” you didn’t really want to wait in line for everyone else to have gotten what they wanted. Another hotel we visited had adopted a different system, spreading out the buffet throughout the breakfast room, allowing people to spread out more easily. All food items were either covered with lids or e.g. plastic foil.

Another hotel we visited had abolished the buffet and replaced it with an a-la-carte menu. You ordered your breakfast the night before. Drawback: deciding what you’ll likely want to eat the next day and remembering what that was in the morning. I was lost. LOL, but the presentation was great and the food delicious.

Same, same, but different: face coverings

First time in my life I had to wear one of these.

I’m no fan of them, I’ll admit. Yet we ordered a few the other day for future use, and we obviously follow government recommendations and mandates. I can barely go on Facebook anymore as the debate from the US is simply disgusting. Yes, we can argue the scientific value of face coverings in this pandemic, but once a decision is made, you follow the rules. Period. You don’t murder people or steal just because you disagree with the respective laws. But yeah, America…

We first experienced face masks when we boarded our flight to Switzerland. I was happy to take it off to eat and drink but put it back on once I was done. On our trip to Switzerland, the masks were merely recommended. On our way home, they’d become mandatory. Things change all the time.

I think it makes sense to have that extra layer of protection in crowded spaces, such as airports (as abandoned as they are), shops, planes, or public transport. We complied using surgical masks we bought at our local airport in Gothenburg (the only place I’ve found them since March, excessively overpriced.) Sweden, along with other Nordic countries, does not yet mandate masks because of the lack of clear scientific evidence of their use, but I think we’ll need to change our approach not just because covid-19 is different from the flu, but also because of all the asymptomatic people not to mention all the covidiots out there, i.e. people who are sick yet insist on going out. But if you travel, bring a comfortable face covering (or four) along to use. The blue paper surgical masks are itchy and uncomfortable (my ears were going stir crazy having to bear both the rubber bands and the rims of my glasses.) Besides, if we have to wear a mask, make it part of your personality, your style.

Same, same, but different: uncertainty

Traveling is always accompanied by a certain level of uncertainty. You never know what might happen simply because countries are different. However, this year, even traveling to a country you know very well (I was born and raised in Switzerland) is accompanied by weird flukes. When we booked our trip, we knew that we were “allowed to”, both by the Swiss and Swedish governments. However, when we flew, the Swiss government had announced a ten-day quarantine for Swedish travelers, due to the high infection numbers in Sweden. We arrived two days before that rule went into place and didn’t have to. But it basically stopped our plans to travel to Italy because we didn’t really know if my husband would’ve had to quarantine after a day trip as he has no Swiss ID. Our son and I do, we would’ve been fine (silly, right?), but it just wasn’t worth the risk.

To make matters worse, after a week in Switzerland, the Swedish government “retaliated” and removing the green light from Swiss travel. Kind of nice when you’re already there. Our insurance was no longer valid (if anything had happened.) A few days before we returned to Sweden, the Swiss removed the quarantine for Swedish travelers and I expect Sweden to once again allow travel to Switzerland when they review their decision in two days. Silly, but that’s Europe 2020 for you.

But if you travel this year, this is something that might happen to you, as additional examples in recent days (UK, Spain) have shown. Things are very volatile and you better be prepared to pay your own medical bills or buy new plane tickets last minute. I am impressed with the Lufthansa Group’s decision and their “promise” to always bring you home. What it’s worth if push ever came to shove is a different story. There’s plenty of small print one cannot be bothered to read.

Same, same, but different: conclusions

We had a good vacation. We spent lots of time outdoors, we made sure to travel safely and avoid crowds. Sadly you can’t really avoid all the covidiots everywhere, but a good stare usually stops them from coming too close. We were well prepared and healthy and made the most of the time, and coming home after three weeks once again proved a well-hidden point about travel: you appreciate your home so much more.

Have you been traveling this summer? Plan to? What are your experiences?

Stay safe out there…

Hans

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