My experience of travelling admits the chaos of 2020 and a look forward to what 2021 might hold from a travel perspective.
As someone who was incredibly privileged to have still been able to travel this year, I have learnt a lot! Travelling in 2020 has meant navigating continually changing travel regulations, stop and start lockdowns and over-night changes to quarantine enforcement. Here are some of my top takeaways from the year nobody saw coming!
1) If you really want to make it work, you might just need to be prepared to go the extra mile (or 200).
In October this year, we were due to be going on a two-week trip to Mexico. We were determined to make it work (despite our flights being cancelled twice!). However, the trip ultimately DID get cancelled when we found out that the hotel we were due to be staying in would be closed. Not to be deterred, we took to the internet and started researching other countries that were still allowing travel from the UK. We settled on Barbados as, at the time of booking, the UK was classed as “medium risk” meaning that we just needed to submit a negative Covid test 72 hours before arrival. Easy enough! I’m sure you can guess what happened next. By October cases in the UK were starting to climb again and Barbados re-classified travellers from the UK as “high risk”! This could have quite easily been the end of trip 2.0. We were now faced with potentially having to quarantine for up to 5 days of our 7-day trip.
Instead, we took to the internet again and, with some research, we found a way to make it work. We arranged private tests at our hotel, which had a much quicker turn around (meaning just two days in quarantine). We also extended our trip to 10 days rather than the original 7.
The one remaining complication was that we were due to fly on a Monday and still needed to register a negative Covid test no more than 72 hours before arrival into Barbados. Most private testing companies (including the one we were using) do not give out results on a Sunday! Therefore: if we had taken our test on Friday evening (72 hours before our arrival time); and posted it by the special delivery on Saturday; it wouldn’t arrive at the lab until Saturday afternoon. We would therefore get our results back on Monday at the earliest! We couldn’t take that risk as we needed to show a negative test certificate before flying. We spent a long time pondering and playing around with timings until eventually, we decided the safest option was to drive the tests ourselves. So, the Saturday before our departure date, we set off on the 200-mile round trip to the lab in Norwich, completed tests in hand! This meant we could get them there before the 10am cut off and guarantee same-day results. It was a hell of a drive (not for me as I slept most of the way, but for James!) and we did have to leave the house at 6am, which is something I’m never in too much of a hurry to do, but in the end, it was completely worth it! Through sheer determination and doggedness, we made it to Barbados and were drinking rum punch on the beach before we knew it!
2) Sometimes it all just comes down to luck!
When the world opened its doors again in July, like everyone else, we were desperate to get away! And, like everyone else, we played the travel corridor guessing game when choosing which destinations to visit. We managed to make it to Mallorca towards the end of July. Spain, at this point, was still a quarantine free zone. Not for long. By complete fluke, we made it home just a few hours before Spain was taken off the travel corridor list and just missed out on having to quarantine for two weeks. Result! Unsurprisingly, we weren’t quite so lucky on returning from Crete in September. One of the few quarantine-free places left in Europe by this point, Greece became the go-to summer destination of 2020. However, halfway through our mid-September trip, the government announced that 7 Greek islands, including Crete, were being removed from the travel corridor list. 14- days house arrest ensued.
3) Check before you travel.
One of the most laughable travel mishaps this year occurred on our WAY to Crete. We very naively assumed that as we hadn’t received an email in big, bold letters with guidance about travelling to Greece (like we had when travelling to Spain a few weeks earlier), this meant there was nothing we needed to do before departing. Looking back now, this seems an entirely ridiculous notion as the days when there was ‘NOTHING to do before departing’ seem like a very distant memory!
When we arrived at the airport two hours before our flight, we were stopped before check-in and asked for our QR code. We both looked at the attendant puzzled and explained that we didn’t have one of those. The poor woman looked horrified and quickly ran over to get her supervisor. Still utterly bewildered, James asked whether there was a form or something we needed to fill-in? It was only then that the supervisor explained to us that the Greek Passenger Locator Form needed to be completed a minimum of 24 hours before departure as they don’t send out the QR code until after midnight on the day that you fill it in. She also explained that they wouldn’t let us fly without it as the airline would face a fine of £1000 per passenger. Completely shell shocked, we sat in the corner of shame by the BA check-in desk, whilst we filled in our locator forms and the staff kindly re-booked us on a flight for the next day. I have to say, on a side note, British Airways were amazing! They re-arranged both our outbound and return flights, so we could still keep our trip to 7 days, for free, even though it was entirely our fault! (It may or may not have had something to do with James being a gold card holder…). We then had to make the sorry trip back to our flat with all our luggage in preparation to do it all again the next day!
4) When life gives you lemons…
In early October, we had a foody weekend city break to Bologna lined up. Unfortunately, as with all the best-laid plans of 2020, it fell through at the last minute. Sadly we were forced to cancel the trip the night before we were due to fly. Italy changed its entry requirements for people arriving from the UK, not with a 48 hour notice period as has become customary. Oh no, that is not how they do things in Italy. They had made their decision, and their decision was coming into effect immediately.
Seeing as we now needed to submit a negative Covid test before arriving, it was obviously going to be impossible for us to order the tests, get them to the lab AND get results back in the 22 or so hours before our flight was due to leave. Cancelling the flights with BA was no problem. They issued us with a travel voucher that we subsequently put towards our flights to Barbados. Unfortunately, this was the first (and only) time we lost money on a cancelled trip, as we were unable to get a refund from our hotel. We tried appealing to the hotel directly but apparently not physically being able to get into the country didn’t qualify as an extenuating circumstance (not bitter at all). It was too late to book somewhere else, so we made the decision to have a weekend away without going away. We had planned to go to two or three nice restaurants in Bologna, so instead, we picked a few nice restaurants in London that we wanted to try and booked those instead. We had planned to go out for a day trip on the Saturday, so we chose a London attraction and had a day trip there instead. This was our itinerary;
Friday Night– Dinner at Kerridge’s, The Conrad Hotel.
Saturday – A Day at Kew Gardens. Dinner at Lucky Cat by Gordon Ramsey.
Sunday – Sunday Roast at The Rose, Fulham (Our Local). Bath and an early night.
It turned out to be a great weekend, and the best bit was there wasn’t an airport queue in sight!
5) Flexibility is king.
I’ve already told the stories above of how Mexico became Barbados and Italy became London. I’ve also mentioned how flexibility around dates has worked for us this year. This pretty much is how 2020 travel went through and through. Our ability to be flexible is what kept us travelling when so many others weren’t able to. James and I were very fortunate this year that we were both able to work from wherever we landed. This, therefore, also negated the issue of potential spur-of-the-moment quarantine enforcement when returning from wherever we may be. I know flexibility is not something you necessarily CHOOSE to have. But for me, this year of flexibility has influenced my long-term choices in that I’m determined to make sure flexible working is part of my life from now on. (Millennial through and through).
6) Even without Coronavirus, you can never rely on the weather to play ball.
I think these pictures say it all. Even though the weather was terrible, this was still one of my favourite trips of the year! We learnt to scuba dive on this trip. We got to drink giant Pina Colada’s out of a pineapple in the middle of a storm in Honduras. Plus, we nearly got blown away at “The Perfect Day” in the Bahamas (if you know, you know) <3.
Predictions for 2021:
– Weddings galore!
2021 is set to be the year of the wedding! Venues are reported to be booked back-to-back. It’s hardly surprising with many weddings initially scheduled for 2020 having to be postponed, on top of the weddings already scheduled for next year. In my mind, this can only be great news! Who doesn’t love a wedding?!
From a travel perspective, being invited to weddings often forces you to travel to places you wouldn’t have otherwise ventured too. For example, we have a couple of weddings in Ireland in 2021, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit, but never got around to going to. A wedding is a perfect excuse to explore!
– Travel prices will likely soar once we fully get the green light.
I’m not adding this one in to put a downer on things but rather as a little nudge for anyone who needs one. Inevitably, once enough of the population globally has been vaccinated for governments to fully ease restrictions, travel demand is likely to boom! Everyone who hasn’t been away is desperate to get away, plus lots of trips (as with the weddings) that were initially planned to go ahead this year have been put off. Travel companies, airlines and places that rely on tourism have all been dealt knock out blows this year and will NEED to capitalise on rising demand once the world re-opens. Therefore, I would recommend anyone who doesn’t want to pay top dollar for their well-deserved breaks in 2021 to book now! Whilst there are still elements of uncertainty, there are still deals to be had. I cannot recommend British Airways highly enough for its Covid cancellation policy. Frankly, they’ve been brilliant with their customers if not with their staff this year!
Trailfinders (who we use regularly) also offer an excellent service in terms of cancellation cover. To give a recent example, we had a family holiday booked in January for 10 people. It was paid for in full, and we had recently added insurance on, in-case one of us should become unwell whilst away. A week ago (so 3 weeks before the trip) Trailfinders called us to say it was unlikely that tier 4 would be lifted by our departure date. It was their advice to cancel the trip. They refunded the full amount PLUS the money we had recently paid for the additional insurance, with absolutely no quibble or hassle. (Just so we’re clear – I do not work for Trailfinders, nor am I being paid to say any of this! I just genuinely think they offer a fantastic service).
That being said, there are plenty of other companies that are also stepping up to the mark. More and more independent hotels are offering free cancellation until a few days before your stay (whether or not this is included in the price is clearly noted if you book through websites such as booking.com). If in doubt, ask for a full breakdown of the Covid cancellation policy but don’t let continued uncertainty put you off booking. As long as you’ve done a bit of research beforehand, there is nothing to lose, and the travel industry needs you now more than ever!
– Flexibility will still be king (for the time being at least).
The world has changed massively, especially from a business perspective. There has defiantly been a realisation that WFH can be just as productive as working from the office. The nomad life is, in my opinion, here to stay. For those who want to continue travelling, remaining flexible with our expectations will still be key going into 2021. Although my fingers are firmly crossed for a return to normality ASAP, we’re not quite there yet in terms of being able to travel freely and safely without taking certain precautions. We will need to stay on our toes to keep on top of changing regulations, both at home and abroad, for a little while longer. As mentioned above, we have already had our family holiday to the Maldives in January swapped out for a working trip to Dubai. We’ve also had a wedding in Spanish, due to take place in April 2021, postponed to April 2022. Considering the year that so many people have had, this is all hardly cause for complaint!
– I’m Turning 30!
Yes, I know, not much in the way of a prediction. It is, however, the perfect excuse for making the most of 2021 in terms of travel! I’m keeping an open mind regarding where and when, but I plan to make it a year to remember (hopefully for better reasons than 2020!).