First trip after lockdown

What’s different and what to expect … some thoughts and tips to help prepare you whether to fly or not to fly….

Background to booking

So booking a flight in August 2020 was not something I ever thought I’d be doing. My new passport had arrived the first week of lockdown and seriously never thought it would get christened this year.

For context and my mind set it might be helpful to explain that I had unlocked slowly, safety and sensibly. Four months working round the clock just going out for a run and the occasional tesco trip.

Then came July and it was my birthday. First outing was to a friends garden, weekend after we went to a rooftop, then took my niece shopping, then a trip to the coast and by mid August my first over night in a local hotel. Step, by safe step.

But then I needed to take a few weeks off work. Am used to mini breaks for work life balance, destress and adventures but the prospect of staying home or even a staycation just didn’t feel it would help. I knew I wouldnt get that head space break.

I did look into UK breaks but woweeeeee it would have been cheaper to fly to the Caribbean for the same luxury hotels and that’s if you could get any availability. It’s also worth sharing that for some of my adult life travel wasn’t an option for me due to heath circumstances and so I’ve done staycations like a boss already… Cornwall, Lake District, Devon, Wales through to great weekends in places like Liverpool, Manchester, London, Bournemouth… I even holidayed every summer as a kid in Scotland and I love the UK but I don’t connect to it. So years ago when I could travel again, it was like getting my freedom back and I have been making up for lost time ever since. I imagine this will be how anyone shielding will feel when they can go away again.

I knew the summer would be harder than full lockdown – to travel or not to travel. Conflicting advise and influences. Safer to stay but yet our numbers were higher than other places, the travel sector is on its knees and there’s those pic of pilots asking us to fly … but it seemed so surreal to even consider it. Having accepted it probably wasn’t possible now … it was almost easier when we had no choice.

But lucky for me all it took was a fabulous friend who knew I was struggling to suggest we looked at France… but it didn’t sit well with me and sure enough quarantine happened.

So I set about the next fortnight with a spreadsheet 🤓 comparing all the countries numbers and who was rising and who was plateauing. Malta and Croatia seemed a fair bet I even held rooms at hotels but then their numbers rose. It became clear that Italy was our chance but we’d have to move fast. England announces on a Thursday, with just a days notice for quarantine so it was a calculated gamble. But the calculations paid off and indeed there were no restrictions imposed for Italy. We got there and back safety and happily 😎

So after that waffle … whats different and what to expect…

1. Arrival time at Heathrow

So the first difference was timings. I love to arrive at an airport early and have a mid afternoon flight … some lunch in a lounge, bubbles and holidays have begun. 🥂 Firstly the lounges weren’t open or were fully booked already. Less travel meant less flights … in our case the only flight that day was a 7am departure so no bubbles before boarding at that time. Also BA emailed to ask us not to arrive early:

‘Please arrive no earlier than 2 hours’ so my above usual plan couldn’t have happened anyway.

2. Forms and temperature checks prior to security

We decided on travelling with just hand luggage. We had an onward train journey in Italy and prefer it for ease. So we actually arrived 1.5hrs before the flight. As usual we had boarding cards on our apps but the machine wouldn’t let us through. We had to go to luggage check in to collect forms and be temperature checked. No where was this made clear. It was very confusing and as we were a little on edge already only made us more anxious. However this turned out to be very destination dependent so do check.

3. Airside – terminal 5

It felt quite a busy airport for 6am. (Though only done that once in years – ironically it was this January so I may not be the best judge of whats normal at that time) Everywhere was open, that I could see. So staple suncream that couldnt squeeze into my hand luggage – no problem getting. There was lack of seating for the food outlets and one way systems everywhere and of course, goes without saying everyone had their mask on.

4. Boarding

Now this was interesting and genius – boarding from back to front rows – so no long silly queues of people desperate to get on, far more chilled! Tho due to lack of flights it meant it was quite full and we were made to check in our luggage which I always hate.

5. Entering the plane

We were given a sealed hand sanitizer pack, there were no cushions on the seats (so do take one if you get a sore back or need it for napping) Nor where there any magazines just the emergency cards in the pockets.

6. The flight

I felt as safer than I do on the tube, out of luck I had no one in the seat next to me outbound. And even with the masks everyone was very respectful. The captain would even remind us after eating we needed to put them on properly. We were handed a plastic bag with a bag of crisps, biscuits and bottle of water. Now this was only a 2 hr flights so you’d usually purchase something from their M&S range but it wasn’t available. This also meant no bubbles either (anyone with dietary requirements – bring your own food)

7. Arrival in Italy

So this experience is just about travelling to Italy though I imagine most countries have a similar version of what you have to do. Definitely check the countries websites (BA did email us a link to read but didn’t provide the information from them as I imagine its so ever changing, so do your homework before flying) We had read it and had our printed out forms though they did have some spares on board. These were then collected by the cabin crew prior to landing. Note the cabin crew are not trained in how to fill them in so do read up prior.

8. Disembarking

You know how when the light goes off and the plane stops everyone jumps up and starts grabbing their bags from the over head lockers, which I’ve never understood? Well a far more civilised way has been introduced (can only talk for BA flight here) where they start at the front and disembark in batches of a few rows. You are even asked to sit till it’s your turn … and everyone did! 👏 Can we keep this when it’s all over!!

9. Milan airport arrivals

Again, I can only talk for this airport but there was another Covid form we had to fill in once airside. This was a little more chaotic – just a pile of them in a stand. (No pens so take your own) Then was a long queue to get through involving questions about quaretine and Covid – all very understandable and good practice but still a little unsettling – note once through that queue you still have passport control so allow extra time. That said we were only an hour from disembarking till through with luggage so not bad.

At this point I finally hugged my friend – we had made it. We hadn’t been anywhere that had track and traced us prior to flying (though that concern did stay with us), we hadn’t had symptoms (even if not been Covid!), the government hadn’t banned Italy and Italy hadn’t banned us coming… we had bloody well done it and we started to relax.

10. Travel to hotel

We had flown into Milan and were heading to Lake Como so save pennies and as I’d read it’s really, easy even in Covid, to get the train. The trains felt safer than London and everyone very chilled with their masks on and social distancing, felt very much the new normal which in uk it still doesn’t.

11. Arrival at our hotel

We knew masks were to be worn indoors and all guests and staff did so, like with the trains felt strangely normal. Check in desks had screens and we were temperature checked as we approached, we also took our own bags up. We also had the option of room keys, Hiltons app now means you can unlock your room using that! Not sure if that was pre Covid but genius!

12. Our room

The rooms had sanitised stickers on to ensure no one had been in since the super clean and felt very thorough. We did have the option for room cleaning during our stay too.

13. Around the hotel

As I mentioned masks worn in all communal space except the pool and restaurants by guests but were by staff. There is sanitiser by all lifts and only your party could be in the lift with you. The pool didn’t have restrictions on numbers in it but everyone was respectful of each other. There was even a portable bell so staff could attend to your every proseeco wimb!

14. Hotel breakfast

I had heard and read a lot that many hotels weren’t now doing the classic holiday buffet but was please to see this one was – just screens up and someone serves you like school dinner style (also means I wasn’t as greedy!)

15. Around Italy

Every single place we went to eat, drink or even when we got a ferry, we were temperature checked and we had to book for nearly all restaurant’s (which quite frankly the planner in me loves to do) a few places didn’t take our details but they were empty so could be why. Some had menus, some QR codes – much like at home.

Read about visiting Lake Como

16. Return journey

Firstly we unusually couldn’t get a late check out – due to needing much longer to sanitise between guests. Again totally understood. Leaving Lake Como via the train back to the airport was as safe as coming and arrival at the airport (but with masks). We went to a check in desk to ask a question and lucky we did as there were more forms they don’t tell you, you need to fill in and hand over at the gate. Flight was same as outbound with boarding and disembarking. One important note ..

which they did remind us on the plane – you have to fill in, online (in the 48 hrs prior to arriving home / entering – but am sure this will be ever changing requirement so check), a UK government form re where you been etc – it’s a good 15 minutes exercise and some questions aren’t clear so we did ours the night before we left. That then is magically linked to your passport through many people’s passports didn’t work on the e readers – my friends included as they were spot checking forms. And then we were through as normal. As I live so close to heathrow I hopped on a tube home and honestly felt the most unsafe I had all week but that could just be because holidays are sooooo relaxing!

17. Conclusion

Am I glad we did it – one million percent.

Would I have been able to even consider it a month ago – no

Would I go again – I am currently googling where we are still allowed 😂

Did I relax, not as much as usual – no but not bad considering. Genuinely wasn’t concerned of getting Covid, was concerned I would get a random infection/ fever and then have to go through testing, isolating and if for some crazy reason had got it, be stuck in a hotel room for 2 weeks rather than my own bed and home. But that is and was the risk… but to be sat here for lunch, just hours after arriving looking at that view, I felt my freedom and that will stay with me for a long time…

Lastly if you still need some help…

Questions to ask yourself:

1. How anxious consciously and unconsciously am I in general and is it manageable? I found the planning and preparing less exciting and more anxious inducing to start with – as what if it didn’t happens or something would go wrong etc ….so if you need guarantees it’s challenging.

2. Do you have health anxieties? Rational or not as getting on a plane isn’t as safe as staying locked up at home nor is getting on a tube so choose what you feel ok with.

3. Does the reason to go hold importance ie, it could be much more than needing an escape. Attending a funeral abroad, being reunited from partner separated through lockdown through to will you lose money if you don’t go. It could be that escape is actually more important than anything especially if you have been working in NHS and are burnt out. Anyone working who has been pushed harder and longer than most needs a break. Likewise if you been furloughed for months your mental heath equally could be suffering and needing a change.

4. Are you able to get insurance? Many will cover cancellation due to getting Covid now (like if you got anything you needed to cancel) and if you get it abroad too. Currently they won’t cover if the uk governments stop you travelling. So can you take the hit if you lost that money?

5. Can you afford to book last minute – even though flights are often way more expensive there is much less likelihood of changes to government rules.

6. What does your gut say. Fear or feeling … always a tricky one to navigate.

Whatever you do or don’t decide hope this has helped – drop me a note if you need any more info.

Details of Lovely Lake Como click here.