Covid Traveling : Home sweet home 

By Enid Westerlund

New columnist Enid Westerlund takes her first flight following the pandemic’s beginning and finds a world that has changed and remains familiar in the interim period. 

Imagine a world where you are living away from your loved ones, where  you will need clearance to drive from one village to the next, where  shopping for food is restricted, going outside is only allowed a few times  a week and for one to two hours. 

Overnight, you are told to set up an office  at home and work completely changes. There will be no colleagues  wishing you good morning or grabbing yourself a latte from your  favourite cafe because going to the workplace is no longer an option.  

Imagine Samoa like this right now. All schooling including tertiary  studies will be virtual, the halls of the primary schools and colleges, empty. 

University labs and lecture rooms at a standstill while everyone  connects from a screen in their own room at home. It is a lonely and  stressful experience. Imagine us living this way for the next twenty-four  months. 

How do you think you will cope? Would you accept it as your  new reality? How will this affect your productivity over time? 

This is today’s reality. It is happening all over the world. Some are  slowly coming out of lockdown for almost a year. Thankfully this is not really in Samoa, not on our paradise island. Samoa enjoys life in her own Pacific bubble, Covid and restriction free. This has been our reality  in the last two years, living overseas. 

I’ve gone through it with a one  year old and a husband who is a frontline health worker. Daily routines  like grocery shopping became a mission as everything including nappies  and formula, toilet paper, flour and baking soda made the most wanted  list of 2020.

As a result you can only buy one or two at a time. There  was widespread panic buying and mental health took a big hit during  the first few months of COVID-19.

It was only a decade ago that Hollyweird (Hollywood) movies included  massive destructive apocalypses, zombie infested screens where the  heroines/heroes fight for survival in a hopeless, dark world. 

Although we  are not wielding machetes at the nearest zombie face or villain, we are  dealing with a far greater risk. A virus that has taken over the world,  sounding like a great script for an action packed blockbuster. A virus that adapts and becomes more dangerous over time, restricting movement and alienating the elderly and immunocompromised from  families. There is uncertainty, anxiety, stress and fear of the future for  most people and it’s understandable because the world has been turned  upside down, inside out. Thousands of people have died, more so have  lost their jobs, livelihoods vastly affected, major corporations have fallen  and some of the most successful businesses have succumbed to the  chaos. Hugging your family is strongly advised against and children are  locked inside their houses during major lockdowns unable to see their  friends or teachers, using technology for studies while the parents juggle  everything else.  

If the world was still operating under normal circumstances we’d still be  travelling overseas to visit each other and planning the old tick off the  bucket list. Traveling would still be a norm and you might even be  planning your christmas trip right now to see loved ones. Today, travel is  a luxury again like the old days. Most of it is now a one way ticket  without the promise of every returning home. It comes with conditions, nose  prodding COVID-19 tests, needle piercing serology blood tests and the  stressful paperwork before you even set foot near an airport. 

No one is  exempted, not even newborns. Forget the old days when the only other  list was to buy duty free perfume, alcohol and small gifts for your family.  

Today, you are not given these options as duty free alcohol is prohibited  on the plane or in quarantine. You won’t even have the luxury to test  cosmetics, perfumes or anything else at the duty free shop when you are  there. Most of the stores are closed including major brands and sales  representatives bring items to choose from on a small desk. A very  different shopping experience compared to pre COVID-19 days. 

Much has changed at airports as drop off at the airport is a mission in itself as your  family are not allowed inside the terminal at all! They’ll have to adhere to  social distance and have to go through stops and police/security checks  before dropping you off the terminal gate.  

Traveling can still be fun depending on how you see it or it can be a  nightmare for most parents. Imagine waking up late with three kids and a  husband, rushing to the airport without breakfast and standing in line to  check in for four hours. 

You head to the nearest money exchange booth  for Samoan tala only to be told that they sold out two hours before take  off. You ride the escalator through security at Auckland airport and  discover everything is closed, no duty free shops, no magazine booth, not even a sandwich in sight. You still have five people including yourself 

to feed as everyone now wants to eat but there’s still another 2 hours to  go before boarding. You reach your gate and the only option is a  vending machine with another 100 people in line because they had the  same idea as you. Thinking that you don’t need breakfast at home or  your hotel because there’s always something at the airport? Wrong…  there you are in line without coins for the vending machine and hoping it  will accept your card otherwise there are still five hungry people depending  on you. Pack your snacks! 

If you are traveling by yourself then that’s all right but if you have babies  and infants, it's another kettle of fish all together. If your baby is precious  like all of ours, you’ll be anxious when they have blood tests and Covid  tests. The best thing to do is brief them, yes even babies. Babies,  infants, toddlers, teenagers are just like adults, they want to know what’s  happening every day and telling them ahead of time can help ease some  of the fears they may have. You tell them they’re going on a fun  adventure (flying on a plane) but it means they’ll have to go through  some “health checks'' to make sure they’re healthy before flying. There  is much to consider before traveling with your family but first, make sure  you have all the right paperwork as it can be a nightmare trying to sort  these out at the check in counter regardless of what class you’re flying  in.  

We travelled home last month after waiting months for a flight. We went  through the Mexican-U.S. border (Tauranga/Auckland) heavily patrolled by  police cars, numerous health and Covid tests before we boarded the  flight. We enjoyed the 21 days in quarantine even with the non  operational resort lights, microwave, fridge,fans and oven. 

The key is  improvising, having a positive attitude and doing things yourself to make  your stay as comfortable as possible. Planning ahead with extra  luggage will help you stay sane with children and spouses in quarantine.  Other ways to help yourself is to buy groceries online before you arrive  or have your local family deliver what you need to the Ministry of Health  tent as Motootua. 

They are timely in delivering parcels to you once they  arrive. Don’t worry, everything was labelled and delivered. Thanks to  the hard working securities, health workers and especially to the resort hotel staff who were truly accommodating during our stay. They can only  do so much when things don’t work.  

Believe me, you will forget every travel and quarantine stress when you  see and hug your family again in Samoa. So truly thankful to be home, mask less and free to move around again to visit family and friends. 

I  look forward to sharing more with you all in the next few weeks. If you are  covid traveling this christmas, count yourself blessed and truly lucky to  be home! 

By Enid Westerlund

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