Covid Traveling : Home sweet home
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!