After nearly 23 months without getting on a plane or leaving the UK at all, due to Covid, I’m back travelling. I had a trip to the US last month, and I’m off there again next week. For the past 10+ years, I’ve mainly worked from home, so not going into an office hasn’t been an issue for me, but the flip side of that is that I rarely get any chance to meet colleagues, partners and customers face-to-face except when I do travel. Before the pandemic, I was generally out of the country once a month – a schedule which suited me and the family pretty well, on the whole – so having nearly two years of minimal external contact has been strange.
I’ve blogged about travel before (see Travelling, keeping well, Travelling and the (frankly ill-fated) 5 resolutions for travellers in 2020) and I quite enjoy travelling, on the whole, though I’m not always good at it, and I don’t really enjoy being away from home (which I know is somewhat strange). As we move into a world where there’s going to be more travel happening, conferences move from virtual only to hybrid or in person and face-to-face business meetings become something closer to the norm, I thought it might be interesting to add some personal thoughts about some points that I’ve noticed, and which might be interesting to those considering travel or elicit comments from those who’ve already started in earnest (or never really stopped).
1. Regulations keep changing
Last month, when I went to the US from the UK, I needed a negative Covid test within 72 hours of arrival. That has changed, in the intervening weeks, to a test taken the day before. You need to be on the ball and work out the very latest regulations not only for where you’re going, but also for any countries through which you’re transiting. If you don’t get it right, you may be refused entry, or have to quarantine, which may be not only disruptive to your trip, but very expensive.
2. Masks are everywhere
This may feel normal now, but the default in most places is “mask on”. I’ve found myself keeping a mask on even outside, if I’m making a quick trip to a store or coffee shop from the office, rather than taking it on and off. It’s really worth packing a good supply of (quality) masks with you, and remembering to change or wash them every day: there’s a difference in wearing the same one a few times for 10 minutes each time to wearing one for several hours. You don’t want to wearing the same one for more than a day if you can avoid it.
3. Airlines have strange rules
Cabin crew are trying really hard, and it’s not their fault that there are new rules which you have to follow. One airline I travelled on last month had a rule that you weren’t supposed to spend more than 15 minutes unmasked to eat your meal. That’s difficult to abide by (particularly when the crew are serving different parts of it at different times) and really difficult to enforce, but I see what they’re trying to do. Stick with it, realise that the crew aren’t doing it to make your life hard or because they enjoy it, and try to have empathy with them. A major tip (whether in a pandemic or not): always be nice to the cabin crew, as they have the power to make life really difficult for you, or to ease the way in certain circumstances.
4. You’ll get paranoid about surfaces
Well, I did. While most of the focus on transmission of Covid is around avoiding airborne particles these days, I became aware that many, many people had probably been touching the same surfaces that I’d been touching, and that some of them were probably contagious. Luckily, many shops and places of work are making hand sanitiser available at the entrance/exit these days. I found myself using it on my way in and the way out. It can’t do any harm.
5. It’s quiet out there
I feel for retail and hospitality businesses, I really do. Getting out and about made me realise how quiet things still are – and a little nervous when I was in environments where it was a little more busy. Don’t expect to see as many people on the street, at the airport, in the malls. They’re unlikely to be empty, but things certainly felt abnormally quiet to me. Be pleasant and friendly to those who serve you, and tip well when you get good service.
6. Colleagues are making an extra effort
This isn’t particularly weird if you work with nice people, but I’ve noticed a trend for people to ask just a little bit more about each others’ health – physical and mental – both on calls and in person. I’ve also noticed more awareness of colleagues’ possible risks, such as elderly relatives or immuno-suppressed close family members, and offers to take particular care or implement specific measures to protect those they work with, whether asked for or not. Long may this continue.
7. Long-haul flights in a mask aren’t fun
Top tip? Buy a couple of “ear savers” for your masks if you’re using the type which sit behind your ears. These attach to the loops and then fasten behind your head, relieving the pressure on your ears. I may have a particularly large head, but I found that even twenty minutes of wearing a mask without one of these started giving me a splitting headache. I ended up fashioning one from pieces of an old mask to save my head until a colleague was able to buy some online. Even with this, I can’t say that it was fun wearing one, and getting sleep was much more difficult than it would normally have been. Beyond ear savers, I’m not sure what to suggest beyond finding a comfortable mask, and making sure that you try it out for an extended period before you travel.