Traveling During a Pandemic

The world currently feels very strange. There is a lot going on and people are trying to figure out how to make their life work in these circumstances. I’ve had friends tackle this situation in a very positive way, finally finding some time for their personal projects or for some extra self-care. Yet I’ve also heard of those who are struggling, whether its personally, financially or health wise . Everyone is handling this pandemic in their own way. Helping anyone in any form or shape is a positive way to move through this, even that anyone is yourself! (Self care is super important and necessary!)

There are some things we can do that benefit both ourselves and others, like (if possible) staying home! Only go out for the necessary things (which does include getting some fresh air, a short walk while keeping distance is OK). Try and stay indoors to limit your contact with people, and when you do have to go outside, keep your distance from others. From home you can participate in as many of those fun or positive social media trends as you like – they’re bound to put a smile on someone’s face, or join the neighbourhood to clap for the health care workers.

But staying home or safe isn’t possible for everyone. For some it isn’t safe in their homes. For others, they need to go to work in order to provide for themselves and their loved ones. And then there are those with essential jobs, the people that work in food-services/supermarkets, cleaning services, transportation services, or doctors and nurses. Remember to share some extra kindness and voice the importance of their roles within society.

So here I am, telling you to stay home, but I chose to travel. I made my way from Washington D.C., US to The Netherlands.

View from the plane ride from Washington D.C. to Atlanta. Image credit: Leona Caanen.

Some background information:
As some of you might have read in my previous post, I had traveled to the US to go see my boyfriend’s graduation and ended up staying longer than planned due to international travel restrictions that were starting to be imposed. Additionally there was somewhat a lack of urgency to travel anywhere. I didn’t want to risk anything for anybody.

But the past three weeks had been busy. A lot changed. The epicentre of COVID-19 moved from Western Europe to the United States. My direct flight from Washington D.C. to Amsterdam, that I had planned for April 5th, was cancelled. My re-booking of that same flight was also cancelled. Then I tried looking for a different date and that too became a cancelled flight. In the mean time my dad wondered whether I’d ever be able to make it from the US to Europe. He was eager to see me, but uncertain of how soon that would be. Besides waiting for me, my sister, who was in London at her boyfriend’s house, was also working on getting to The Netherlands. She had more luck, and with no cancelled flights was able to fly out on April 4th.

Eventually, after three cancelled flights, a lot of phone-time with KLM and Delta airlines, and having no choice but to have a 3.5 hr layover, I finally had a flight. April 4th I would be flying from Washington D.C. to Atlanta to Amsterdam. Yet I remained skeptical until I was actually on my second flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. I had experienced so many cancellations in the past three weeks… I’d believe it when I’d see it. Luckily, I did.

By the time I arrived in Amsterdam on Sunday morning, I finally felt myself relax a bit. I made it! No more need to worry about traveling, having too much contact with people while in transit, being stuck somewhere. Most of all, I felt relieved and tired.

Why did I chose to travel?

The decision to finally leave the US, besides feeling an urgency due to a lack of available flights, was that I felt incredibly uncertain about what the future held regarding my dad’s health situation. I felt scared, emotional. What if my his situation would worsen and I wouldn’t be able to fly out anymore? What if he would pass away and I wouldn’t have been there… Would I feel regret and guilt for not having gone when the opportunity was still there? I felt sad, overwhelmed. But I also felt guilty at the thought of traveling during a pandemic. What if I am an asymptomatic carrier? What if I get others sick or others get me sick?

In the end, I had to make a choice. I was tearing my mind apart trying to think of what the right thing to do was. Trying to figure out what my intuition told me to do vs. my emotion vs. what seemed rational.

In the end, I chose to travel. I wanted to be near my dad. I wanted to spend these last few weeks or months together, living life in each other’s presence.

Traveling

Before leaving the US I tried to prepare myself as much as possible. Gathering supplies like hand sanitiser, wet wipes, tissues, a mouth-mask. Throughout traveling I tried not to touch anything and keep my distance from others.

This was somewhat possible for the first leg of my trip. IAD airport and the road leading up to it were almost completely empty, giving an eery sensation. It felt so unnatural to see a highway and an airport so empty.

In the plane ride I had a whole row for myself, just like all the other passengers. Some of the crew members were mouth-masks and gloves.

During my 3.5 hr layover at Atlanta I did enjoy some literal “social distancing”, I made three friends, Kaleb, a Wisconsin native getting re-stationed in Norway, Marina who was moving from Boston back to Bulgaria, her home country, and Phoenix, who was changing her American roots for her Italian ones, heading back to Europe. We chatted at a safe distance from one another, which was very easy in the almost completely empty international departure hall. The only two things open were a Starbucks and our gate.

Yet keeping distance and having prepared my “cleaning supplies” proved somewhat useless by the time we started to board for the overnight flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. The boarding line started off with people keeping distance, but after the six people in the front, turned into a blob of people standing too close to one another, refusing to listen to the woman asking them to keep 1.5 meters distance from one another.

Once we got into the plane, even the woman at the gate asking us to keep our distance felt pointless. The flight was PACKED. There were no extra seats – there was barely even enough space for everyone’s hand luggage. No one could keep distance from anyone.

The completely full plane surprised me. I understood that the airlines had to bring many people back to Europe, but the crowded plane felt counterintuitive to all the pre-cautions people had been taking. Regardless of the crowdedness, I attempted not to touch my face and try to eat only with cutlery. I disinfected my hands often and attempted not to touch any unnecessary surfaces. With the constant attention to hygiene and the discomfort of a full plane during a pandemic, I barely slept during the 8+ hour flight and spend most of my time watching movies trying not to breathe on anyone.

After arriving at Schiphol airport, leaving the plane included, yet again, a lack of social distancing. Everyone had to pick up a piece of paper about COVID-19 rules and advice in The Netherlands, which caused all the passengers to slowly shuffle alongside one another out of the tunnel and into the terminal.

Once I got out of the line of bodies I quickly went to wash my hands. After that I rushed through security and picked up my suitcase and hurried to my dad. He was there to pick me up, and I didn’t want him, nor myself, to spend any unnecessary extra time at the airport or in social places. After giving him a half hug, we wiped down all handles of my luggage and used hand-sanitiser before having him help me carry my luggage to the car. Once I got home, I immediately put my clothes in the laundry machine, and showered and washed my hair. Once I was all clean I rushed downstairs to hug my dad and my sister. I had missed them.