Travelling During the Coronavirus Pandemic: What You Need to Know

After months in lockdown, you might be craving to go somewhere else rather than your community and city. 

A few months ago it seemed impossible that we would even think about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-19 has made everyone wary of travelling. But with the pandemic controlled in some countries and travel restrictions lifted, traveling during this unprecedented time is still possible.  

Whether you’re considering travelling domestically or overseas, in this post, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to travel safely during the coronavirus pandemic, based on my recent trips within and outside the UK. 

Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
We all need a break, don’t we? Portimão, Algarve, Portugal

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Travelling During the Coronavirus Pandemic: What You need to Know

Whoever would ever imagine that 2020 would be the year that would change our lives forever?

The coronavirus outbreak began in China and suddenly spread all over the world.

We all caught ourselves confined at home, queuing to buy groceries and watching the heartbreaking and depressing news about a virus that was devastating lives and families in Italy, Spain, the US, and in our country. 

It seemed surreal like we were in a movie, a futuristic and horror one, but unfortunately, it was the reality…

Fortunately, the coronavirus pandemic is controlled; it seems to be, in many countries, and little by little, our lives are back to normal, or the “new normal” as it’s called now.

First, we started leaving the house to exercise, then we could meet friends and family, until the day we were finally allowed to travel beyond the limits of our hometown and country. 

It never felt so good to be outside! Canterbury, Kent.

You might still be thinking that isn’t the right time to travel or maybe the situation in your city/country isn’t good yet, and travelling is not allowed. I get that, and I do think that you should not travel if it’s the case.

Countries have different realities now, and in some of them, people are travelling, domestically and internationally.

If you’re wondering about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic, whether for business or leisure, here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need/want to travel during a global health crisis?
  • Do you feel safe and confident enough to travel?
  • Is non-essential travel allowed in your country?
  • Is the town/country that you want to visit open for visitors? Check which countries are open here.
  • How’s the COVID-19 infection rate in the place that you’re travelling to?
  • Do you have to quarantine for 14 days either in your country or the place you’re visiting?
  • Do the airline/hotel/travel agency/car rental company have a cancellation free policy?

While considering travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic, bear in mind that:

  • Many people are still reluctant to travel. So you can expect fewer people at airports, on airplanes, buses, trains, and tourist spots.
  • Some airline tickets are non-refundable, however, most of the airlines are ditching change fees. Check the airline’s refund and cancellation policy before hitting the button Book.
  • To enter in some countries, such as Cyprus, you need to provide a negative test on arrival, obtained within 72h before travel.
  • You must ensure you know any additional travel documents you need for every country you fly to. Please check what’s required with local authorities before you travel. Some airlines, such as Ryanair, also provide this information.
  • Some points of interest are closed during the pandemic, while others are operating with limited time and capacity. Always check beforehand.
  • You may need to buy tickets in advance and for a specific time slot when visiting a heritage site, landmark building, etc. Check their website for further information. 
  • You must be up to date with the government guidelines of the place that you’re travelling to and follow its recommendations. 
  • A face mask is a must-have item, so make sure to always carry a comfortable one. You might need to wear it for long hours while travelling. 
  • Travelling during the coronavirus pandemic is highly unpredictable. At any moment, travel restrictions and quarantine can be placed, borders can be closed, and flights can be cancelled. Be flexible with your plans and don’t get frustrated if you can’t travel.

PS.: What I’ve seen recently is holidays being cancelled by travel companies after quarantine being placed. So, if you book independently the risk is lower.

My Experience Travelling During COVID Within & Outside the UK

It has been a tough year for most of us! For some people tougher than for others… 

I believe we all know someone who lost his/her job and income, had to say goodbye to a loved one who passed away with COVID-19, broke up with his/her partner, and is worried about the near future.  

Yeah, I went through everything that I mentioned above. Plus the fact that my self-esteem was very low, and after my relationship ended I was emotionally unstable and couldn’t sleep properly (I would wake up around 4h30min – 6h, and go for long walks because I couldn’t sleep anymore). 🙁

I was living one of the hardest times of my life, and sometimes I just wanted to escape from my reality.

It was when I decided to do what I like most in life, and that could me bring some joy: travel. 

Of course, I was a bit scared and concerns about my safety and everyone else’s.

But once you follow the government guidelines, your start to feel more comfortable with the “new normal”, and travelling is just a step further. 

The risk of contracting the disease still exists, but it can be minimized if you travel to a place with a low infection rate, take very good care of yourself, and comply with the health and safety regulations.  

COVID19 safety practices
We all familiar with it by now, we just need to follow the recommendations.

My two-day trip to Kent

After over three months in lockdown, I finally left East London and went to Kent.

My friend and I decided to rent a car and drive to Dover and Canterbury.       

Because of the high demand, car availability was low and more expensive than usual. It took over an hour to get the car from the pick-up point, as there were only two staff members working to comply with the social distancing measures.

We booked all the tickets in advance with a specific time slot; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to visit Dover Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Augustine’s Abbey.

We also had to choose a specific time to use the hotel’s swimming pool.

I really enjoyed Dover Castle! Although the First World War tunnels, that I want to see so bad, were still closed during my visit. 

People were respecting the guidelines, and I did feel safe. 

If you haven’t been to Dover yet, I recommend you to do that. The cliffs are truly beautiful! 

What you need to know about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic within and outside the UK
Walking on the white cliffs of Dover was superb and made me feel alive again.

On the next day, we went to Canterbury.  

We had to wear a mask to visit Saint Augustine’s Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, people were respecting the social distancing rules, and it all went well. 

Few days after the Kent trip, I went to the Algarve.

I decided to go to Portugal because of the following reasons:

  • Portugal has recorded an impressively low Covid-19 infection and death rate (with just 159 deaths per million people, compared to 652 in the UK);
  • The number of cases in the Algarve was very low (less than 1000 cases and 17 deaths). *Data from the beginning of August;
  • I have relatives in the south of Portugal;
  • I had some business opportunities, so it would be a work trip and not a holiday one. 

Flying to the Algarve During the Covid-19 Pandemic

On the 6th of August, I left London again to go to Faro, Portugal.

I took the overground to Stratford, followed by a bus to Stansted Airport. 

Before boarding on the bus, the driver checked my temperature and my ticket. The bus was operating with half of its capacity and you could only sit together if you were travelling together.  

Traveling during COVID-19 outbreak
For your safety, always remember to keep social distance.

I’ve been to Stansted Airport several times, and I have never seen it as empty as that day. It was also the fastest time that I went through the security check. There was no line at all. 

Stores and restaurants were open, and it was a bit sad to see such a busy airport empty. How many people might have lost their jobs?

My Ryanair flight was quite empty as well, I would say with 1/10 of its capacity. There was no one sitting next to me. 

Ryanair flight during the coronavirus pandemic
An empty Ryanair flight is hard to believe, isn’t?

Ryanair requested all passengers travelling to Portugal to fill and print a Passenger Locator card before flying, but at Faro Airport, the immigration officer didn’t ask for it.

Surprisingly, my temperature wasn’t checked at both airports. 

After using a mask for so long (overground + bus + airplane + airports), I couldn’t wait to take it off, especially because the elastic was hurting me…

Flying with Ryanair during COVID-19
Ready to take off

Visiting the Algarve During the Coronavirus Pandemic

I’ve been to the Algarve several times, and I wasn’t expecting to see many tourists.

On the following day after my arrival, I went to the Marina de Albufeira to take a tour, and I was very surprised by the number of French visitors and visitors in general.

During the boat tour, everyone had to wear a mask, but there was no social distance because of the boat size. According to Portuguese regulations, social space applies only to vessels with over 40 passengers. 

In fact, in all the tours that I took, we had to wear a face mask, whether on a boat, car, or ATV.

Group tour during the pandemic
My family and I taking a group tour in Albufeira.

Most of the Algarve beaches were packed, but sunbathers were keeping at least 1.5m apart from each other. 

Praia do Camilo, one of my favourite beaches in Lagos was too crowded, and I didn’t feel safe. But it was the only time, though.

Very often, life seemed normal in the Algarve. People enjoyed the sunny and hot days, going to the beaches, bars, sightseeing, eating out, and shopping. Of course, they were doing that with precautions, or at least most of them.

If it were not because of the face masks and social distance rules, you would think that the pandemic was over… 

Many bars, clubs, hotels, and amusement parks have closed due to the pandemic, and the unemployment rate is very high in Portugal’s most tourist region. 

Travel and tourism are one of the most affected industries by the COVID-19.

If you think that traveling during the coronavirus pandemic is nonsense, ask someone who works in the travel industry or lost his/her business because of the lack of tourists…

Even though there were some COVID-19 outbreaks in Portugal recently, mostly in Lisbon and Porto regions, the country is still considered a safe place for travelers.  

My trip to Portugal was everything that I needed to lift my spirits! 

Praia da Luz, Lagos, Algarve, Portugal
Sometimes we just want to forget our problems…

UK X Portugal: Safety Measures and People Behaviour

The government guidelines and people’s behaviour are the keys to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Let’s take Brazil as an example. The government response was catastrophic, and the “lockdown” never really worked, because were people respected it.  Only now, after almost seven months, they are flattening the curve. 

On the opposite, Portugal had an extraordinary and fast response. They closed schools, non-essential shops, land borders, suspended events, and banned non-essential movement even before the third confirmed death by COVID-19.

And the way that the Portuguese people behave did help the country to control the pandemic. You can see the difference when you live in the UK and go to Portugal.

In Portugal, you have to wear a face cover in bars and restaurants. The only time you can take your mask off is when you get a table. To enter, leave, order food/drink, go to the bathroom/smoke, you must wear a mask. You don’t see it in the UK. 

Face coverings are mandatory on public transports in both countries. But you commonly see passengers flaunting this rule in the UK. I didn’t see anyone in Portugal without a face mask on public transport.

Similarly, when you stay in a hotel in Portugal, you must wear a face mask in common areas. It isn’t mandatory in the UK. You only need to keep 2m a part… 

Undoubtedly, I was more at risk of getting COVID-19 having a “normal life” in the UK than in Portugal. The number of new cases in both countries confirms it. 

Final Considerations & Advice on Travelling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I know it can be hard to decide if you should be travelling during the coronavirus pandemic or not. 

If you do, here are some tips for travelling safely:

  • Check your government travel advisory and follow it’s advice;
  • Look for destinations, hotels, and tours operators that are following COVID-19 safety guidelines;
  • Seek out countries where COVID-19 case numbers are low;
  • Book everything in advance and without cancelation/change fees;
  • Get at the airport earlier than usual;
  • Make sure to buy travel insurance that covers COVID-19;
  • Take good care of yourself.

If you follow this advice and take the necessary precautions, I believe you will be more confident, and safe, when planning your next trip.

Safe travels. Now more than ever…

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