Travelling in a COVID-19 world: 10 things I’ve completely forgotten about travel

  • Post category:Blog

Are free inflight drinks still a thing? Asking for a friend…

For many of us, international travel has been off the cards for a while due to the spread of COVID-19 and the ongoing travel bans and restrictions.

The thought of that picture-postcard tropical holiday just a distant pipe-dream in the day to day hustle of the 9 to 5 workweek.

Now there finally appears to be a light at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel.

Whispers of international travel once more being a realistic, accessible option in the short to medium future. Soon we actually will be sun tanning on a beach in Koh Samui instead of daydreaming about it on Monday mornings over the dulcet tone of the office photocopier.

In the midst of one of my own travel daydreams, I found myself thinking: There are some aspects of travel that one simply never forgets, seared into the back of our memories.

The jolt of anxiety that hits halfway to the airport, feeling certain you have left your passport at home (only to find it in a glaringly obvious place right as your taxi pulls up to the arrivals curbside). The often long and drawn out check-in process and then more long lines as you waddle through airport security.

Most of us remember those memories clearly.

Conversely here are 10 travel aspects that I have completely forgotten about, and you may have to.

Delayed baggage

We’ve all experienced this.

Touching down after a stuffy 12-hour flight, shuffling through the immigration line (does anyone else ever feel slightly anxious when face to face with the immigration officer?), feeling that first pang of holiday excitement and freedom.

Only to then suffer through an excruciatingly long wait as your baggage makes the long and treacherous, seemingly arduous, journey from the airplane cargo to the snakelike baggage claim conveyor belt.

Standing around with a planeload of strangers, awkwardly locking eyes with the young family whose toddler kicked the back of your seat for 12 hours. The impatient, who insist on standing right in front of the baggage belt as if that act alone will magically conjure their own suitcases to appear before anyone elses.

I mean what are the baggage handlers doing behind the scenes anyway? Trying on Hawaiian shirts and sifting through toiletries?

It’s safe to say, waiting around the baggage carousel with a bunch of irritable strangers isn’t something any of us have missed about the travel experience.

But it’s something that I did forget about the travel experience.

Story: I once waited over 3 hours to collect my suitcase from the baggage claim at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This was after a 9-hour flight on a certain (will not be named) budget carrier with sardine tin economy seating (I ended up arriving at my hotel at 1 am!).

Airline food

Ah, airline food.

Long-maligned and for decades the butt of many a witty joke or stand up comedy routine.

Poor old airline food has enjoyed a kind of revival period in recent years, to the point where the thought of eating on a plane has gone from an afterthought to now become more of a refreshing novelty of travel.

Soggy baked beans and sausages have made way for punchy culinary delights. Sometimes serving as a little foodie easter egg or tantalising teaser to the type of food which awaits eager travellers at their destination.

Each airline specialised in different varieties of food. JAL, Thai Airways, Emirates, Qantas and on and on. I’ve tried most and I could fairly accurately recount the hits and misses, whether to go for pasta or the stirfry on that specific airline.

Now? I honestly couldn’t even tell you what they serve let alone if it tastes any good or not. Now that I think about that for a second, maybe not being an up to date airline food aficionado is a good thing.

No matter what, as a lover of all aspects of travel (even the aspects we tend to complain about) I do look forward to once again peeling away the seal on my next silver reheatable food box and sampling the mystery culinary delight that awaits inside.

Jet lag

At the beginning of Die Hard, the classic 1988 action movie (now retrospectively also considered a Christmas movie) NYC Detective and hesitant flyer John McClane (Bruce Willis) touches down at LAX. Armed with some handy new-found jet lag advice from a fellow passenger. 

That advice:

“You want to know the secret to surviving air travel? After you get where you’re going, take off your shoes and your socks, and you walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes. Better than a shower and a hot cup of coffee.”

Whether this fallacious (but well-intentioned) jet lag factoid contributed to John McClane’s victory over the well-groomed East German terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza is one thing.

But for most travellers (around 93% according to most studies) dealing with jet lag was just one of the added holiday package inclusions that nobody ever intentionally signs up for.

Getting through to the other side of a 12-hour flight, only to feel that familiar groggy, muddled sensation. Spending the first couple of days in a completely foreign environment, stuck in a discombobulated stupor that not even the bright mediterranean sunlight can clear. 

Waking up in your hotel room not knowing whether it was time for bacon and eggs or a bay breeze (double shot). The once unforgettable phenomenon known as jet lag feels like an abstract afterthought to me right now.

Whoever comes up with a cure for that unwelcome travel haze will be sure to make millions.

What to pack

Where in the world is the Marie Kondo of efficient and economical travel packing?

Is that person out there?

Someone to tell us when we are going overboard with the out of place formal dress shirts and expensive jewellery which we’ll never end up wearing on that casual beach holiday.
Or conversely to remind us that yes, we should always double down and go extra on the number of socks and underwear that we think we will need.

As a frequent traveller, I had grown accustomed to efficient packing. Rolling my items into concise clothing sausages, strategically arranging them in my suitcase with the mastery of a seasoned, battle-worn field general.

And I never forgot to pack anything, nobody got left behind under my suitcase-packing command. Not even my toothbrush.

Now I’m not so confident. Exactly how many pairs of jeans do I need? Should I pack that extra can of mosquito repellant or is that overkill?

Marie Kondo, if you are reading this. Can you help me pack my Samsonite?

The safety demonstration

Let’s have a quick show of hands.

Who else stopped paying attention to the safety demonstration pretty quickly after having watched it attentively that first-ever time flying?

I’m guilty. I never paid much attention to the aeroplane safety demonstration in recent years. Mostly because I knew it off by heart, the whole spiel never seemed to deviate in any way from airline to airline.

Oxygen masks will drop down in the event of an emergency, please don your own mask before helping the passenger next to you. Speaking of emergency, emergency exits are located here and here.

Then there was always something about life jackets…?

Okay, so next time I fly I might have to listen attentively once again.

Foreign languages

Xin Chào



Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Before jetting off on a foreign vacation, I’ve always made sure to learn at least a little of the local language.

No, I’m not saying that I have ever been fluent in Xhosa or Swahili. But I’ve always learnt just enough of the local dialect, to at least allow me to communicate the basics and to make myself appear less like a foreign buffoon.

Having said that, the very little that I have mastered is now very much a thing of the past. Learning and remembering languages is a muscle that needs to be flexed daily, and let’s just say Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be too proud of my lax linguistical workout sessions of late…

My passports expiry date

My passports expiry date was something I kept locked away at the back of my head. Not at the forefront of my daily thoughts and musings, but that exact date was always so clear and accessible that I could recall it in a split second.

Now? I honestly have no idea where my passport even is, let alone when that valuable escapism tool expires.

For all I know it already has.

Missing home and loneliness

Loneliness is a strange aspect of travelling.

For many of us, travel acts as a form of escapism, a beautiful disruption to the day in, day out mundanity of the 9 to 5 workweek.

Many of us travel to break the chain, we desire that tropical holiday or ski slope adventure for the very purpose of leaving our homes and chasing something new and invigorating.

Sometimes being overseas can ground us to be more self-aware of how great our regular day to day lives actually are. Towards the end of holidays a creeping sense of loneliness, of missing home can set in.

The thing is, I’ve been home for a long time now. Many of us have been working from home, stuck in the mundanity of the four walls which enclose our temporary home workspaces.

I’ve completely forgotten what it feels like to miss home, to feel that creeping sense of loneliness that makes me appreciate all of the great things in my daily life at home. 

I am sure I will feel that feeling once again, but at this moment I just can’t even imagine what it would be like to miss home.

The coming home blues

On the other hand, many of us feel the opposite of missing home towards the end of a vacation.

Physically arriving back into our homelands, but mentally still being checked out and signed off from the rat race. Your soul separated and still lying under that swaying palm tree on the opposite side of the world.

That feeling of dread usually sets in 3 to 4 days before the fateful flight back home. It’s the exact same feeling we all felt when we were younger, when the end of the summer holidays was drawing to a close and heading back to school was becoming an all too inevitable reality.

Your existence can feel a bit humdrum when you are no longer travelling. When there are no more adventures, no exciting new discoveries to be found hidden behind the next alley, soi, hẻm, vicolo or ruelle.

I haven’t felt the coming home blues for a while now. I’ve forgotten what it feels like.

Complaining while on holiday

As I was writing the above thoughts, I kept thinking to myself that a lot of what I had forgotten about travelling consisted of complaints and niggles. 

Having not been able to travel in the same way that I did before Covid has opened my eyes to how amazing I had it before. 

I never took anything for granted. I loved and embraced every second. Still, I couldn’t help but complain about certain things. Long-haul flights, slow snaking lines, waiting what felt like an eternity for my suitcase to magically appear on the conveyor belt. 

Now I have no idea how I ever managed to complain. It really is that old and worn out adage of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. I know that it’s a tired old cliche, but it has become all too relevant in this current world we find ourselves living in. 

Travel is a privilege, one of life’s great enjoyments.

Going forward I will actively try to see the silver lining in everything I perceive as a bump in the road. I will always look for the silver lining in those clouds I gaze out upon from my 37,000 ft window to the world below.

The crying baby seated behind me?

Okay, let’s just take this one step at a time.