Having been sat at home for months, working from home in a place that should be the relaxing, family home it was supposed to be, there was a balance I had to strike. With all the news, politics and angry, confused individuals screaming at each other, whilst I was trying to get on with my life was getting to me. Stress and upset a daily problem, I had to consider my options and making plans for travelling during COVID times was an option.
Investing money in a holiday for my family during COVID times was a risk, until at the end of July. I saw that TUI were offering holidays with an ATOL ‘COVID’ guarantee. The deal they offered was 10 days away in Greece at the Thalassa Suites in Corfu, at a greatly reduced rate, for the last week in August (which is at the normal peak holiday time).
Researching Greece and COVID, it appeared that they had not appeared in any of the top COVID countries and thought it was a good gamble. Paying the money up front, I had to watch the news and got a little concerned as other countries were being placed on the do not travel list. If Greece was added, this would invalidate my travel insurance and cause other problems, however the 21st August came and we were set to travel after some extra checks and paperwork.
Extra things to do
Travelling during COVID times is not difficult, but it is not a easy as it used to be. First before travelling, I kept an eye on the ‘list.’ I checked news articles, making sure that we did not need to take an extra COVID test, to show a negative result before we travelled. Lots of Countries were asking for a clear PCR test with a fitness to fly certificate. Greece were not asking for this, which saved a great deal of hassle but the stress of watching to see if the advice changed was constantly there.
I made a call to my travel insurance company and checked that there were no restrictions. I was told that they took their position of cover from the Government and providing there were no restrictions, then the cover would still be in place.
What was required was a Greek PLF (a Passenger Locator Form). A very simple form completed on line, which needed my families names and passport numbers. It was free to do and I had completed it within 5 minutes. I had an email saying that they had my form and would be issuing a ‘QR’ code at midnight the day I was due to fly. I was informed that I needed the QR code to gain entry to Greece, otherwise I’d be refused entry and could be fined for not doing it, so not an option.
There was also a need to check flight information, TUI’s website was updated and I followed their advice. Masks would be required to be worn the entire time whilst on the flight, so we bought some fresh masks and had them ready packed in our travel bags. The check in opened 24 hours before departure, so waking up at 6am the morning before and using the TUI site I was on line to book in and grab our seats. The biggest shame, was that TUI were only offering pre-booked seats at a fee which we chose not to do. Checking in my family, we had been issued separate seats at either end of the plane. So much for keeping travelling parties together I thought, but ultimately it was too late, as all the other seats had already been booked!
The day of the holiday arrived. Jumping in the car with the suitcases we headed off. We were all nervous that changes would happen instantly, blocking us from going on our much needed break. Driving to the airport at 3am inside the car it was extremely quiet and so were the roads. On the journey I checked my emails and saw that Greece customs had sent me our QR code, so that we could enter the Country. Arriving at Bristol Airport we drove into the car park and as normal we jumped at the first free parking space that we saw. Dragging our cases across the car park we realised that the normally packed parking area had loads of spaces free. We could have parked at the terminal end in one of the many free spaces and saved ourselves a long walk, but never mind, the walk was doing us good.
Getting into the airport, there were barriers and one way systems everywhere. TUI reps were managing the flow of people into the check in area. Big signs stated that masks were to be worn in the airport at all times. Queues and frustrations were obvious but the queue moved quickly and before we knew it, our bags were thrown on the conveyor belt and disappearing behind the scenes. Next was security, walking through the airport it was quiet, security gates were open and only short queues were at each station.
The biggest surprise was the departures lounge. There were one way arrows on the floor, which no one followed and seating was freely used, without restriction. People did not seem to care, they were on their holiday and not many kept their distance. We found a Starbucks at the end of the hall, they had managed their seating area and had done a good job to distance tables. Grabbing a Latte and Americano we got comfortable in their seating area, feeling better about the social distancing and feeling more positive about being able to get on the plane.
Eventually the big boarding screen asked for us to board the plane. Making our way to the gate, the normal hussle and bussle occurred, not many people cared about the distancing which did get a little annoying, however this was the least of my worries. Going through the gate my family were split up, we were all told that the plane was to be loaded row by row. The first half left the gate and got on a bus, I waved them off.
Fifteen minutes later it was my turn, jumping on a crowded and packed bus, I was carried out to the plane, which was sat at the end of the pan. Everyone got of the bus together and queued to go up the steps to the plane. No one was able to leave any space between ourselves due to the location and getting dumped out on the tarmac by the bus. Getting on the plane, I was to be sat in row 4. Looking down the plane I saw that there was not one spare seat, the plane was packed. Every face I looked at, looked back at me from behind a mask.
Getting to my seat, I was sat next to another couple. We chatted and they told me that they had checked in late, hours after I had gotten up at 6am to do my family’s tickets. They had not paid for their seats, and knowing this annoyed me. My family could have been sat together and we could have kept our bubble a little easier. Still I was going on holiday, I let the upset go.
The flight was a normal route and we arrived in Corfu. Getting off the plane there was a huge queue, snaking out of the door from the airport out onto the tarmac. Stood shoulder to shoulder with others, all hustling forward to get inside there was no distancing. Eventually I saw the delay. There were only two customs officers checking passports and asking people to show their QR codes. Even with the signs that had been put up everywhere, people at the front were not ready and were stood, holding up the line whilst they messed with their phones, trying to open emails to show their code.
Eventually I got to the front of the line and whizzed through the check point, having my phone open at the right page. Bag finally collected and out into the open to get on our coach, for a transfer to Thalassa Suites.
Being in Greece was great. Everyone I saw there wore their masks when they were supposed to. Staff wore gloves and made sure they kept their distance. Shops were empty, beaches were clear and sun beds around the pool were vacant. It was obvious that people were paying COVID respect but no one kicked up a fuss. it was obvious that the number of tourists were way down. There was no constant chatter about the number of infections, the number of deaths or the constant reminder of TV or radio reporting on the COVID concern.
It was 10 days of sheer pleasure, getting away from it all. Wearing masks was an accepted part of a normal day, it did not feel as if it was because of a horrid lethal disease, it was all very relaxed and calm – just getting on with life with a mask.
It was clear that life in Corfu had been impacted, massively. Shop keepers, restaurateurs and travel company owners were sat around with no customers. Cash was king and all of them were willing to do a deal. It was clear that they were trying to weather the COVID storm, the best and in any way they could. All of their livelihoods had been given a severe beating. They were still happy and all of them were really appreciative of us making the trip to their little island.
The 10 days went by so fast, I had been able to forget about how much hype and worry there was back home about COVID. It was great to feel normal again and have my life back. I was able to enjoy myself and I think I was able to find the reset button.
To get home there were a few hurdles to get over. 48 hours prior to landing back in the UK, we had to fill out PLF (passenger locator forms) for the UK. Hoping that they were as easy to complete as the Greece ones, I was in for a shock. More complicated and more detail was required, and each adult had to do their own form. 30 minutes later we had finally completed the forms and we were ready to come home.
On the day of the return flight, we got our coach transfer back to the airport, only this time there were more stops and the coach filled up. The people getting on chose not to social distance. Packing out the front of the coach. However I figured, that the group would all be on the plane and distance would not be an issue at that point. Back at the airport, long lines snaked out of the airport, everyone waiting for the check in desks. We joined at the back, slowly making our way forward. More TUI staff managed the line and provided us with entertainment, as they dealt with those whom were were not willing to wait in line.
40 minutes of waiting we got through the doors and had to wear our masks for the duration of being in the airport. At the front of the line, we dumped the bags on the conveyor belt and were free to roam the airport. Corfu airport was busy, so going through security was done in a crowd and through into the departures lounge. Getting through there was little to do. The big Duty Free shop was closed and instead, a small area had been designated for duty free in the corner but it was not the same.
Waiting in an airport lounge with a small duty free shop and 2 coffee shops for a few hours with a mask on, would be enough for anyone. I was glad to get out of the gate and across the tarmac to get on the plane, for the journey home.
Back to the UK
The flight was packed again, this time there was a delay. TUI had booked a flight for an American who was living in the UK, on the outward journey from the UK. He had been denied entry to Greece at customs because he had an American passport and the delay was for us to wait for him to be reloaded on the plane back to the UK. He got on and was a little upset, I felt for him but an extra hour of being sat on a plane with many other people, all wearing masks, all I wanted was for him to sit down so we could all get moving.
The flight got back to Bristol and we made our way to customs. The self-scan passport booths were shut and instead custom officers filled the desks and worked their way through the line. Again our passports were out and the QR codes were on the screen of my phone, ready for checking. It got us through quickly and officially we were back in the UK.
Entering the main airport, was like a slap in the face. Immediately confronted with arrows on the floor, false walls and segregation it was an unwelcoming return and a reminder of how the UK had decided to live during COVID times.
Was it worth it?
The holiday was amazing and for us the trip was absolutely worth it. Having been back for 3 days now, it is already a long, distant memory but the feeling inside of being given a reprieve from all the bad news and fear inducing media stories in the UK, still gives me some peace. Living in the UK is draining, the constant reminder, those that fight the system, social media filled with fake news, can get too much at times and before you know it, you have just had enough of it all. Getting away and being able to switch it all off, is better for your health than any medicine a doctor would prescribe.
Travelling during COVID times is undoubtedly a risk. It is harder work than normal but choosing to get away from it all, for my family and I was worth all the worry and the money it cost me. If anyone needs a little push to book something during these times, I hope this post, does it for them. My advice is to do the research and make sure you pick your destination wisely. Try not to worry about it too much and get away for some sunshine and some peace.