What it’s really like to go on holiday during a pandemic
By Helen Wright
Back in September 2020, the UK enjoyed a brief relaxing of Covid-19 rules and holidays to some overseas places were finally allowed. At the time, the government were calling these exempt destinations, ‘travel corridors’. It was a joyous, yet stressful time because with almost no notice, entire countries could be removed from the exemption list, meaning flights and holidays were immediately off the cards. The travel industry has suffered terribly as a result of Coronavirus. Forbes reported that the global travel industry lost $935 billion in the first 10 months after Covid-19 hit, with predicted losses of over $1 trillion.
Like many, I had experienced first-hand these effects. My London wedding and both my overseas hen-do and honeymoon had all been cancelled. Multiple overseas work trips had been canned, alongside our ambitious plans to travel as much as possible in 2021 before my son starts school. It had been a tricky year, my work was on hold and finding ways to entertain two kids under four indoors was becoming tedious. Like everyone else, I really needed a break. So, when during a quiet week at the beginning of October, my friend suggested a last-minute trip to anywhere on the exemption list that weekend, of course I jumped at the chance. Simon stepped up his daddy-duties so I could get away and we booked the warmest place available with the shortest flight – Corfu, Greece.
Escaping for escapism
When it comes to going on holiday during a pandemic, there are two clear camps: those who think you should just stay home and accept it; and those who support travel to permitted destinations, whilst following local, social distancing and mask-wearing rules. It goes without saying that I am firmly in the latter camp.
As well as helping to #savetravel, holidays are proven to be good for your mental health. Likewise, staying home is scientifically bad for you. As this article very articulately points out, ‘experts are still learning exactly how the disease transmits, but a few central concepts are well established: Outside is better than inside; fewer people is better than more; more distance is better than less; well-ventilated air is better than stagnant’. A sunny weekend at an all-inclusive hotel with Covid-19 precautions, in a country that already prioritises outside space seemed like a safe bet. Greece it was.
Flying during a pandemic
NOTE TO READERS: APRIL 2021 – The current UK rules on international travel during coronavirus mean a £5,000 fine for travelling outside the UK without a reasonable excuse. Holiday travel is not currently allowed – either in the UK or abroad – under lockdown rules.
After the trip, I was bombarded with questions about what it was like to fly during Covid – with most people concerned about wearing masks for an extended period during the flight. I could see why this would be a source of anxiety, but in reality it was no problem at all. To get to the airport, I had to travel from Lincoln on the train and the hot, leaning carriages hurtling along with no fresh air were far worse than the environment in the airline cabin. I couldn’t wait to get my mask off when I left the station.
Commercial aircraft have a recycled air filtration system, using HEPA filters and efficient circulation, meaning the air you breathe in-flight is likely cleaner than the air in restaurants, bars, shops and your mate’s living room. I really noticed it too. For me, being on board was more akin to being outdoors than travelling on a bus or train and even being inside the airport.
The flight was simple. We flew Jet2, who still offered a trolley service and you could buy food and drink. Removing your mask to eat and drink was allowed. There didn’t seem to be any clear social distancing on our flight and most seats were taken, but I didn’t spot any passengers ignoring the mask requirements. Moving through the airport, from security to boarding, was maybe the least stressful experience I’ve had at Stansted! Less travellers meant security was speedy and there were plenty of places to sit in the terminal. In pubs and restaurants air-side, you were able to de-mask at your table. In essence, if you’re planning to travel during the pandemic, the airport should not be a cause for concern.
‘Covid-safe’ all inclusive holidays to Greece
In reality, there is no such thing as a Covid-safe resort. You are just as likely to catch an infectious disease in your hotel room as you are at your local post office. Every time you leave your home, for any reason, you put yourself mildly at risk. However, since we were not in any vulnerable categories, we decided this was a risk worth taking for us. We decided to go for an all-inclusive holiday to Greece at a resort that had clear Coronavirus precautions in place (such as mask requirements in public areas, strict buffet and restaurant rules and a reduced capacity during our stay).
We opted for the all-inclusive Aeolos Beach Resort in Corfu. The hotel was offering a good deal and we figured that having a base that we could trust (with Coronavirus considerations in place) would be a stress-free way to approach the trip. At the time, we had no idea how effectively Corfu was handling the pandemic in public spaces. If we felt uncomfortable in town, we planned to go back to the resort and enjoy the pool and sun without the stress of crowds, uncontrolled social distancing, anti-maskers and other considerations. As you will see further down in this post, we didn’t have to worry. Corfu was fab!
Luxe for less in all-inclusive Greece
The hotel is situated on the south east coast of Corfu, set on a hillside, surrounded by lush gardens and views of the Ionian Sea. Advertised as a four-star resort, the hotel is simple and endearing. Not overly fancy, but very clean and charming. It has two huge swimming pools, one in a serene nook overlooking the sea and one, larger, resort pool where games and water aerobics take place. Both have pool bars, but there is no poolside service. The larger pool also has an adjacent kids pool and plenty of sun loungers and space to spread out. Visiting during a pandemic, with the benefit of less people, was actually a plus!
Wearing masks at the hotel
Another concern people seemed to have was the requirement to wear a mask around the hotel, with the assumption it would spoil the ‘holiday’ atmosphere. Of course, wearing a mask is inconvenient, but it works much the same as it has been here. Masks are required in indoor public spaces, such as the hotel shop and lobby, and as you are walking through to your table at the restaurant or bar. You are also asked to wear a mask at the buffet station, when ordering drinks at the bar (even when outside) and on the golf buggy that transfers you to your room.
Yes, it would better without the hassle, but after a day it became second nature and I hardly noticed it was an issue. The main restaurant also has outdoor tables and there is a beach cafe and an outdoor restaurant to choose from.
How does the hotel buffet work during Covid?
Before arriving, I was intrigued as to how the all-inclusive restaurant would work during Covid. There had been much concern in the news that hotel buffets would be a thing of the past. Turns out, the hotel had a simple and effective plan in place. The buffet dining option was still available, but guests are asked to form a line and enter a few at a time so the area isn’t overcrowded. Many food options were served in individual bowls so you could just pick up the items you wanted without touching any shared spoons or servers. For bigger items (like Moussaka), a staff member was on hand to serve a portion onto your plate. Drinks were ordered at the table. I’m not going to lie – I preferred it this way! Watching people slopping food everywhere and eating around buffet tables always made me feel a bit icky anyway.
As all-inclusive resorts often are (with the exception of *this* amazing resort!), the food was basic but acceptable. There is a beach bar and the pizza and pasta there were good! Drinks varied in quality but the white wine in particular was not nice. I stuck to mixers (vodka and coke etc) and the beer was drinkable. If you like super sweet colourful cocktails, you’ll be fine. There was a fridge in the room, so you could buy better (inexpensive) wine at the local supermarket and keep it cool.
We opted for a basic all-inclusive resort option to safeguard against the possibility of a Covid-unsafe environment during the pandemic, with the knowledge that we’d likely venture into Corfu town and eat at local, more authentic restaurants. This was reflected in the price we paid for the resort and so we were fine with that.
Corfu during Covid-19
For this trip, we picked the closest and warmest destination with the cheapest last-minute deal and ended up in Corfu. The main aim of the holiday was to have a little break from real life (which for me, was away from my kids and for my friends it was a break from the mundanity of home working). We discussed that we might end up staying at the resort and not see much of actual Corfu. This isn’t something I would usually do, but as everyone keeps saying, we are in unprecedented times… However, the intention was to leave the resort if it was safe to do so and I was really happy about that, because I had never been to Corfu before. I did wonder if a small, ancient Greek city would be problematic during a pandemic in which we are required to social distance. Pleased to report that despite being a bit busier than life in London currently was, exploring Corfu Old Town was pleasant and I’m really pleased we decided to venture out.
As a whole, Corfu was respecting the Covid rules, with tourists wearing masks indoors and on public transport and waiters and shopkeepers doing the same. Some restaurants and bars had tables closer together than we are allowed in London, but most bar and cafe seating is outdoors and not many places were full to capacity. In the streets, people would pause to let you pass by and there was never a situation where we felt uncomfortable. It’s worth noting that at the time, Corfu (and most of the Greek islands) had zero or very few Covid cases. So they must have been doing something right.
Would I go on holiday during a pandemic again?
Absolutely yes! As well as being very passionate about supporting the global travel industry, our whole experience was smooth and stress-free. In fact, I would go as far to say that some elements were better during Covid-19 than before!
As I say at the beginning of this post, getting outdoors and travel is good for both your health (if you are not a vulnerable person to Coronavirus) and your mental health. Staying indoors and hiding away can increase anxiety, especially if you haven’t seen the outside world for yourself and rely only on ‘scary’ news reports. Being inside all the time can also aggravate other health conditions that can be eased with fresh air and exercise.
There are some rules that make the holiday less ‘free and easy’ than it felt before, but the overall experience is positive. Greece is a great choice for a holiday during Covid-19. As well as their Coronavirus cases being much lower than in other parts of Europe, the Greek way of life already celebrates living outside and so is set up to welcome you in. If blue skies, blue seas, olives and wine can’t cheer you up, what can?
This trip allowed me a much needed break, the chance to spend time with friends, the ability to support the travel industry – including small, local tourism businesses in Corfu – and an opportunity to get some Vitamin D. Essentially, this is a response to Covid-19 that I can definitely get on board with. I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same this year – especially if you didn’t get a holiday in 2020. Stay safe and have a happy holiday!
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