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What is it really like to travel during the Covid-19 pandemic? Ten Culture Trip employees share their recent experiences – including flying internationally, road-tripping locally in a campervan, and crossing borders by train, car and ferry.
Where? London, UK, to Perugia, Italy.
“I last stepped off a plane on 9 March, a British Airways 747-400 returning from Vancouver. Little did I know that it would probably be my last flight on the Queen of the Skies, as these old birds become the latest victims of Covid-19.
“More than 100 days later – 153, in fact – and not without a few nerves, I flew from Stansted to Perugia with some friends. Apart from the airport being eerily quiet for a peak-season weekend, things felt largely normal as we made our way to the gate. In-flight, fellow passengers were respectful and kept their faces covered.
“In Perugia, where just a handful of flights are landing daily, Covid-19’s impact on Italy’s tourism industry was apparent. Rows of gleaming hire cars sat motionless, with few travellers arriving to drive them away.
“We spent the majority of our trip in a rural Airbnb, but when we did venture out to the supermarket, or to go rafting, kayaking and exploring Spoleto, it was striking to see how serious the Italians took mask-wearing and social distancing. Knowing how badly the country was hit by the virus, and how intensive their lockdown was, my friends and I took the precautions seriously too. We didn’t want to jeopardise their efforts.
“I then travelled solo to Genoa, the often-overlooked capital of Liguria – where a friend was my guide to the city. While I was there, I took a moment – between a steady diet of focaccia, pesto, ham and seafood – to pause and think, and I was overcome by the sense of what an incredible privilege it is to be able to travel and explore new cultures and places. Yes, there’s more paperwork nowadays. Yes, there’s risk of having to self-isolate. Yes, masks are uncomfortable, and flying is a bit odd at the moment. But Italy was the perfect setting to reawaken senses dulled by months of monotonous lockdown.”
Where? Tel Aviv to Western Galilee, Israel.
“This year I had planned to take my now-fiancée abroad somewhere romantic such as Paris to propose, but Covid-19 had other plans. Instead, I took her hiking in the Galilee, in part because when you’re out on a trail, you’re pretty much automatically socially distanced.
“I drove two hours’ north from where I live in Tel Aviv to Montfort in the Kziv Valley, Western Galilee – and climbed a mountain to propose to her by an old crusader castle. It was really secluded.
“Meanwhile, back in Tel Aviv, you have to wear a mask whenever you’re in public. Restaurants and bars are very limited in the number of people they can have inside at a time, and they take your temperature before they let you in.”
Where? From London to Aarhus, Denmark, to Harz Mountains, Germany.
“Even though Denmark was not open to tourists in early summer, Danes and partners of Danes were allowed to come to work and live in Denmark – so my Danish husband and I did so at the beginning of June. Heathrow was eerie, with no shops open and everyone in face masks. The flight to Denmark was completely packed, yet Copenhagen Airport was also eerie and empty.
“It was otherworldly coming to Denmark from the UK. People were hugging and the shops were open, as were restaurants, bars and pubs. However, cases in the country have since spiked, so masks are now mandatory on public transport, and there are limits placed on the number of people in shops.
“In July, we drove from our home in Aarhus to the Harz Mountains in Germany, which takes about six hours. There were no checks going into Germany from Denmark, although there were some random checks coming back. Face masks were mandatory at our resort, which was completely full, and the attractions we went to were also packed. You could hear a lot of Danish spoken, with many Danes holidaying in the region as it is so accessible by car.
“The restrictions and measures in Germany felt reasonable and fit for purpose. We went hiking, swimming in lakes and ate at restaurants outdoors. We were cautious and followed rules, but they didn’t affect our enjoyment of the trip.”
Where? New Jersey to Florida.
“My parents booked this trip to Florida back in January – and having spent so much time stuck indoors during lockdown, I decided to join them. It was the first time I’d travelled since the start of lockdown, and I admit I was nervous.
“For our journey, on the Amtrak Auto Train, I prepped travel kits for each of us, including disinfectant spray, wipes and hand sanitiser. We drove from New Jersey to Virginia where we boarded the train with our car – wearing masks as required. As soon as we reached our roomette, we disinfected everything inside.
“Once we arrived in Florida, I was surprised by the lack of mask-wearing. Less than half the people I saw were wearing them. This was the end of June, and it wasn’t mandatory at the time, but nevertheless it was surprising.
“The highlight of the trip was a bioluminescence night kayaking tour near Cocoa Beach, which I booked through Culture Trip. It was amazing, like something out of a movie, with glowing plankton around us in the water as we paddled. It was easy to maintain our social distance before entering the water and while kayaking.
“After that excursion, the cases and death toll in Florida began to rise significantly and we decided to cut our holiday short and head back to New Jersey early. By now it was mid-July, and we weren’t advised to quarantine as it wasn’t an official rule, but we decided to self-isolate anyway to be on the safe side. Masks are now mandatory if you want to visit a store in Florida.”
Where? London to France, Italy and Switzerland.
“From London, I took the Eurostar to Paris – the train was half full, with plenty of room available and masks mandatory, so it felt reasonably safe.
“I rented a car in Paris and road-tripped through the wine region of Burgundy, France, to Interlaken, Switzerland, and onto Lake Como and a small town called Montegrosso in Italy. I hiked, swam, biked and visited a winery; masks were mandatory when touring the winery, but everyone removed them during the tasting.
“I stayed in Airbnbs at the first two destinations, a hotel in Lake Como and at a friend’s place in Montegrosso. The hotel had a strict indoor mask policy.
“I made a point of eating mostly outdoors, and I avoided big cities, other than when travelling in and out of Paris. Mask usage was generally a bit hit or miss – much like it is in the UK.”
Where? Shanghai to Lhasa, Tibet.
“From my base in Shanghai, I travelled to Lhasa, with a stopover in Chongqing, west China. During the brief stopover all passengers were asked to register for a health code via the social networking app WeChat, before boarding the flight to Lhasa. This health code was essentially a QR code, with a traffic-light system indicating the Covid-19 risk.
“During both flights, passengers who had recently visited high-risk regions such as Beijing were urged to declare their travel history by filling out a form. On arrival at Gonggar Airport in Lhasa, we were asked to register for another local health code, and to show authorities before leaving the airport.
“However, my hotel didn’t ask for any proof of health status or travel history, nor did any landmarks or restaurants I visited in and around Lhasa. Mask-wearing was encouraged – mainly at tourist sites such as palaces and monasteries, where large numbers of tourists and pilgrims congregate. In practice, many were comfortable taking masks off every now and then; in the city, few people were wearing masks.”
Where? Newhaven, England, to the Atlantic coast, France.
“My partner, my two children and I hopped on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, before driving down to Île de Ré on the Atlantic coast. The port and crossing were actually pretty straightforward – the only difference was face masks and limited food and drink on the ferry, and we just needed to remember to fill in our UK Gov Covid form on the way back.
“The most concerning moment was when we stopped at a service station on the way down the French coast – there was a queue of around 60 people for the coffee machine, all huddled together, albeit with face masks.
“We were camping in France, so actually the social distancing part was easier to manage than if we had stayed in a bigger city. Île de Ré was great. It didn’t feel vastly different from previous visits – restaurants and bars were open and everyone was in good spirits. The beaches were less packed than the tabloid photos of beaches in the UK, and everyone seemed respectful of social distancing. We kept to mostly outdoor activities, which made things much easier to manage.”
Where? Within Sweden.
“Having moved to Gothenburg from London in 2019, I decided to put a positive spin on the travel restrictions around the world, and use it as an opportunity to get to know the rest of the country better.
“While official restrictions in Sweden were not as strict as in neighbouring countries, I was still planning to stick to countryside routes rather than exploring cities. Thanks to Sweden’s right to roam laws, a campervan trip meant I could stay in amazing, remote locations all over the country.
“From Göteborg, I travelled to beautiful destinations including Lake Vänern, Lake Siljan and Abisko National Park, camped on the Stekenjokk Plateau, and spent time on the west coast between Göteborg and the Norwegian border.
“I enjoyed hiking, wild swimming, barbecuing and near 24-hour daylight north of the Arctic Circle – the shortest night lasted all of 14 minutes in Abisko National Park. Overall, it felt like a reasonably socially distanced trip that didn’t at all feel like a Covid-19-compromise on an amazing adventure.”
Where? London to Valetta, Malta.
“I travelled from Heathrow to Malta international airport on an Air Malta flight at the beginning of August. With a big reduction in flights in general, checking in, security and boarding the plane felt significantly quicker than normal. One particularly odd thing was that Terminal 4, where my flight was scheduled to depart from, was shut and we were relocated.
“Once in Valetta, we got around – to places such as Mdina and Comino – with the help of a taxi-ride app called Bolt; all the drivers I encountered had masks on. At the time, Malta had a low number of Covid-19 cases – but safety measures were firmly in place in shops, restaurants and museums.
“I found that all major attractions needed to be booked in advance, as many places were regulating the number of visitors and turning people away. Beaches and swimming spots – like the Blue Lagoon, which was already packed by midday – felt a little overcrowded for my liking, making social distancing difficult.
“If you’re travelling to Malta, I’d recommend you make a point of researching more niche locations and activities, and head out early to avoid the crowds. Malta might not yet be best known for its wine, but the vineyards are well worth checking out – try the Meridiana Wine Estate.”
Where? Within New York state, from Brooklyn to the Catskills.
“A month or so into lockdown, I needed to get out of Brooklyn and into some nature. My girlfriend and I decided on the local Catskill mountains – they’re easy enough to get to and have a lot of homes available.
“We found some random Airbnb in a place called Margaretville, which we immediately renamed Margaritaville, because we’re hilarious. When arriving at the car rental location, we were told they were fresh out of cars, even though we had already booked and prepaid. Everyone had rented a car from NY to get out, and no cars were coming back in. It was mayhem. Upset customers were yelling on the phone and couples were fighting. After going to another car rental place and hearing the same thing, a huge truck came to drop off cars. Three hours and $300 extra later, we sped away in a minivan. The drive was short and we didn’t need to make any stops.
“When we got to the house we cleaned every surface imaginable with alcohol wipes, unsure how well they had done it before our arrival. The site had mentioned cleaning measures, but our excessive wiping helped us relax. We enjoyed it so much, we extended our stay by a couple of days and worked from the house.
“We haven’t travelled since, even locally, mostly because it’s too expensive. But I just booked a last-minute cross-country flight to join some family in a cabin. Alaska Airlines was having a buy one, get one free deal and, as it turns out, it’s cheaper for two people to take a round trip flight from New York to Seattle than it is to rent a car. I haven’t told anyone about how I’ll be taking a risky long flight just because I got a good deal, but I plan to wear a mask and never remove it – I may even get a face shield. Alaska Airlines keeps its middle seats empty, but my main concern is the potential for maskless passengers nearby. We confirmed with family that they were comfortable staying with us after we’d been in and out of airports and on a flight. Overall, it’s a lot of alcohol wipes and communication.”