A four-day whirlwind tour of Portugal and Brazil was my last big trip. I still vividly remember the taxi driver hurtling down an unpaved road to our hotel in the middle of the Atlantic Forest, my head hitting the ceiling of the minibus with every jolt.
Flying was a pretty quiet part of life in 2019 and I was no stranger to traveling alone for work or pleasure.
But in March 2020, everything changed. The pandemic hit, the world suddenly went into lockdown and no one was traveling. With health conditions that make me vulnerable to the virus, I was definitely not going anywhere.
How did I go from adventure in South America to being afraid to leave home?
When the world started to reopen, many jumped at the chance to go abroad again, but I wasn’t so sure. I decided to hold back until things seemed safer.
More lockdowns came as the COVID situation fluctuated, and then we came to 2022, two years after this nightmare began. I hadn’t set foot outside the UK for so long that I had become nervous about going overseas.
Flying for the first time in two years
In May I was invited to go to Norway for work. Just two hours flight from London Heathrow, the journey was shorter than many UK domestic train routes. Yet the prospect of flying filled me with dread.
I wasn’t alone either. Speaking to friends and family – especially those whose health put them at risk – many were still hesitant to resume international travel.
In the UK, 16% of people say they do not take holidays this summer. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, money is obviously a big factor for those not planning a trip. Nearly 50%, however, still cite uncertainty over the COVID crisis as the reason, according to a recent study by insurance company Allianz Partners.
My reluctance to jump on a plane, it seems, is not unique.
Swallowing my nerves, clutching a borrowed suitcase (mine was lost due to irrational cleaning), I walked into Heathrow to catch my flight.
While waiting in line for the office, my nerves began to evaporate. Travel restrictions have eased, and aside from a few remaining warning signs, that’s exactly how I remembered it. I checked my bag and went through security without a hitch – despite the chaos at many UK airports in recent months.
The flight itself was also painless, and very little to suggest there had even been a major world event between now and my trip to Brazil. No one flinched at my decision to continue wearing a mask despite recent changes in requirements.
Traveling for the first time since the pandemic started wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought.
The experience was definitely sweetened by the fact that I was visiting Norway – a country where all entry rules were lifted in February. I didn’t have to provide proof of vaccinations or do any COVID tests, so there was no added travel stress, other than the usual fear of missing your flight.
In a personal tradition that I hoped was left in 2020, with the underwire bras and the morning commute, I came back with a sore throat and stuffy nose. But, after some forensic testing to ease my nerves about COVID, it all came back negative. It was just my usual travel cold.
Is this a return to pre-pandemic travel?
Airports in particular were a big sticking point for me when it came to getting back into it. I won’t deny that I was afraid to find out what the trip was like after two years away. In reality, little had changed.
Many people have found the same and are not afraid to travel now that restrictions have eased. European airlines and hotel chains are reporting seeing bookings rebound to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic.
Statistics suggest that we are still skeptical of long distance calls and Business tripbut pent-up demand has seen short-haul travel rebound fairly quickly.
That being said, airplanes are still a pretty miserable – and unsustainable – mode of transportation. And, if one thing has changed during the pandemic, it’s that I wonder if I really need to fly.
Rail services across Europe are improving rapidly and the environmental impact of flying is becoming increasingly clear. The planet’s brief respite during lockdown has helped many of us reconsider our own impact on the climate.
Although I’m nowhere near as bad as I thought on my pre-airport spiral, I think I’d still prefer take a train when can i. And if two years without setting foot on a plane really weren’t that bad, why not take a few fewer flights a year?