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My Travel Plans for 2020 – cancellations, postponements, and how to deal with cabin fever

If you’re a fan of listening to podcasts, then you can also listen to this blog post about wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic in this episode of The Well-Travelled Podcast.

I usually write a blog post at the start of each year setting out what trips I have in store, which travel goals I want to achieve, which destinations I’m dreaming of, and what the next 12 months promise for my passport. Here is my post from 2019. This year however, I started 2020 with very few big trips booked and a dose of uncertainty (even before coronavirus entered the scene!) due to a break-up at the start of February. So I procrastinated about this annual blog post, waiting to plan a few trips first, and somehow a quarter of the year passed before getting round to writing it. Unlike other years though, I don’t have an exciting list of trips to reel off, or a ranking of wonderful places to recommend you visit in 2020. I did have a packed schedule of trips… until coronavirus put an abrupt end to everyone’s adventures for the foreseeable future!

I’m not the only one to be affected by travel cancellations, nor the most seriously, so I’m not seeking sympathy. I’m past the disappointment stage and have come to terms with the fact that my holidays outside the UK won’t go ahead. I’ve accepted that I may or may not get refunds on circa £2,000 of flights and accommodation that I’ve already paid for. I’ve resigned myself to putting plans on hold until later this year or next, and to conducting most of my adventures vicariously via a screen for the next three months or more.

I’m also conscious that others are suffering far more serious consequences of coronavirus than just cancelled holidays, and I find the whole situation devastating – for our elderly and vulnerable citizens, for our healthcare system, for our economy, for employment, for people stuck overseas or forcibly separated from their families and homes, for our communities’ physical and mental health as huge proportions of the global population retreat into self-isolation and social distancing. On top of these worries, I also fear for the survival of the travel and tourism industry, which I wrote about here. As we’ve all heard more than enough doom and gloom about the pandemic from official sources with far better instructions and guidance than me, I’m not going to repeat that here. So this blog post is solely about travel plans.

Where did I travel before the pandemic?

I was lucky to have a small handful of holidays before the world came to a grinding halt. In January I had a brilliant week skiing in Valmorel in the French Alps with my then-boyfriend – my first experience of a Club Med ski resort. It’s French-owned and a family-oriented company so there were unsurprisingly a few too many children in the hotel, but otherwise it had everything I needed. The whole package included a local off-piste guide to take us to the best fresh powder, Christophe, who one day equipped all of us with touring skis, boots and poles to let us try “skinning”, which is like hiking uphill on skis and allowed us to ski in valleys that no lifts can reach. We skied in a group of 4-5 others: all men, all native French speakers, so the week also turned out to be an intensive crash course for my French, and I was in my absolute element!

The hotel included a full programme of post-ski yoga and pilates classes, a completely open bar, three meals a day (French cuisine of course), a pool and spa, lift pass and airport transfers, on top of our room. It was the perfect excuse for me to indulge in a week of digital detox, so I turned my phone on airplane mode and spent my evenings sipping cocktails in a post-ski, post-yoga bath, reading a ski-themed murder mystery set in the Swiss Alps, called ‘The Coldest Night of the Year’ by Ginny Vere Nicoll. The skiing itself was great, with plenty of fresh tracks, a strong group of skiers, plenty of sunshine and the chance to try touring for the first time. It unfortunately clashed with the Inferno ski race in Murren, which I missed, but I’ll be racing again next January!

I had a second trip to France in February when I spent a long weekend in Paris, visiting my friends Mel and Olivia who live there. The weather wasn’t brilliant so the trip majored on French cheese, French wine, and catching up in cafes and brasseries. I’ve been to Paris several times so I did minimal sight-seeing, but did visit the amazing Pantheon for the first time, and strolled around infamous Montmartre during a sunny spell. I flew back to London in the aftermath of Storm Ciara and thought that was bad enough disruption to the aviation industry – little did we know that worse was in store once coronavirus reached us….

Within the UK, I also had a fun 24 hours in Exeter conducting mock interviews and speaking to students at an event on Careers in the Public Sector, and I spent a long weekend in Hampshire staying with my family.

Where am I now during lockdown?

Over the years I’ve collected a fair few Spanish and Italian friends who I keep in touch with via Instagram, so I had a direct view into how the coronavirus lockdown was playing out in their countries via their Instagram stories. Their lockdowns looked immensely difficult and dire, and worse than the UK media’s portrayal, so I made an early decision to get outside of London in advance of any lockdown in the UK. I decided that my first-floor London flat was far too small for any long stints of self-isolation, so a week ago I headed back down to my very rural village in Hampshire, where I’m in no danger of bumping into anyone at all. We have a garden and I can go for runs and countryside walks without seeing a single soul, so I can at least get plenty of fresh air, which I certainly couldn’t do in London now that the country has gone into lockdown.

Where else had I planned to travel in 2020?

In January I attended the Adventure Travel Show in Olympia and was particularly inspired by talks and films about Mongolia, Antarctica, Eastern Europe and more, so I was really excited to get planning my own adventures. I had booked 10 days exploring and hiking with my mother over Easter in Georgia, a country I was incredibly excited about finally visiting – we celebrated booking the flights with a meal at Georgian restaurant Tamada in London.

I’d booked flights to Washington DC for the G7 Youth Summit in June, which will now be held virtually instead. I’d spent a fair amount on a hen parties and weddings in the UK, Spain, and Italy – none of which are yet cancelled or postponed, so there is still hope there! I also booked a birthday weekend in the Yorkshire Dales to hike the Yorkshire Three Peaks with my father in mid-July, and I’d started planning my annual escape to south-west France in September. On top of that, I still had a sizeable chunk of annual leave to take, so goodness knows what I’ll do with it all now. I certainly won’t be using my annual leave while self-isolating in Hampshire!

I figure that, at worst, I’ve lost £2,000 on all the bookings above, but I shall obviously try to get refunds and claim on my insurance. While that’s a lot of money, I’m really not that badly affected in the grand scheme of things, compared to many people out there who find themselves in much worse positions with job insecurity, health issues, vulnerable or elderly relatives, major exams or big life events, or savings invested in the stock market. So I’m not complaining. I can work from home very easily and I have a permanent contract with the Civil Service, which had an abundance of work even before this pandemic began, so I’m fortunately not concerned about losing my job.

Channeling some much needed optimism in these times

The 17 travel goals I had originally set myself for 2020

Although I write a list of this sort each year, I’m publishing this year’s edition with a heavy dose of scepticism about how much will still be possible after quarantine is finally lifted.

  • Visit Italy – a recurring annual goal, which I’m optimistically hoping may still be achievable with my visit to Puglia for a friend’s wedding later this year.
  • Travel outside of London each month – this stems from my previous goal to travel abroad every month, and aims to regularly take me outside of my bubble and remind me of the whole wide world beyond my immediate surroundings. If I’m quarantined in Hampshire for several months, then I will technically speaking achieve this goal, but in essence not, since it will be quite the opposite of escaping a bubble.
  • Visit 3 new countries – this was due to include Georgia, some smaller European countries I haven’t yet visited, and possibly some bigger ticket items like Jordan or Argentina. It could still be feasible if I’m able to pack all of my annual leave into the latter part of this year.
  • Go sailing – this is another annual goal, and while I’d love a whole week exploring the Aeolian Islands, even just one day sailing in the Solent would suffice.
  • Go skiing – already completed with my Valmorel skiing trip, and I was lucky not to have to cancel any further skiing trips as so many people did!
  • Complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks – following last year’s completion of the Three Peaks, I need another challenge, and the Yorkshire version encompasses a full-day 39.2km hike that hits three mountains in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I’ve currently booked this for July with my father so it’s another trip to keep fingers crossed for…
  • Visit a Christmas market abroad – having been to Vienna’s Christmas markets last year, I now have my eye on Strasbourg for this winter. Others I’ve loved in recent years include Munich and Berlin.
  • Travel outside of Europe – another annual goal, which was to completed by the Y7 summit in Washington, but I’ll have to find another option!

Learning to appreciate the colours here in the UK too

  • Visit the Muslim Middle East – last year I technically made my first visit to Middle East when I ran the Jerusalem half-marathon in Israel, but I now want to experience the Muslim side of the region, in particular looking at Oman and Jordan.
  • Have a proper adventure – one which isn’t a long-weekend-city-break, which isn’t all booked and mapped out in advance,
  • Spend Christmas or New Year’s Eve abroad – I’m not in the least bit a scrooge, but nor am I one for repeating routines, so I’d like to vary things up.
  • Do a girls’ trip – based on how much I loved my trip to Ibiza with 15 girls last year, this one is a new entry to the list this year
  • Blog at least twice a month – an ambitious increase from last year’s embarrassing goal of just one post a month (!), but now that I don’t have a Master’s thesis to research and write alongside full-time work, I have more spare time on my hands and am (so far) on track with this one
  • Digital detox – I’ve already done a week of airplane mode while skiing, have done a fair few “social-media free Sundays” and will probably use my late summer annual trip to south-west France for another dose of the wonderfully peaceful world that is airplane mode
  • Offset my carbon footprint – another annual goal I’ve already completed by donating to the Woodland Trust, although my carbon footprint will probably be significantly lower this year than normal given flights are grounded.
  • Use my languages – continuing my French classes, but also keeping my Spanish, Italian and Portuguese in check through audiobooks and native-speaking friends.
  • Other goals – Having reached the end of my ‘Travel Wishlist before 30’ last year, I resisted the urge to immediately post another wishlist for 35 or 40. I’m trying to be more relaxed and open-minded, by not holding myself accountable to a list published on this blog. But I couldn’t resist writing my own private list of travels I’d like to do. So other dreams are floating around too, but for now I’ll resist spelling them out here!

What might I do later in the year?

For now I’m still enjoying the novelty and sunny weather of rural Hampshire, spending half of my day on Zoom, and the other half ploughing through my to-do lists and self-imposed structure to my daily routine. I’m lucky to get on with my mother and sister really well, but ask me again in 4 weeks to see how we’re coping!

Besides that, there is talk of a potential visit to Washington DC in autumn 2020 for a Y7 follow-up if the travel ban is lifted in time. I still really want to visit Georgia, and I still have my annual goal of visiting 3x new countries: I’m thinking Latvia and Lithuania jointly in a weekend for ease, but my original plan was to hit up Argentina and Patagonia in the autumn/winter, when my sister had planned to do a sabbatical around South America. Lastly, she and I are plotting a long weekend overseas once this is all over (obviously without booking anything yet). I am hoping that any other trips that get cancelled will be simply postponed until later in the year. But it is bizarre to have completely stopped planning trips and eyeing up destinations – my normal modus operandi! With all events and plans cancelled, I feel like I’m living life much more in the present, going from day-to-day without too much focus on the future. It’s kind of refreshing, and I’m not yet bored at least.

How are you all faring through this pandemic?

Top tips for surviving the cabin fever of closed borders and quarantine

A few ideas….

  • Postpone your trips, don’t cancel altogether.
  • Look through albums and diaries from previous trips – I find I’m bizarrely appreciating them all the more now they’re out of reach.
  • Read travel journals (I like Michael Palin’s, his self-narrated audiobooks are the best!) or write-up your own travel journals, based on photos and notes you took during the trip. I’ve entire archives of travel diaries to pore over, and now might finally be the time I catch up on writing them all up as blog posts.
  • Watch foreign films and travel documentaries, to take you outside of your immediate bubble and remind you that there is an outside world waiting to be explored once this is all over.
  • Learn a language in preparation for a future trip.
  • Identify what you enjoy most about travel (eg. the cuisine, language, culture, the pure escape) and try to recreate this in your own house where possible.
  • Feel grateful for being safe and at home (if you are) as many people are stranded or separated from their families.
  • Look into staycations in your home country for post-quarantine, with good cancellation terms of course. Booking.com properties generally have good cancellation terms, and some Airbnbs and others are following suit. When the world does get back on its feet, the tourism industry will need all the support it can get to survive.
  • If a small operator can’t give you a refund on your holiday without potentially going bust, postpone the trip rather than cancel. Support the smaller and independent travel companies who really need it to stay afloat.

How have your travel plans changed in the last few weeks and how do you feel about the impact of the pandemic on your travels?

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