For those who don’t know us, we set off with four kids from Scotland in February with high hopes and meticulous plans. We were going overland to Tokyo to arrive in time for the Olympics.
Five weeks in, borders started to close and we made a dash for France, where we have been ever since.
Lockdown in France began to ease in mid-May and from 2 June we were allowed to test the travelling waters again. A week later we packed up and spent ten days staying in hotels and AirBnBs in the South of France. Next week we will pack up for good and slowly make our way across France to head back to the UK (where the Scottish school term will re-start, early, four days after we get back).
As borders start to open up and people start to wonder about travelling again, we thought it might help to share what we learned on that brief trip and what we will be remembering as we travel onwards:
1. Check the rules for your destination and stay up to date with them
Each country has its own Covid rules. These rules change quickly and sometimes without warning. Make sure you know what they are and get the information from official government sites rather than the media.
We thought long and hard about going to Spain next week. Harriet was keen to sneak in an extra country but Ben was worried. He had read in Le Monde (highly respected newspaper in France) that there were quarantine rules between France and Spain. We checked the French Foreign Ministry website. It wasn’t true.
For us, too, things are further complicated by the fact that we are British, living in France, and wanting to go to Spain. We therefore need to be sure what the rules are for Brits as well as the rules between France and Spain. They aren’t always the same. Different countries are treating different nationalities differently (Greece has just restricted entry for travellers from Britain – does that mean us? We don’t know…). It may also be relevant where else (if anywhere!) you have been in the last few weeks.
Check, check and check again!
In the event we aren’t going to Spain – partly because it will be too hot and partly because the rules for UK travellers coming in by land still aren’t, to our mind at least, clear – but it’s a good example of the need to check your sources and to make sure the information you’re relying on is true.
Once you are in a new country check the local rules again – Do you need masks? How many people are allowed in one place at once? What are the rules on social distancing? You will feel much happier on your travels if you know you’re not going to get pulled up for doing the wrong thing!
2. Check out the Covid policy before booking accommodation
In our normal life we manage a holiday cottage. It reopens next week and we have been bombarded with sometimes contradictory advice about how to make it safe for guests.
This has, though, given an insight into what to look for when booking accommodation. The key thing, to our mind, is to book somewhere that acknowledges Covid on its website. You can be sure then that they have at least thought about the issues. If you can, call up and ask. Facilities may be different: swimming pools may be closed, breakfast may no longer be served or there may be particular rules on the use of public spaces. Again it pays to research all this before booking.
As far as AirBnB is concerned it seems to us (and we have no proof that this is Covid- related but it may be) that more and more hosts are not providing sheets and towels. Check this! They are “essentials” in the list of amenities and it is not always made clear in the listing if they are not provided. We didn’t realise…
3. Check what’s open and book if you can
Many tourist sites, at least here in France, are now open, but do check before visiting. You may need to book in advance as numbers may be limited. You may well also need to bring a mask or make other preparations. At the extraordinary and highly recommended Grotte Chauvet 2 in the Ardèche we had to download their app to enable a non-guided, guided tour.
Equally some places may have different restrictions in place. During July and August for example only residents of Barcelona can get tickets for Gaudì’s Sagrada Familia.
The upside of this is that many normally very busy places are much more empty – all the Barcelonans will doubtless be delighted to have their cathedral to themselves. And for us tourists, this means that you really can get that photograph where it looks as though you are the only person there…
4. Carry a mask, use hand sanitiser and keep your distance
If you have a mask with you at all times you can use it if required. We have found that some places (restaurants, shops etc) require masks and others don’t. Many say they do, and then actually don’t when you are inside. You won’t necessarily know until you are there. Many restaurants in France require a mask if you are inside the building moving around. So you’re fine sitting on the outside terrace but if you don’t have a mask and you need to go inside for a wee you’re in trouble.
If you enter a building and they provide hand sanitiser at the entrance, use it. You don’t know what you’ve touched since you last washed your hands and it’s only polite to the other people there.
Find out what the social distancing rules are (of course you’ve done that already because you read tip 1) and stick to them. In fact be generous with them. Just because you feel safe around other people doesn’t mean those people feel safe around you. We met several people working in shops or restaurants who didn’t seem to be comfortable being there, but who had little or no choice. It is only respectful to try to put them at as much at ease as you can.
5. Remember opinions differ
There seem to be as many different opinions on Covid as there are people we’ve met. Some people will tell you it’s all been blown out of all proportion and some will say you are not being careful enough. One person we met in the South of France said she had given up swimming in the sea because it wasn’t safe with Covid. We never did work that one out.
If you want, and feel safe, to travel, and the advice in your country and the country you want to go to is that it is safe to do so, don’t let anyone else’s opinion stop you. Listen to them, take account of their concerns, make sure your behaviour doesn’t make them unsafe (or even feel unsafe) and then go and enjoy yourselves.