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23 March 2020

Travelling Across the World During the Coronavirus Pandemic


I landed in Auckland after three months in Australia, just over a week ago. I'd flown from Sydney to Melbourne, and then again from Melbourne to New Zealand - arriving in the country 20 minutes before the self-isolation period began. 

Covid-19 was very much on my mind throughout. Italy was in lockdown and friends who worked in offices were having conversations about working from home in the near future. 

On my flight to Melbourne, a handful of people were wearing masks and I was vaguely aware that nobody was sat next to me on the flight and how, under the circumstances, that was probably quite lucky. 

When I landed in Melbourne, I went for breakfast with a friend and both of us wondered where the world would be in a week's time. He was heading to Bali on holiday, and I was still determined to get to New Zealand. We pretty much knew it would escalate - but the extent was unknown, and both of us caught our flights the next day to our destinations.

I was still set on staying in New Zealand all the way through to Wednesday evening. My parents had called me, asking what I was thinking of doing. They offered support whichever I chose, and I told them I was going to stick it out.

There were two schools of thought about my decision to fly back to the UK. On the one hand, the rest of the world was going into shutdown mode, and the gap in which I could get home was growing smaller by the day.

However, New Zealand's low case-count meant it was business as usual, from going on a night out last Tuesday to celebrate St Patrick's Day, to having coffee on Thursday morning with my friend on the harbour. 

I was completely unimpacted by the virus in my everyday life, so why would I not want to stay and enjoy that?

And then, well, everything went into overdrive.

My parents are notoriously non-panicky and had so far supported my decision to stay in New Zealand if that was what I wanted to do. Even with my sister working for the NHS, they weren't out bulk buying, and they wanted my quality of life to remain as good as it could be under the circumstances. 

So to wake up on Thursday morning to a short essay explaining why they thought it was imperative that I came home, made me realise how bad the situation had become.

My friend Lauren and I booked our flights for the next day, wanting to get out as soon as possible and knowing that, as New Zealand's cases had doubled overnight and the rest of the world was going into lockdown, we'd soon be stuck on the other side of the world.

As soon as we put on Instagram that we were flying home, both of us received messages from friends questioning our life choices.

"Why would you come back?"

"I'd stay if I were you!"

"There's nothing worth coming back for, trust me." 

We heard the continuously, and on repeat. And all I can say is unless you are on the other side of the world to your family, you cannot understand the mental battle that we went through in choosing to leave New Zealand. 

Neither of us had stable jobs, stable accommodation and the inevitable rise in the virus meant businesses would stop hiring. Within the space of 48 hours, we went from arranging apartment viewings, to booking our flights home. 

Borders will never close from their citizens, we would always have been 'let in' to the country. But it wasn't just one flight we had to depend on. Or even two. We both took three planes to touch down in London, and as we sat and watched the board, more and more flights were being cancelled by the hour. it doesn't matter if you're allowed home if you have no way of getting there. 

This time, flying was a completely different experience. 75% of people were wearing masks on our flights. The flight attendants asked us to not linger and chat to them as they didn't want to expose themselves any more than they had to. 

When we got onto our flights, we used anti-bac wipes to wipe down the entire seat area, tray table and screen. This was something a lot of people were doing, and the flight attendants carried a rubbish bag down the aisle for us to dispose of our wipes before take off. Hand sanitiser was pulled out before and after every meal or snack and any time either of us left our seats.

The airports themselves were empty. I spent 10 hours in Vancouver, an experience I hope never to repeat. But in this busy, international terminal, there was only the Duty-Free, a Relay and two restaurants open. Everything else - including the Starbucks - was closed. 

It was emotionally draining, and flying to each stopover was a continuous question of whether I'd be able to board my next flight. In the US, the woman on border control told me I couldn't be flying to Vancouver because the border was in lockdown and all flights were cancelled. Luckily, she was simply a bit of an idiot (and super rude and unhelpful). 

Anyway, I have made it home in one piece. Which is what really matters. I'm reunited with my family, I'm in a country where I get free healthcare - and frankly, my blog will be THRIVING under this lockdown.

Trust me when I say, coming home was one of the hardest choices I've ever had to make - and please bear it in mind for any other friends and family members who are in similar positions. 

Stay safe and stay clean!

Love, Alice x

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