This past week (the last week of October) was Sophie’s half-term break; this is usually a great time to travel. This time last year, we went to Paris. This year, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, we were limited to staying within the UK. Not just the UK, but only had only parts of England and Scotland available to visit; as Wales, Northern Ireland, and even parts of England were under lockdown.
We ended up choosing south-eastern England. Kent, specifically, but also the site of the Battle of Hastings, which is technically in Sussex. I have some photos of the trip to share, but not a tonne. It was a short trip, and very rainy (England at the end of October- what can you do). I’ve decided instead of making this a purely ‘Kent’ blog post, I’ll share some tips on how to safely travel during the pandemic. (I’ll also share some photos along the way – but you can always check out my Instagram stories with the best pictures saved).
We’re all weary of staying home and you may be looking for a safe way to get out and see something beyond your own four walls. Now in England we have no choice but to stay home; but if you’re not under a legally-imposed lockdown, here are my tips that have so-far proved successful.
We chose our destination only about a week before we left. We needed to be flexible and base our decision on the most up-to-date coronavirus data and government guidelines. We had a few locations we’d like to go to in mind, and of all the places we’d like to visit, Kent area consistently was keeping low infection numbers (compared to the rest of the country).
When you want to visit any tourist attraction now, you *must* book ahead. For both free or paid attractions, you need to visit their websites and book a time slot in which you can visit. Some places take these time slots somewhat loosely (and let you in 15 minutes early or late) and some are very strict and insist you get in exactly at your allotted time. Either way, the timed entries help to control the flow of people through the location and means that we don’t feel we’re among any crowds. It really aids social distancing and we haven’t had any issues through our Scotland trip or here in Kent with these processes.
As soon as we knew we where we were going and when, we booked the must-see attractions. Especially during a school break, you need to make sure to pre-book well in advance. Every single attraction we visited had a sign out front saying ‘Sold out today’. We looked into getting next-day tickets for one or two castles that were nearby and they were all sold-out.
So here’s my biggest tip when trying to travel safely during the pandemic: Try to be as self-sufficient as possible. That is what makes us feel safe, at least. Use your own car to get where you’re going, bring your own food, and stay in a self-catering apartment.
We invested in a very nice AirBnB and although they followed all Covid-19 cleaning protocols and social distancing/no host check-in, the first thing I did when we got in, before touching anything, was to wipe down everything with Dettol (Lysol) wipes. Everything that we touch. Eric unloads the car to the front door while Sophie and I go around and wipe every single light switch, door knob, water tap, remote control, table surface, button, etc. Any touch surface gets disinfected, and we make this house into “our bubble”, so that we can feel safe and confident here for the next three days.
Another way of being self-sufficient took a lot of planning, but we brought all of our meals and food with us. Going to restaurants 3x a day is just exposing yourself to risk 3x a day, all over the Kent countryside (even if it is the lowest virus numbers in the country). Instead, I planned out and brought enough food for breakfasts and lunches to pack (sandwiches), and I pre-made and froze casseroles for dinners (along with some easy things like frozen pizzas). I do all the food shopping at home and bring it with us because I don’t want to be searching around a new and unfamiliar grocery store in hopes of getting everything I want. Now isn’t the time to be going store to store to pick everything up; in fact, it’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid!
I know that a lot of the enjoyment of travelling is eating out, enjoying the local food, not having to cook – and I do greatly miss that. But it’s just something that I have to give up in order to be able to travel at all and still feel safe and secure. We can’t have it all, right now.
We’re also careful about the activities we plan. We decided on booking Battle Abbey because it was all outside, that was easy. We also decided on Dover Castle and Canterbury Cathedral because they’re huge old stone buildings with very high ceilings and lots of room for air flow and social distancing. Combine the great space with the timed entries, and we always had a tonne of room to enjoy ourselves and still explore some history. Our last booking was a private river boat tour in Canterbury. These are usually 10+ people per boat, but with Covid restrictions, they were limiting all tours to one household per boat, but still charging the same amount. We thought this was a great deal for essentially a private boat tour! However, it rained so much in the week that the river was too high for the boats. Our tour was cancelled twice and we eventually decided to take their option of a walking tour. Due to my MS, I’m not at all that good on walking tours. I made it more than 2/3 of that way though, then I insisted they leave me in the town square in front of the cathedral while they finished the last 20 minutes. We still saw a lot and learned a lot about this adorable town, and felt very safe doing it outside with a tour guide who was wearing a face mask the whole time.
Above, you see us ticking an English bucket list item off—– eating a sandwich in Sandwich. We’ve been wanting to do this since we moved to England! But now it’s a pandemic!!! We went to this adorable little village and there really were places to get some mouth-watering sandwiches, we’d really love to buy it there and support them and felt like cads that we didn’t. But we had to stick to our guns and avoid all places, and we just ate the turkey sandwich we packed that morning.
Lastly, I’ll come to what I considered the biggest risk factor of the whole trip. It’s unavoidable: rest stops. I worried about them before we left but I knew there wasn’t too much we could do about avoiding it.
When we have to stop, I aim to wear masks, use a whole tonne of hand sanitiser everywhere, avoid people everywhere I can, and be quick. Get in, pee, and get out. We don’t hang about and we don’t order food or wait in line. And when I say use a tonne of sanitiser, I mean it- use it when we walk in the building, use it when we exit the bathroom (even though we also just washed our hands, sanitise too!), use it when we exit the building, and then use it again when we get into the car and take off our masks.
Most (2/3) of the service centres were pretty good but one was just so busy and no one was following the rules, it made us all anxious and stressed. When I left it, I said ‘That right there gives me no faith in people and this is why we’ll need a national lockdown….’ and the very next day the PM announced one.
So now this is all a bit moot. We (in England) are on national lockdown for the next month and there won’t be any travelling whatsoever. But maybe you’ll be trying to go somewhere at Christmastime, or maybe you just aren’t in England! Sure, none of us can do any big, elaborate, fancy international travel right now (don’t. even. get. me. started…) but if you’re in a safe location and you’re really feeling cabin fever, it can’t hurt too much to get out and go a couple hours down the road, explore something ‘nearby’ that you just have never been to, and maybe always meant to go to.
Book a nice holiday cottage/AirBnB, buy some food at your local home grocery store where you feel safe and make sure you’ve got enough with you, fuel up the car, and hit the road for a few days. Even if you hit horrendous weather like we did for 4 straight days, you’ll end up feeling refreshed just having got out of the house and around new scenery.
(Also, I’m going to point out that I know we won’t get Covid just from going to restaurants or to grocery stores in another city, etc. All I’m trying to say is that our travelling inherently means we’re going out and seeing more people and doing way more things than we usually do. Way more. Just by travelling, we are adopting some risk that we wouldn’t have if we just stayed home. So we try to mitigate that risk with the above measures. If this isn’t for you, or you protect your family another way, that’s cool. Don’t come @ me. All I’m trying to do is give a few tips to someone who is feeling a little lost and not sure where to start.)
Keep safe, everyone.