In this post, I talk about my personal experience of travelling amidst a pandemic. I also list a number of measures to take incase you’re considering going on holiday. I will also inadvertently discuss the difference in the COVID-19 attitudes between two countries — France and the UK.
We’ve all had plans this summer — now overridden by COVID-19. I decided to bite the bullet and take this time to follow things that I am passionate about — writing, travel, etc. In retrospect, this has been a summer unlike any other. For those of you who don’t know me, I work as a paralegal at a law firm in the UK. I’ve currently been placed on furlough; which means plenty of time but not a lot to do — well, except write and follow any other passions I may have/discover.
The pandemic ensued an “important” discussion with my family — to travel or not to travel. I frequently write blog posts explaining different scientific topics relevant amid the pandemic, because of which I have followed the number of cases in France and London, and worldwide, closely.
If you recall, France and the UK were amongst the countries in Europe most affected by this pandemic. Since Spain and Italy were a whole lot worse, they would never make it to the list of places to travel right now. I have still been following the happenings there in case a window of opportunity presents itself.
The Family Discussion
My dad had some concerns with regards to any travel arrangements I made. As did many close friends. It is of relevance too that I normally live in a vulnerable household: a cancer survivor, an 89-year-old woman and a district nurse who also cares for the most vulnerable. Although all this made me question my holiday, I was adamant within reason. I also made sure the household was comfortable with my plans considering we were shielding for 12 weeks following government advice in the UK.
To ensure the risks were minimised as much as is reasonably practicable, I would travel from London to Paris by coach. Mind you, I calculated the risk of me contracting COVID-19 — it would have been the same for whether I go grocery shopping in London or go on a socially distanced trip to Paris.
So… I decided to take the plunge and tested the waters myself. I booked coach tickets to Paris and followed the COVID-19 developments obsessively.
Precautions: COVID-19 Risk Reduction
To ensure that my friends and family felt at ease, I listed out the precautions I would take throughout my trip. Safe to say I’ve returned to London, and show no symptoms so far.
Here’s a list of precautions I took throughout my trip:
- Travel by coach — in addition to travelling by coach, I ensured the coaches were following the latest government advice.
- Wear a mask whenever indoors or in crowded spaces. YES, that includes wearing a mask throughout my 10h bus journey too!!
- Sanitise Sanitise Sanitise — I carried with me two little bottles of sanitiser. I also had alcohol wipes at hand, should I ever feel the need to wipe surfaces. When it seemed like people forgot we were amid a pandemic; I gave them subtle but obvious reminders — pretend cough, sneeze and pass around sanitiser. Who says no to some free squirts of sanitiser?
- Social distancing — although difficult at times, ensure you maintain distance between yourself and others; especially people that are coughing and sneezing.
- Get insurance — this has never been more important when travelling. Not a lot of insurers are covering risks related to COVID-19 so keep your eyes out for this. If you are in the UK — we have air bridges with other countries and they are normally covered in insurance claims. Please also ensure you follow the latest travel advice from the FCO.
- Duration of my trip — to ensure that I don’t get caught out sick whilst away from home, I was strategic with the planning. Do not go away for more than a few days. Should I then be infected, I would most show symptoms 3–5 days after exposure: the idea was to return home before any possible symptoms can show. A weekend trip is the most ideal.
- Social Isolation — on my return to the UK, I have socially distanced myself from the rest of my vulnerable household, for about 5–7 days in case I start to show any symptoms. If I show any symptoms, I will immediately inform the rest of my household and food will be brought to me in my room, and my time in self-imposed quarantine will be extended.
Getting To Paris
Social distancing is still very much in play in London. At any given point, the TfL buses only allow 20 passengers onboard. The underground, too, is not busy. There were only about 7 people in the same carriage (although I believe they’re called cars in the UK) as me, at all times. All in all, everyone in London public transport seemed to socially distance by at least two meters. I eventually boarded the coach to Paris from Victoria Coach Station.
The coach ran a COVID-19 policy where masks were compulsory throughout the journey. They were also running at half capacity — so each person had two seats to himself or herself — perfect for short little people like myself. I was easily able to lie down and give my eyes a rest as and when I wanted.
Trouble At Border Control
My journey to Paris was exhilarating, to say the least. Having always had some form of immigration trouble, it was enjoyable to be on the outside and not be the cause of trouble this once. It was in fact, our coach driver that ran into some trouble with the French officials at Border Control. We’ve put it down the miscommunication, and although the French officials weren’t pleased, they let it go eventually.
At Border Control, passengers and drivers all go through passport checks. You would undergo checks with both French and English immigration officials — quite similar to how you go through immigration before you board your flight and after you have landed.
Our driver was asked to go to a particular lane and “wait there for someone”, this was followed by a “Go! Go! Go!” So our driver did just that (or so he thought); he drove us to the lane, outside which was a container passport office. He turned off the engine of our coach and went into the office — there was no one in there. So he got into the bus, cursed his luck about how “This only happens to me! There’s no one in there!” He then proceeded to start the engine and drive off!
We were chased by very unhappy French immigration officials who at this point gave our driver some stern French words. The immigration process which would normally not take more than 15 minutes for 23 passengers and a driver, took us more than an hour. Safe to say we missed the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle we were originally meant to be on. We did get onto a subsequent one, but our bus was delayed getting to Paris by s little more than an hour.
It was my first time taking the Eurotunnel. At school, when I was first learning about the Eurotunnel in French class, I always imagined what it would be like — naively, I imagined a bus on top of a train (as in on the roof of the train), in a glass tunnel under the English Channel. I imagined seeing fish while we passed through the tunnel in slow-mo. Imagine my horror when I could not spot the cast of Finding Nemo through that tunnel! Oh boy, how different is reality!
Our coach followed another coach into an empty carriageway of the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. I’m sure there were a couple of other coaches onboard the Shuttle, and also several cars. Each coach is divided from the other with doors and shutters.
We were not allowed to get off the coach either. I wonder if this was in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, or if this is just generally the rule? The engine of the coach was turned off, the door opened, and we just sat there. The train then began to move through the tunnel.
Within about 35 minutes, we had crossed the English Channel and I was in France.
While In Paris
I would be lying if I said I did not at some point need to be reminded that we were still amid a pandemic. I imagined Paris to be eerily quiet and stripped of any form of tourism. Something that is very clearly seen in London! I was pleasantly surprised, that although I was wrong, I was also right. There were some tourists there — but they were all mostly French. Reclaiming their city and making the most of the tourist-free streets and museums were Parisians and French people alike. French was the only language I heard everywhere, except a young two-person group of Indian girls speaking Hindi in the local buses.
A huge discernible difference that I almost instantly noticed when I got to Paris was with regards to social distancing in the Metro. While social distancing is taken all too seriously in London, Paris seemed to be quite the opposite. The Metro was either strangely empty or we were packed in like sardines. There were stickers on some Metro seats that read, “Pour notre santé à tous, laissons ce siège libre”, discouraging people from occupying particular seats for safety purposes — i.e. social distancing.
Reprimanded By A Bus Driver
Another distinguishable difference between London and Paris was in the use of facemasks. In England, masks have only recently been made compulsory inside stores, and TfL in London, for example, encourages everyone to wear a mask when using public transport. However, this is not compulsory — you are asked to wear a mask “unless you are exempt”. In Paris on the other hand, masks are compulsory in all public transport for everyone over the age of 11 with no exemptions whatsoever.
Throughout the city of Paris, are several vending machines selling facemasks and sanitizers. If you are caught not wearing a mask in public transport, you can be fined €135. I had my run-in with the law — however, I was fortunately not fined.
I got onto the bus somewhere outside the Conciergerie, a centuries-old building where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before she was executed, trying to find someplace to eat. I got onto the bus, trying to make the most of my recently bought Paris Navigo pass.
I walked through the front doors of the bus, tapped my shiny Navigo pass at the ticket point, and proceeded into the bus. The driver noticed I was not wearing my mask, and quite furiously started banging his little window — reminding me to wear a mask. I quickly put it on and apologised profusely, quite embarrassed that I had forgotten to put it on in the first place. I also noticed him check that all passengers had their masks on at the red lights — with particular focus on whether I still had got mine on. Who can blame him though?
Tourist Queues? None!
Worried about the queues of tourists I would come by, I made it a point to wake up early for the most Parisian of sights — the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
Luckily though, no queues whatsoever. Even though I was “late” to get to both the tourist sites, I was pretty much at the front of the queues and got through both sites within about 5 minutes.
After asking the guards at the Louvre where the Mona Lisa sat, I rushed there, thinking there would be a long queue of people wanting to see her. Although the queue was slightly longer than at entry, I was at the front meeting Mona within 10 minutes — which I assume, without doubt, would normally take about an hour.
All in all, the city is booming with people right now. The Parisians look like they’re having the time of their lives, with temperatures well above 35°C. The government has allowed restaurant owners to spill onto the pavements, giving them more open space to socially distance while enjoying a meal outdoors.
I also spent a lot of my time walking aimlessly through Paris, especially around the river Seine. On my walks, I discovered the Paris Plages on the banks of the Seine. Many white wooden beach recliner chairs occupied this part of the banks. By the evening, these were fully occupied, and a local group of musicians were busking for the audience that came prepared with picnic baskets and booze. The atmosphere was unbelievably lively, warm and welcoming until sundown.
Would I Travel Again In A Pandemic?
Undoubtedly so! I would ask anyone planning to travel anywhere to calculate personal risks before taking on a journey. Travel has really slowed down incredibly over the past couple of months (for good reason), but some places are relatively safe to travel to now. To find these, you need to carry out a lot of research and be prepared in case the borders close down. Alternatively, be a tourist in your own country! After my self-imposed quarantine, I am hoping to make some day trips around the UK while I still have the chance! I will be sure to keep you in the loop!