Getting around in the pandemic environment - a guide to 'small t' travel
As we start to gain a little more freedom in our everyday lives, travel is becoming a possibility again (hooray!). But it's been that long, even the smallest of trips seem to take much more thought than before we went into the series of lockdowns. How do we navigate the world of travel after months at home?
This article isn't concerned with travel with a capital 'T' (i.e. - travel on an international scale, holidaying or long breaks), but with the trips we are starting to take on a more low-key, daily basis. This might be a return to the office after months of home working, a trip to the dentist, a catch up with a friend, a stroll through the park, a day out shopping or an adventure to the seaside.
Read on for my tips on getting back into the travel mood safely...
Tip 1: Travel essentials - what do I take with me?
I certainly had to get my head back into the travel game when I started meeting up with friends - what did I need to bring with me?
It's no surprise that the first things I make sure to put in my handbag are antibacterial hand sanitiser and face masks, no matter where I'm going. These are categorically pandemic ESSENTIALS - not only does hand sanitiser give you the option to clean your hands if running water and soap is unavailable, but face masks remain mandatory in England as I'm writing this when entering indoor public spaces unless you are exempt. I also find it is helpful to have a spare face mask if I'm out for the whole day as a back up in case I misplace my current mask.
Aside from the obvious (phone, purse), there are some other items you may want to add to your list when going on a trip. Tissues are always handy to have in your bag, especially if you have a spontaneous sneezing fit - 'catch it, bin it, kill it' has never been more important. Things like sunglasses, charging cables, pain killers, plasters, lip balm, a pen, an umbrella, a snack - you never know when you'll need them.
Always plan for the worse case scenario. Take a pair of headphones with you for those anger-inducing traffic jams - it's a great time to start a podcast or an audio book. If the size of my bag allows it, I always make room for a book as a 'just in case', as there's always a chance your bus or tube could be delayed (trust me, in these instances, you'll regret taking something to read).
Tip 2: Give yourself enough time
I don't know about you, but I have lost any concept of time over the last year. It goes so fast, yet so slow? When you've got places you need to be at specific times, it's essential to manage your time and figure out how long you need to leave yourself to get there; this will ensure you have as stress-free a journey as possible.
Ask yourself: What time do you want to arrive for? What time do I want to leave? How long does the journey take?
I use City Mapper when I'm in London, an app downloadable from the App Store, which allows you to put in your current location and the location you'd like to get to. It's not only great for telling you how long a journey will take, but also gives you plenty of travel options including bus routes, tube routes and walking routes. It also takes into account any travel dilemmas such as road closures, so you're not going to be delayed.
Tip 3: Plan ahead
We have a little more freedom now, but there are still restrictions to be adhered to. Many indoor restaurants operate on a book-only system, opening hours of venues may be limited in comparison to what you were used to pre-pandemic, and some places may not even have opened at all. Your transportation options may also be limited, as trains may not be running as frequently and buses may reach capacity in peak times.
When deciding to take a trip, make sure you plan everything. Where are you going to eat? Do you need a booking? Or should I take food with me? Will you need to get the train back? If so, is there room on your preferred train?
Planning ahead also involves ensuring everything is ready to go ahead of time. One of the things I took for granted was having access to a phone charger and plug socket at all times when we were asked to stay at home. Make sure you charge your phone the night before so you won't end up in a sticky situation with no battery left, and make a list of the things you need to do the next day so you won't forget.
Tip 4: Take the weather into account
In true British style, the weather is always a factor when planning our day. As I'm writing this, it is incredibly rainy and windy, so perhaps it's not the day for a stroll through the park.
When planning your trip, take a look at the forecast, as it may be you're restricted to what you can do. Dress for the weather: if it's due to be hot make sure you've got fluids, sun cream and a hat, whilst ensuring you've got an umbrella as well as a suitable coat and shoes for rain and wind.
Tip 5: Wear the right shoes
If there's one thing I've learnt since returning to London's high-streets, it's that comfortable shoes make the day so much more pleasant. Depending on what you're spending your day doing, having a pair of sturdy, durable and comfy shoes are sure to make your trip more enjoyable, as you won't risk hobbling around after a few hours and coping with painful blisters.
Tip 6: Embrace the inevitability of delays and hold ups
Things are just starting to open up, so it's likely there'll be hold ups and things might take a little more time than before as we get used to the new way of operating under the restrictions. This is especially the case for transport, but also with simpler things like walking on the pavement - you might not be able to skip past the person in front if there's no room to maintain social distancing. The same can be said for restaurants and cafes, where you might have to wait a little to be seated, and for other services such as opticians and dentists, where cleaning the room between patients might delay appointments.
Everyone is trying their best to navigate this new world, so be mindful and respectful of others and be patient and cooperative wherever you can.
Tip 7: Prioritise your safety and the safety of others
You've had a day trip planned for weeks. You've packed your bag, charged your phone, figured out your departure time and booked the restaurant. And then you get a little tickle in the back of your throat. Or you lose your sense of smell in the days leading up to the trip.
It can be tempting to ignore the signs you know deep down could be an indication you need to stay at home, especially as we've had such a long time away from 'normality' and you've likely been waiting for this trip for a long time. But the most important thing is keeping yourself and your community as safe as possible. Follow the guidance that is in place for your area, keep an eye on the news for any updates regarding COVID, and know when to cancel your plans if there is any indication that you're feeling unwell.
This doesn't just include COVID-related incidences: it might be that a weather warning alert has been issued in your areas. There's always another opportunity to do your travel trips, so don't be afraid to postpone.
Overall, having the freedom to move around again is amazing. There's plenty to do, see and enjoy, so take advantage of it in as safe a capacity as you can.