We have just got back from our family holiday…and this year it was quite different. After getting quite a few questions on my Instagram when I was doing stories while away I though it would make sense to write a blog on our experiences and what I learned taking a holiday during a pandemic.
Before I start it’s worth stating that these are just my thoughts and feelings and I am by no means an expert in travel, planning a trip and don’t have any more knowledge about coronavirus than anyone else – if you choose to go away this year make sure you do your own research and decide on what’s safe for you. And on that note…
Do your Research
Before we decided to travel we weighed up a lot of pros and cons. We looked at different locations and their R rates and the general behaviours of the countries (rule of thumb – if theres not a lot of Brits there its probably pretty rule abiding and safe – harsh but true!). We read travel websites. We looked at the governments advice. We watched what other people were doing. Taking all of that into consideration, and knowing the air bridges were on the verge of opening we took a chance a booked a week in a private villa on Kefalonia, one of the smaller and more remote Greek islands. We personally felt that this year, hotels were too risky for us as a family, not so much because of their cleanliness, more to do with the other residents (our local supermarket in the UK was a non socially distancing free for all so I felt an all inclusive hotel might be quite stressful with people drinking/ignoring the rules/letting their child run riot etc.) We also hired a car, picked the short stay parking at the airport and basically opted to keep ourselves in as much of a ‘family bubble’ as we possibly could.
We bought comfortable masks (as you cant fly without them and each country has its own rules about when they need to be worn) and made sure our youngest son who is 8, although he didn’t legally have to, had practised wearing one as we wanted him to wear it for the whole flight. I’d say for me the most stressful part of the whole trip was the flight – not because it was particularly hard or scary but because that was the bit I was the most worried about. I really didn’t need to be – Stansted Airport was extremely quiet, half empty in fact, everyone wore marks, the Jet2 team who we booked the holiday through were very helpful and calm and to be honest it was the best experience I’ve ever had there! On the plane everyone again was very calm and helpful and there were empty seats and rows although it was a little fuller than I would of liked – ultimately though it was a lot quieter than a usual holiday flight. Wearing a mask for 5-6 hours in total wasn’t that hard and when you know you’re getting a lovely holiday at the end of it, that’s quite an incentive!
Make sure you have your paperwork
Once we got to Greece we had to go through security and get a QR code scanned which was linked to a declaration form we had done a few days before we flew. Find all the details on what you have to do here. You must complete an online Passenger Locator Form (PLF) at least 24 hours before your arrival in Greece. Every traveller, including children, must have their details included on the form and if you’re travelling together as a household, the Greek authorities ask for you to complete one form with all adults and children included. Once you have completed the form online, you receive an email acknowledgement and in a separate email, you also receive a QR code. We saved this onto our phones and had it ready to show when asked.
We had to show this before we boarded our flight and when we arrived in Greece, where the Greek authorities scanned the QR code as part of going through passport control. We were told that they might require people to undergo temperature checks or even testing for coronavirus, but although we saw the teams there in their PPE we weren’t checked and didn’t see anyone else being checked either.
Our home for the week
We stayed in a large villa from James Villas with 3 double bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a good size lounge and kitchen area. It was just perfect with a large pool, air conditioning, some low-fi wi-fi and lots of sun loungers and parasols. It was very clean but we bought our own anti-bacterial hand wash and sanitiser with us. The villa was located away from the main roads between the mountains and the beach and although there was other villas around it no-one could come into it so we could socially distance really easily. Mid week we received fresh towels and linens which were just left on the doorstep and each morning the pool was cleaned really early so we never even saw the man doing it. There was a supermarket close by and the beach and local tavernas were a quick car ride so its location was pretty perfect. When we booked it you could search the distance of things so we made sure we booked somewhere close to certain amenities as we knew we wanted an easy week.
To be honest though, 2020 is not the year for a bargain holiday (not that I’ve ever had one with 3 school age children having to always holiday at peak times) – we paid a bit extra to make sure we had the space, location and things we needed so we felt safe and happy. We opted for a shorter stay than we normally would as we just didn’t know what to expect and went self catering rather than our usual all inclusive so we could control when, where and what we ate.
In Greece it is mandatory to wear face-masks on public transport (including flights and ferries), at airports and in taxis. Travel in a private car or a taxi is limited to a maximum of 3 adult passengers per vehicle, in addition to the driver but any children in the vehicle do not count towards this limit. Face masks are also obligatory in public indoor spaces, including lifts, staircases and any enclosed venue providing goods or services (including supermarkets, which is wear we mainly wore our masks). All the restaurants are open air so we didn’t wear masks although all the staff either wore masks or visors when they served us.
The whole island felt like it was following the rules and to be honest I felt safer in Greece than I feel in the UK. The island was very quiet and on the few times we left the villa during the day to go to the beach and to visit a local large town it was very easy to keep a safe distance from people.
As this was a villa holiday it was technically self catered so we ate breakfast and lunch mainly at the villa and then ate out each evening. The villa had a sandwich toaster which came in very handy and of course we ate the holiday favourites of foreign crisps, Haribo and Fanta Lemon! The local supermarket had a good selection of food with everyone wearing masks in there so we shopped every few days and then just made food and snacks when required.
In the area we were staying there were a lot of Taverna’s which we ate dinner at each evening. With it being so quiet we tried to spread our spending around and ate at as many different ones as we could. Safety wise it was amazing – all the tables were spaced out and we pretty much were always outside anyway. The tables all had disposable coverings, cutlery/napkins etc were delivered in sealed packets and they had even stopped having olive oil on the tables with it being replaced by single use sachets. All the waiting staff wore PPE, mainly a visor that covers just the mouth and nose that I haven’t really seen in the UK and we made sure we washed our hands often and used sanitiser gel. The people there were so friendly and it was clear that the pandemic is making things very tough for them. They couldn’t of been more accommodating and often we were given a free dessert or a Limoncello to drink after dinner to say thank you. We tipped everywhere we went knowing how much these businesses need the support.
Visiting Tourist Attractions
We didn’t know if we would visit anywhere ‘touristy’ as we wanted to make sure we were safe at all times. A few days into the trip we decided to drive up to one of the many mountainous peaks of the island which was easy to do in our hire car and there were only a few people around. We were already confident with eating out (see the section above) as the Greeks safety measures were impeccable. Nearer the end of the holiday we decided we were going to try and do one ‘big’ visit as the island has a world famous underground cave and lake – Melissani Cave which is often on travel bucket lists and not knowing if we would visit Kefalonia again didn’t want to miss seeing it.
Visiting the caves was a really great example of how the Greeks have adapted their tourism during the pandemic. For this attraction there was one pathway in and one pathway out, everyone we saw visiting wore masks of some kind and payment was contactless with sanitiser gel at the main contact points. The caves are accessed via row boat and there was only 2 ‘bubbles’ of people allowed on at any one time so social distancing could take place. All the staff wore masks and other PPE even those working in the gift shop. It was safe, well organised and everyone followed the rules. The caves themselves are amazing and I’m so glad we visited – even our 2 teenagers were impressed! The guide books are right – it really is a bucket list location.
Timing is Everything
Although we planned this trip carefully there no two ways about it – we were lucky too. We booked it at the right time while Covid19 cases were still quite steady but even while we were out there things were changing and Spain including the Balearics was put back under a 14 day quarantine. Its clear that at the moment nothing is certain when travelling and there are risks whatever you choose. We had had a trip cancelled in April but hadn’t booked a summer holiday before lockdown started which gave us the flexibility to create the holiday that best fitted the circumstances and it worked really well. Myself and my partner are key/essential workers and have worked continuously throughout lockdown as well as home-schooling three children so this break was much needed, both emotionally and physically. The week flew by and I can honestly say there is nothing I would change about it. Our Covid 19 holiday was a unique one but pretty damn awesome and I am so glad we did it!
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Have you travelled this summer? Would you? Or would you rather stay in the UK this year? Whatever you choose enjoy yourself – this summer is a difficult one but life goes on (and economies need supporting or there will be no tourism next year) and with a few sensible precautions we can all enjoy doing the things we love with the people we love.