Travelling During Covid: An Activity For The Rich?

I will start this post by admitting that I have done some big international trips during in COVID, but not just for the hell of it. I have (will have) done 3 international trips between February 2020- January 2022. So, its not like I’ve been gallivanting this whole time, and they were for legitimate reasons, not a jolly holiday.

  1. China – Zambia (After being trapped inside China for 9 months I finally flew to Zambia to be with my boyfriend, who was locked out of China)
  • Zambia – South Africa (Having had to abandon his attempts to go back to China to finish his degree, my boyfriend moved to SA for 6 months to finish his studies there. I visited him for a month)
  • Zambia – UK (I have not been home in 3 years. I travel on the 26th January all things going to plan)

I want to write this post as I reflect on the COVID travel era. Travel has always in my eyes been a luxury item, but one that I have tailored my lifestyle to be able to do more frequently. Knowing I was never rich enough to simply fly around the world after university, I moved to Vietnam to teach English. This enabled me to explore much of South East Asia on a more stringent budget, because flights between countries are cheaper once you’re already in Asia.

Moving to a new country and travelling within it, is a great, more affordable way to travel. But now with the added pressure of COVID for me international travel has lost much of its appeal as its just become an absolute mess of worry, stress and extra expenses. Below I outline a few reasons why travel has just become more stressful and is putting pressure on our bank accounts.

1. Flights

My boyfriend flew from Changsha, China to Lusaka, Zambia in February of 2020, just after COVID broke out in China. He paid around 3,000 Kwacha for his ticket, around £130. Fed up of depressing COVID life in China I finally flew out to Zambia to see him 9 months later in October and paid 12,000 kwacha (£510) for the privilege. THATS FOR A ONE-WAY TICKET! At the time I was in a position to pay that having had a good teaching job in China for a couple of years and knowing for my mental health I needed to get the hell outta there. But what!!! A 9,000 Kwacha increase. Of course, we all know COVID has had devastating economic impacts on airlines but bloody hell, I drew the short straw there!

Having lived in Zambia for a little over a year, it was my intention to attend one of my best friends’ weddings in September 2021. Unfortunately, due to all the UK’s COVID bullshit (sorry but there’s no other word) I was unable to travel. Now we find ourselves in January and I am one week away from my departure to London. But it’s been a stress.

My go to move with flights in the pre-COVID era was to always book cheap, no matter the connection times or the flight times, who cares, its cheap. Now that is no longer an option, owing to the elements of risk that are associated with cheaper airlines. Book with cheaper airlines now, especially for a big trip from Africa to Europe and you could be left with non-refundable tickets if COVID regulations change. And boy oh boy do they change. They change as fast as a Lockhead SR-71 Blackbird, well at least when the UK and bloody party-going Boris are involved. Now it seems for both peace of mind and to protect your bank balance, you have no choice but to book with the bigger more expensive airlines.

My first ticket to fly home was booked with Emirates for the 22nd February 2022. Of course more expensive than usual! After Emirates decided they would cancel flights between Lusaka and Dubai I decided to get a refund and book for an earlier date on Ethiopian Airlines. Having got a full refund in about 7 days from Emirates, I was able to book through Ethiopian. I previously hadn’t booked through them because of the potential troubles associated with the ongoing issues in Tigray. My dad having been in a situation in Ethiopia around 30 years ago didn’t want the same thing to happen to me and be stranded in an airport. But having kept a close eye on the situation we finally decided to go with this Ethiopian flight for the 26th January.

My Filipino friend in Zambia is also hoping to fly home this weekend to see her son. She is flying with Emirates and her flight is on the 22nd. They have informed her that they will only be letting customers know whether they will resume their services on the 21st. Umm I’m sorry what! THE DAY BEFORE HER FLIGHT. This would be terribly inconvenient in normal circumstances, but we are in a COVID era here, COVID tests need to be purchased and taken at 72 hours before flying. So, what, she is just meant to spent that £84 or so to get a COVID test for it to be completely useless. Or what does she now wait until the 22nd, find that she is ok to fly and take a 2-3 hour COVID test which costs almost double the price of a 24h one. It’s a continual trade off. Do I save money? Do I risk it? Do I spend the money to maybe save money if all goes to plan? Again, evidence that flying is now only for those with big disposable incomes.

My point is, the options are no longer there, the larger airlines are monopolising the markets, playing on the fact that people have no choice but to book with them and it totally sucks.  My first case and point that travel for the purpose of sunbathing and site seeing is now an activity solely for the rich.

Of course, I am all for the prevention of the spread of COVID, but to me, especially with this OMICRON it really seems to be out of our hands now. A COVID test in Zambia costs anywhere between K1500 to K2000 (£84) plus the additional issue of travel expenses to take the test and go back the following day for the results. My flight with Ethiopian Airlines requires that I have a NEGATIVE PCR test from a test centre listed on their site. I live in Kitwe, Copperbelt and guess what there are no officially registered test centres in the city I live in. I therefore have to drive 62km to get a test from neighbouring Ndola. So that’s 62km there. Do the test. Drive 62km home. Next day. Drive 62km to collect results. Drive 62km back. That’s 248km of petrol money gone to the COVID travel cause!

And not only that, but now the UK don’t require you to have a PCR test to enter, oh whoopie I save money. Oh, wait no I don’t, because Ethiopian Airlines still require you to have a PCR test to transit through the country. So, no savings there. Oh, but wait, Boris is involved. He may have scrapped the PCR test, but he’s gone and added a day 2 test for vaccinated citizens who are returning to the UK.

When you got to the UK.GOV website to buy your covid test (because you need proof of this to enter the country) you are taken to a list of places that off tests “from £15”. Ok I know the word “from” in this situation is like a get out of jail free card for charging more, but not one of those tests listen on their website is in the range of “£15”. The cheapest one I could find was listed under “£30” and was actually “£34.50”. So misleading and so frustrating and another expense.

Before this shituation that is COVID I would look at flights every week, sussing out the cheapest spots and where might be nice to go to. You know, not to actually travel there and then, but just because it makes me happy to investigate and dream of travel destinations. A couple I knew from university have recently moved to Oman and it looks so beautiful and a destination I hadn’t previously considered. I immediately hurried to Skyscanner just to check prices and before the results had even loaded, I just felt dejected and defeated. I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Oman, I would have to pay for tests and maybe quarantine and it’s just not worth even looking anymore. It’s worth it to go home to see my parents but it’s just not worth it anymore to travel for the fun of it.

I wonder daily when this will end. When all our wanderlusts can be reignited again. Will it be a snap back to normality? Or will it be gradual over the coming years? Waiting for flights to reduce in price. Waiting for borders to open (CHINA SHOUT OUT TO YOU AND STILL BEING BLOODY CLOSED). Waiting for decisions to be made for entry requirements. It’s a stress and I can honestly say now travel is tiresome and frustrating, especially intercontinental travel.

So, cross your fingers. This time next week I should be in London. And hope that my next blog post isn’t me just bashing my head against the keyboard in despair.

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