Travel has been a pretty hot topic in the time of COVID-19. There’s a lot of restlessness from people eager to get back out into the world and for countries to start opening their borders. With this, there’s anxiety about travelling during coronavirus. There’s also uncertainty about what future travel will look like.
As restrictions start to ease and more people feel ready to venture out, there are questions to consider. What does travelling during covid look like? What will be different? Is it safe? All of these questions were darting through my head as I began to prepare for my first international trip to Denmark since the COVID-19 breakout. I was nervous and excited and, even as someone who’s a well seasoned traveller, at a bit of a loss as to what to expect.
Preparing for your trip
Every country will have different entry requirements for travelling during covid. At the time of my booking, Denmark required that I had proof I was staying somewhere for a minimum of six nights and that I had a COVID-19 test taken, proven negative. I had to provide a special sheet from the Danish Police, signed off by my doctor no more than 72 hours prior to my landing time.
In the grand scheme this isn’t a hard ask but it did take extra planning on my part. Registering for a test and making sure I didn’t go too early, booking a doctor’s appointment the week before, and mostly just hoping that my test would be back within 24 hours!
While travelling during covid, make sure you understand the entry requirements for any country you are going into, including those you might just be transferring through. Print any relevant information and have it on you. Have physical and digital copies of your tests and paperwork in case anything goes wrong.
At the airport
I knew there would be a distinct lack of travellers at the airport but I was shocked by how dead it was! At Toronto airport, there were only two doors you could enter in at the terminal – one for planes to America and one for International, with only passengers allowed in. The check in process was pretty much the same and security was quick and efficient. Prior to security there was a temperature screening. I entered a little sectioned off area and a gentleman used the device at a distance and then quickly shuffled me off.
There was an airport employee every 50 feet who double checked where you were flying to and made sure you weren’t wandering off in the wrong direction. Pretty much everything in the terminal was closed except for the magazine shop, duty free and one restaurant. One thing that I hadn’t thought of was that the water fountains would be closed! I always travel with a reusable water bottle, but there was nowhere to fill up. Of course you have to wear your mask from the second you step into the airport and keep it on at all times.
No matter how quiet the airport, there will always be people who try to shove their way onto the plane first. It’s normal for planes to board by zone or row number but during this time, employees were really enforcing that everyone away from the gate before their zone was called. Even then you’d need to stand on the floor markings to make sure you were at a safe distance. In order to get access to the plane, you’d then need to remove your mask so flight attendants can verify that you are who you say you are.
On arrival it’s pretty straight forward. You go through border control, hand over any relevant documents pertaining to your testing and trip information, then head on in. In the case of Copenhagen airport, there was a testing station right at baggage claim if you wanted to be tested again. When I returned home to Toronto they were also testing at the airport!
On the plane
Ok my plane was so empty! I’m sure as restrictions ease, planes will fill up more and more but there wasn’t a single person in my row. This is one of the happy side effects of an otherwise terrible situation. I sanitized the heck out of my row as soon as I got there. Look, I know they clean the airplane before anyone gets on it, but I trust myself more than anyone else so clean, clean, clean!
It’s no surprise that you have to keep your mask on for the entire flight, something that I was really not looking forward to. Here’s the thing though – after a while, you really do kind of forget about it. I also brought a see-through face shield with me in case I wanted extra protection while eating. My tip: if you’re feeling claustrophobic or stressed in your mask, take slow deep breaths, and make sure your mask isn’t too tight. If I can do it for 7 hours, so can you!
Before takeoff I was given a little safety package. In it was sanitizer, wipes, a mask, gloves, water, pretzels and a note about health and safety procedures during the flight. Even in the worst case scenario, you should have everything you need!
I was really curious to see how meals would be handled. Generally on flights that are over five hours long it’s required that the airline provides you with food. Really quickly after takeoff the flight attendants brought around boxed dinners. You have no choices or options, you get what they give you. In my case it was an eggplant parm, salad and brownie. The other thing I should mention is airplanes are not allowed to heat up food at the moment so everything was cold. Because there is no choice in meal, I suggest just packing a few extra snacks in case you end up hating it.
I really have to applaud the air team for the job they did. They were not kidding around when it came to our safety. They will absolutely enforce you wearing a mask (you will be kicked off the plane or fined if you don’t) and really made the trip as comfortable as could be for those of us on board. This is definitely one of the reassuring aspects of travelling during covid.
On this trip I made a point to stay in every type of accommodation possible from hotels to hostels, boutiques to Airbnbs. Depending where you decide to visit only some of these may be available to you. In the case of Denmark, the country’s hotel and restaurant association HORESTA had launched a ‘Safe to Visit’ programme. All companies within it must adhere to five points: the safety distance recommended by the authorities, clear information on the handling and behaviour of the coronavirus, thorough cleaning and disinfection, safety for a high level of hygiene and control of the work processes. So I knew I could check and make sure everywhere I stayed was regulated and cleaned.
The biggest change you will notice while travelling during covid will be housekeeping at any accommodation. Most likely, they’ll not be going into your room during your stay. If you want fresh towels you have to specifically request them. If you want the sheets cleaned, housekeeping will provide this, but you might have to change them yourself. This is to prevent unnecessary contact between you and staff. Some of the larger hotel chains actually have a piece of plastic on the door that breaks when you open it so you know that nobody has gone into your room before you enter it.
Although my hostel was vigilant with screening and cleaning, I still felt nervous being around so many people and found it made me anxious. If you aren’t prepared mentally, don’t stay in one. I felt the most relaxed in my private Airbnb as I was able to control how the surfaces were cleaned and could make the space my own.
It was a huge weight off my shoulders when I arrived in Copenhagen. I was fortunate that I was travelling to a very safe country that actually had less enforced measures in place then Canada. I was only required to wear a mask on public transport. I made sure to have a mask and hand sanitizer on me at all times, which I would always suggest, especially if you don’t know the specifics of where you have to wear a mask in your new destination. I was in an open country, so trains were running, bars and shops were open, and life felt relatively normal. Now is when you can start to enjoy yourself!
There were almost no other tourists so I found I had lots of the museums, churches and sites pretty much to myself, which I have to say was awesome. No wait times and no crowded plazas. It seems almost ironic, but I actually found it turned out to be one of the best times to travel because I virtually came into contact with no one else. After a day or two of adjusting and getting comfortable, I relaxed into it and had the most wonderful trip. I pretty much travelled around as I normally would. I was able to enjoy and indulge in all of the beautiful sights, history, and of course, the pastries that Denmark has to offer! I don’t feel that I missed out on anything due to travelling during covid.
While travelling during covid, one thing to be aware of is that you need to keep your finger on the pulse with any changes happening within the country. When I was there, Denmark changed its policy to allow bars to stay open until 02:00 then repealed it back to 22:00. In my last few days, it also became mandatory to wear masks in restaurants. Keep up to date and remember, you are a guest in that country, so follow their rules.
We talk so much about sustainable travel and what it means to be a responsible traveller. Now, we’ve opened this up to a larger conversation, one where we must consider and respect the lives and health of the residents in the countries we visit. It’s not just a case of keeping yourself safe but one of protecting others. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that travel is a privilege, not a right, and if need be those borders can be shut.
What I learned from my time travelling during covid is that whilst it initially seemed daunting, with preparation, organization and a flexible approach I was able to have, without a doubt, one of the best holidays of my life. I felt safe every step of the way travelling. I made amazing memories and I now feel ready and excited to get back out there again! Even during a pandemic, you can still go out and see the world. After months in isolation it’s going to be more important than ever to get out into the world and reconnect with one another. So grab your passport, your mask, and get ready for an adventure!