The experience of traveling from Point A to Point B is overwhelming and jarring, especially if, like me, you spent the past year cocooning at home. Now, because of my work, I’ve taken eight flights over the last two months, and in each instance the airports have been packed, planes full and people have resorted back to old habits of pushing and shoving with little regard for Covid etiquette.
Added to the usual disorientation of international travel is the new dimension of adjusting to your destination’s point in the Covid timeline, as the pandemic plays out at different rates. Total lockdown at your departure point might shift to a more easygoing freedom when you deplane. Then the whole thing happens in reverse. Traveling back and forth in Covid time causes a sense of whiplash as you jolt between sets of rules and regulations, based on the state of the pandemic.
When I visited New York in late March after spending months in strict lockdown in Turkey it was like getting transported to the future. Friends and colleagues in their 30s were being vaccinated, restaurants, shops and cultural sites were open, and people were socializing like it was 2019. It was exciting to be in a place with such upbeat energy and to see people in person, but it left me overstimulated and exhausted by the end.
Turkey was experiencing a huge surge in new coronavirus infections when I returned and I went straight into the most stringent lockdown of the pandemic, which meant locals were required to stay at home except for grocery shopping and medical emergencies. I was jolted back in time. Tourists were exempt from the restrictions, but the novelty of visiting empty museums and walking through deserted streets wears off quickly. After all, what is a place without its local population, its restaurants, cafes, bars and culture?
When I arrived in London, I stepped into a kind of limbo, because I had to spend the first five days in quarantine at home. I was fully vaccinated and had provided a negative test to enter the country and it didn’t feel like I would pose a risk to anyone by walking through the park or grabbing a coffee. But breaking quarantine rules comes with a hefty fine of up to 10,000 pounds, about $14,000.
I received phone calls from a government task force several times a day checking up on my whereabouts and compliance with the rules. Once, I was in an online work meeting and missed the call, which sent me into a frenzy trying to figure out whether that would get me into trouble.