“Passport and boarding pass, please!”
It has been so long! I looked forward to hearing these words again. Every single time I check in, I am so excited. I never know what adventures are waiting for me on the trip. After almost one year, I finally boarded a plane again.
It may come as no surprise to you that I have always loved travelling. I was very fortunate because I was able to start travelling at a very early age – trips by car, train or plane. All of them were exciting, but I particularly enjoy flying. I was about three years when I travelled by air for the first time. Travelling by plane was something really special back then. These were the times when tickets were comparatively expensive and travelling was not as accessible as it is today. (Or at least as it was before the start of Covid-19.) It was before budget carriers entered the market and started price wars. It was also before airlines crammed as many people as possible into a single flight. And there was “real” cutlery even in economy class.
Flying fascinated me as a child. I loved being up in the air and watching the world from above. Even on a short trip, children got toys – I still fondly remember an Austrian airlines sticker sheet where I could stick the airlines to the respective gates. These were also the times when the cockpit was not locked yet and children could go visit the pilots. Moreover, the roles on board where traditional: women became stewardesses and men pilots. I am glad that this gender separation has changed.
Whenever people ask me what I would recommend to broaden their horizons or engage in extra-curricular activities, I tell them to learn languages. And if they can afford it – travel, study or work abroad. Every trip has broadened my mind and pushed me out of my comfort zone. A new city, another language, new food, different people.
Over the past year, not being able to travel was tough. I am aware that this comes from a point of extreme privilege. But I would have to lie if I claimed that I did not mind at all.
Many people forget that “normal” travel without an important reason is still not possible to most parts of the world. Most countries require an important reason, a residency, family relations or business reasons. Gone are the days where we could just hop on a plane whenever we wanted. For many expats or families scattered across the globe this is a scary fact: most of us felt more at ease to be abroad because we knew that there was a flight almost every day. In case we needed to head home urgently, we could. Travel requirements, certificates and quarantines have made that impossible.
I wonder what travel will look like in the future. In the short-run, I think access will be limited to those who can afford to travel – from a monetary but also from a time perspective. While some destinations such as Dubai, the Maldives or Zanzibar advertise themselves as “open for tourists”, other countries like Australia are completely “closed”. And some countries like Thailand require a two-week hotel quarantine.
Quarantine costs depend on the type of quarantine: on average, the Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) in a hotel is about EUR 1,700 per person on average. Some resorts try to lure travellers in with quarantine packages in villas by the sea for a more pleasant quarantine/holiday experience. Villas by the beach or quarantine in luxury hotels go up to as much as EUR 3,600 per person. For two weeks, you are not allowed to leave your room. In addition to the hefty price point, this type of travel and quarantine will only be possible for those who can work remotely. Especially if another 14 days of quarantine will be required upon return to the home country.
In addition to mandatory quarantine, I also think that many countries will require a vaccine record to allow travellers to enter in the near future. The question will also be which airlines and travel agencies will have survived the crisis.
On a more positive note, these developments may change the travel industry for the better. Let’s hope that mass tourism will change. I think we all agree that it has become more and more extreme over the past decade – I was basically shoved through the Duomo in Florence, left the Grand Palace in Bangkok to escape the tour groups, decided multiple times against a visit of the Louvre and have avoided Hallstatt in Austria for years. Travel agencies and airlines advertised insane ticket deals: flying from Vienna to Paris was sometimes cheaper than the taxi from the apartment to the airport. The impact on our environment was most of the time forgotten.
Over the past months, I have seen that many people in Austria reconnected with nature – walking became one of the top activities during lockdowns. Paired with travel restrictions, maybe this will impact our travel habits in the future? Maybe we will think more about where we want to go and why. And what we could do to make the trips not only memorable but also sustainable at the same time.