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  • Writer's pictureGrace Rector

Traveling During a Pandemic

I thought I was a pro traveler; however, traveling during a global pandemic requires so much more. My 2020 started off worse than a global pandemic. I lost my single mom to a heart attack on February 14th. My whole world felt unfamiliar and disorienting. I was with family for 3 weeks following her death as I tried grappling with what this change in my life meant. Probably 2 weeks following her death the Corona Virus had arrived in the United States and killed one man in Seattle, Washington. The virus was spreading in China and it was all over the news. I was supposed to go back to school for spring break following my mom's death. I was enrolled in a course called Global Politics and Performance in which we studied how performing arts and culture play a role in international politics. We were planning to go on a class trip to Cambodia to do work with a local dance troop that used the art form to help people grapple with the trauma they experienced in the Cambodian genocide.

After being home for a month, away from school, I was looking forward to traveling again and focusing on something other than my mom. But then the trip was cancelled. Cambodia was too close to China and they said they didn't know what would happen with Covid. I was devastated and knew I couldn't stay in my mom's house one more minute because it made me so sad. So on March 3rd I did what I know best, I decided to travel and be around people that I loved. I flew to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina to visit friends that I'd met the previous summer. My friend, Abby, and I went to our favorite restaurants, visited our favorite coffee shops, and went for walks around the old town.

Then we flew to Budapest hoping to spend a weekend together there. She'd never been and I thought it would be lovely to go with her. But then the world started crashing down. We arrived at the airport in Budapest, dropped off our suitcases at a hotel and went out to dinner. At dinner as soon as we got wifi, we all received a notification that Budapest had called a state of emergency because of the Corona Virus. I didn't know what to think. I couldn't imagine it had come this far. I told Abby that I could stay a couple more days then go home to the U.S. but I was wrong. We went back to the hotel and saw that Trump had announced on all the news channels, "We will start a border ban for all people coming from Europe tomorrow. This will help us prevent the spread of Covid in America." I was stunned and called a friend to ask for advice. I asked, "how bad is it?" and he replied, "It's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. You need to come home now."

So I zipped my suitcase, not even unpacked, and bought a ticket for a flight that left 4 hours later. I took a taxi in the middle of the night to the airport and arrived to a mob of people young and old. Everyone was clamoring with nervous energy I'd never seen before. Each person had some unique twisted look on their face, praying that they'd get home safe. I talked to people around me trying to get insights into their situations. I met several students being sent home from their study abroad program, I met a couple on their honeymoon, and I saw parents with kids that looked startled. We all expressed our gratitude that we were able to get out as soon as we did because all the other flights were starting to book up.

Once we navigated the airport together, we climbed onto the plane. Our first leg was to Germany. But as soon as I was sitting on the plane I suddenly became aware of the possibility that someone on this plane could have Covid. Someone on this plane could cough and get us all sick — we could even die . . . My brain was going a million miles a minute and I couldn't fall asleep for the whole plane ride. From a couple of rows behind me I heard a sneeze. The passengers went quiet. Some ducked their heads into their shirts. Others looked around to see who it was. We were petrified. No one had a mask on because it was so early on. We were all unprotected.

We finally arrived in Washington D.C. and I was convinced I had covid. My dear friend, Andria picked me up from the airport and allowed me to stay in her basement to quarantine for two weeks. I was terrified to hug her because I had no idea if I'd been exposed on the plane or not. I only spent 1 week in her basement until another announcement came from the President saying that they'd start canceling domestic flights. The chaos was disorienting and I felt powerless in everything. I didn't want to get stuck in DC without a way to get home, so I got another flight back to LA with a mask on my face. I wore gloves on my hands and wiped down the airplane seat and tray table with a Clorox wipe. I was so scared to take my mask off that I kept it on the whole time and didn't even eat. The plane was half capacity with most rows only seating 1-2 people. The environment was eerie and tense.

I got home to Los Angeles and immediately ran into the shower and scrubbed every last inch of my body. I took my suitcase outside the house and left it on the back porch. I put on gloves to open the suitcase and took each item of clothing and threw it into the hamper and wiped down any other item in the bag. I left my 3 pairs of shoes outside of my house for 1 week hoping any bacteria would come off of them. I threw my travel backpack and neck pillow in the wash and prayed that I'd gotten rid of any potential bacteria. I'd never known a pandemic in my lifetime and so I had no logical understanding of how best to avoid this virus.

It wasn't until three months later that I flew again. I'd been struggling with living alone without support or socialization and I knew that staying with my mom's best friend and her family in Seattle would be best for me. However this time that I flew there was no one on the plane. I must have counted only 10-15 people total on a flight going from Los Angeles to Seattle. My godparents are older and I was terrified of giving them the virus so I wore long pants with socks and boots to cover my bottom half, then I wore a long sleeve shirt with a scarf, a mask, glasses, and a hat to protect the top half. I was terrified of catching the disease from touching the wrong thing that I put hand sanitizer on my gloves.

Finally arriving in Seattle I again, left my shoes outside, showered, wiped all my things down, and prayed that I'd eliminated any viral bacteria. I hugged my god mother after too much time apart and I finally felt safe. But every good vacation comes to an end.

A month later I packed my bags preparing to return home to Los Angeles. Again the airport was empty and the plane was so empty each person had two rows to themselves. I felt like I was in a horror movie. Luckily I got home safe without getting the virus and proceeded to practice covid precautions in my daily life.

But then it was six months into the global pandemic and I officially lost my mind. Granted, I had lost my mind much earlier but in September 2020 I went to my computer to do online courses from my senior year of college and something broke inside of me. Living in my late mom's house alone was already incredibly challenging, but with online classes everyday on top of it made me feel stuck, depressed and sad. I'm an extrovert by nature and so as I felt myself deteriorating, I knew the solution was to go see my best friends. However, all of my best friends live far away from Los Angeles, California.

I told my best friend Rimsha about my predicament, and she invited me to come see her in Louisville, Kentucky and conveniently enough, it would be her 22nd birthday! With the generous invitation of my friend, I packed my bags and headed her way. This time I was shocked to find O'Hare airport flooded with people. Instead of empty airports that I was used to, I had to watch where I walked so I wouldn't hit someone in the traffic flow on passengers walking. I tried holding my breath every time I passed someone but it was no use. I prayed that I wouldn't touch the wrong thing or breathe too close to the wrong person.

Kentucky was a blast because I got to be with my best friend in the world to celebrate her 22nd birthday! We even drove to Ohio for delicious thai food on her birthday. And of course we couldn't forget some Kentucky Fried Chicken IN Kentucky!!

Next on my friends tour was New York! I flew from Kentucky to DC to New York and I headed to Upper Red Hook to stay with my friend Nico. Upper Red Hook is in Upstate New York and it's rural and beautiful with great markets on the side of the road and delicious ice cream shops.

Last stop was Putnam County in New York, which is south of Upper Red Hook but north of New York City. I stayed with my friend Tommy in the suburbs which were gorgeous and we went on a hike to Breakneck Ridge which was an extremely difficult hike but incredibly rewarding! 10/10 recommend.

Traveling during the pandemic was extremely stressful and nerve wracking with all the safety protocols but worth it because I got to see my best friends in the world! Stay safe and wear a mask!

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