Travel In A COVID 19 World

March 30, 2020


Last year I travelled a lot. I visited Paris and Sydney for Fashion Week. I marvelled at the beauty of The Maldives and soaked up the sun on their pristine beaches. I traversed Japan staying in Fukuoka, Kyoto and Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup. This was a trip for the whole family. In December I was on safari and visiting the magnificent wine regions of  Stellenbosch and Franschoek in South Africa. 

Many more trips were planned for 2020. My sons travel too, for work and holidays. The eldest has recently come home from work in Las Vegas, followed by catching up with mates working in Whistler. The youngest was soon to be in Thailand for a wedding. As I write this my husband and I should have been winging our way to a safari in Botswana. My husband’s work travel schedule can be insane. He has just completed a round the world trip, so it was inevitable that one of us was travelling when coronavirus hit.

It happened to be my middle son who was travelling in America. One minute he was visiting San Francisco going to bars and gigs with friends and by the time he was on his way to Austin, Texas ( where he’d studied ), only ten people were left on his flight. He left home just over two weeks ago when coronavirus was barely a blip on our radar. 

This virus was spreading rapidly and so many of the mothers I know had their grown up children suddenly scattered across the globe. Australians love to travel to new and exotic destinations. People were in Peru and Brazil, so many working in London, Germany and France, holidaying in Croatia, Bali and Fiji. Many had been studying in the USA , Scotland and the Netherlands. All corners of the globe were filled with young Australians busy going to work, play, study and stay.

Soon things became urgent. Qantas cut 90 percent of their flights. NINETY PERCENT!! My son was flying Qantas. 

He was supposed to come home via San Francisco but that flight was cancelled and we didn’t really want him stuck in San Francisco with no onward flight. If we could just get him to LA he should, just might, get a flight home. Or should he bus to Dallas and see if the Dallas to Sydney flight was still operating ? Round and round the questions went… searching and searching for an answer. Our borders closed and Qantas announced they would cease flying at the end of the month.Time was our biggest enemy. The Prime Minister urged everyone to come home, but it was not proving to be easy for some. 

Meanwhile in Austin things were becoming dire. New restaurants and bars built recently to cater for the hordes descending for the South by Southwest festival were closing rapidly. Queues were snaking out the door of the grocery store and little was left on the shelves. My son’s friends were losing their jobs. They all work in hospitality to support themselves through University. The hand of dread was beginning to squeeze at my heart like a boa constrictor.

I comforted myself by remembering that he is a dual citizen. Also a grown man. He was in the most developed country in the world. He was born in Denver. We have very good friends there who would give him shelter and find him some work….. but still the anxiety grew with every new announcement. I stopped watching the telly and scrolling through social media. I just wanted to be home in my little bubble, finding a solution. 

After yet another sleepless night I finally told my husband my fears, “ I just can’t sleep. My eyes keep popping open in fright. I see those queues of people in the USA lining up for guns. I can see they’re not doing enough. I will never rest until I know he is safely home.”

Now my husband is a man of action, he’s the one you want by your side when problems need to be solved. He is analytical and focussed, whereas I was turning into a bowl of jelly.

An hour later he called from work. He had found a flight from Austin to LAX. There were no guarantees that this flight wouldn’t be cancelled, but it was a start. A sliver of hope had appeared.

I kept myself busy; cleaning, reading, baking, walking, watching Outlander, joining the Zoom book chat at Avid Reader and binging on way too much Trinny Woodall to brighten my day. I decked myself out in colourful clothes and put on my lippie, but I knew my mind was far away in the good old US of A. I would take out the washing basket forgetting to put the washing in, I would walk around in circles, I kept trying to start the car without having my keys nearby. I couldn’t  even write for what was there to say. I am a positive, playful sunshiny writer. I managed to send in a recipe. 

I’d found a coin in the pocket of my son’s shorts that I was washing just after he left and this became my talisman. “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!” 

Every time I started feeling worried or anxious I would feel it’s smooth surface and soldier on with a smile. I thought I might even rub the Queen’s face right off.

The day of his departure came and the messages were coming through. “ He’s boarding the flight in Austin. He’s made it to LAX.” By the time he reached Los Angeles, Austin was already in lockdown. I held my breath. 

His flight is on the board. He’s through security and has a boarding pass. It’s all good ….. the plane has taken off.” Only then did the great gulping tears come and my tense body uncoiled.

I could finally call my Mum. I’d been avoiding calling her so she wouldn’t worry. He was in the air and flying home in a plane full of stoic and sombre Aussies feeling like they had just won the lottery. I feel for those others still far away – floating on ships, unable to get to a major airport, unable to find a flight, scrambling to find somewhere to rest their weary heads in safety. 

My husband drove my son’s car laden with vegan food, gloves, antibacterial wipes, disinfectant and protein powder to the airport and my son drove straight into 14 days of isolation at our place by the beach. I haven’t seen him yet and I won’t be able to hug him like I usually do when he arrives home from his adventures, but for now it is enough that he is home. As Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz says, “ There’s no place like home.”

Stay safe, stay home!

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