‘The Open Road Was Ours’: We Still Really Miss Pre-Pandemic Travel

As travel opens up, writers recall their last pre-Covid trips abroad – and the freedoms we all took for granted.
HuffPost UK

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We don’t know about you, but as foreign travel tentatively opens up again from May 17 – with a traffic light system we’re still getting our heads around – we’re feeling all kinds of nostalgic for the trips we used to take, pre-pandemic.

For the best (/worst) part of the past year, going ‘abroad’ has been off the agenda and it’s easier to deal with that landlocked feeling by simply pretending you don’t have a passport. But now there’s the prospect of getting on a plane again, we’ve allowed ourselves fond memories of sun, sea, sand – and a time when we had absolutely zero need for a duvet coat to enjoy a cocktail.

The beach holiday is by no means the only type of trip we’ve missed, though. In fact, when the HuffPost team swapped notes on the last time we hopped on a plane, it reminded us travel comes in so many forms – and we miss them all.

Here, we reflect on our precious last holidays pre-Covid (not that we knew them to be at the time) and the freedoms we promise never to take for granted again.

The Road Trip

Rachel Moss and her partner in California.
Rachel Moss
Rachel Moss and her partner in California.

In September 2019, my partner and I flew to Las Vegas, hired a car, and went on the ultimate road trip to Death Valley, Inyo National Forest, Yosemite, and San Francisco. We drove for hundreds of miles, across state lines, blissfully unaware that a few months later, we’d be told to stay home and only leave the house to exercise “locally”. That contrast still boggles my mind. We got engaged at the start of the trip, and if I’d known then how weddings would be disrupted – and how draining it is to postpone and replan – I probably would’ve sealed the deal in a Vegas chapel then and there.

What really strikes me about the trip though, is how free we were. We’d booked into a couple of hotels and campsites in advance, but we kept to our own timetable, took detours whenever we fancied it, had dinner with strangers and swam in huge, open lakes. The open road was ours. It feels like the pandemic has killed that spontaneity, with every social event planned to a T, tables booked and sanitiser packed in advance. I can’t wait to embrace impulsiveness again. For me, that’s what makes holidays so special. – Rachel Moss, life reporter

The Work Trip

Villa Lena in Tuscany
Nancy Groves
Villa Lena in Tuscany

For years, travelling for work was a glamorous pipe dream, especially when I was a local reporter and the furthest trip I ever made was on the 93 bus. Annoying types told me that work travel was draining and not all it’s cracked up to be, but then, in my 30s, I moved to Australia for a job where hopping on a plane from Sydney to Melbourne, or Adelaide, or Perth, was commonplace.

And it was amazing. So I’m ashamed to say how quickly I became complacent, complaining about the early starts and living life from a suitcase. In September 2019 – by this time, back in the UK – I flew to Italy with my boss for a two-day showcase of work to clients. Stressed and a bit burned out at the time, I huffed and puffed about it more than was acceptable and even tried to get a colleague to go in my place. Still, I went.

We stayed in a beautiful villa between Pisa and Florence and were asked to do such very taxing things as morning yoga, foraging workshops, and sharing piles of delicious Tuscan food at communal tables – imagine! – in between the work presentations and professional networking.

I should – we all should – be so lucky! What an absolute privilege any kind of travel abroad is. If you ever hear me huff about getting on a plane again, please confiscate my passport and take my seat yourself. – Nancy Groves, head of life

The Ski Trip

Tasha on the slopes in the Pyrenees.
Natasha Hinde
Tasha on the slopes in the Pyrenees.

My last trip abroad feels like a decade ago, but it was actually mid-Feb 2020 – a ski trip with a couple of friends to the south of France. You might associate skiing with expensive chalets and après ski, but this was a quieter affair. Every year, we go to a relative’s house in the middle of nowhere, near the Pyrenees. On this trip, we headed to the slopes three or four times – an hour’s pilgrimage in a hire car – then spent the day trying not to fall over before heading back.

En route, we stopped at Intermarche to pick up supplies for dinner, and stock up on beer and wine – my favourite part of the day. Then, we spent the evenings drinking, eating and playing board games in front of an open fire or – if it was warm – watching the sun go down, sitting on a wall outside the house.

We knew Covid was circling, but it seemed in the distance. Our Ryanair flights hadn’t been cancelled and we spent most of the holiday barely acknowledging the virus existed. There was what I’d describe as mild peril on the flight home, when I was seated next to a guy who wouldn’t stop coughing. But looking back, we were on the Covid-secure side of things: self-contained accommodation, bubble of four, lots of time outdoors. I wonder whether holidays will ever feel freeing again or whether I’ll be going through some kind of Covid risk checklist in my head as soon as I look at flights? – Natasha Hinde, life reporter

The Wedding Trip

Family wedding vibes in Holland
Amy Packham
Family wedding vibes in Holland

It’s strange to imagine it now, but in March 2020 I travelled to Holland for a big family wedding. We mixed with people from different countries – Spain, UK, America – we danced in a massive hall, we drank (a lot), and we all stayed in a massive Airbnb together as a family. We sang songs loudly, screaming the words over the music, and passed round disco light sabers that were handed out across the dance floor. We bonded with strangers in the toilet and took selfies that we laughed about the next morning.

At the time, that all seemed normal, but looking back, it feels like a luxury. While we were there, we spoke about coronavirus, as it was loosely on our radar – wedding guests from Spain had heard that the UK had their first Covid death. Never did we think that’d end up in the 100,000s. It felt like a “small talk” topic to discuss with random strangers you meet at a wedding. We had no idea what was to come.

A family photo of that day has been my phone background since the wedding, and I look at it often, so grateful that we were able to have that experience. A few weeks later, we were in lockdown. We haven’t been able to see our family who live in Holland since, and I can’t wait until we’re all reunited. Soon, I hope. –Amy Packham, life editor

Travel is the story of our summer. The rules (and traffic lights) are always changing, but one thing’s clear, we dream of being Anywhere But Here. This seasonal series offers you clear-headed travel advice, ideas-packed staycation guides, clever swaps and hacks, and a healthy dose of wanderlust.

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