2020 was “on the books” to be a massive travel year full of adventures. Prior to WHO declaring Covid-19 a world wide pandemic in March, I had been to Montreal, New York, and London. Three cities that would be ravaged by the pandemic.
On route to Montreal early January, 2020, I recall reading an email about a potential “flu” outbreak in my hometown. At the time, cover-19, was not yet a household name. As I read the email, I though who ever penned the lengthy memo was a little over zealous about personal hygiene as they recomended we ban the customary greeting of a handshake. At the time, I found the notion ludicrous. I was raised to obey the norms of polite society – one of which is to offer a hand to new and old acquaintances. I shrugged off the email’s recomendation and enjoyed my time in Montreal.
A few short weeks later, I once again found myself 30,000 feet in the air on route to NYC for a conference. By this time, the novel corona virus was making headlines in around the world but the virus itself seemed contained to Wuhan, China. In late January of 2021, New York was its usual bustling self and I relished my time in the city that never sleeps. While in New York, I took in a musical in a packed broadway theatre, ran the highline, road the subway, sweated at Fit House, and of course attended a conference with participants from around the globe. It was in New York, on a walk back to the hotel on January 24th, that I first sensed an air of foreshadowing of what was to come. As I walked the few blocks from the subway station to my hotel in midtown, I stopped to pause to read the headline on an outdoor news bulletin. The electronic board read, “US Records first confirmed case of the novel Corona Virus. A woman in her 60’s who has recently returned to Chicago from Wuhan has tested positive for Covid-19. The woman is in hospital and is being monitored.”
As Covid began to dominate the news cycle, I packed my bag for a work trip to London. After fending off calls of caution I stocked up on hand sanitizer and lysol wipes for my time abroad – and yes I was that person who was aggressively sanitizing her airplane seat prior to making myself comfortable. Upon arrival in London on March 5th, 2020, I touched down to a bustling city. There were line ups outside the nightclubs, kids were snogging in the streets, and life was as normal as ever. Over the course of my week in London, the city became a ghost of itself. As the week progressed, tube cars emptied, tourists vanished, markets dried up, and the city fell silent. It was eerie, very eerie.
Not one to hide, on the day the WHO declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, I braved the city to explore the Tower of London. To my surprise, I had the tower of myself. I felt like Princess Di. The venue was mine to explore. The Crown Jewels, mine to gawk at. With the city in hiding, fearful of an invisible enemy, I found comfort and reassurance from the towers Ravens. Legend has it that if the Ravens were to flee, the crown would fall and Britan with it.
As I wandered the grounds where former kings and queens once reside, I imagined what life was like landlocked in a time where travel for recreation was unheard of. A deep sympathy washed over me – for the people, blissfully unaware of what they were missing out on, and for the rulers who thought they were protecting their kingdoms from hardship.
On my walk back to the hotel, I stopped for a glass of champagne in an attempt to fight off feelings of unease due to my realization that this trip to London could likely be the end of travel as I knew it. My partner and I had decided that we wanted a promotion to mom and dad. As I prepared to say goodbye to the city of London, I found myself questioning If I’d be back. The world seemed to be at a standstill, and I was at crossroads.
That night, while I slept, the western world fell in a freefall. Overnight, the US banned flights from Europe. Canada initiated a two-week quarantine for all travelers entering the country. Professional sports and all entertainment was canceled. Ski resorts in Europe threw in the toque and closed early for the season. Apocalyptic, the only word that describes the headline of March 12th. My flight back to Canada was a scene straight out of World War Z. Travellers were clamoring to catch a flight to North America, families were denied boarding, flight attendants were in hiding, and passengers were too fearful to talk. The 8-hour flight from London Heathrow to Calgary International was both the longest and shortest flight of my life.
Upon arriving in Calgary, our flight was detained at the gate – with fears of passengers bringing the deadly virus to Canadian soil. Once home, I knew it was only a matter of time for the pandemonium to flare. I waited, and I watched as life froze.
It’s now over a year later. Vivid is how my last trip to London is burned into my memory. To say I miss the freedom of travel would be an understatement. My life has changed. It’s both smaller and richer than before. As I look back, I’m grateful to have been up in the air experiencing the news as it happened. March 12th will forever be a day that defines a generation – just like Armstrong’s moonwalk or 9/11.
For those of you wondering, we welcomed a beautiful baby boy into our world in May of 2021. With him, our lives have changed for the better and with it how we travel.