Travel in this second vicennial year of the twenty-first century has taken a turn. Whether it’s for better or worse remains to be seen. It is costly, tense, and difficult; so at first glance it seems to be for the worst. However, it is more organised, ensures that you think and plan ahead, and is more disciplined than before. So what can we really expect as we begin to gently rise up out of the ashes of COVID19, and embrace the beauty of God’s world?
I am currently in my most favourite place on this Earth – Jamaica! I love the good, manage the bad and take everything in my stride. But what did it take to get me here during this Pandemic era?
After cancelation of my flight with British Airways – five times, sometimes me, sometimes them; it finally happened on the sixth attempt, so first advice – keep trying, it will happen. Essential travel is a maze of twists and turns, methodical planning and razor sharp execution. And, if it’s important to you, it’s important, so persevere. In the maze of twists and turns, know the rules of engagement for each country that you are travelling from and to. For example, the rules in England are not always the same as the rules in Scotland, yet they are both in the United Kingdom. Laws are being passed at unprecedented speed in all countries. Do not listen to hear say, and do not depend on anyone to get the information for you. Go to the government websites and search for information relevant to your travel. I did a weekly check on both government websites in England and in Jamaica for the latest information and unexpected changes.
In England a travel declaration form must be completed for essential travel. The information can be found here. It is advisable to have printed copies as well as electronic copies on your mobile device. Prepare for the unexpected; if it is not possible to access the information on your phone, you can present the printed copies. don’t get caught out. I printed everything, and sent to my email or downloaded and saved to my phone. This declaration form will not need to be completed for international travel after 17th May 2021.
The travel authorisation for Jamaica is not the same as the travel declaration for England. The one for England is a self-certified declaration form that can be downloaded and printed or be filled in online, and supported with evidence should you be challenged. The Jamaican travel authorisation however has to be completed on the Jamaican Travel Authorisation website. The applications are assessed and processed manually and usually take within two days for your authorisation to be approved. This is true for both residents and non-residents. You have a seven day window to submit your application, then the waiting game begins. It is not always approved within two days of applying and can come through just hours before you fly – as was the case with me. Be prepared to wait and sweat it out. If you hear nothing, do not panic and do not cancel your flight unless you absolutely have to. With British Airways you can cancel on the morning of your flight anytime before the flight takes off, so check with your airline when you can cancel your flight without loosing your ticket.
When you have done all that you can, wait! But while you are waiting be prepared, better to be ready to go as soon as the authorisation comes through than to be dashing around preparing after you thought it wasn’t going to be approved in time and it was.
I applied for my travel authorisation on Saturday 1st May at 12.36pm and received email confirmation that the application was received. Then no response until Tuesday 4th May at 20.38 confirming that my authorisation had been approved. So my application took almost 3.5 days. There is also a support email email@example.com available for enquiries so use it if you need to. This authorisation does not end on 17th May 2021. It is a requirement now in place before entering Jamaica. Whether it will be a permanent fixture for the future, we are not sure, but don’t expect it to end any time soon.
And we cannot forget the negative Covid test. Ensure you have checked which test is required for your destination. There are many options out there so do your research. My Covid test came through negative at 21:26 the night before I was due to travel. I was required to do a 72 hour test and I did a 48 hour one but that was cutting it too close – won’t be doing that again. Finally all my authorisations were confirmed the night before I was due to travel; and I was ready. So with three hours rest, I woke at 2:00 am, then 3:00 am, bright eyed and ready for the adventure ahead. Yes even with all the new protocols, it was an adventure in the world of essential travel.
The drive to Gatwick Airport was a mere three hours and not the usual five hours, so a win there! Less traffic equals quicker journeys and less drama on the motorways. And all the preparations reaped rewards. At every check point I was able to produce all that was required to progress to the next stage of my journey. Airports, usually a hub of excitement with the expectant joys of travelling to distant lands to make new discoveries, have now been reduced to quiet, orderly almost barren enclosures, with it’s many retail outlets pleading for someone to enter and buy its wares.
But the short queues, disappearing as quickly as they formed, were a welcomed sight. In no time at all, I had checked in my luggage, strolled care-free through the departure lounge, produced documentation when requested and perched lightly on a lone seat to make calls and send messages to family and friends. Oh, and always wearing my mask except when eating or drinking. This did not turn out to be as difficult as I thought it would be, it is easy to adapt to wearing the masking during your travels if you adapt your mind to it. Bring enough to change them every few hours, unless you have an expensive fashion mask that complements your outfit. I didn’t bother with that, a pack of 10 disposable masks were enough and served me well, and it was good to change it regularly.
The flight was more orderly than in the past, with airline crew doing their very best to remain professional while trying to accommodate its passengers who exhibited varying degrees of annoyance or acceptance of the new measures. For the vast majority of passengers, there was calm and acceptance, but there were a few who tugged at the fibres without success. For a 9 hour 45 minutes flight from London to Kingston during these trying times, it was a success. Masks were worn at all times, except when eating or drinking. Rules were adhered to and the crew challenged the few who, on occasions tried to go against the grain.
And the best part of my journey was the discipline enforced when the plane landed. The usual disregard for the instructions: not to leave seats until the seat belt sign is off and not to get up until the plane has stopped were strictly enforced to comply with social distancing rules and to ensure the safety of everyone. Rows were called in sequence, at which time passengers could retrieve their luggage from the overhead lockers and leave the plane in an orderly manner- this was great!
So the decision is yours as to whether you are able to embrace the new laws or reject them. As a single traveller with no dependants, I found them less challenging than I first anticipated and enjoyed the shorter queues, quicker journeys and less pushing and shoving on and off flights. However a family group who must pay for individual Covid tests and wait for authorisations for each member to enter another country, will struggle with these measures. Co-ordinating large groups will not be easy either. Please be aware that although some of these measures will no longer be required in England after 17th May 2021, this does not dictate measures put in place by other countries.
I think those responsible for making the new laws will need to consider groups and enable the processing of all group members at the same time, as it would be extremely stressful for families to make decisions for some to travel while others have to remain at home. Equally the Covid tests should offer group concessions and be processed as a batch so that everyone receive their results at the same time.
Although the new look 21st century travel is in place to protect us and control entry of the virus at borders; the current measures are more suited to the single or business traveller. It will be a stressful time for families and groups and I am hoping something will be done sooner rather than later to address this imbalance.
We need the joy and the adventure of travel to return to our lives, not to mention vitamin D for our health and the stability for our mental health. Remember we were created to live outside and not to be shut away inside. Take the good with the bad, don’t give up, and make it work for you and your loved ones!