Travelling abroad is back, but what is it really like?
Last week, I got back from a week in Menorca. As a family we’re lucky as we have a private villa on the island, so no big resorts or hotels for us, however, we did get around the island, after the two-years delayed Spring clean that is.
We flew from Birmingham airport early on a Monday morning. There was no traffic, and from Rutland, it took us an hour and a half on near empty roads. When we arrived, we dropped our car off at valet parking where we greeted by friendly staff with masks. As we’d booked assistance for my partner’s grandad, we were then whisked through security and into the departure lounge. All good so far. The airport was practically deserted. Some shops were closed, however, as always, Wetherspoons was open.
We’d filled in our Spanish health forms the day before, and as we were all double jabbed, we simply opened the QR code on our mobiles when we were asked for them at the boarding gate. All very simple, well organized, and the Jet2 team were really friendly and made everyone relaxed, both on the plane and off. As an Englishman, I’m not used to people clapping when the plane lands, however, on this occasion, it seemed apt. We’d made it. We were actually abroad.
When the plane had come to a stop, the Jet2 team, as organized as ever, got people off in rows. A lot more civilized than the old rush to get off the plane, and something personally I hope stays. We were once again whisked through security, where the Spanish border control were monitoring people not just with paperwork, but with infrared, body heat scanners. All very fancy, and it definitely made you feel safe.
While on the island, it was hard not to notice how quiet it was. The locals were seemingly taking advantage of the quieter beaches, and why not! The restaurants all seemed to be going out of their way to be welcoming to tourists and locals alike, and all – and I mean all of them – were following social distancing and wearing masks, even at the tiny fishing villages where there are usually no tourists.
During the first couple of days, we were all busy getting the villa cleaned and doing some DIY, after it had been standing empty for nearly two years. This involved visits to DIY shops and supermarkets, and yet again, these were very well organized with social distancing in place. To be fair, a trip to the island’s capital, Mahon, felt safer, with less people, than my local High Street in England.
It was sad to see some bars, cafes and restaurants standing empty with ‘for rent’ and ‘for sale’ signs in their windows, another casualty of COVID, but there were some restaurants that were still relatively busy. We never made it to the tourist resorts, so I couldn’t say how they were faring, however, the traditional towns, villages and the capital looked like they couldn’t wait to welcome tourists back for the season.
On our third day the announcement was made that the Balearics was going back to the Amber list. Luckily, we didn’t have to change flights, as it came in on the Monday and we flew on the Sunday. However, with all four of us double-jabbed, we wouldn’t have bothered changing anyway.
48 hours before we were due to fly back, we did our COVID tests and Passenger Locator Forms. We’d ordered the COVID tests online and took them with us to the villa. The COVID tests were simple to follow, and we got our certificates back in just a few hours. The Passenger Locator Forms are a different matter. As with most forms from the government, they have a non-sensical order of questions which makes you ask yourself, ‘Didn’t I just answer that?’ Usually, the answer was an emphatic ‘Yes,’ and seeing they don’t differentiate between Spain and the Balearics, despite them both being on different travel lists, it made the whole situation more confusing. Even so, we eventually clicked, ‘complete,’ and it was done. Amber list. No, that’s not right, the rules don’t change till Monday? What? So, frustrated and reaching for the Vinho Tinto, I started doing some Googling, while my partner filled hers out again. We didn’t change any answers, yet second time around it came back Green. Too exhausted to wonder why, we made our way to the sunbeds by the pool and had a siesta.
As always, the week was over before we knew it. As we sipped our last pomada – the local Menorcan drink - on our final night, we looked back over the week and decided it was worth it. The locals had been so happy to see us. The food was lovely, the company was amazing. The staff at Birmingham airport had been so helpful, and the Jet2 staff were very friendly and calming. We got to Mahon airport around midday, and yet again they were so well organized it made the whole experience very relaxing and not at all what we probably thought it would be like.
Overall, the whole experience was better than one could have hoped, and, besides the Passenger Locator Forms, everything was easy to complete, and it was definitely possible to have a relaxing holiday even with COVID still looming in the background. So much so that we have booked to go back again this year.
Jonathan Wheatley, Editor, The Property Collection