Yikes! It’s been a while since I have had time to write anything on this blog – more than 2.5 years! That’s what having a regular full time job will do to a person – give a steady income but suck up most of your time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has similarly sucked the life out of most people’s travel. First, it was lockdowns and shelter in place. Some of us worked from home, while sadly, others los their jobs or like me, got hours cut. Once people were allowed to venture out again, many places limited where travelers could go based on where come they lived (think virus hot zones) and many states required lengthy quarantines and/or negative test results only days before departure. There were numerous stories reporting blant violators as well as what I like to refer to as “escapees” – those who decamped either temorarily or permanently from hot zones hoping to escape “those COVID people” (yes, I actually heard an interview where a woman moving from NYC uttered those words!) There was also the outright fear of traveling and the risk of possibly being exposed to someone carrying the virus or yourself being an unwitting carrier to loved ones.
In some cases, business travelers were still required to travel to do their jobs. As summer came upon us, some of us got itchy and decided to take the risk to travel anyway. I was one of them.
We started booking accommodations for our 25th wedding anniversary trip to enjoy fall foliage in Maine, blissfully unaware of what was to come….
When the lockdown came in March, I thought this would be over in plenty of time for our trip in September. Then things started to unravel. I work for a non-profit that holds a big fundraiser in early April. The event was postponed until mid-September – the same week as we originally planned to be on our trip! I got approval to move my vacation to October & started rebooking the accommodations. All the innkeepers were very understanding & flexible. One accommodation had to be cancelled outright as they were not open in October.
Due to low cases, Maine has very strict requirements for travel to their state – 14 day quarantine or negative test result within 72 hours. During the coming months, Maine’s governor would add states ok to travel from free of the requirements, but Florida where we live was never one of those states. At this point, I went ahead and booked our flights using miles on Southwest (which was still keeping middle seats empty) but refrained from booking any more accommodations until the end of the summer just in case things got worse with the pandemic.
At the end of July, my hours were cut back at work. At that point, I thought we would have to cancel our trip since this affected our budget. I literally wanted to cry. My husband encouraged me to wait and see how things went and make a final decision at the end of August. I did cancel one accommadation due to cost and that businesses were shutting down in that area early due to less visitors.
Growing cases made it look like we would have to consider cancelling the trip again. I held out hope we would be able to make this trip since it marked such an important milestone for us. After Labor Day, we made the decision that we were going on this trip. I booked two more inns and again every innkeeper was understanding and graciously assured me of flexible cancellation policies.
The other frustrating thing about this trip was the airline’s cancelling or consolidating of flights. As soon as I would get one change corrected, another portion of our flight got changed. I finally resigned myself that while our return flight had us coming home later than we would have liked, we were not wasting time with unnecessarily long layovers on the outbound flights.
I spent the next few weeks gathering supplies of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, purchasing quality masks, etc. for our protection. I even purchased face shields, which my husband refused to wear. Tampa International Airport was the first in the nation to offer onsite COVID tests (both rapid result & the longer one that take at least 48 hours), I took that as a sign we would be able to take this trip after all. We took our flight itineraries to the airport and got the rapid test. We were both negative. It was an easy process with only a bit of a wait for other passengers who were leaving that day. Just to be sure, I also got the other test with the longer wait done at a local pharmacy to be within the 72 hour time requirement. The negative results were conveniently texted to my phone the day before we departed.
I am somewhat of a germaphobe in the best of times, so this pandemic has sent me into overdrive cleaning mode. I was careful not to touch surfaces unless I was gloved and disinfected every surface in the plane we might touch. It looked like I was the only one doing this much sanitizing. I had to tell my husband several times to be careful of what he touched. We kept our masks on and tried our best to distance ourselves from other passengers. I even sprayed down our checked luggage upon arrival.
Due to the early hour, there were few people in the Tampa airport. It was busier when we arrived at BWI. I observed a few cases of freakish daring or outright defiant behavior by other passengers – I did see a couple people trying to skirt correct mask wearing – one female passenger was wearing a screen printed mask of thin mesh. She was made to change it for a proper one upon boarding. One man with a big nose would move his mask until he saw the flight attendant coming up the aisle. He would cover his nose, only to move it back down after they passed by. Despite announcements to the contrary, when the plane landed, people still jumped up to grab their carry-ons and deplane. We waited until most others had left to deplane. Some people would rip their masks off as soon as they were off the plane, totally disregarding that they were still indoors with a lot of people.
We had a wonderful time driving around Maine and hiking in Acadia. Many times we were alone on trails so we didn’t have to wear masks outdoors, allowing for enjoyed the fresh air. We did carry them in our pockets or packs and put them on or stepped off the trail when encountering others. The only time I got a little freaked out was one day when I was photographing waves at Schoodic and some people kept coming up almost right on top of me to see what I was taking pictures of. Imagine their surprise when I would turn around or look up to answer their questions and they would see that I didn’t have a mask on (fogs the viewfinder) and the shocked looks I got.
Due to the pandemic and less business, some restaurants and activities closed down early. Even the restaurants that remained open, did so with reduced capacity. I had the foresight to make dinner reservations five out of the seven nights we were in Bar Harbor. The other two dinners we did take out, calling our orders in and driving to the restaurant where I dropped my husband at the curb to pick up our food while I drove around the block so as not to block traffic.
The only time we encountered unsanitary conditions was the final night in Portland at a Hampton Inn. I found at least four filthy areas of our room which was evidence this property was not sanitizing as advertised.
On our return flights, we had a layover in Baltimore. After eating, as we were leaving the restaurant, there was a man sitting at a table grinning at me. At first I thought he was flirting, then it dawned on me. I had grown so used to rarely wearing a mask while in Maine, that I had forgotten to put mine back on after the meal.
We were witness to a violent encounter at the next gate, when a male passenger refused to wear a mask to board. A lot of screaming. profanity, chasing a gate agent and a combination of six security personnel and police over 30 minutes finally got the offender removed from the gate area.
I was so glad we were able to take this special trip. Now that I have my vaccine, I look forward to traveling again soon.
In the weeks to come, I will posting more detailed stories on where we visited and ate, so sure to check back.