International Travel during the Pandemic
As a self employed International Hotel Photographer. My clients are in different countries, so I do a lot of international travel.
On March 11th I was working in the USA on a job when then President, Donald Trump announced he was banning international travel and specifically at that time, Europeans entering the United States.
I flew out of Miami to Austria just hours before the ban took effect. Just hours after arriving back home in Austria, the first lockdown went into effect there. Just like everybody else there were so many emotions and worries that came to mind. Fast forward to today (10 months later) and I am preparing to leave on only my fifth work trip since March 2020 and here we are staring at a potential third wave of Corona virus. But this time I feel a bit different about it and I’ll explain why.
Why I travel
I am an International Hotel Photographer. I recently moved to Europe in order to try to break into into the market here and photograph hotels here. That takes time and connections and up to this point I hadn’t had a single job in Europe and was relying on my existing US and Caribbean work to keep going. So you can see why it was a huge worry when all the flights stopped. I remember looking up into clear blue skies in March and not seeing a single contrail from aircraft. It was doom and gloom for quite some time and survival was all that was on my mind.
All the Jobs I had lined up for March, April and May disappeared except for one. A job in London with a valued existing client. That job went ahead and managed to keep me going. Furthermore, I got a few enquiries from other existing clients in the USA where things never really seemed to lock down fully.
On one hand, trying to break into Europe to get new work is now so difficult as all the other photographers are also more desperate than ever to work too. But the US seems to be in a different frame of mind and businesses that had cash on hand seem to be re-investing in opportunities and still ploughing through the Pandemic getting ready for the boom the other side.
Dual citizenship helps
Since the pandemic started I have been on four International work trips to the UK, USA and Barbados. Crossed the Atlantic 6 times and been on a hand-full of domestic flights in the USA. Thats a lot of mask hours!
It is also only possible as I am both a UK citizen and a US citizen. Combined with that, I currently have residency in Austria. That and the fact that it is for work and I need to work in order to survive.
It has given me an experience I’ll never forget. The World and international travel in general, changed overnight. Below is a round up of my experiences in six countries during my International travel during the pandemic.
International travel in six countries during the pandemic.
In Europe in March the borders for international travel closed down for a while and only essential workers and people returning home could cross the borders. Then things slowly began to open up as the Covid cases came under control in late April and international travel was allowed once more.
Our first trip out of Austria was to visit friends who live in Munich, at a lake half way between Salzburg and Munich in Germany. Only about 40 minutes drive away. While on this trip I noticed the first difference in rules. In Austria the cases were so low at that time, that it was not necessary to wear a mask when outside in public. Whereas, in Germany it was the rule to wear them and we also had to register anytime we sat in a cafe or restaurant. This made the trip seem a little more oppressive. Not much, but enough to appreciate the privilege of not wearing a mask outside when we were back in Austria.
Three months after the first lockdown started I got my first job. It was time for my first international travel for my job in England.
The UK were just on the better side of their first wave, which was brutal when you look at the numbers of deaths. The first travel experience was so strange. That journey comprised of a 3 hour train journey from Salzburg to Vienna airport and two flights on the way to London changing in Frankfurt. As you can see by the photos it was like something out of an apocalypse movie.
Vienna Airport Railway Station
Different rules in each country were hard to remember all the time
I had a couple of supermarket experiences in England where everybody had to wear masks and people were “avoiding each other like the plague” (Now we can see where these old phrases came from). Also I was with a chap in my bubble when we went into one large supermarket and when asked if we were together, I said yes, at which point he had to leave and sit in the car as only one person per household was allowed in at a time. A new rule for me.
All-in-all the atmosphere was a lot more grim in the UK at that particular time. The pubs were closed and only some restaurants were open doing take-away service only. By the time I got back to Austria after two weeks, things had opened up even more and people were out in the cafes and restaurants enjoying a virtually normal summer. Because of that, their collective state of mind and outlook was much more upbeat than people in the UK.
The first of many covid tests
I also had my first of many covid tests upon arrival back in Vienna. In a very organized and efficient scenario, there is a large health center immediately opposite the terminal building at Vienna airport. After taking the test I was instructed to go straight home without meeting anybody and await the results. I received an email with a link to my results about 5 hours later. Therefore I was free to go about life without quarantine. It also got me thinking that airport medical centers with test centers might be a normal thing in the future.
Two months later when the European borders were open again, my wife and daughter went on a girls trip with another friend and her mother on a short holiday to a camp site on the Adriatic coast in Italy.
I took advantage of the free time and went to nearby Venice on a personal photography project (I thought it would be a great opportunity to photograph Venice without the usual hoards of tourists.). My wife and I met up in Venice for a day and enjoyed a nearly normal day on a real vacation on our wedding anniversary. There were a lot less tourists than normal and they were mostly Europeans, due to travel bans in place for people from the USA or Asia. The whole experience was so positive, pretty much back to normal with tourists strolling around eating gelato or enjoying a gondola ride, but with masks and social distancing. It was so nice to see Italy enjoying freedom once again after being so hard hit back in March. Their attention to detail as far as protocols go was a testament to what they suffered early on in the pandemic. They were taking it very seriously.
In September I was able to plan my first multi-client work trip. I photographed different hotels on the same trip in Florida and Michigan. The transatlantic flight was good as the aircraft was not even half full. I couldn’t help thinking this was not so good for the airlines. However, a stewardess told me that the belly of the plane was full of cargo, so I shouldn’t feel so bad.
Upon arrival in New York’s Newark airport the difference was amazing. A lot less flights operating made the airport seem empty. Empty that was, until I boarded my domestic flight. The flight was full and even though everybody was wearing masks, the close proximity was slightly unnerving. Central Florida and my old hometown of Winter Park seemed mostly to be taking things seriously. I even managed to meet up with friends and get an outside table at a bar one night. But it was also obvious that some people had no regard for the protocols and didn’t care about Covid at all or what effect they may have on other people. This was the first time I really saw that attitude.
It is fascinating to see how people in different states and countries are living the pandemic with vastly different attitudes.
I found starkly contrasted attitudes from state to state
From Florida I went up to Detroit in Michigan for my next job, a job I started over a year ago with phase one of a renovation that was completing the final rooms now. My scariest moments traveling so far were on this section. Both Orlando airport and my transit airport of Charlotte were very busy. Everybody has to wear masks while flying and in airports, but the amount of people in such close proximity and with many people walking around with their noses hanging out was the scary part.
Fortunately I managed to get seated in First Class to be able to have a little more distance from fellow passengers. Not something I can usually afford to do, but this flight was less than I’d usually pay for an economy flight outside of Covid times.
Detroit and Michigan were fine as there are less people at the airport. On a trip to Downtown Detroit in my spare time I saw evidence that the people there were taking it seriously. It is fascinating to me how people in different states and countries are living the pandemic with vastly different attitudes. I think it is a result of being in different stages of severity. However the USA is the only place where political affiliation also seems to have such a tribal effect on attitude to the pandemic and wearing masks for protection.
It was the weekend before school half-term holiday in the Autumn and I was at home in Austria between work trips. It seemed like an opportunity for one more small road trip with the family into Italy and to the City of Trento in South Tirol.
A four hour drive away through the Alps was a breathtaking journey and we had booked a hotel for one night right in the main square in the old City of Trento. (Another advantage of the Pandemic is being able to get cheap rooms in amazing locations). As we drove into the medieval city we immediately realized every single person was wearing a mask, even outdoors.
It was early October and the number of new Covid cases in Europe was increasing fairly fast. It was the beginning of Europes second wave and Italy were among the first to introduce tighter restrictions. I imagine this is because they were hit so hard in the first wave with one of the highest death rates. I had the feeling then, that soon there would also be more restrictions on international travel.
When we were in Trento our sightseeing was mainly outdoors. We enjoyed a lovely evening meal in a street cafe watching the masked world go by.
On our way back home we had a strange experience. The Austrian police pulled us over at the border and we had our temperatures checked with a temperature gun. My wife explained that it was because the German cars were likely driving straight through Austria to Germany. Therefore of less concern to the Austrian authorities. Once back in Austria we didn’t have to wear our masks in public while outdoors again.
The end of October rolled around and fortunately I had a two client job in Barbados.
"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more".
The most economical way to travel was from Vienna to Barbados via London. This is due to the reduced number of flights right now so there are less options to choose from. It also meant I had to change airports in London. I had to transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick. I also had to spend one night at the Hilton in Gatwick due to flight times.
Testing is the keyThat is what we’ve been hearing since the beginning of this pandemic
In order to travel to Barbados, each passenger must have a negative PCR test certificate taken within 72 hours prior to entry into the country. The rules require passengers to quarantine in a government approved hotel until a second negative test is done.
Usually Five days after the first test, you have a second PCR test locally to allow you to leave the quarantine hotel. Initially this seems to be a lot of work, but I am going for work so I see it as part of what I need to do to survive.
To go to Barbados everybody must be tested twice
While it seems quite complicated, I feel that people in certain countries have suffered more severe lockdowns than others. For these people restrictions have dragged on and on (Like the UK). For these people it might seem to be worth the hassle of getting double tests.
Once people are tested, they are in a much safer environment. For Barbados it is a way they can take geographical advantage of being a remote Island and having only two entry points, the Grantley Adams International Airport and the Sea Port, which is easier to control than land borders and multiple ports of entry. At that time on the Island of Barbados there were less than 20 cases of Coronavirus. Being stuck in one hotel for a few days is not such a big price to pay.
My last trip to the USA during the end of November and the beginning of December took in the city of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, Miami and Orlando in Florida.
I was here to photograph the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Milwaukee. This was really interesting as Milwaukee was just arriving at their peak of record new infections. Because of that the City was like a ghost town and the few people I saw all had masks on. Luckily my job is socially distanced and I am aware of and careful with touch points such as door handles etc.
Miami and Orlando
From Milwaukee I drove to Chicago to catch my direct Non-stop flight to Orlando. Again it was a full flight, so again I booked first class to have more distance.
Once in Florida there were more people on the streets. Restaurants, Bars and Cafe’s were open and people were out. Luckily most people had masks on too. After my job in Orlando I drove to South Florida and Miami where even more people out and about. My photo shoot was at the Mimosa hotel on Miami Beach.
The attitude in Florida was completely different to Milwaukee. New infections at the time were just beginning to rise sharply for their second wave. I saw many more people interacting in close proximity and there seemed to be an attitude of carrying on regardless. In one sense it’s good for business, but there is also the ultimate price some people pay. History will be the judge of all of this I suppose.
I flew back from Orlando to Washington Dulles and then on to Vienna with Austrian Airlines. Again my experience was that the US domestic flights are completely full. However, once you get to the terminal for international travel, things are a lot quieter.
Arriving home covid free now feels like a small victory
Upon arrival in Vienna, I made my way to the health center at the airport for my PCR test. From there I make my way home to Salzburg on the train. When I arrived home didn’t touch each other and we all wore until I got my test results. Luckily it was negative again.
One of the best products I’ve found for helping stop the spread
Here’s the official video from Tatschi for the Covid glove I use.
My 12 year old daughter is making masks
The pandemic has given us all time for thought and for our 12 year old daughter, she wanted to do something. She likes making things and she decided she wanted a sewing machine to make masks and to set up a business. It won’t make her a millionaire, but we thought it would be a good way to teach her a bit about finances and business, pricing and expenses etc. It must be working because at the time of launching this blog with the video she demanded I credit her company for making the masks you see me wearing. So here it is: currently on Instagram @homemade_masks_salzburg Please give her a follow on instagram if you can. Oh and if you would like home made good quality mask, please send her a message on Instagram.