Traveling Overseas in a Global Pandemic

“We leave in just over two weeks and I don’t have my passport back yet. I’m starting to panic.” 

I sent that text to my husband as I searched for ways to make sure I had my renewal back in time for our upcoming trip to Europe. My passport wasn’t even going to expire, it was just that last time we’d gone to France the airport officials spent a little too much time doubtfully looking between me and my passport thanks to a significant weight loss, and I didn’t want that to happen again. 

“I might need to drive up to Seattle to expedite it. Or, worst-case scenario, if it doesn’t come in time, you go without me and I’ll meet you there,” I texted a few minutes later.

His reply was his normal reaction to my downward panic spiral: “Babe, relax. Everything will work out. It always does.”

Right. Everything always works out for me. Somewhere over the years this mantra became a deep-seated belief that has played out time and time again. It has dramatically shifted my mindset to the point that I can find joy even in terrible situations. 

Sometimes I just need to be reminded of it.

I took a deep breath, made a plan to contact the passport agency if it didn’t arrive in a few days and tried to distract myself from worry.

It arrived later that week and I was beyond relieved. Our trip would go on as planned and it would be wonderful. The end.

Oh yes, then something else happened. COVID.

We were scheduled to leave March 4th, arriving in Paris and then getting on a plane immediately to go to Florence, Italy. We would spend five days there, then fly back to Paris for three days before heading home on March 13th.

Venice and Milan had just been locked down. 

We arrived in Paris on a nearly empty flight and all was normal. (There were no doubtful glances at my passport, by the way). Things were a little different at the Florence airport. But just a little—they scanned our temperatures as we arrived. 

I immediately started to worry that the beanie I had been wearing would make it seem like I had a fever and that they wouldn’t let us pass (do you see why that mantra is necessary for me?).

Our time in Florence was lovely, albeit a bit surreal. The awesome AirBnB host we had informed us that schools had just been closed and she was one of the only hosts with guests because everyone was cancelling. We saw that as a bonus—Florence was so crowded the other times I’d gone.

We enjoyed our time doing what we always do on vacation—walking around and eating. There was no wait time at restaurants and even the Mercato Centrale was practically empty. As introverts, we tend to keep to ourselves and avoid crowds as much as possible. (As I write this I can’t help but wish we’d gotten to experience a crowd-free Rome, as well. That would have been amazing.)

Ian got to see the David, and reported that he was one of the only people there. Lucky. My experience a few years prior had been much less introvert-friendly. 

As the days went on we saw more evidence that the virus was spreading. Even fewer people were out and many of them wore masks. Museums closed and then bars. 

We went back to a pub one night and were told that they were no longer a pub, but a library that served drinks and that we could not sit any closer than one meter (yes, there was a tape measure).  

The day before we left, we went on a food tour of Siena and as we got back to our AirBnb learned that Italy was going into lockdown. I started getting messages asking if we’d be able to leave and assured friends and family that we were leaving in the morning and our flight was still on. 

Everything always works out.

As we waited at the airport, everyone was murmuring about the virus. They were canceling all the flights out of Florence—ours was the last one. It was packed as people clamored to avoid getting stuck. 

Expecting panic in Paris, I was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly normal. Like Florence, there were fewer people than usual, which we saw as a blessing (surely there is a patron saint of introverts or something). 

Museums were still open and the one we visited had few people. We went on an amazing food tour and crossed things off our list that we hadn’t been able to do when we went with our children a few years ago.

The morning before we left (Thursday), Trump announced his travel ban that would go into effect Saturday morning. People flocked to CDG in Paris trying to get flights back to the States. 

I started to worry a bit and reminded myself that everything works out but that we should probably plan on getting to the airport a bit early. (I may have also started obsessively checking to make sure our flight was still on.)

Ian had wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower this time but tickets had been sold out. We decided to try anyway before we left so we could see it at night and were able to go right to the top. It was a beautiful end to a relaxing, albeit surreal, vacation.

And then there was the trip home.

While we were taking in Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, France’s president announced his plan for lockdown. More messages started coming in asking if we would be stuck in Paris. 

My cousin, who lives in southern France, even offered us a place to stay if we did. 

I assured them that our scheduled flight was leaving the next morning and we were leaving before France locked down and arriving before the travel ban. 

Everything always works out.

We arrived early to the airport to see that everyone else had the same idea. We moved through things pretty quickly, though, so we had the joy of waiting in a very small terminal for an extra long time. 

We boarded the plane, got off the plane because it was broken (after I watched an entire movie) and then waited for a new plane. Three hours after our scheduled departure time, we were finally in the air.

I was hoping for the same empty flight home, but instead it was a plane full of panicked people, many of whom had booked the flight at the last minute for an insane amount of money. When I shared that this was our scheduled flight home, I was told that we were so lucky because it was one of the few that hadn’t been canceled. 

Yes, everything always works out.

* This trip was quite the lesson in practicing faith for me. We had originally planned on flying into Venice and were going to leave a day later, but thankfully prices changed before I booked so I shifted things. That worked out incredibly well for us. Even if it hadn’t, even if we would have gotten stuck, opportunities would have arisen and people would have stepped up to help that everything truly would have worked out in the end. 

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