Where I Traveled In Winter Of 2020 (Pandemic Edition)

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It’s now August 19, 2020, and obviously the winter has been over for quite a while.  This year, we were planning on traveling to what I think are some of the best places to travel in winter.  You may have read my original post about my travel plans for winter of 2020, but if not, you can see it here.

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this update.  I could say it’s because I’ve been busy, but that’s not really the truth.  The truth is that I, like a lot of people, have been struggling with wrapping their minds around this whole pandemic thing we’re all dealing with.  And I just wasn’t yet quite prepared to document my story.

I’m not sure that I am now either, but since this blog is about being “still en route”, I may as well proceed.  I was certainly “en route” through this entire situation….just not exactly when and where I thought I would be.

We had quite a winter planned for 2020, in terms of travel, that is.  The detailed plan was spelled out here in my January post which was literally written the day I left the U.S. for Spain.  Our planned travel dates were January 28th – April 15th, 2020.

A nice long trip abroad.  One of my favorite things.

But this is what really happened.

January 2020 – Our Departure From the U.S.

January 28th was still our departure date from the U.S.

The first stop was Seville where we had a lovely time.  This was not my first visit to Seville.  We had, in fact, spent a month there just a few years ago and we loved it so much we decided to make a quick 3-day stopover on our way to Malaga where we were planning on staying for a month.

We always like to make a short stopover (in a hotel) somewhere when we first arrive overseas.  It gives us a chance to get acclimated to the time change, and to just generally get our act together.  Because we work while we’re traveling….this plan ensures that we don’t get too blown out those first few days to deal with any work-related issues that may come up.

So far, so good.  The Seville stay was perfect.

February 2020 – On To Malaga For 1 Month

On February 1st, we took the train from Seville to Malaga.  The Malaga arrival was perfect in every way, and yes, we survived the vacation apartment checkin!  That is not always an easy feat.  You just never know what will happen until you arrive.

Little did I know back in January just how wacky things would turn out by March.

We spent 4 weeks in Malaga in a great apartment.  I’ve got pics here.  Our stay there was relaxing, the weather was absolutely beautiful and we got to immerse ourselves in a new city (for us).  All in all….things were going very well.

March 2020 – Another Stopover

On March 1st we were back on the train, this time to Barcelona.  Barcelona is close (40 min) by train to our next long stay town and once again, we made a short stopover here for 2 nights.  Why?  Well, because we do like Barcelona, and because it gave us just a little break in between apartments.  Also, this put our arrival at the next apartment on a weekday which is easier than a weekend so all the stores are open and we can stock the apartment with food and supplies immediately.

An Old Favorite – Girona, Spain

On March 3rd, we were back on the train for that short ride from Barcelona to the next place we were staying – Girona.

Girona, located in Catalonia, has begun to feel like a 2nd home to us.  We have spent at least a month there for about 5-6 years in a row.  Someone we had met previously even recognized us walking down the street this year!  Now THAT is what feeling at home is all about 🙂

2020 was no exception and we had a 5 week stay planned there beginning March 3rd.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

We’re in a city we love, in the same apartment we’ve rented before, and looking forward to visiting old favorite places and finding new favorite places in Girona and around Catalonia.  What could possibly go wrong, right?

Nothing.  Until just 8 days after our arrival.

In reality, we had been hearing various news reports about what was quickly becoming a pandemic, for weeks.  We were very much “in the know” about various travel restrictions surrounding the pandemic because we had spent a good part of February helping clients rearrange travel arrangements to/from places that they could no longer go….because of the pandemic.

But at that point, it was mostly only Asian destinations that were a problem and we had no reason to believe that a full-blown pandemic was on the way.

We were watching the situation carefully so that if things escalated we could make an intelligent decision about how long our stay should be in Spain.  But right then, during our first week in Girona, we felt completely comfortable and didn’t feel it was necessary to change any plans.

Wednesday, March 11th – During the early morning hours of Wednesday we woke up to some bizarre news from the U.S.  A bit unclear at that point, but something about the possibility that foreign travel would be suspended.  What?

We got up and started pouring over the news to see what was what.  Lots of different stories.  But nothing had actually happened yet and it seemed like it would be at least a number of days before any travel restrictions were put into place.  So we decided to wait a day before making a decision on whether to stay or go.

Thursday, March 12th – Uh oh!  We woke up Thursday to the sound of our phones dinging with texts, emails, and voicemails from our kids.

“Dad, you need to leave now.”

“Mom, what are you doing?  Aren’t you on the way home yet?”

Things like that.  Multiple messages from each kid.

Time to look at the news.  Uh Oh!  Here’s the headline:  President Trump Suspends All Travel from Europe Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Oops!  Time to get moving.

A Hasty Exit Plan

Packing up and leaving an apartment you just moved into for 5 weeks a few days earlier is not all that easy.

We had responsibilities.  We had to not only pack up our own stuff, but we had to make arrangements to turn the apartment back over to the rental agency, dispose of all of our food stocks and supplies, and make sure everything was in order.

That was in addition to figuring out what our own personal exit plan was going to be which was tricky, to say the least.  Suddenly, it seemed like we needed to be on our way yesterday.

In a further review of the new Travel Suspension From Europe, we realized that the U.K was not included in that restriction.  That was fortunate for us because our original travel plans included a few weeks in the U.K before returning to the U.S.  So luckily, our return flights to the U.S. were from the U.K.

We breathed a sigh of relief (sort of).  All we had to do was get a flight from Barcelona up to London and we could relax.  Problem solved.

I hated that we had to leave too quickly to say goodbye to old and new acquaintances.  It felt like we packed up and snuck out in the middle of the night.

We had lunch our last day in Girona at this sweet little cafe that was around the corner from our apartment.  They have a great sunny terrace where I have coffee almost every morning, but this was the first time we actually ate there and they do some delicious grilled sausages on the open fire you see there.

The cafe is called El Can del Llop, and is run by a very nice gentleman that has been serving me my coffee every time I’ve been there.  I was sad not to be able to return to his cafe for more food, and have been worried about some of these small entrepreneurs surviving during this global crisis.  I hope all is well with this business along with many others in Spain, considering that Spain’s lockdown was quite severe.

Friday, March 13th (yes…Friday the 13th.  Really?  Was that necessary?)

Our Friday was busy.  Up early, final packing and arranging of anything that needed arranging prior to our departure.  Then….

  • Taxi to the train.
  • Train to Barcelona Sants (main central Barcelona station).
  • Different local train from Barcelona Sants to Barcelona airport.
  • Plane to London.
  • Taxi to London hotel.

We were relieved to have arrived in London and were looking forward to a nice break in London, a city we love but hadn’t visited for quite a while.  We were able to book a beautiful hotel that was new and luxurious at a spectacular rate so that made the long day of travel…not so bad.

Why not plan on spending the whole weekend there in that wonderful hotel.  I mean, why WOULDN’T YOU, right?

We decided to do just that, booked ourselves for 3 nights, and decided to return to the U.S. on Monday.  No worries…..except some more messages from our kids.

“Dad, what do you mean you’re spending the weekend?”

“Mom, you need to get home!”

Oops, Problem NOT Solved

Yep, there were no worries until the next day.

Saturday, March 14th – Woke up to a revision in the Travel Restriction.  The U.K was being added.  Monday was the cutoff date and supposedly the last day we could return.

Well, we were booked for Monday so we were OK then, right?

Yes, that would have been true if we were booked on a flight that was returning to a CDC approved U.S. airport that had quarantine facilities.

Which we were not.  Oh Crap!  Our relaxing stopover in London was suddenly getting super complicated, and a little scary.

London, which I’ve visited many times, was a bit quiet.  It just wasn’t busy which is the norm, and that made it a bit eery.

But, there are still always cool things to see there and I never tire of them.

We decided to change our flight to leave on Sunday instead, given the confusion that seemed to be surrounding which airports were CDC approved and which were not.  That proved to be not such an easy change.  The flights going to all the approved airports were full – no surprise there.  But we got lucky, Boston was added as an approved airport at the last minute and we were able to get on a Boston flight for Sunday morning.

And our last stop in London was a Saturday night cocktail at the bar of our posh hotel that we had to also hastily clear out of or risk getting stuck for who knows how long.  On second thought, getting stuck in a posh hotel doesn’t sound at all bad!

Sunday, March 15th – It was a blur.  That’s all I can say.  Traveling internationally isn’t always easy under the best of circumstances.  Adding confusion to the mix didn’t make it any easier.  But we made it home Sunday safe and sound despite a lot of confusion with flights, immigration, and things like that.

So, our return to the U.S. on March 15th instead of April 15th.  One full month earlier than anticipated and a whole strange world apart.  Oh well, whatever!  Sometimes travel plans go awry.  Even when you’re visiting one of the best places to travel in winter.  Unfortunately, sometimes there are just extenuating circumstances that have nothing to do with the destination that you chose or the travel plans that you made.  In other words, stuff happens.

The moral of this story is….anything can happen when you travel, and it probably will.  Learn to expect it, and go with the flow.

If this is your first visit to my blog, don’t miss my about page so you can learn what the heck goes on around here.

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Mary Emmer
Mary Emmer

About the Author

Mary is an online entrepreneur here at Still en Route where she uses her knowledge from a travel industry career beginning in 1984 to write about everything travel-related, sometimes with a baby boomer twist!  Read more.

2 thoughts on “Where I Traveled In Winter Of 2020 (Pandemic Edition)”

  1. Oh wow, I can’t even imagine what you had to go through. Everything happened really fast! I was supposed to go to Norway in the end of March, but that got cancelled, so I never even got on the way. My parents were supposed to spend a month in Spain flying out of Sweden, but that got cancelled as well. Sorry that you trip got shortened, and all the stress you had to deal with on the road.
    Can’t wait for all this to be over, so that we can get back on the road again. Where are you planning your next trip?

    • Wow, sorry that you, also, had a trip that had to be canceled! We haven’t decided yet what the next trip will be. We are waiting until things calm down a bit and we can be sure that international travel will be opened up again before we make any definite plans. We have LOTS of ideas, however:)


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