Recently, we made the most extraordinary 4-month trip around the globe. We were traveling during several COVID waves and types, with related lockdowns, border closures, and the toughest restrictions – not for fun but work and family reasons.
In general, our traveling during COVID around the world was an adventure for a lifetime. It took us in 4 months from the South Pacific to and through Europe and further to South Africa. We got stuck in places, heaps of our flights were canceled, we underwent self-isolation and uncountable COVID-tests.
Join us on this incredible journey that was nerve-wracking, money-intensive, and yet rewarding. It also shows how much traveling has changed.
Traveling During COVID: Grounded in the Cook Islands for 6 Months
Why Leaving the Cook Islands?
Just over four years ago, we relocated to the Cook Islands to take over a dive and surf shop we just purchased from the previous owners of 37 years. While we succeeded and managed to sell the business for more than we bought it, it nevertheless required a huge commitment from our side. It also took a lot of turn-on-around and hands-on effort.
While owning the business, we could only get away for short travels. And we used this time to explore little-known islands. The magnificence of these isolated islands set us on a new path of discovery – and we were longing for more.
At the same time, we haven’t seen our families for a while – kids and grandchildren back in the EU/UK – and we desperately wanted to meet them.
The combination of the heavy demands to succeed with a small business in the South Pacific, and the wish to spend time with the family again, were the main factors that got us to decide to sell the business and become full-time adventurers – to follow our true passion. And to begin with, we created the IslandAwe-website to share our experiences in the Cook Islands and compile a travel guide of this entire extraordinary country.
Finally, we handed over the business at the end of February, sold our household belongings, and immediately laid plans to get to our kids. It happened to be the time when many countries started taking drastic steps to deal with the pandemic. Despite what was going on globally, we booked and paid for tickets with Air New Zealand to take us and our remaining belongings to England.
Cook Islands – NZ – USA – Europe: Flights Canceled
And then the real adventure started: Traveling during Covid around the globe.
The New Zealand government announced restrictions, and as a consequence, Air New Zealand stopped international flights. As a result, we received notification that our flights to Los Angeles / USA and onto London were canceled – something we have never experienced before.
However, we remained hopeful that this was just a temporary delay and that we would be on our way soon. Instead, the weeks passed, and no such thing happened, and we became increasingly impatient to move on.
Cook Islands – NZ – Australia: Borders Closed & Flights Canceled
At this point, we started searching for any way to reach our destination. The first idea was to move on to New Zealand and perhaps getting to Australia as a next step. We thought that there we could wait it out until the resumption of flights. At the same time, we would have the opportunity of setting up our online venture in a first-world environment.
So, we booked tickets to Auckland and found an apartment for three months. Further, we got ready to go and for the first step of our next adventure. And then, yep, you might guess it, this flight got canceled, too. Because New Zealand closed its borders – even to its citizens in the Cook Islands.
And – the Cook Islands closed their borders, too.
Cook Islands – French Polynesia: Border Closed & Flights Suspended
Okay, we got the message: postpone traveling during Covid, lay low, enjoy the Cook Islands without the demands of the shop and start working on Islandawe.com and Inselreisefieber.de.
But that worked only for a short time. Because we were simply too restless and tired from the energy drain while running the shop. We desperately wanted to get to our kids and family.
At the time, French Polynesia reopened to visitors. Yippee, we saw another opportunity as there is a direct connection between Rarotonga and Papeete. And anyway, French Polynesia was our preferred next location to return to after our family visits, to continue our island adventures. So, new plan, we might go there first, get settled and then travel much lighter to see our families.
But there was no way we could get there since Air Rarotonga stopped its weekly flights to French Polynesia. We even made inquiries with both Air Rarotonga and French Polynesia’s Air Archipelago for a charter flight. Both were willing, either to drop us off in Papeete or vice versa, to pick us up in Rarotonga. But both were denied by the Cook Island authorities due to the border closure.
Grounded in the Cook Islands…
Basically, we got stuck and, by this time, also super frustrated. We had no other option but to sit tight and wait.
So, we did sit tight. But waiting isn’t our forte. We continued to explore, research, and review as countries juggled with COVID and the uncertainty of changing rules and regulations. With the result that traveling during Covid became a massive problem.
August then showed a glimmer of hope. New Zealand would allow passage through as long as we remain in transit and not enter the country. Then Switzerland opened its boards to virtually all. You bet we jumped on it.
Cook Islands – NZ – USA – Switzerland: Entry Denied
At first, we had a flight from Cook Island, to Auckland, to Los Angeles, to Zurich.
When suddenly, most EU countries were denying individuals arriving from the USA, even if just in transit.
So we decided to change our flight itinerary to leave the Cook Islands towards Auckland, but then via Hong Kong on to Zurich. The total travel time would be 52 hours and included a 16-hour layover in Hong Kong.
Traveling During COVID: South Pacific To Europe (Month 1 – Late Sept)
Cook Islands – NZ – Hong Kong – Switzerland: We Are Finally Taking Off!
Based on our previous experience regarding flight cancellations, we were apprehensive, bordering on being anxious if this flight would happen.
However, we started to plan what to get down in the EU and the travel itinerary. Haha, little did we know how futile plans traveling during Covid would become. The goal was to be in Switzerland for two weeks then move on to the UK. At the time, this was all doable.
Finally, the day of departure arrived. Flights were going ahead. Hooray!
Due to the crazy itinerary and moving our remaining and highly valuable possessions in 6 large cases, we opted for business class tickets.
Cook Islands to Auckland
The flight from the Cook Islands to Auckland, around 4 hours, was great. The staff was friendly and helpful. Yes, certain rules had to be adhered to, like wearing masks and have meals served in one go. The most surprising thing was that this large plane, a Boeing 787-300, was carrying a total of 14 passengers. Most of them Cook Islanders being transported to New Zealand for non-COVID medical care.
Auckland Airport was but a shadow of what we knew. One departure hall filled with those “comfortable” airport chairs. No business class lounge! No decent food on sale! That was really disappointing.
Auckland to Hong Kong
Four hours later, we were ready to take off for Hong Kong. At the same time, it was just the two of us in the transit departure lounge. Again, onto a Boeing 787-300. This time carrying 21 passengers. Nuts. The flight was excellent.
Hong Kong airport was unrecognizable. This airport that would tens of thousands of passengers through per day was a ghost town, okay ghost airport. Shops were closed. Some took the opportunity to renovate.
And guess what?! Star Alliance / New Zealand Air had no lounge wait for us. We had a 16-hour wait ahead of us on those bloody airport chairs. No way.
Lastly, we forked out $500 to buy a place for the only lounge that was open. A lounge we were told by the kind receptionist that would cycle through 1,000 passengers an hour at its peak. Now we were just a handful in it during the entire 16 hours. At least the food was good, and we could shower.
Hong Kong to Switzerland
The flight to Zurich was with Swiss Air. All was good there. Before we started, we walked through the entire plan – a ghost plane, just 18 passengers on board.
After that sobering experience traveling during covid and talking to people working in this industry, it became clear to us that flying somewhere has changed irreversibly.
Traveling During COVID: 5 Weeks in Switzerland (Month 1: Late Sept – Oct)
Finally, we arrived in Europe, and Zurich was our dream come true. They seem to have the mentality that COVID is around, it may be around for a while, take necessary precautions, but get on with their life.
We enjoyed great, really great restaurants. Could go to the gym. And, with prior arrangement traded in my entire Nikon Pro gear for the new state-of-the-art Sony gear. Including video and sound equipment. This was a decision we made to get video and audio to our photographic level as we get into our new venture.
For a couple of weeks of really get back into things, disaster was inevitable. Our credit cards that we were supposed to be sent overnight from Munich to Zürich were shipped incorrectly. Yes, Deutsche Post / DHL do make mistakes. This mistake cost us more than a week’s delay. Without credit cards, we were going nowhere.
During the delay, the UK, our next destination, must have felt that Switzerland was too liberal with its COVID policies and changed its rules for those having been in Switzerland in the past two weeks. This means two weeks quarantine. No way!
The UK was still allowing those from Germany in. Guess what, we decided to go see the family in Bavaria first. It did mean we had to be there for two weeks before on to England. No problem, right?
Traveling During COVID: 6 Weeks in Germany (Month 2: Nov – Dec)
You think. Think again. After a week in Germany, their cases were going through the roof, and they started their lockdown regime.
Until then, we could still easily be with the family and visit restaurants and the gym. That abruptly ended.
And so too, the UK’s willingness to let people from Germany in without tests and quarantine.
Photo on the Left: Traveling During COVID – Family time in Germany
I have to mention that to get into Germany, we had to have COVID tests done. 300 Euro later, they were done, and we could enter. Do you think anyone official ever asked to see the tests? The only one that asked was our host of the holiday home.
While our planned two-week visit in Zurich became four weeks, our two-week stay in Germany dragged on to six weeks.
Halfway through, we started to consider our options. Our work on our travel guide, to be distributed through our travel websites Islandawe.com and Inselreisefieber.de, was falling way behind. We simply were not in the right headspace.
For that reason, we started to consider going to Italy for a few weeks to get work done and fly to England when all’s clear. But this was getting complex to arrange.
Five weeks in, we decided that if we ever wanted to move on, we simply had to face quarantine in the UK or risk never getting our business plans back on track. Besides, we were really becoming impatient about seeing our (grand)kids.
Traveling During COVID: 7 Weeks in England (Month 3-4: Dec – Jan)
Two Weeks in Self-Isolation
The next thing we knew, we were on our way and were about to spend fourteen days in quarantine in a bed and breakfast in the English countryside that our daughter found us. And our daughter would be the one assisting with our grocery needs.
Interesting that we did not need to show a negative COVID test.
We got some work done while in quarantine. The kids popped around several times, and we met in the freezing cold outside, “maintaining” social distance. We did fourteen days quarantine and only found out on day thirteen that the government had changed the required period to ten days. Oh well.
England During COVID Mutation
From there, we moved onto a holiday home close by in Chippenham called Church Farm Cottage. Lovely place in the country. So quiet. Rich in birdlife. Just bloody cold.
Finally, we could enjoy a fantastic time with our kids and had loads of fun with our grandkids.
Photo on the Left: Traveling During COVID – Family time in England
At that point, our work fell behind, but we desperately needed to work on an income. Also, we didn’t want to stay in Europe but continue our travel adventures. And so South Africa came to mind, another destination with family around, but also made to withdraw in a great environment and finally get to work. In brief, we found an apartment in Camps Bay, Cape Town, and went back to our favorite: organize traveling during Covid.
By this time, England became a virus mutation country (B-Variant) – and so did South Africa. Which gave traveling during Covid another exciting kick 😉
England to South Africa with British Airways: Flight Canceled
We were due to leave the UK with British Airways to Cape Town on the 14th of Jan. Three days before the flight, and the dreaded email arrived in our inbox. FLIGHT CANCELED.
But this time, we had the COVID test lined up and paid for – a sum of £450. We scrabbled to get hold of British Airways on the numbers they provided. Every time we called, after holding for about 10 minutes and listening to a load of whatever about how they are overloaded by COVID Blah Blah, they simply made a comment that our call can not be taken at this time. In other words, thank you for your money, we canceled, and we do not give a damn about you.
Eventually, we found the refund form online and submitted it. British Airways wrote back saying it was in process, but as yet, three weeks later, still nothing.
Anyway, we immediately went into red alert and checked which airlines would eventually get us out of the UK to our rented home in Cape Town.
England to South Africa with KLM, Part 1: Flight Canceled
KLM put up their hands and could do it only a day after the original BA flight on the 14th Jan. So, we booked tickets for the 15th Jan, got hold of the COVID test lab, and spoke very nicely to them to move our appointment out by a day. They very kindly agreed.
The next day we went to get the test done. We got the results on the 14th Jan. TWENTY hours before the flight, we were ready, all arrangements made, airport hotel overnight booked, and car hire prepared to switch (needed a bigger car to get us and all our luggage to the airport). And that was just on the departing side.
What do you think happened twenty hours before departure? CANCELLED, of course. FUCK!
England to South Africa with KLM, Part 2: Flight Canceled
We called them. They answered, at least. They apologized profusely and explained that flights have been consolidated on the Saturday flight. We immediately booked ourselves on it.
This meant our COVID test would no longer be valid because outside of the 72-hour requirement. We jumped on the phone, explained the situation to the test lab, who was immensely sympathetic. We needed a new set of results the next day, yes at an additional £450. They would fit us in immediately if we could get there now. Naturally, we got it done.
On the way back from the lab, guess what? It happened again – the Saturday flight was canceled. By now, we were seasoned “cancellers” and “re-bookers”. We got it done within minutes.
The COVID lab was very sympathetic. They called the driver who was taking our samples to the lab and managed to stop the testing. Since we were now frequent testers, they even went so far to give us a credit for the next occasion. Who knows when?
Oh yes, of course, and we fill in the refund form for our latest canceled KLM flights. Meanwhile, we have spent 15.000 Euro on flights that never happened!!!
This time we were going to heed the universal message and chill with the kids and grandkids.
England – South Africa With Lufthansa: We Finally Fly!
Two weeks later…
We haven’t given up on our goal to finally reach South Africa. The rented apartment is still waiting for us to move in and work to be done.
So, we picked up the phone and contacted Lufthansa this time because they started offering a direct flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town and several times daily from London to Frankfurt. Sounds great, no clue if it would happen, but we booked exactly this itinerary for January 27th.
The tricky part is that the Covid rules had tightened because the UK and South Africa are now virus mutation countries. Another aspect of traveling during COVID. This means that for the transit in Germany, our new test must not be older than 48 hours upon arrival in Frankfurt. We convinced our favorite laboratory to set it up for us. Done!
Next, we were in repeat mode: booking rental cars and airport hotels, waiting for test results, preparing to leave, saying goodbye to children (for the third time), packing.
And, most importantly, we kept an eye on possible messages from Lufthansa. But this flight is not being canceled. It finally happened. What an unexpected, stunning surprise! We should have booked a German airline from the beginning 🙂
Btw, our landlord in South Africa was quite happy to hear that we finally might arrive.
Traveling During COVID: Destination South Africa (Months 4: End of Jan)
And here we are, we finally made it into a more “work-friendly” environment and got IslandAwe up and running and the famous Cook Islands Travel Guide is published.
Besides, we are up to our next travel adventure – through southern Africa. Until traveling during COVID becomes the new normal, and we also can easier head towards islands again.
What’s Next? Our Current Real-Life Travel Adventure – Exploring Southern Africa
Our new phase in life started.
Let us take you on our real-life travel adventures of exploring southern Africa. Join us in the following episodes 🙂
We start with our experience of living, working, and exploring Cape Town’s coastal areas, in Episode 1 – Dazzling Cape Town Coastal Region: V&A Waterfront to Hout Bay
At the same time, we started planning for our big South(ern) Africa drive adventure. First up, we put Namaqualand at flower season on our map and a journey across South Africa to iconic Kruger Park and back. And then? For all details of what else we plan in 2021/2022, look at Our Current & Planned Drive Adventures on our Home page.
So, stay with us and enjoy the journey!