Our family experience traveling during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Every year we plan a ski trip as a family. As wedding photographers in Toronto, we are very busy during the summer months photographing weddings, so our big vacation always tends to come during winter. It helps that we love to ski and snowboard and our dream vacations always involve mountains! We planned our trip to Switzerland almost a year in advance, and we left Toronto on March 1.
Coronavirus had only begun to spread into Europe and the number of cases was small. At that time, Switzerland had about the same number of cases as Canada. We confirmed with our insurance company before we left that there were no advisories for Switzerland and because we booked almost a year in advance we were covered for everything including if we got sick with coronavirus.
We definitely felt a bit more stressed going to the airport, but when we arrived it was emptier than normal and our first flight to Montreal had almost no one on it. Having fewer people made us feel safer and we were able to relax a little more on the flight. We disinfected everything on the plane and had a fairly easy journey to Geneva. No one around us was wearing masks and everyone carried on, business as usual.
We arrived in Switzerland on March 2nd, and took the train to a small town called Verbier. There were still no masks and people behaved on trains and in town as normal and the case numbers were super small.
Everyday we had to check the travel advisory as if things did change and travel restricted to Switzerland, we would have 10 days to arrange return travel home...if we decided to stay, insurance would not cover us if we got sick.
We read the news daily following the tragedy unfolding in Italy and the coronavirus cases increases around the world. Yet when we stepped out our front door, people were just people...living their lives. Enjoying the surroundings, laughing, swimming, and dancing. It didn't seem that anyone was worried ... No matter the increase in cases or the state of the the world, people didn't seem to be interested in hiding. We spent the first few days in Verbier, a fabulous ski village in the Canton of Valais. We skied, we ate at home, we spent time with family. There were no masks and everyone had a sense of calm.
For us, we experienced mixed emotions ... what we were reading and what we were seeing were so different. It was unsettling, and unnerving.
Below are some ski videos of the fabulous Verbier ski area. We loved every minute of being in the mountains, with fresh air.
On March 8th, we then traveled from Verbier to a small town populated by generally older individuals called Leukerbad. This is a town tucked away in the middle of the mountains, really a wellness town known for its hot springs. At this point, the cases in Italy increasing and Switzerland decided to keep the border open. As such, cases in Switzerland too began to rise especially in Tocino. We checked google news every morning and the articles painted a horrific picture. But when we left the hotel we saw a different picture. People were still socializing, eating, drinking, laughing, swimming, skiing and having fun. There appeared to be no fear, no worry, no masks, and these were older people 65+. Yes we were pretty remote but still...
In Leukerbad, we stayed in a hotel and therefore made arrangements to go out for dinner in the evenings. The restaurants operated as normal. Below is a video we took of a fabulous little restaurant we had dinner at on March 11, the day before we left. They had a live German band and there was no stopping the dancing and merriment.
And then on March 12th, everything changed for us. Overnight, we were sent images of Toronto grocery stores being ravaged, news of sports, concerts and schools being cancelled. There was talk of Cantons in Switzerland closing borders and Verbier closing their ski season early. Finally, Prime Minister Trudeau urging Canadians to come home.... we knew it was time to change our travel plans or risk being stranded in Switzerland. There were thoughts that maybe we would be safer in Switzerland in a remote mountain village... but then doubt crept in. What would happen if we got sick with Covid-19? How would we care for our children? What would we do? Even though our brains told us the logic of coming home, our hearts were filled with anxious dread.... would we get sick on the way home?
And so on March 12th after one last dinner out, we booked a train ticket for the morning of March 13th and a new airline ticket for March 14th. We decided with everything shutting down and the uncertainty of the global situation, we better get back to Toronto.
We had a horrendous experience with Air Canada and adjusting our tickets. Air Canada announced that any cabin would be able to change their travel ticket in light of the world events... however, when we went online to do just that, they said we had to call and were not able to change our ticket online...and when we called there was a voice recording saying they can't accept calls and to change your ticket online... and alas this viscous game of ping pong continued. Sorry, what!!!???!!! Why on earth would you announce on your website that you are there to help and then not have the capability on your website or call centres to help? We were furious. We felt stranded. We felt abandoned.
Not only could we not change our Air Canada ticket, we were now faced with purchasing NEW one way tickets at highly inflated prices. Now we were fuming! How could this airline possibly be profiting on this! Our one way tickets home were $8336 CAD for our family of 4.
We were forced to purchase these new tickets and cancel our old reservation. For perspective, our original round trip flights where $4000 for 4 ppl and now we had to pay an additional $8336 to get home. We don't usually rant or post negative reviews... and we have been loyal to Air Canada for most of our lives ... but we will NEVER fly with them again.
Our journey began on March 13 at 10am and ended late evening on March 14. We left our hotel in Leukerbad on March 13th at 10am. There were no masks and everyone still seemed to be traveling as normal.
We arrived back in Verbier 3 hours later. The video shows the train station in Martigny - very few people waiting for the train. We had to return to Verbier as most of our clothes were still there. When we were back in our apartment in Verbier we unpacked and repacked all our suitcases to travel home. It's at this
point we found out that as of 7pm that night, Verbier was closed and the ski season was officially over. We also found out that there were more suspected cases of covid-19 in Verbier. We couldn't believe it! Only the day before we were sitting in a restaurant, swimming in the hot springs, skiing on the slopes!
At the end of December, when the situation in Wuhan just began, we had ordered masks and brought them with us just in case. Thank goodness we had them for our return journey. On March 14th, after very little sleep due to stress and fear, we woke at 4am and began preparing for our 6am bus. We packed the last of our things, prepared snacks for the kids, prepared our masks and cleaning supplies and got to the bus station for 6am. We had practiced wearing masks the day before and explained to our kids the importance of NOT touching them or their faces and the need for hand washing and cleaning. The first time we wore our masks was on the bus from Verbier. For us, it was really hard to put those masks on.... not technically hard but psychologically difficult. We were not used to it... maybe it was admitting something serious was happening... maybe it was fear. But, knowing we would be traveling in trains, buses, through crowded airports we thought it best to be as safe as possible.
On the train to the airport, we saw the most masks we had seen so far on our trip. We also heard a lot of coughing. I don't know if its because we were hyper sensitive to it...
At the airport on March 14, we found out that all ski resorts closed in Switzerland. The airport was therefore packed with people trying to get back to Canada. We even overheard some people flying to Canada in order to get back home to the US, as the US borders were now closed between the US and Europe. At the airport you could feel the anxiety in the air... the way people kept hoods, scarves and masks on their faces. Although social distancing was recommended, it was not being enforced at the airport and we were ushered from one line to another in a packed airport, trying to get through all the checkpoints onto the plane. Further, Air Canada couldn't get organized. They had us running from one airport line to another in order to check our baggage. 300 people moving across a narrow airport trying to get on a plane. We arrived more than 3 hours before our flight waiting in a baggage line for more than 2 hours.
(Below are videos from our experience in the airport)
Every moment of our 3 hours at the airport was spent in one line or another until finally we got on the plane.
(Lot's more masks on the airplane and lots more people cleaning their seats)
Sitting on the first 7.5 hours flight, with our kids masked but happy as clams playing video games, we reflect on our fear and anxiety... the cough we hear, the sneeze, the masked and unmasked. We try not to be afraid. Try to stay calm. But it's hard. Fear has a way of getting under your skin.
Our first flight landed in Montreal and we had to go through several check points in order to continue travel to Toronto. We were happy to see multiple check points but no one at that point told us to self isolate, there was little info about what we should do when we got home.
After 2o hours of travel we arrived home in Toronto and decided that based on all the news we had watched we should self- isolate to be safe. We did our 14 days and now are on day 32 of social distancing and staying home.
The wedding industry right now is shut down - all events cancelled or postponed at least until June. It's stressful watching the unknown unfold.... seeing our bank accounts shrink... our workload decrease.... our business become quiet. As entrepreneurs, we are used to doing... to hustling... but we are blessed to be home, with our family and healthy. These days can be hard – psychologically hard. There is no right way to handle this kind of stress. If you are staying busy awesome... if you are just chilling... that's ok too. We have highs and lows here... Do what you need to do, to stay sane and cope. Stay safe everyone - this will pass!