To understand why we engaged in this craziness, read this: Nervous But Committed: Why I’m Traveling Abroad During the Pandemic

To discover what it was like trying to get to England, read this: Omigod, Omicron! COVID Travel Abroad Is Not for the Faint of Heart


Day 1 . . . 5 days ’til Christmas: After getting settled into our Airbnb (which henceforth shall be referred to as “the flat”), the combination of jet lag and my powerful cold forces a 90-minute catnap while the husband runs to Morrison’s® for provisions. 

I’m a nut nut, but I’m not a salt & vinegar nut, so these nuts are not this nut nut’s nut. That’s just nuts.

Call up the husband’s brother (let’s call him “Nigel” because what other name screams England! more than that? I’ll tell you: none), who picks us up for our long-awaited joyful reunion with big hugs all around.  Back at his house, he administers at-home COVID tests straightaway.  Minutes later our negative results are confirmed.  Pleasant catching up ensues. 

There’s Nigel slavin’ away in the kitchen… as it should be.

Hear worrying news about possible COVID restrictions, but details—namely what and when— are maddeningly vague. Last Christmas the government restricted family gatherings. Since gathering with family is THE ENTIRE REASON WE CAME HERE, I’m understandably anxious.

Day 2 . . . 4 days ’til Christmas: After sleeping 11 solid hours overnight, figure I have jet lag beaten into submission (I will later be proven wrong). Go to Nigel’s and play fetch with canine nephew in muddy field. Human niece and nephew tag along. Learn Boris is promising “no new restrictions” for Christmas, but the looming question is what will happen from Boxing Day. Discover that hospitalized family member will soon be transferred to local hospital—very welcome news, indeed. Return home to official “Day 2” test results: we’re both negative . . . another hurdle cleared.

Must the husband dress like a hipster cowboy (his phrase) on every trip?

Day 3 . . . 3 days ’til Christmas: Still ailing, get guilt-tripped by husband into going for a run with him, but I get revenge by keeping the pace frustratingly slow.  Stroll the market taking place in the town square.  Pop into a few shops. Eyes boggle at new charts of COVID cases in UK.  Read news stories of train service being disrupted due to employees catching Omicron.  This is worrying news, as we must take the train down to London to fly out. Decide to keep an eye on situation but not obsess over it since there are 289 other things that can go wrong on this trip so why should train troubles get all the attention? Receive email from Delta® asking us to choose our first class dinners for return flight.  Feel briefly like royalty. Realize with a shudder that if evacuation flight home is needed, it won’t include such niceties.

Day 4 . . . 2 days ’til Christmas: With Europe—and indeed all the other countries that make up the United Kingdom—quickly imposing tough new restrictions, England holds back.  This may not be good for England in the long run, but it’s good for us. We do receive our share of bad news, though: the husband will not be able to visit his ailing relative in the hospital.  Strict rules dictate that one person and one person only can visit during the entire length of hospitalization.  That person was already designated as the husband’s mom, so it can’t be changed.  Phone calls will have to suffice, but they are a poor substitute, especially at Christmastime.

Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (early morning): The husband wakes up with a sore throat.  Worry returns, but at-home COVID test kit provided by Nigel proves useful.  Husband tests negative.  If instead it’s the onset of the cold I came down with just before departing the States, he’s in for several days of agony. Read news about hundreds of US flights being cancelled due to Omicron-related staff shortages.  Realize that Omicron can get ya even if it doesn’t get ya, if you know what I mean.

Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (mid-morning): Bad news: we’ve been exposed.  Neighbor who we chatted with over at Nigel’s a few days earlier has tested positive for COVID on at-home test. The husband goes to the chemist (translation: pharmacy) to stock up on “free and ubiquitous” at-home tests, but, consistent with the test kit shortage we’ve been reading about in the news the last few days, he can’t locate one. Husband jokes that travel disasters make good blog posts.  I retort testily that I don’t want blog fodder—I want us to get home on time and without COVID, even if it makes for a boring post. My dear readers will understand.

Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (noon): Surprise! Hospitalized family member who “probably won’t be released before the new year” is suddenly coming home. The husband and Nigel scramble to figure out logistics and make his transition easier.

Day 6 . . . Christmas Day: Husband wakes feeling very under the weather and takes our last at-home COVID test.  It’s negative and now I’m completely convinced it’s the same bad cold I am still suffering from, though not as intensely.  Nigel has been testing daily, too, and remains negative. Start Christmas Day having distanced, masked, and very brief visit with family member just home from hospital, then proceed to Nigel’s House of Pandemonium, which includes screaming children, two dogs, several adults, and scores and scores of toys covering every surface.  Husband’s illness progresses to the point where he has to leave.  No thermometer handy, but I can tell he’s got a fever.  He’s basically where I was the day before we left for England and he can finally understand why I considered cancelling the trip. He returns to flat mid-afternoon to sleep while I stay with his family. I return to flat at 9pm, where husband is clearly suffering.

Day 7 . . . Boxing Day: Husband rasps from bed that he needs a COVID test.  I’ve been neglecting running for most of this trip (don’t judge me—I’ve been ill!), but spring into action, donning my running gear and high-tailing it to Nigel’s for some COVID tests as fast as my short, out-of-shape legs will take me.  Once again, test is negative. Wonder if COVID would actually feel less awful than this bad cold he’s gotten from me. He sleeps until 11:00am. Spend most of the day in the flat, which is fine because it’s both a Sunday and Boxing Day—literally nothing is open. Go for a short walk in the afternoon with beloved uncle. Husband goes “for a nap” at 4:00pm, but doesn’t get out of bed the rest of the night. Later in the evening he gets kicked while he’s down: the Arsenal-Wolverhampton Premier League game we were due to see two days hence has been postponed due to COVID and injuries.  Figuring our once-in-a-lifetime, money?-what’s-money? VIP tickets are non-refundable, I mentally ready myself for the hassle of making my first ever travel insurance claim.

Christmas on a houseboat

Day 8 . . . last day in Newark: The husband just doesn’t seem to be improving.  Takes our last at-home COVID test.  It’s positive.

Shit.

Call evacuation insurance but they won’t come to our rescue until we back it up with (more accurate) PCR test. Can’t find any quick turnaround tests locally. In a frustrated fit of pique, declare Newark a two-bit backwater. Check the bigger nearby cities of Nottingham and Lincoln, but all appointments are booked until the day we fly out of London. Part of the problem is that the entire country effectively shuts down between Christmas and New Year.  (The other part of the problem is, of course, Omicron.) Emit string of expletives toward England and its so-called “festive season.” Soon hear that Nigel tests positive, too. This is turning into a real clusterfuck. Realize there’s nothing for it—we have to go to London as planned. Book one of the few remaining PCR test slots in London for following afternoon to the tune of several hundred more dollars. What’s that saying? In for a penny, in for a pound thousands of pounds? Learn England will not enact any new restrictions before New Year. Woo hoo—restrictions are now the least of my concerns.

Day 9 . . . To The Smoke: Take early train to London and Tube to hotel. By some miracle our room is ready for check-in at 9:00am. Get some fresh air by walking to Shoreditch for PCR tests, with results promised by midnight. Next problem: we need to use up our British pounds since our bank told us that, in times of plague and pestilence, they will not buy back the notes, (string of expletives was already emitted toward bank before we departed the States), but nothing’s open and the husband shouldn’t go in stores anyway until his COVID status is certain. Never mind. The most important thing is that we both test negative.  Will worry about having hundreds of dollars trapped inside useless Monopoly money at a later date.

Hours later, we get PCR results: I’m negative . . . WHEW! And the husband?

Positive.

Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit!!!!!!

Call to activate evacuation insurance.  Inquire how long it’ll be before evacuation commences—we’re told they don’t know yet but they will get him out sometime before the end of England’s mandatory self-isolation period.  We look at each other, eyes wide with incredulity: THAT’S 10 DAYS!!! Rules state COVID-y people are effectively prisoners. Realize we are in hotel whose websites states they “cannot allow people to self-isolate for COVID under any circumstances.” However, we booked and arrived before we got the positive result, and where else exactly is the husband supposed to go? Find out Nigel’s PCR is positive, too (as was neighbor’s), but other relatives are negative, thank goodness.

The chamber . . .
. . . of isolation.

Discussion ensues: We had previously agreed that if one of us tested positive and the other didn’t, the healthy person would go home as planned, the same way the Top Gear (now Grand Tour) boys do when one of them has car trouble on the road. While idea seemed reasonable and practical at the time, I, as the healthy party, suddenly find it disloyal and mean—a heinous act of betrayal and abandonment. Discuss staying with husband, but time is against us and he’s insisting I go. We won’t know when the evac will happen or if I’ll be permitted on the evac flight, and regular flight leaves in 15 hours. Reluctantly agree to leave him behind and start writing World’s Worst Wife Award acceptance speech in my head.

Day 10 . . . Departure Day (for one of us, anyway): After tearful, guilt-filled early-morning goodbye to husband, make my way to Heathrow on the Tube. First-class ticket makes check-in and security experiences smooth and easy, but I’m wracked with worry.  Enter Virgin Atlantic’s first-class lounge—by far the nicest I’ve seen. Log into their wifi but phone problems that have bedeviled me the entire trip (old SIM card, the husband thinks) continue and we can’t FaceTime.  Texts will have to suffice, which is tricky when I’m drinking a latte with one hand and a mojito with the other (shameless, I know) while also trying to cut my Eggs Florentine. (Seriously. Do I have NO shame? The husband only has Pot Noodle and some Cup-o-Soup packets back at the hotel . . . and maybe a few stale Twiglets.) Learn they’re hoping to evacuate him in 1-2 days, which provides much-needed ray of hope.

Board plane. Feel massive guilt enjoying any of the 1001 creature comforts of this rare first-class voyage, but hope that by the time I reach Detroit, I’ll hear good news that’s real and not just theoretical.  Drink welcome-aboard champagne in disappointing plastic cup and eat delicious, restaurant-like dinner accompanied by Pinot Noir in a real glass wine glass (how will I ever go back to coach?). After hedonistic Meal of Shame, watch The Beginners (so-so, a little contrived), cry, put seat in bed position and try to sleep, cry, watch The Audition (very good), eat my first ever airplane hamburger (not bad), watch the Friends Reunion Special (fun, though most of them look like they’ve had botched Botox jobs), do crosswords, cry.

Arrive Detroit where my phone finally works properly.  FaceTime husband and get worst news of all: evac people have said Minneapolis airport is refusing him entry because he’s not a US citizen and it’s not a medical emergency. WHAAAAT?!?!?! Immediately commence freaking out. He tries to reassure me it’ll all get worked out, but in head I’m planning what I’ll say to scream at the evac people if he’s still not sprung by the time I get home.  Call my mom whose been anxiously awaiting updates and we both have a brief, panicky cry over the situation and our utter helplessness. Hang up and wonder briefly, in a moment of bitter self-absorption, if I can at least get a book deal out of this whole mess.

A few hours later, just before I put phone on “airplane mode” as people are boarding, I check email. Mood soars and heart sings! Evac people have filed a flight plan that gets the husband out on New Year’s Eve, just two days hence and he’s arriving at Minneapolis airport.  Emit string of joyful interjections toward Covac Global, but am prevented from jumping for joy by securely fastened seatbelt. Wonder how they resolved it? Bribes? Threats? Realize I don’t care—just want to see husband. Get home.  Have merry reunion with the bunny. It’s 7pm, but body thinks it’s 1am.  Go to bed and cry self to sleep, utterly spent.

Day 11 . . . penultimate day of 2021: Jet lag ensures I’m wide awake by 3:30am. Spend morning unpacking and FaceTiming husband.  Avoid contacting airline to see what happened with the husband’s unused first class flight. It all seems too overwhelming right now.  Avoid contacting travel insurance—after all, the husband may buy some snacks at his scheduled refueling stop in Goose Bay, Canada, which I sure as shit am going to claim. Then remember his copious wads of cash are all in British pounds. Wonder if Canada would accept legal tender from its former colonizer/oppressor Commonwealth overlords. Realize they won’t let his COVID-riddled body off the plane, so it’s a moot point. Go get post-trip PCR test (it’s free—thank you Governor Walz!) and realize only a few, now quite mild symptoms remain from the awful head cold I came down just before this dramatic trip started nearly two weeks earlier. Have final FaceTime call with husband before he catches some ZZZs ahead of his evacuation adventure.

Refueling stop

Day 12 . . . New Year’s Eve: Wide awake at 3:00 this morning.  Wait.  Jet lag is getting worse? Realize this is perfect time to call airline about unused flight.  Phone robot tells me there’s high call volume (yeah, right) and wait time is 7 hours and 18 minutes. Hang up—phone doesn’t have that kind of battery life. Emit string of expletives toward Delta Airlines®. Stick champagne in fridge and do some scurryfunging ahead of husband’s arrival. Get my PCR results: I’m negative. Wonder how I could spend 24/7 with Captain COVID and not catch the disease. Conclude it must be excellent genes and favoritism from the gods. Eventually, husband arrives home to a tearful embrace . . . once they get him out of the ambulance. His priorities are 1. shower, 2. alcohol. Soon I learn that it was a much more challenging transport experience than either of us expected.  We’re in bed before midnight, but that happens every New Year’s Eve.

Step one: shower
Step two: commence drinking

Day 13 . . . New Year’s Day, 2022: Make resolution to never, ever travel abroad again. Like every weight-loss resolution I’ve ever made, I won’t stick to it, but breathe sigh of relief that we have this great big country to explore and all upcoming travel bookings are domestic. Drink celebratory champagne and hit publish on this post, bringing to a close this dramatic travel saga.


Unknown date many decades in the future: The husband and I, warm in our bed, die within minutes of each other.  Arrive at pearly gates hand in hand and discover we could have had a few more years on Earth if it hadn’t been for the life-shortening stress of the COVID England Christmas Trip all those years ago. Smile knowingly at each other and shrug, accept glasses of welcome aboard champagne (in real glass champagne flutes), and make a toast to the fact that we have no regrets.

None at all.


The whole damn English COVID Christmas Saga:

59 thoughts

  1. Oh, how I loved this! I’m so, so sorry for your husband’s illness and the related stress, but only you could make it read like a rom-com. I hope he is feeling better… or will soon. I think eventually we’ll all get Covid. I just hope that the symptoms continue to lessen. Happy New Year to you both!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Janis. Your compliment not only made my day, the “rom-com” part actually made the husband tear up a bit when I read it to him! He is getting a little better each day, though things always seem to deteriorate in the evenings. We’re hopeful the worst is behind him, though. Happy New Year to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wild trip! I read about your headache of trying to book and get to England, but I was astounded about the visit and journey home to the US were just as crazy. That’s terrible your husband got COVID-19: I hope he’s recovered and doing well. International travel is just too risky these days, and I hope you can rest up, fight off jet-lag and avoid COVID for the rest of the holiday season. Stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what a trip! Yes, in addition to the usual stressors that come with holiday travel, there’s a lot to consider while navigating it all through a global pandemic. I am glad to hear you both made it home safe and sound. Here’s hoping you make the most of 2022! May the new year bring you peace, joy, and happiness. Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it was already going to be quite a bit more stressful than your average trip abroad, but when Omicron hit it really sent things over the edge. Getting sick right before we left was the icing on the cake (which, I guess, makes the husband getting COVID mid-trip the candles on the cake??). I hope 2022 is a great year for you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Whoa, what a escapade this has all been for you! I’ll send my own string of profanities to all the powers that be on your behalf. If nothing else I’m glad you were able to go and see family, glad you both made it home, and glad that your future travels will not be so difficult. Looking forward to seeing where the new year takes you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey you were in England and you didn’t come and visit !! Thanks for the letter and the hilarious post- sorry the husband got Covid – hope he made a full recovery. I don’t get how they evacuated him while in isolation period ?! Defo very brave to travel in the Omicron bath that is the Uk! FB cruelly send me memories of two years ago in Luang Prabang and reminisce of Xmas spent with you guys 2 years ago in that lovely garden and on the terrace. And we dream of returning someday. My youngest son is now at Nottingham University and oldest in Birmingham so I’m seeing a new part of the UK that is the ‘ Midlands’. Andy and I are intending on moving in together in 3 weeks time (I sold my house) and to buy a place together in Wales – Brecons Brecons hopefully – home of the highest peak in South Wales Pen y Fan at 998m me thinks. Not a 14 er but it’ll have to be on your list for when you visit us! Happy 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How exciting about your move and your new house! After our recent harrowing trip to the UK, I don’t know when we’ll get over there again, but visiting you guys must be part of the planning! We were thinking about our SE Asia trip recently, in part because it was right around the time all this mess started happening. As for the husband, he’s about to head back to work so we’ll see how that goes. His flight was able to get him out because it was an air ambulance, and those are the only flights allowed in the US with a COVID positive person on board. I guess they get out of UK isolation to leave because they are taken to the plan in an ambulance?? Glad to hear from you and happy new year!

      Like

  6. Wow quite the travel story – well written, entertaining and terrifying at the same time! I am still giggling over this “World’s Worst Wife Award acceptance speech in my head” – I doubt you would get that award. Thanks for sharing this story and all the great photos (and oh did you travel in style and love the lounge) – it was a great treat to read over my tea this morning. Yes shower and then drinking sounds like the best plan upon returning – so glad it all worked out! Happy New Year and we know you will be traveling abroad again!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Horrible experience for you, but this is the best blog post I’ve read ALL YEAR! It had everything: drama, suspense, laughter, tears, romance, and Mojitos. And an Englishman named Nigel. (Simon would have worked, too).

    Do you think it’s possible your at-home tests were false negatives and you started out with Covid?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was feeling quite flattered by your comment until I realized “all year” consisted of about the first three days of 2022. Haha – you had me for a few minutes there. 😉

      Others have asked me that question; indeed, I’ve asked it of myself. However, as sick as I was, I tested negative on an antigen test, followed by a PCR the next day (at the airport before flying out), followed by another PCR test (at Heathrow on landing) and another antigen test later that same day. If I had COVID and those tests failed to pick it up, I must have the newest, as yet undetected variant. I shall call it the Omega variant so we can be done with this thing already!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Welcome home! Whew, what a ride! And a great read, told with a great sense of suspense, that I’m sure you really did feel while it was all happening. But you got there and did visit the ill relative, however brief, mission accomplished! I must say, the veggie tortellini sounded almost worth the first class ticket. Hope husband is feeling better, and, what do you know, the emergency insurance came through. I have heard that the home tests may give a false negative, so maybe you did have covid after all? Hoping this new year is a better one for you both and for us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. As awful as it was to experience, it was fun to write. As for me having COVID, I tested negative on 2 antigen tests and 2 PCR tests, all within about 2.5 days, so I think it really was just a bad (and badly timed) cold.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Firstly, it was great meeting you both ( Tom @ Arcadia Coffee ). Was really good to chat with people who enjoy travelling. Like I said, enjoyed reading your blog and came across this one and it sounds like you had a absolute nightmare. Glad you got back, and stay safe 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tom! We had such a fun time chatting with you as well. Please forgive my mean comment about Newark in my post. I don’t actually think it’s a two-bit backwater. I was just lashing out because of the panicky situation we were in. 🙂 If you ever make it to the American Midwest like you want, please don’t hesitate to reach out! (But don’t come until this pandemic nightmare and its travel restrictions are a thing of the past – it’s not worth it.) 🙂

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  10. Holy shit! What a wild story and what a nightmare it must have been! I’ll bet that insurance you bought in advance was worth every penny. Hopefully you’ve gotten all of the paperwork and everything straightened out. I’m sure all of that was complicated as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What an adventure. I’ve been wondering how it went. I’m sorry about your husband’s experiences. Your travel experiences sound like a mess overall, but clearly you survived it with your sanity intact. I agree with you that champagne should ALWAYS be served in a glass flute. 😇

    Liked by 1 person

  12. OMG, quel voyage!!! We have’nt book yet, but after reading your aventure, I think Steeve and I will postpone our trip in France from summer 2022 to summer 202x.
    Edith

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow, you were right that this post would turn me off of international travel! What a rollercoaster you went through, but at least you got your money’s worth with the evacuation insurance 😛 My boyfriend also tested negative on several tests despite having some symptoms when I was positive. Perhaps the two of you have extra special immunity to Covid or have both developed a new variant!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Gosh, what a wonderful story. And I seldom read WordPress posts with such focus, so thanks for showing me how it’s done. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love your writing voice. It’s so distinct and undeniably you. It’s almost David Sedaris-esque (but to be honest I have very little experience in the non-fiction humour department lol).

    Am glad to see that things turned out all right, and it must’ve sucked for both of you when you had to go home on your regular flight. Thanks once more for writing this wonderful piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so honored to be on the receiving end of such wonderful praise. To be honest, though the name David Sedaris rang a tiny bell, I had to look him up. I’ve never read anything by him. Is there a particular book of his that you recommend? I do love a funny writer.

      As for taking that flight home alone, it did stink. I tried very hard not to enjoy the first class accoutrements! 😉

      Like

      1. I’ve heard Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day are his best works, though I myself came to know him through When You Are Engulfed In Flames and enjoyed it. Hopefully you enjoy them, and great to know things have turned out fine for you!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Gawd, what a total nightmare! Sorry I’m just catching up with your trip and I can’t believe this happened to you. I’m glad you had some precious time with family before it all went wrong. Really good that you got to see the hospitalised relative too, it’s so crap that people are only allowed one visitor, it’s been like that for the entire bloody pandemic now. And he got home in time for Christmas too!

    Isn’t it so ridiculous that you had to go to London for a test, but he then had to travel in a plastic bubble!? Completely insane. I did laugh at the World’s Worst Wife part – I’d be exactly the same! When it hasn’t happened, it’s easy to say you’ll just come home, but when it comes to it? I’d be totally like you!

    Sounds like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh my goodness, what an ordeal! I cannot fathom how stressful that must have been. You are right that I feel much better about cancelling my trip, but sad to hear all that you and your husband went thru. 😮

    Liked by 1 person

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