The time has finally come. Commencing June 15, the EU has opened up its internal borders (with some exceptions). But is it actually safe to travel again?
While the EU is urging member states to open external borders in July, Europeans are already free to travel within the bloc since around June 15. The situation and regulations vary between countries and are subject to change in case of a rise in infections.
Using the privilege of being an EU-citizen, I’ve travelled to the beautiful Austrian Alps for a weekend. In Austria, the situation is much different than in my home country – Poland. Yet, to properly showcase my experience of that first post-lockdown travel, I need to bring up a lot of factors that have influenced it.
Poland’s epidemic status, despite being stable, hasn’t ever shown an outstanding peak or decrease. The situation, according to governmental sources, hasn’t been changing much since the so-called ‘patient zero’. However, it’s not very reliable either. Poland hasn’t been testing people up to the needs and resources at the beginning of the pandemic, mainly due to political reasons.
Statistically, since March the rollercoaster of daily new infections ranged from 200 to almost 600 (8 June: 599 – considered to be the peak of the pandemic in Poland). A huge part of the infections in recent weeks comes from coal mines that are located in Silesia. A region located in the south of the country and directly bordering with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. So unsurprisingly, those two countries (especially the Czechs) weren’t thrilled about people from Silesia (including me) travelling to their territory, which has influenced my travel.
Commute: safety and limitations
Being from Silesia I live less than 70km away from the Polish-Czech border. My travel to Austria is always by car. Almost half of the journey cross through the country that didn’t let people from my region in. Nerve-racking, is the least I can say about planning the commute to Austria. As of 18 June, the first day of my trip, neither Slovakia would let me drive through their country. Hence, the only option was Germany, adding about 300km to the journey.
While you’re travelling via other countries, you need to be aware of the local safety regulations. When it comes to Germany, these are pretty basic and there’s no way you bail out of them. Simply, you go into a fast-food restaurant or gas station, you wear a face mask. The only moment you can take it off is when you eat-in and that’s also only when you’re seated and about to start eating. Every movement requires putting the mask on again. On top of that, always remember about social distancing (approximately 1-2 metres distance, depending on the country).
Own transport is a huge advantage these days. You don’t need to worry about the air you breathe in, the things you touch, or who you’re seated next to. It’s just you and you’re chosen travel companions. In this case, my family. You also have control over how many stops you make and where you stop.
My destination was a little alpine town called Grossarl, located just about 70km away from Salzburg. Again, if you plan a trip, make sure you’re aware of local regulations before you arrive. You might need to bring with you plenty of face masks, and maybe even gloves.
Despite being part of the COVID epicentre back in March due to the huge turnout in big ski resorts and their large apres-ski parties, Austria is considered as one of the countries that handled the situation the best. Yet, I’d say they’re currently quite liberal when it comes to regulations.
Shortly before my arrival, the need of wearing face masks in hotels was lifted. Because of this, the stay didn’t feel much different than the usual holiday experiences. The only change were dispensers with sanitising gel – you could find them literally everywhere in the hotel. Especially at the entrance to the food buffet, which in many countries is banned, but not in Austria. Yet, there’s no way you pass to the food without sanitising your hands first, so I never worried about what I’m eating. Additionally, all waitresses and waiters had face masks on when taking orders, and carrying food and drinks.
There are also perks of the new regulations. As you’re asked to respect social distancing, it isn’t appropriate for people to share an elevator, unless they’re staying together. So no more awkward elevator talks with strangers! And don’t worry, no one will even try to join you as everyone takes it very seriously.
Being in the Alps, the holiday activities are rather problem-free even in these crazy times. I’ve climbed up a mountain and sat in a very family-like little hut at 1770 m.a.s.l. Even there all safety measures were carried out. That day I met in total around 10 people, apart from my family. Naturally, social distancing wasn’t a problem whatsoever.
The next day, we took bikes from our hotel. Both our destination and the restaurant we entered on the way back were a bit more crowded than the day before. Yet also there, everything was sanitised, people kept the distance and the waitress wore a face mask. None of us felt any sort of danger. Upon our return to the hotel, I had even decided to check out the wellness and spa area. Social distancing was the main regulation there too- for example, only one person outside of a family could be in the pool at the same time and, even if the pool was small, social distancing could be easily kept.
My thoughts and feelings
To be honest, I’m probably the last person to stay home for too long, so lockdown has been an enormous challenge. I’ve probably looked forward to this trip for the whole lockdown. However, arriving in Austria and seeing a totally different situation has had an impact on how I view the COVID-situation.
Throughout the whole trip, I generally felt safe. Even though the more liberal regulations felt weird at first and there were moments when I was a bit more careful, like wearing a mask in a supermarket without the need to. I think the point of travelling now is to go where you’ll have that feeling of liberty and safety again, but also where you’ll finally be able to relax without having to worry about getting sick or putting others in danger. So it isn’t about turning your cautiousness off as soon as you travel, but to make wise decisions with awareness.