Column: What it’s like to travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kora Kelly
Oxford Stories

COVID-19 had a more unconventional start for me than it did for many of my friends and peers. It was March of 2020 junior year spring break. I decided to visit my best friend, who was studying abroad in Prague. We planned a week-long trip to travel Prague and different cities in Italy during my time there.

Flights and travel plans had been booked when a week prior to leaving, we heard the news that Italy had placed a travel ban and was prohibiting anyone from entering. The virus was still seemingly new to us in America, and we had a contained number of cases at the time. My friend and I both believed there was nothing to worry about, so we changed our itinerary and made plans to visit the United Kingdom instead.

The week leading up to the trip, I felt my anxiety about traveling heighten. Not knowing what the virus was capable of and how easily you could be exposed should’ve been enough to convince me not to go. At that time, there was still so much uncertainty, and I made the conscious decision to continue with the trip as planned, expecting nothing bad could come of it.

While we were in Prague, life seemed to carry on as normal. People walked the streets and kept up with their daily lives as usual. The night scene seemed to be as alive as ever and no one thought twice about the imminent danger that was to come.

We traveled from Prague to Budapest, then London and Scotland. Rarely did I worry about COVID-19 because no one else around me seemed to be bothered by the thought of it. It almost felt as if it didn’t exist in Europe when, in fact, it was worse than it had been in the United States.

I made the promise to my parents that I’d keep hand sanitizer on me and disinfectant wipes. I’d remind myself to use these things when getting off a bus or train and leaving high traffic areas. The occasional passerby might have a mask or gloves on, but we typically didn’t think too much of it.

It wasn’t until the last leg of our trip when we were in Scotland that the news of COVID-19 in the United States skyrocketed. March 11, 2020, my friend and I sat in our Airbnb at 4 a.m. in the United Kingdom frantically calling family members and friends back in the United States.

President Trump had just announced that he was suspending all travel from Europe for the next 30 days to combat the coronavirus. Reality began to set in and so did the anxiety of not knowing what the future held for me as I returned home.

Luckily, my flight went as scheduled and still allowed me time the next day to get back to Prague and return home. It wasn’t until I landed in the Atlanta airport that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to come back to Oxford and resume the semester as normal.

We had found out a few days before that there would be an extension on spring break for another week and that the semester would be completely remote following. I called my parents, and we came to the conclusion that my best option was to come home and be with family until we knew more about the virus and what was going to happen.

I flew straight from Atlanta to Greensboro where my dad picked me up, mask in hand, ready to quarantine. In the following weeks, my family and I spent our time at home as North Carolina shut down non-essential businesses and enforced a curfew. We spent long hours watching the news together and contemplating what we each thought was going to come of the virus.

Kora Kelly and her friend, Paige Higginbotham.

There was so much uncertainty that no one could say for sure, but being together gave everyone peace of mind. What I didn’t know at that time was that I would be spending the next 5 months at home. Ever since I began school at the University of Mississippi, I’ve primarily spent my time at in Oxford. I had to readjust my lifestyle and how I spent my time when moving back into my family home.

I was reluctant at first. As reality set in, so did the sadness I felt being away from school and my friends. I wasn’t ready to miss out on the already limited time I had left at Ole Miss. I had to find ways to entertain myself and stay busy. I began spending a lot of time outdoors with my siblings, hiking, bike riding, walking and fishing.

This time spent at home reminded me of simple pleasures that I take for granted, like a walk with friends or playing with my dogs and brothers in the backyard. I experienced a new level of personal growth during my time home that I wouldn’t have had I been in Oxford and in school full time.

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