As I opened the email and clicked the link to get my result, I felt the familiar flutter of anxiety. Would I be going home as planned, or would I be stuck in France for God knows how long? The webpage took a moment to load but then there it was, that one little word that travellers across the globe have come to associate with a shot of purest relief: Negative.
By this stage in my trip, I thought I’d have become hardened – totally immune to the stress test of awaiting a Covid-19 result. It was, after all, my third such result in less than two weeks. But the frisson of fear was as potent as ever, bolstered by the knowledge that the best-laid travel plans have one, giant, uncontrollable sticking point in the age of coronavirus: if a test for travel comes back positive, you’re totally and utterly screwed.
I’d had to take my first PCR test before leaving London, and didn’t get the all-clear until I was on the train to Marseille, from where I planned to catch the ferry to Tangier – though only if I got that crucial negative stamp of approval in time. The second was taken in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, where I had to spend an entire day anxiously awaiting my fate before receiving my “negative” paperwork, without which, who knows? With only one ferry crossing per week, maybe I’d still be there now.
And then there was my third, a lateral flow conducted in a chic Parisian pharmacy, with a negative result needed before I could possibly hope to board the Eurostar to the UK. Of course, a day two PCR also awaited – but since I’d already be home by then, that was the least of my worries.
Covid tests were just the start of it – the tip of a giant travel admin iceberg constructed entirely of paperwork. In order to make it to Morocco and back flight-free, I needed my proof of vaccination; two “declaration sur honneur” forms, one to enter France from the UK, one from Morocco; a Moroccan public health passenger form and a separate entry card dished out on the boat; and a passenger locator form for the UK. This, of course, in addition to all the other documents needed to facilitate a trip, pandemic or no: multiple train and ferry tickets, maps, hotel reservations…
The documentation went on and on, and prompted me to create a little something I like to call the Travel Folder of Dreams: a red ring binder populated by forms displayed in plastic wallets, all neatly lined up in the order they would need to be presented throughout my journey.
Reading all of the above, it would be very easy to conclude that travel in this era is a mug’s game – the same conclusion, in fact, that I myself reached when writing about this brave new world of “travmin” prior to my trip. And yet, for all the many layers of faff (to use the technical term), I’m here to tell you that I was wrong – travel is still undoubtedly worth it. It has lost none of its fabulousness in the past 18 months; if anything, its gloss and shine have been buffed up even brighter in the interim. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
After a year in which I made it no further than Scotland, I got to strike out alone on a proper adventure. I zipped from London to Paris on the Eurostar, guzzling tiny bottles of rosé that made me feel pleasingly Gulliver-like; I gazed upon the pastoral majesty of rural France as I travelled by train down to the south of France; I spent a day in Marseille, feasting on grilled sardines and panisses by the delightful old port.
Then, to Morocco, setting sail to discover the delights of Tangier with all its gritty, glamorous port-city charm, wandering the mind-bending labyrinth of Fes’s evocative ancient medina, and embarking on an epic walking tour of sprawling Rabat. I relaxed in riads and cooled off on shaded roof-top terraces; I experienced the pleasures of the hammam for the first time and drank more mint tea than I would have thought humanly possible. The overall feeling was a dazzling whirlwind of bright colours and searing sunshine, with new scents and sounds on the air, from the spices of the souks to the haunting call to prayer of the muezzins. And after all that I made my return, stopping off in Paris for a day of sightseeing (and devouring the most divine pains au chocolat I’d eaten in at least 12 months). Glorious.
There is the headache of sorting your travmin, and then there is the big pay-off for all of your diligent pen-pushing. The only question is: do the rewards outweigh the labour? In this humble travel editor’s opinion, there is only one answer: absolutely.