I was Traveling in India amid the Coronavirus Pandemic and Almost Didn’t Make it Home

It was a crazy time. Days before my trip, thoughts of cancelling came to mind. Should I risk going right now?

It was a crucial point. Was this all being over exaggerated by the media? Did I really need to cancel my trip to India? At this point, there were hardly any cases in India. No restrictions on travel there. It was difficult to determine the course this virus would take.

I decided to continue with my plans. I figured I should be cautious, but not panicked.

I embarked on my adventure March 3rd.

It was an interesting experience, traveling during this time. For the most part, the airports seemed pretty normal, despite the few people I noticed wearing face masks and sanitizing airplane seats. A few more empty seats than usual were open. But nothing seemed too crazy. Yet.

The truth is, most people didn’t seem really concerned. We were all aware and careful, but not scared.

Maybe we should have been.

I arrived in India, and it was business as usual going through customs, though obviously more attention was paid if you had been in one of the countries where Covid-19 was more prominent at the time.

I started my trip thinking that everything would be fine. I wasn’t oblivious to the progressing situation. But as the days went by, it seemed like everything would really be fine and I’d have a great story to tell about traveling in India during the Coronavirus epidemic.

And for the most part, everything was fine…until it wasn’t.

On March 11, news hit that the U.S. was banning travel to and from Europe, exempting U.S. citizens.

That’s when the panic started.

Covid-19 was officially declared a global pandemic.

I wasn’t set to leave until March 17th. I had a layover in Amsterdam. Desperate to go home before things got worse, I tried to contact my airline to change flights and get home as soon as possible.

The problem is, I wasn’t the only one trying to get home.

That’s when the situation got real.

It was virtually impossible to get a hold of my airline. To many people were trying to do the exact same thing.

It took me longer than it should have to realize that, even though airlines seemed to be assuring they would help people reroute home, I had no idea whether they could really get me there.

I was staying with family friends in Mumbai. At least, if I got stuck, I’d have a place to stay.

Things were taking a turn very quickly.

It felt like the beginning of the apocalypse and I was on the other side of the world, unsure if would make it back home.

Days passed with no news for how I would be returning home. Flying with a layover in Europe meant another stop at a screening airport. A lot could change before the 17th. More travel could be banned. My flight home could be cancelled.

I called my parents, getting worried. After discussing the issue, we felt the best thing to do would be to wait the last few days and see how the airline would reroute me coming home. It seemed like a common belief that I would make it home. It would just be more difficult and might take more time.

The day after making this decision, we knew it was a mistake.

Still unable to change my flight plans because customer service lines were far too busy, the only choice was to take matters into our own hands.

My flight home wouldn’t leave for another four days. So much could change by then. The path home looked less and less likely the longer we waited. More travel restrictions set into place. How long could I stay before staying would become my only option?

My parents purchased a new ticket at the very last minute, that would leave that evening (midnight the next day technically). March 15th. It was a fifteen hour flight to JFK. One of the only direct flights to the U.S. from Mumbai.

Upon arriving at the airport, I discovered that this route was about to be temporarily suspended, and I was on one of the last flights out.

As I waited in the airport, I received a notification about my original flight. The one with a layover in Amsterdam.

Cancelled. I would have had no choice but to be rerouted through Europe. If I was rerouted at all.

Going home was terrifying. More people were wearing masks to protect themselves. Passengers were being careful to wipe down airplane seats and tray tables. People were clearly unnerved. There was a strange sense of unity among passengers. We were all just as shocked, confused, and nervous.

I was routed through the CDC because of my layover in Amsterdam 11 days prior; when I was on my way to India. Before all the restrictions were set into place.

I was surrounded by lots of other people who could have been exposed, and not know it. It was an eery, dystopian feeling.

Upon arriving home, I was filled with relief, though a part of me wonders if I truly got out of this unscathed.

A couple days after I arrived home, I learned that India was cancelling flights to and from Europe beginning March 18th. Some flights on the 17th were cancelled. My flight out, which would have originally left on the 17th, would likely have been affected. Meaning…no way to reroute home.

I’ll never know for sure what would have happened, had I stayed, but it seems clear to me now that it was the right choice to leave early. No matter which way you look at it, that was way too close of a call.

If I hadn’t left early…the truth is, I could still be in India with no idea when I’d be able to go home.

As it goes, I did have a great trip with many memories made! I grew a lot on this trip, which was the goal, and found myself in various situations that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

And because I made it back okay, I have a crazy story to tell.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the international travelers still scrambling to get home. Who don’t know how or when they will be able to.

So now this will be a new journey. A journey of reflection, I guess. And memories. And hope. Because we all need hope if we’re going to get through this. And we will get through this. Together. Because we all need each other to survive.

Let’s support one another during this time of uncertainty. Be kind and help those in need. If you’re traveling. Be patient. Try not to panic even when the delays and cancellations hit. Make smart decisions. Don’t necessarily wait for an airline to reroute you if it looks like they may not be able to in the long run. No one can really guarantee anything at this point.

Also, as if it’s not already obvious, if you have the option: DON’T TRAVEL. Seriously, if you don’t need to leave the house. DON’T. We have to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Stay safe everyone.

life travel Uncategorized

Rachel Writes View All →

Hi! My name is Rachel. I love to write. Write about life, love, and reflect on how the past builds the future. Mostly, I love to tell stories because I believe there is something about stories that brings the world closer together. You can check out some of my writing reflections here at Rachel Writes.

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