Alana currently lives in South Sudan and is running a development project across the worlds newest country. Alana will be regularly contributing to the Photo Road to speak of her experiences and her travel in the Global South.
I like travelling. Most people like seeing new locations, taking in historic sites and trying new food. But over the years, I’ve become quite content with the actual travel. I arrive extra early at airports and I don’t mind lines at security or even over priced snacks in airport shops. I’ve adopted a few tactics to make my travel experience comfy.
I try to travel with only carry-on. I book seats near the back of the plane so I don’t board in the last zone – the sucker’s zone that almost never has space in the overhead bin. I get an aisle seat so I can get up and down without having to force someone up or awkwardly climb over a stranger’s lap. My backpack has superficial 3 for $10 magazines, snacks from the Bulk Barn and a travel wallet with a passport, vaccination card and currency for transit points and destinations. I carry my own headphones and two-prong adapter. I have an overpriced, yet highly compact neck pillow, as well as a contoured eye mask and earplugs.
I wear the same boring travel clothes a lot – a conservative tank top and a zip-up hoodie so that I’m warm enough at Pearson International but not sweltering in the heat of my destination. I seem to only travel to ridiculously hot countries. I wear slip on shoes over old-lady compression socks. Before I cut them off, I wore my dreadlocks down until I cleared security, because I got tired of getting pulled aside for a secondary search of my head.
The best way to make travel easy is to decide to be patient and accept that something unexpected will likely happen. I’ve been on 4 flights with medical emergencies. Thankfully no one died, but also, no one made it to their destination, either. I’ve been stuck in London for 38 hours and in Togo for 3 days. Togo was great. I was locked out of my work computer for being a suspected cyberterrorist. I explored Lomé and learned quite a bit about the West African slave trade – well, as a much as I could learn in French. Patience and a good attitude goes a long way.
I traveled from South Sudan back to Canada for an R&R break in June. I had to get a COVID-19 test 72 hours before my arrival and then learned that I needed digitized certificate to transfer through Ethiopia. I spent the morning of my departure trying to get a new certificate and failed. Of course, no one in Ethiopia asked for anything.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve flown from Addis Ababa to Toronto. I’ve grown the appreciate the 17-hour break from internet and general responsibility. I think I like travel because I know the ups and downs, but COVID-19 gave me some surprises.
I got through the automated Customs processes in record time in Toronto, but then had to wait in line to report to a Customs officer. I had to present my passport, ticket, COVID-19 test results, my hotel booking and travel registration number. I was shocked by the number of people who were turned away for not having one of the prerequisites. The line at Customs had moved so slowly that by the time I arrived at the luggage gallery and all the bags had been pulled off the belt. I found everything and went through the familiar arrivals hall which is usually packed with smiling faces or signs for VIPs, but this time no guests were allowed inside. I was diverted to another long line for additional COVID-19 testing and quickly downloaded the ArrivCan app which saved me about 3 minutes in an hour long wait.
I knew when I purchased my ticket and then boarded my first plane the day before that the travel process would look different this time around. I knew that more processes would require more patience, but I guess not everyone takes that approach. I was disappointed by people whispering about not having any intention of quarantining. It was bizarre that passengers were getting upset with nurses conducting the COVID-19 tests. I began to wonder if I had been as selfish as these other people – should I have waited to visit Canada when it was safer? I waited my turn got tested and got a take home test.
I got a real shock when I arrived at my hotel. When I checked in, they informed me that my booking for $140 for 14 nights would not be valid because I was a traveller. I would have to book at $349 a night for a minimum of 3 days. I was too tired and sweaty to put up a good fight. I also had nowhere else to go and had already confirmed my quarantine details with the government. After a hot shower, an Uber Eats delivered a Big Mac and a nap, I didn’t care so much. Understandably, as soon as I got my second negative COVID-19 result I checked into an AirBnB for the remaining 11 days of quarantine. I spent a week working and chatting with friends. A few of them criticized Canada’s mandatory 2-week quarantine, but I didn’t care. I was home. I got regular calls, texts and ArrivCan alerts about my symptoms that were a bit annoying, but I knew it was necessary.
The jetlag was bad. I was very tired, waking up early to work South Sudanese hours and failing to sleep early with the bright evening summer sun. I had terrible headaches that acetaminophen and naproxen failed to numb. I had bad tummy aches from fast food and sushi, or so I thought. The results of my third and final take home COVID-19 test revealed it wasn’t just jetlag. With my timeline, I must have contracted the virus on the plane.
Because I was a resident of Peel Region, I was contacted by them first. Because I was a traveller, I was also contacted by Public Health of Canada. I was still getting the regular calls, texts and alerts for being a traveller and then more for having COVID-19. Some of the information was conflicting and they didn’t have answers to my questions about vaccination. It was exhausting – more so than the actual virus.
Returning to South Sudan also presented a few challenges. I was fully vaccinated only 2 days before I travelled, which was 12 days premature. Because I had had COVID-19 and it can take up to 3-months to test negative, I had to lie to get a travel test. In case it did come back positive, I had to see a doctor to get a “discharge certificate” a document that doesn’t actually exist in Canada. My poor travel wallet was bursting at the seams. When I arrived in Juba, they checked the date of my PCR test and asked for my yellow fever card and joined the crowd around the luggage conveyor. My belt stopped and my bags didn’t arrive.
I’d have to say that this was one of the first times I really didn’t enjoy going to the airport. The first few times I flew, the family wore our Sunday best and our uncle waited with us at the departure gate. We ate on plates with silverware and some guests finished their meal with a refreshing cigarette. I’ll be happy when some of this COVID-19 travel mess becomes normal.