This is a really strange time we are living in now isn’t it? In some parts of the world Covid19 is raging at full throttle and other parts have been able to return to almost business as usual, at least in some areas. Currently cases in continental Europe seem to be on the rise again and many find their travel plans affected again so we are living in a wobbly situation to say the least.
In the UK we are currently in a bit of a transitional stage where we are emerging from Lockdown and more things are now allowed. You may visit someone’s house if you keep distance and there’s not too many people, and one can go to a pub or restaurant, see a film or go to a museum. It’s a weird situation where you can do more stuff but it’s best if you still stay at home as much as possible, so at least I am a bit confused how one should play this one out.
We decided not to travel to Finland to see family as we normally would do. This decision was made even easier with Norwegian cancelling all flights and returning the ticket fare (one needs to claim on their website, note that the taxes need to be claimed back separately). However, we really wanted to do a short staycation in a way that wouldn’t cause an unnecessary risk to us or others just to get a bit of change and emotional relief.
Booking accommodation – consider risks of cancellation and exposure
We decided on Whitstable for it is an hour away from us by car so one doesn’t need to stop on the way there. Also being by the sea was important to us. Whitstable has pebble beaches but we knew we could check out the situation at the sandy beaches of the area if weather was looking good.
Self-catering facilities are obviously very sought after at the moment as it feels like the safest option with home-like conditions. There were some available still in Whitstable/Broadstairs, but the price was more I wanted to spend at this time. Also, when considering one’s options I think one needs to account for the fact that there might be a local lockdown if there is a flare up of infections so whenever booking anything one is taking a risk of the trip not happening, and you are best to check the terms and conditions and possibly travel insurance and make sure you are ok with the worst case scenario before you book.
We knew Hotel Continental from our previous trip to Whitstable. We had not stayed there but had been there for breakfast and liked what we saw. The hotel is right at the seafront and has even the Art Deco feel I adore. As there was availability for the next week, they were serving breakfast packs in the rooms and had socially distanced check-in and check-out procedures, we decided to take a leap of faith and book hoping that the world wouldn’t flip again on it’s head within the week.
My personal view is that the smaller places one looks at, the better, but of course bigger hotels might also have arranged very efficient safety measures and increased cleaning etc. Camping and glamping might be nice options as well, just not our jam.
As it happened, the rules and guidelines from the government and local authorities did not change and, providing that one adheres to social distancing, travel was allowed and we were able to go.
Eating out – research options
I did research in advance before the last cancellation date on our booking to know if there were places we could eat in since the hotel bistro wasn’t open. With my coeliacs disease eating out usually needs prior research so that’s not that different from how I’d normally travel. In current times wondering around to find a place to eat doesn’t feel like a good plan for anyone so researching in advance is something I would recommend.
The chain restaurants were still closed in Whitstable and it was a case of Googling and looking at Google Maps what’s available in the area and going through each website or their social media accounts to see if a place is open, the opening times, restrictions etc. A few places are not allowing children in due to social distancing measures, so that’s something one now needs to account for and check when traveling with children.
Luckily Lobster Shack, which we had eaten in before was open. I messaged them to check if they are doing gluten-free options even in current circumstances, and as they were offering that I was happy that we’d have somewhere to eat. At least Wagamama’s and Domino’s have limitations in their menus when ordering online, so just to avoid disappointment it’s a good idea to check if the place is ok to cater for dietary requirements even if they have been ok in the past.
Manouvering possible crowds – consider timings and location
My big fear with coastal destination was that too many others have the same idea especially if the weather is brilliant and that a place might end up crowded. I tried to avoid this going just before most schools ended the school year (benefits of distance learning) and selecting a location that’s traditionally been a bit quieter and has less going on. Since we were looking for fresh air, sea and decent food and not entertainment as such, Whitstable fit the bill nicely. When we got there it was quite easy to see where there was more people and navigate to a different direction ourselves out of courtesy. I don’t really want locals to feel their town has been invaded my reckless tourists either, so really wanted to act in a way that respects others and considers risks. From the hotel the beach extends for I think miles so there was plenty of space to spread out in between the groynes. Everyone had their own to pick. The sidewalk in front of the hotel with the public car parks was a bit trickier for it could get crowded but was ok when politely giving others way.
At the hotel the check-in was done so that one person from the party fetched the key that was desinfected and there was plenty of distance between me and the mask-wearing concierge. Today I would wear a mask myself to be fair, to make it even safer, it wasn’t asked at the time but would change that for myself. My envelope didn’t have the key so I had to make another trip but that was easy enough, everyone is learning… The unexpected bonus was that our room had entrance from the outside and we could park our car in front of the door so we didn’t need to navigate stairs or corridors with other visitors at all.
Eating and snacks – research and prepare
As a coeliac I tend to pack up emergency foods with us anyway but in case the eating out wouldn’t work I had packed with us gf breadsticks, houmous, Nutella, latte pouches and cup noodles for the hotel room and picnics. It turned out that this was enough for lunch and evening snacks and we didn’t even go to a supermarket when we were in Whitstable. I had thought we could get a picnic there is all else fails but had packed more than enough.
We ended up eating at the Lobster Shack on both evenings, for the other places either closed too early or had ‘no children’ restrictions. Lobster Shack offers lovely seafood, so was really happy that we could go there. If you don’t like seafood, you better check out other options unless to you fish and chips is ok. With Lobster Shack they have no booking so again we tried to go a bit earlier in case there would be more crowds later and this worked well. We ate outside but there is well spaced seating indoors, too. Ordering and payment is done on an app so it is useful to have a smartphone to download the app with you, they seemed to have an iPad to borrow if needed, but waiting for it to be free might take a while.
The service was quite quick and the good was lovely. Didn’t feel iffy about safety at any point. One can sanitise hands at the sanitation station. There are toilets outside but we didn’t need them being just a short walk from the hotel.
The feeling of being outside one’s home was strange and almost intoxicating and I do think the trip was truly needed and we had a great time. The weather wasn’t the greatest at times but we enjoyed the cloudy skies, had a picnic at the beach, flew a kite and even had a bit chilly and quick swim.
On the day we left for home it was really warm and beautiful so we wanted to check if our favourite beach was too crowded before heading home. There was plenty of space to spread out so we had a lovely few hours swimming (not too many swimmers so definitely enough space there) and enjoying the sun and the sand. Everyone was being quite sensible I felt and it didn’t feel we were putting ourselves or others at risk .
In my opionin the trip went well and that we were successful in balancing the need for change and the risks considering Covid19. If you want to travel please check the local guidance and restrictions because they can change now really rapidly. If it looks like too much of a risk to even travel domestically, do trust your gut and maybe look at local gems to do a smaller scale day trip or little outing minimising risks and exposure. Take face coverings with you when you are out and about now that they are required in shops and when getting takeaway etc. Stay safe!