“The Prime Minister will address the nation at 8pm this evening.”

As an entire country collectively raises its hands to its head, mouth slowly forming a perfect O in a silent scream of horror, we know what is coming. We’ve been here before. Every single air raid siren, alarm bell, and foghorn on the planet is going off in my head simultaneously. If I cannot get off this island in the next 24 hours, I will effectively not be able to leave my house for the next six weeks, at the very least. Ideal conditions to finally complete my trilogy of ukulele symphonies in E minor, but not exactly conducive to the multitude of travel aspirations I had for the beginning of 2021.

Figure on cliffside walkway holding head with hands

Edvard Munch: 19th century Norwegian emoji painter & survivor of multiple lockdowns

And so it’s click click click time: Skyscanner, Opodo, Kayak, Expedia, FedEx, the Brighton & Hove Pedalo Hire Company, any form of transport available to make good my escape. I have more windows on my browser than the Burj Khalifa, but Birmingham is not London and I have a more limited pool of destination options. It does not help that the United Kingdom is currently the purveyor of the most potent variant of pestilence circulating, and no one will touch us with a very long barge pole. France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey have shut down any incoming air traffic from the UK until the end of the month at least. Any other country that might be an option would require a PCR test, and I do not have the turnaround time to make it happen. I am doomed.

I scan the Birmingham Airport departures board for the next 24 hours one last time, when a flight pops up that I had not previously noticed: EK040 to Dubai, leaving in exactly 23 hours. I quickly check the Covid restrictions and see, as expected, that a PCR test is required in the 96 hours prior to departure. Oh well, another one bites the dust. But wait, WAIT! There are 6 exception countries to this rule, the citizens of which can take a PCR test on arrival: four Gulf State neighbours, Germany, and, unbelievably, the most virus-riddled country in Europe, the UK. God, it would seem, saves not only the Queen but also my travel plans. A quick call to the Emirates call centre to double check, and BOOM, one way ticket to sunny Dubai booked.

Feeling like John Travolta in Saturday Night Virus

The grey cloud of recent anxiety is lifted, instantly. Adrenaline coursing through my veins for the first time in an eternity, I race to throw together two years’ worth of living into one large backpack and a small rucksack. Inadequately insulated camping equipment I will use exactly twice on the entire trip: check; expensive portable speaker that will be forgotten in a Bolivian hostel: check; penguin Christmas socks: check. In a few hours, I am ready. I cook dinner and watch some TV with Mum, for the last time in a while. We talk about where on my travels we will next meet, once she has been vaccinated. Perhaps on her trip to Umbria in June, I suggest. I want to go to the Galápagos, she replies. I wonder where I get it from.

And so, all of a sudden, the adventure has begun. This is not how I expected it to start, literally catching the last train plane out of town and with no idea what my next few destinations might be. Neither is it where I expected it to start. Dubai is as far removed as it gets from the ‘authentic’ backpacker travel experiences I pretentiously aspire to. But given the two flight cancellations I have had in the past few days, and with few other escape routes open, landing in Dubai at just after midnight on the day the UK government will pass into law a stay-at-home order that temporarily forbids any leisure travel feels like winning the lottery. Dubai represents freedom and opportunity on the occasion of this visit.

The complimentary PCR swab test is taken within minutes of getting off the plane, my backpack is waiting for me on the carousel when I reach it, and there is no queue at customs. I am in my hotel room 50 minutes after the 777’s wheels have hit the tarmac, in the junior suite upgraded luxury of five star accommodation paid with the very last loyalty points of my corporate former life. I have a week here, to enjoy the winter sunshine, decompress a little, and adjust psychologically to what lies ahead. With this in mind, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I cannot help but fire up the laptop at this late hour, rather than go to bed. I open up the destinations pages of both Emirates and Flydubai. So, where to next?

Never been so happy to see this giant sandpit funfair…

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  1. I say Iran – it’s just a short hop and you should be able to get a visa on arrival with your Swiss passport. It’s cold in Tehran now, but the south is lovely this time of year.

  2. YES!! And your journey begins! So happy it all fell in place and you escaped. I look forward to following along on your journey !

  3. Brilliant! I should have realised that a Global Pandemic wouldn’t even bruise a wanderlust like yours! Say hello to the world for me, and tell it I will see it soon, promise…..Bon Voyage!

  4. Awesome man! Good luck and looking forward to reading about your adventures from my basement!

    1. Delighted to have you along for the ride, my good man. When I get round to the US (post Capitol burning), I will swing by STL again, for sure!

  5. How exciting!!!!! Really looking forward to reading the next one. Brilliant writing!

  6. Feeling the anxiety of not leaving, the stress of having to book and the euphoria of getting there. Bon voyage JMK!!!!

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