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My First Post-Pandemic Travel Diary

After a year away, damn it feels good.
July 22, 2021
By Tara Lookabaugh

Right now, right this moment, I’m sitting on my first flight since 2019. This is monumental for so many reasons, mainly that I was supposed to be on many flights in 2020.

You see, in February of 2020, my fiancé and I quit our jobs and ended our lease. Our plan: spend 12 months seeing as much of the world as possible.

Millions of people came out the other end of this pandemic in a much worse place; many didn’t make it out at all. We really can’t complain about our delayed adventure. That doesn’t mean though, that squished in this middle seat, I am not the happiest version of myself.

All it took was two little shots in the arm, and I’m finally free. First item on my to-do list: give my parents a hug. That’s where I’m heading now. Tampa, Florida: Sunny and 85 (according to our pilot).

Here’s how my first “post”-pandemic flight is going.

Travel Preparation

I’ll start by saying, I’m a good traveler. I’m known among friends and family as being the best packer.

I breeze through airports. Small inconveniences don’t bother me. I am an arrive at the airport 30 minutes before my flight last on the plane kind of traveler.

But let me tell you a little secret: I forgot how to travel.

Packing was a nightmare. You may be thinking, “but, she’s only going to Florida.” Correct, I am going to Florida. I’m also going to Pennsylvania. Which, if you don’t know, has a very unpredictable Spring. Will it rain? Will it be sunny? Will it snow? Nobody knows.

Ah well, temperature management ended up as the least of my problems.

My second packing problem was self-inflicted. I went shopping recently (because a girl’s gotta look good when she emerges from a 12 month hibernation), and I had the burning desire to pack everything I bought.

Unfortunately, because I was such a pro-packer in the before-times, I don’t even own a large suitcase.

Usually I’d just travel with my 40L Osprey backpack, but this trip called for an upgrade to my $39.99 Amazon hard-shell carry-on (which I promptly broke at the airport).

Thankfully, I only needed to bring one special sweater and I’d wear that through whatever Florida and Pennsylvania had in store for me.

Forget How To Pack?

My third packing problem was a doozy.

My Pittsburgh trip's a work trip. This means a few things. First, I need a blazer and boots. Both are large and occupy too much room in my already-too-small luggage.

Second, I need to bring a purse as my second carry on. This is not ideal for air travel. Purses hurt your shoulders, nothing ever fits perfectly, and there’s no water bottle holder. Backpacks are much-preferred.

My last packing problem was'nt something I anticipated and lies in an unfortunate habit change of 2020.

Pre-COVID, I was an avid Kindle user. Traveling was a breeze with my tiny, magical, endless library. Over the past year however, I’ve now grown quite fond of physical books, so all of my TBRs are paperbacks. I had to either ditch the pile of books I’ve been looking forward to reading, or bring an extra bag just for books.

Thankfully, as any of you New Yorker subscribers will know, that tote is made for carrying books.

Pro Tip: If the gate attendant tries to tell you can’t have 3 carry-on bags, hit them with, “oh, I bought these books at the terminal.” Works every time.

I'm A "Good" Traveler

Finally I’m all packed and ready to rock and roll. I try on my new trendy KN95 mask, and oh shit. My glasses fog up, but I hate wearing contacts on planes.

I'm putting my toiletry bag in my carry on and oh shit. That’s too much liquid. And, can I bring an aerosol can? Well, I need dry shampoo, so… eh, they wouldn’t sell it in TSA sizes if it weren’t ok.

I’m setting my alarm for the morning and oh shit. When do I need to leave for a domestic flight? Will there be traffic on PCH on a Thursday?

If you’re still with me, I want you to know that I really am a good traveler, I promise. I’m just a little rusty.

Navigating LAX

Arriving at the airport, I was genuinely surprised by the flurry of people. I mean, there was real day-before-Thanksgiving-like chaos at the kiosks. I guess the rest of Los Angeles is also ripping off their vaccine band-aid and heading straight for the friendly skies.

Although this experience made it clear that people are starting to feel more comfortable around others, I have to say it was a bit jarring.

There were people everywhere. Most kiosks and security lines were full of people ignoring the social distancing stickers.

About 80% of people were respectful of the mast mandates, but the other 20% were either wearing their masks incorrectly (I’m looking at you under-the-nose people) or not wearing them at all.

Someone bumped into me. Until that moment I don’t think I’d been touched by a stranger in at least 12 months!

All this to say, I felt overwhelmingly safe because I am vaccinated. If I weren’t fully vaccinated, I can’t say that would have been the case. #getvaccinated.

Anyway, after going through pre check (if you don’t have Global Entry, what are you even doing?), we stopped at Jersey Mike’s and got breakfast sandwiches.

Folks, I’m usually a McDonalds at the airport kind of girl. There’s something about an Egg McGriddle that triggers the nostalgia of traveling with my parents as a kid.

That said, if there’s a Jersey Mike’s in the terminal, I’m going there every time. Their bacon and egg breakfast sandwich is seriously restaurant quality and I strongly recommend you forgo all other options.

Pro Tip: If you’re only ordering breakfast at LAX, you don’t need to wait in the sandwich line. Just walk right up to the cashier. Jersey Mike’s is the G.O.A.T.

Basic Economy Is The New First Class

When my fiancé and I travel on non-budget airlines, we always opt for Basic Economy. It gets a bad rap, but really, what’s the inconvenience other than maybe not being able to sit together and listen to different podcasts for 4 hours?

The one real bummer of Basic Economy is that you’re always in the final boarding class, meaning you’ll probably have to check your carry-on. This does not apply, I learned today, in a pandemic.

Apparently pandemic planes board back to front, so if you’re flying Basic Economy and you end up with a seat in the back of the plane (as you usually do), you’re boarding the plane first. What a turn of events! Jokes on you, full-price-paying passengers!

Boarding the plane, the flight attendants will hand you a tiny packet of Purell wipes in case you’re still not satisfied with the giant spray disinfectants they just used 5 minutes ago on the entire plane.

You're Sitting In A CHAIR In The Sky!

I tend to get anxious on planes, particularly during turbulence. In especially rough air, the only thing that helps is alcohol and Sudoku.

Something about that puzzle keeps my mind distracted from the fact that I’m flying in a metal tube at 36,000 feet and it’s bumpy.

I depend on those back-of-the seat magazines and their half-filled-in puzzles. Well, ladies and gentlemen, apparently those magazines have been #cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, so if you too count on these magazines for entertainment or distraction - don’t. Thankfully, this year has taught us all how to handle boredom (and I suppose anxiety) so 4 hours should be nothing.

Speaking of alcohol, I’ve been on about 12 flights since this first trip to Florida in May, and most airlines aren’t serving. This is usually fine, but if you’re planning on being hungover on your flight, you may want to check ahead of time.


Overall, nothing’s changed. Sure, you have to wear a mask and it’s a little uncomfortable. Sure, you may have to skip the gin and tonic this time around. But in the wise words of Louis CK: You’re sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY!

And after a year away, damn it feels good.

Tara Lookabaugh is a heavy reader, light writer, and the co-founder at Imagine Tomorrow whose mission is to reduce mental health stigmas globally. Their products give back, meaning a portion of all sales contribute to programs and foundations that are actively changing the conversation around mental illness.

If you believe that every good wardrobe starts with owning less and owning better, consider buying yourself an OLIVER CHARLES sweater.
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