Vacationing during a pandemic


Shorts? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Face masks and hand sanitizer? Check, check.

Ten days ago I set off on a short vacation. Destination Switzerland. By car. Although my green-loving heart prefers the train, a private compartment is more corona-proof. The cynics among you may well be wondering, “Why don't you vacation closer to home, stay at a campsite in Grolloo or a B&B in Lutjebroek?” Well, I was also going to be a witness at a wedding in Zurich.

A good reason to spend a week away from home. We drove via Belgium, Germany and France. Although the cursing prompted by the traffic junction at Liège was comfortingly familiar, the face mask rules at the gas stations were the sign of a changing society. Standing at the urinal with a mask over my mouth, I felt like I was performing my own prostate exam. At the same time, it was reassuring that people seemed to be taking the virus no less seriously in the countries beyond the Dutch border.

In Switzerland it was a different story entirely. In a social-distancing world, this felt like Sodom and Gomorrah. Did the people here have an uncontrollable craving for bare skin? During our first evening in Zurich the socializing going on at outdoor cafés was hard to miss: groups of ten, twelve, on one occasion as many as eighteen, crowding round a single table. Face masks nowhere to be seen at bustling outdoor drinks parties, and the distancing rule had apparently been changed to one centimeter fifty. Never have I seen so many Swiss hugging each other.

It was unsettling, and not because of any face covering - no one was even wearing one. How can you enjoy a vacation in places you have never been before? Zurich we knew, but we also planned to visit the alpine village of Grindelwald. Could we assume that people there would maintain their distance if a crowd formed? And why do most of the over-70s in Switzerland find it necessary to cough in the open air like a mime artist needing to throw up?

The idea of taking a vacation during a pandemic seems paradoxical, and it did feel a bit like that. Although my wife and I managed to find some lovely spots from where we could gaze undisturbed at the snowcapped peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains, it was also a holiday spent avoiding groups of people. We were more ‘switched on’ than normal and it was sometimes difficult to feel fully relaxed. Even though Switzerland no longer had so many corona cases, in both of us a survival instinct of sorts kicked in, as if we were two meerkats protecting their gang.

It is fine to go on vacation, but do be realistic about how comfortable you are going to feel in a place that you don't know. If you've been ambling around Eindhoven feeling pretty blasé about keeping your distance, you aren't going to have a problem abroad. If, on the other hand, you're the kind of person who always gives way to everyone else in order to keep yourself safe, you'll find the situations this gives rise to no less uncomfortable abroad than at home. In that case it would be a good idea to visit somewhere you are already - a little - familiar with, so that you don't spend half your vacation protecting your turf.

I'll be staying home for a while now so I will hold the TU/e fort while you guys are all away. From a distance, of course. 

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