'I Got The Last Flight To Zurich': We’re Brits Who Spent Lockdown Abroad

·6-min read
These three people who fled the UK to spend lockdown elsewhere  (Photo: Laura, Adam, Dima)
These three people who fled the UK to spend lockdown elsewhere (Photo: Laura, Adam, Dima)

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Most of us became more familiar with our homes than we ever hoped to be during lockdown. We stared at the same four walls for hours on end, dipping out only for a daily walk, or a trip to the supermarket.

But for a handful of people, lockdown life meant something else: it meant spending an extended period of time away from their homes – more time, perhaps, than they ever expected. These people either got stuck abroad, or chose to escape the UK to find space, comfort or work elsewhere.

Three Brits who were in west Africa, Zurich, and Portugal between March and June spoke to HuffPost UK about their lockdown experiences.

Here are their stories.


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‘I ran around my room packing, without knowing how long I was going for’

Laura Burns, 26

Spending lockdown abroad (Photo: HuffPost UK)
Spending lockdown abroad (Photo: HuffPost UK)

“I made the decision to escape London – and the UK – on March 10 and get one of the last flights to Zurich, where my sister lives. It was before lockdown was announced, and before Switzerland closed its borders. I felt panicked and anxious as I packed, not knowing how long I’d be away for or when I’d return.

“The flight was taking off too soon to book online, so I had to book over the phone. As I ran around my room packing, I contacted my line manager to check it was okay with the job I started only the week previous. I booked a return flight for May 3, thinking I’d definitely cancel it and get an earlier one.

I had a steaming hot shower and downed a shot of vodka upon arrival.. Laura

“When I landed, I definitely had doubts. My sister was pregnant, so we had to talk about the risks involved. I had a steaming hot shower and downed a shot of vodka when I got to her house – it probably wouldn’t have worked but it made us feel like we’d tried to kill anything I might have caught on the flight!

“I ended up spending 80 days living with my sister, my brother-in-law, my two dogs and my niece who was born mid-way through lockdown. I spent my days working from home in Zurich, my weekends lying in the sun or paddle boarding on Lake Zurich, and my evenings with my family. Lockdown lifted there before it did in London, so we were able to go to restaurants and spend time out and about, too. I came back to London the night before the quarantine rule for international arrivals came into play, landing at Heathrow on June 7.

“Before coronavirus, I’d planned to spend one week in Switzerland around the birth of my niece but thanks to lockdown I was there to spend quality time with her for her first six weeks in the big wide world, giving me experiences and memories I’ll never forget.”


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‘As far as I know, I was the only Brit stranded in Benin’

Adam Bradford, 27

Spending lockdown abroad (Photo: HuffPost UK)
Spending lockdown abroad (Photo: HuffPost UK)

“Earlier this year, I was in Nigeria for work – I work with young entrepreneurs around the world to help them with their business ideas, and unlock funding. After a few months in Nigeria, I travelled over the border to Benin – a smaller nation in west Africa – in early March. Shortly after, lockdown struck.

“Flights were cancelled, airports started closing and the government issued guidance to stay at home. The situation was rapidly changing and, fearing being stuck in transit or getting ill, I decided the safest option was to wait it out there.

“When the UK government announced the list of countries it was repatriating citizens from, Benin wasn’t on the list – as far as I knew, I was the only Brit stranded in Benin. Being in lockdown there was a difficult but rewarding experience. I don’t speak the greatest French, so the language barrier was a hurdle! But the people were friendly and it was a good time to focus, work remotely and keep things moving.

I learned a lot about how to adapt, how to survive in new environments. Adam

“I worked hard, too! After seeing so many young people tackling coronavirus in unique ways, I launched a challenge, calling out to those aged 29 or younger working on coronavirus-related business ideas.

“Our five winners were so impressive! Juliet Namujju from Uganda designed lipreading-friendly face masks from recycled plastic; Patrick Ssremba launched digital on-demand medical and dental services to support communities in Uganda; and Apoorv Shankar, from India, designed a device that allows people to open doors and press ATM buttons contact-free.

“Being in Benin tested my resilience and my ability to cope without the normal methods of support. I learned how to adapt, survive in new environments and even how to work without the internet and proper connectivity, which was certainly new for me! And I came away with new friends, increased confidence and a greater appreciation for everything we have in our day-to-day lives.”

‘The most exciting thing for me was learning how to surf’

Dima Vasilenco, 26

Lockdown abroad (Photo: Dima)
Lockdown abroad (Photo: Dima)

“I live in London, but decided to go to Portugal during lockdown to cohabit with my girlfriend, but also for the freedom. The lockdown in Portugal wasn’t that severe – malls, bars and restaurants reopened on June 1.

“On May 8, I took a flight to Lisbon from Luton airport. That was my second attempt to fly to Portugal during lockdown. The first one – on April 18 flying from Heathrow with British Airlines – was unsuccessful. I couldn’t fly, as only citizens of Portugal and permanent residents were allowed. Before flying on May 8, I called the embassy of Portugal, the consulate and also the border control and all of them said it was okay for me to go.

“When I arrived, staying in Porto, I felt really safe. It took a bit of getting used to, though, after being in London. On the first day, I was trying to go in a shop but couldn’t because I didn’t have a mask. Masks are mandatory there and no one leaves the house without one. People were just more serious about quarantine and social distancing. In the UK, the rules are formally the same, but people don’t obey it as much – yet, in Portugal, it felt that people were more respectful to others – that’s why I felt so safe.

“The most exciting thing for me was learning how to surf – definitely a moment in life when you can divide it to “before” and “after”. Generally, Portugal was all about being in nature, hiking, and enjoying the water – which was a huge contrast to spending at least an hour a day on the Tube in London!”


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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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