My Travel Experience

Aman's real-life tips to avoiding pandemic travel headaches
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It comes as no surprise that the past few months have been quite confusing for travellers, with uncertainty surrounding covid passports, vaccines, different rules and processes for different countries. We understand that the entire process is no longer what it used to be pre COVID-19. There is only so much advice we can offer you from behind our screens which is why we wanted to hear from our very own Gray Dawes Consulting Manager Aman Pourkarimi.

This post surrounds Aman’s first excursion overseas post COVID19, as he took a trip to Istanbul just before Christmas. We hope you find his musings useful as you join 60% of our travellers in returning to the travelling experience.

So, time for Aman to take over and give us all his top tips and advice for those returning to the travel world…
Aman Pourkarimi
A little about me 

As an advisor to businesses, I would class myself as a frequent traveller, spending at least half the working week away from home and have over 50 stamps on my passport across 5 continents.

I am 38, triple vaxxed and have no underlying physical health conditions. I suffer from moderate anxiety which is triggered by events potentially not going to plan. I make a lot of plans. Day plans, project plans, life plans! As you can imagine, embarking on this trip came with plenty of anxiety.

Having worked through the pandemic, I felt exhausted – taking a day off or a long weekend just wasn’t cutting it, especially as remote working had become somewhat of an addiction. I was firing up the laptop everywhere I went. When going to Peak District, which ‘peaked’ for me when I cleared my inbox for the first time in 18 months; and even going to my parents, which can be seen more of a blessing rather than a curse.

I needed a defined break. A proper holiday. And in early November, I decided to book a trip. One of my bucket list items was to travel alone and be content doing so. Not quite Christopher Columbus nor Mark Twain. More Shirley Valentine.

Booking my trip
arriving at check-in

Arriving at check-in fully prepared and ready for my solo trip to Istanbul.

The booking process to the trip remains largely the same as it did pre-COVID19. I must decide where and when. Obviously for business trips, these elements are mostly pre-determined. I wanted to fly out on the 14 December and return on the 24 December, just in time to spend Christmas with my family. I decided on Turkey because having been born in neighbouring Iran, my mother especially spoke fondly of her trips there, including to Istanbul. The next step was checking the price, making sure it was within my budget. At £127 for a return ticket on BA from Heathrow, this was again a similar experience to that of pre-COVID19. And, with the 8 to 1 conversion rate on Lira being offered, meant that the hotel – Holiday Inn Susili – was a snip at £45 per night, including breakfast.

Prior to committing to Turkey, I checked the travel restrictions and assessed the risk of it becoming stricter before my trip by using the Gray Dawes’ Traveller Toolkit. I did my unscientific review of the case rates and applied the following logic:

  1. Was my point of origin cases increasing week on week at rapid level?
  2. Was my point of destination case rates increasing week on week at rapid level?
  3. Are the case rates at my destination significantly higher than the UK?

The Turkish immigration system was very straightforward. They have a passenger locator form, much like UK version, where you are required to enter your place of stay, duration, flight details, passport details and proof of your vaccination which was a screenshot of my NHS COVID Pass.

COVID19 related restrictions can be difficult to predict due to the constant change in UK cases, meaning that the destination country is more likely to enforce restrictions or even block arrival. Similarly, if the destination country has rising COVID19 cases, the UK may enforce restrictions on return. A good guide to what “spiking equates” to is comparing the country week on week (20% increase week on week is “spiking” in my book) and compare with the UK’s level. At the point of booking, the Turkish case rates were running at a flat 2k per day for over 3 months, with the UK rates bouncing between 30-35 thousand cases per day. Resulting in a comparatively higher frequency than Turkey. However, the Turkish Government were allowing quarantine and test free arrival for vaccinated travellers from the UK. Given their economy relies heavily on tourism – hence the drop in value of their currency – I was satisfied that my booking was relatively safe.

Run up to departure

Prior to the trip, the UK Government reinstated the requirement for a pre departure and Day 2 test due to the discovery of the Omicron variant. This was frustrating as, even though it was with cheaper than lateral flow tests, it still added £50 to my trip. Furthermore, the anxiety of potentially being asked to quarantine in Turkey and missing Christmas with my family was concerning. The Day 2 test meant committing to staying with my parents until I got my result on my return as I had to declare I was isolating in a set location. That’s at least 3 days potentially 7 with mum. Yikes.

Although there was no pre-arrival test required, the Turkish government stated travellers may be subject to spot temperature checks on arrival. That threat, alongside the rapidly spreading Omicron variant (doubling daily case rates to 60K from my booking date) caused me to be extra careful to avoid any social mixing ahead of the lead up to my trip… meaning no Christmas party for me, unfortunately!


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Day of departure

In order to check-in online, I just needed to provide a link to my Turkish Passenger locator form which carried over my COVID pass. Easy. Prior to packing, I looked at the Traveller Toolkit to see what local restrictions were in Istanbul. There was a requirement to wear face masks in public so I packed extra and a COVID19 vaccination pass would be required in some venues. Thankfully the NHS one would suffice. Done.

Again, to avoid mixing I took a cab rather than underground from Harrow. It added £32 pounds to my trip but meant I got there without fear of trains being trapped underground. My mind is my enemy.

The airport was fantastic. The right level of busy. Not too packed, not deserted either. And extremely clean. Having checked in, I went through security with the usual unnecessary panic and dread over post 9/11 liquid allowances. I fretted about whether my aftershave, toothpaste and deodorant make it through, and they did. Phew.

Having lost my frequent flyer status, I didn’t have lounge access so it was Pret for me. You can take your masks off while dining which makes sense but, being sat among people mask-less was an uneasy experience as I was worried about testing positive on the other side.

I tried to settle myself by looking at seatguru and to my horror, the 4 hour flight on BA would not have any onboard movies/programmes. I can’t read a book for that long and having made a vow not to work, I had to think quickly. I downloaded the entire series of MAID – poor woman, highly recommend it – on my Netflix app and charged my battery power bank. I must confess, I felt awfully smug when I put in my earphones and sat back to watching while passengers either side were staring at the seat back in front of them.

The flight

Passengers sit inside an airplane wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in Edmonton, Canada.

The flight was comfortable. Totally full but masks were worn my all passengers. Alcohol wipes were provided to wipe down your seat if you felt inclined. No food was served. A little disappointing in that sense.

On arrival, Istanbul airport was just as clean and welcoming as Heathrow Terminal 5. People adhering in greater numbers to mask mandates than back in the UK which was positive for me. As Turkey isn’t in the EU, I didn’t get to experience the post Brexit FOMO of losing the EU lane status. There was no additional testing, so the threat served its purpose of making my experience more cautious without adding complexity on arrival.


I won’t bore you with the details of my trip, Istanbul was wet and cold but beautiful. Focusing on the process to get home was probably the most complicated part of my experience. I didn’t get a UK pre-departure antigen kit as I chose instead to source a cheaper version in Turkey.

Cheapest in the UK was £20. I managed to get a PCR test in Turkey for £8 through my hotel. They came to my room, conducted the test and I had to wait 24 hours for the result. That was difficult. They didn’t offer Antigen which would have given my result immediately, meaning money saved but anxiety peaking as even though I loved Turkey, the thought of being stuck in my hotel room for 14 additional days was horrifying. As my family would be tucking into Christmas dinner, I would be drowning my sorrows with overpriced mini spirit bottles and macadamia nuts.

When going to check in digitally I was only then told that I would have to go through a BA mandated predeparture checklist managed through the veriFLY app. The app is designed to bring in all the COVID19 documents and literally verify them to avoid queues at the airport. Wonderful in theory but advance warning from BA would have helped and better instructions. The app isn’t very intuitive.

My recommendations for travel 

Following my own experience, here are my top tips for travellers:


  1. Download veriFLY from your app store before you depart for Turkey to familiarise yourself with the app and load your trip on there.
  2. Download the NHS app and ensure you have your travel COVID19 vaccination passes. If unvaccinated, you will not need this but instead of the reference number for your PCR test.
  3. If vaccinated ensure you download and screenshot all your vaccinations, 1,2 and booster if applicable. Ensure the vaccine you had is recognised by your destination country/s.
  4. Book a pre-departure antigen kit from the UK approved list of suppliers (available on GOV.UK) and take it with you. They might be more expensive but at least you have it sorted, and the result is quickly established and the process is well established.
  5. Purchase your day 2 test from the Government approved list of suppliers. You should receive a reference code which you can use to upload to your passenger locator form. I recommend advance purchase as the availability and cost of these varies. NB- the cheaper the supplier, the greater the likely wait for the test result, and therefore lengthening your self-isolation, when you get home. Mine was just £33 (cheapest available at the time) but despite taking mine on Christmas Eve, I never got the result and had to isolate for the full period. No possibility of a refund.



  1. Take your pre-departure test. To ensure your test result is valid, do not take the test any sooner than 48 hours prior to the scheduled landing time of your arrival. Not the scheduled time of your departure.
  2. You will need to upload the certificate of your negative pre-departure test result into the veriFLY app. If you buy a test local, make sure they can provide a digital certificate you can upload directly or a physical one that you can take a picture of.
  3. On veriFLY,  input the reference code of your pre-booked Day 2 test. Even though you take this test when you return to the UK, you must book prior to departure or face a £500 and/or potentially being required to stay at a red list quarantine hotel, at your own cost.
  4. Complete the passenger locator form with your flight details, passport information and the address of where you will be isolating until you receive your test results.
In summary 

At the time of writing, the UK Government has since announced its intention to remove ALL testing requirements from 4am on the 11 February for vaccinated travellers. Unvaccinated travellers will still need take a Day 2 test. NB – this impacts your return to the UK only. You may still be required to take a pre-departure test for your destination country.

The UK government have also committed to reducing the passenger locator form, which in turn will make the veriFLY process easier. That is great news from my perspective as the stress, cost and administration burden of purchasing tests, taking them correctly and uploading the results were the only unpleasant aspects of travelling.

Indeed, I was extremely impressed with how airlines and airports have adjusted to these measures. There was much criticism for long queues witnessed at airports when these measures were first thrust open them 18 months ago. But, considering no two countries are adopting the exact same approach and forms, veriFLY was outstanding in providing a single platform to upload and verifying my documents ahead of arriving to the airport. If you consider the impact of 9/11 in terms of lengthier screening processes and stringent visa requirements to ensure our safety, I suspect legacy COVID19 will leave the industry be one of cleaner and more efficient travel.

Lastly, I wanted to remark on how this trip highlighted to me the importance of the travel sector. Not only for my mental health in taking a defined break and experiencing a new culture but also for the economy. For Turkey, a wonderful country with very proud and hospitable people, it was sad to hear the stories they told of now having to work four times as hard to earn the same money – in real terms – as pre-pandemic. Such is the crash of their currency. Obviously not all related to travel but massively impacted by so. Travel facilitates so many aspects of our existence, lot of business travel is about building relationships and building a culture. Creating an organisation that attracts, retains, and develops the best talent. Creating an organisation that’s tolerant and has an understanding of different cultures and can operate on a global stage. That learning comes from travelling. Much of which I had taken for granted until my lovely trip to Turkey.

I have since booked another trip – Greece! – Shirley Valentine would be proud.

Traveller Toolkit

To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip.

You’ll also find innovative and interactive virtual trips, which walk you through each step of  being at the airport, on the train and in the hotel. You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.

Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.