TRAVELLING abroad can be stressful at the best of times, but during the pandemic ever-changing regulations imposed by the UK and other countries have caused havoc at airports.

I flew to my home country Bulgaria on the evening of Thursday, March 29, just a week before Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unveiled the Government’s latest travel measures, and returned on Sunday.

Oxford Mail reporter Gergana Krasteva

Oxford Mail reporter Gergana Krasteva

So, let me tell you – it was a humbling and costly experience that did not involve a cheeky holiday pint at Wetherspoons or a quick duty-free shop for presents.

I arrived at Luton Airport two hours before departure and the area looked like a ghost town.

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Remember the famous ending of Love Actually where smiling family members and friends are welcoming loved ones?

Well, forget about that – if you are not flying yourself, you are not allowed inside.

The terminal was almost empty and once I passed the check-in gates, I was slightly surprised to see that all shops, restaurants and bars were shut, including the reliable duty-free counters.

Only Boots and WHSmiths were open, so pre-plan your snacks or be disappointed.

When flying, Government rules state that everyone must provide a proof of a negative PCR test – these differ from the 20-minute lateral flow tests and have to be arranged by the traveller themselves.

I booked mine at an Assured Screening lab and paid £120 for a next-day result, which was cheap compared to other companies.

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It is also very important to remember that the test has to be done 72 hours before your flight, so make sure you time it right.

While my results were not checked at Luton, airport staff at Sofia asked for proof and passengers who did not have one had to quarantine for ten days.

The plane was nearly full and there was practically zero social distancing when passengers were boarding, but I somehow managed to score a row of empty seats – yes please, more leg space.

Flying during Covid-19

Flying during Covid-19

The journey to Sofia was a bizarre experience but almost straightforward when compared with my return.

Highlights included paying more than £250 for three additional PCR tests and nearly sobbing when I was yelled at by airport staff.

Current rules mean that people travelling from ‘amber list’ countries like Bulgaria have to provide proof of another negative PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding, plus two more scheduled for the second and eighth day from the date of your arrival into the UK.

Even if I test negative for both these tests in the UK, I still have to quarantine for ten days.

Luckily, I did my research (very last minute) but some had not.

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There were frustrated passengers running around like crazy at both Sofia and Luton Airports trying to organise Covid-19 tests and filling out the compulsory Government Passenger Locator form.

Queues were long and I could see many travellers trying to plead with authorities for some help and understanding.

From my experience, these are the forms you must have with you – preferably printed out – otherwise you can face the wrath of those checking the documents: a proof of negative PCR test signed by the lab and translated in English, two more PCR tests booked for your quarantine period plus a printed receipt that you purchased them, and the Passenger Locator Form.

Covid-19 PCR test

Covid-19 PCR test

I did not have physical proof of payment, so had to quickly dash out of the airport in Sofia and find a shop willing to give a girl a helping hand.

While it is not officially required, apparently there are a lot of ‘fakes’ doing the rounds and security measures are being increasingly ramped up.

This was my experience travelling from an ‘amber list’ country, so other destinations will differ.

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Unless you are travelling from Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which will be on the ‘green list’ officially from May 17, then you have to be prepared to quarantine.

The ‘traffic light’ system that the Government unveiled last week will be reviewed every three weeks but most of these countries have a very severe travel policy in light of the pandemic.

Do I recommend flying right now?

It is a very personal choice and I admit I was worried about catching the virus while at the airport and on the plane, but even though all these restrictions are annoying to say the least, I was comforted that they were in place to make me feel safer.

Was it worth it?

Hundreds of pounds on Covid-19 tests and a lot of anxiety about travel later, I can say most definitely.

It was a gamble, but I had not seen my family in almost a year and being a Bulgarian citizen allowed me to travel to visit them.