Meet the 'amber gamblers' who have ventured abroad

·7-min read
Alenka Abraham - Alenka Abraham
Alenka Abraham - Alenka Abraham

Despite the Government very much discouraging all leisure travel to amber-listed destinations, it remains legal to do so; and perhaps unsurprisingly, many are choosing to flout this guidance in favour of a well-earned escape.

The penance? At least three tests to be taken per person (before, during and after your trip) plus 10 days in strict self-isolation upon return if you aren’t willing to fork out for an extra ‘test-to-release’ screening on Day 5. The upshot? Great deals to holiday destinations that would otherwise be jam-packed with tourists but, for as long as the faff of getting there remains, blissfully quiet.

Here, we spoke to three holidaymakers who took the punt on amber-listed holidays in Greece, Portugal and Montenegro, to get their verdict.

Greece: A family holiday

Alenka Abraham, based in West London, took her husband and two children, aged three and six, to the Sani Beach resort in Halkidiki, Greece, which she booked in April after two holidays fell through in December and March.

“I was systematically booking trips with fully refundable cancellation policies in the hope that one of them might happen, and this one came through,” she says. “I had no qualms with Greece’s amber status. In fact, I figured it would probably be less busy as a result – I feared a green destination would be swamped.”

Both Alenka and her husband have been twice-vaccinated, further putting her mind at ease. Though she was careful in how she talked about the holiday. “I didn’t really advertise the fact that we were doing it, beyond telling a few people, and I didn’t post a load of photos on Instagram; just a few when we got back,” she explains.

Alenka Abraham - Alenka Abraham
Alenka Abraham - Alenka Abraham

“A few other parents in our kids’ class had booked to go to the same place but had all cancelled their trips when Greece was made amber, so I did not want to make a big deal that we were still going, as our daughter would need to miss a couple of days' school on the return due to quarantining. However, most of our friends said ‘good for you for making it happen – who knows when the next opportunity would be?’”

The family stayed at Sani Beach, where they got a great deal in the end, though they did have to ask for a room upgrade upon arrival. “I think they were struggling for business,” Alenka remarks. “We could not have afforded it at peak times.”

The resort was exceptionally quiet. “Honestly it was bliss,” says Alenka. “For the first few days the place was empty – only three other people in the entire buffet. I felt really sorry for the staff who were very lovely but literally did not know what to do with themselves.”

The verdict

All-in-all, the holiday was a delight and Alenka says she regrets nothing and will absolutely book another amber holiday this summer. As for the testing rigamarole? “Complete waste of money as they are massively overpriced, especially the one for our six-year-old which no-one ever checked, but definitely worth it for a holiday,” she surmises, but warns: “They do check that you’re quarantining! We had two house visits and two phone calls every day up until Day 9, even though we’d opted for test-to-release on Day 5.”

rows of empty white sunbeds on bed
rows of empty white sunbeds on bed
Portugal: A solo getaway

For Dessie Hynes, a 54-year-old Royal Mail worker based in South London, a nice easy trip to Portugal earlier this month – then the only sunny green-listed destination for UK holidaymakers – turned out to be anything but. “The ‘fit to fly’ PCR test I ordered never arrived, so I had to leg it to Gatwick to take a test before departure, then stay at a hotel there to await the results,” he says. “When I woke up for my 5am flight, they still hadn’t appeared, and only did so, at last, a mere 50 minutes before boarding.”

Dessie had opted for a solo trip booked with TUI to the Riu Guarana Hotel in the small Portuguese town of Olhos de Água, near Albufeira in the Southern Algarve, at a resort made of “about 90 per cent British tourists; the rest Russian”, he notes.

“The day after I arrived, the UK government put Portugal on the amber list,” Dessie recounts. “Not ideal, but from what I could gather, the majority of the British holidaymakers had waited a long time for their holiday and were in no rush to curtail it and return to the UK in time for the deadline.”

As a result of staying, he informed his employer that he’d have to quarantine for 10 days upon return, “which they were very accommodating about” and jump through a few more hoops than initially planned. “The day before I returned I had to attend a local medical centre in Portugal to take an antigen test which allowed me to board the plane home. I then had to fill in the ‘passenger locator form’ with proof that I had already purchased a Day 2 and Day 8 test.”

Dessie enjoying a pint on holiday
Dessie enjoying a pint on holiday

The verdict

Mixed. Dessie tells us: “Overall, I really had missed travelling so I enjoyed the holiday, but would I have gone if I knew Portugal was going on the amber list? Probably not. I have two more trips planned in the coming months, to France and Germany, which are also amber so they look in great doubt.” He adds, of the cost: “It was £80 for my outgoing test, plus £160 for my Day 2 and 8 tests, from Boots. I was on my own, so not too serious, but if you were travelling as a family that’s serious open wallet surgery.”

Montenegro: An extended stay with friends

Aysha Suzuki, COO of trade hiring platform Kontructly, is in Montenegro with her business partner, who is based there, and a group of friends who flew in from Hamburg and Dubai.

“The original plan was to fly from London to Zurich for a quick visit then onwards to Tivat, Montenegro; two amber countries with one quarantine – seemed like an efficient plan,” she says. But with ongoing travel uncertainty, both her return flight to London and the flight from Zurich to Montenegro were cancelled.

“So I rebooked to fly from Zurich to Dubrovnik, a 90-minute drive to Tivat over the Croatian-Montenegro border and thought I’d worry about my return to London later,” Aysha tells us. “The day before my trip started, I wasn’t able to check into my Zurich flight because British nationals were no longer allowed entry into Switzerland unless they had spent 10 days somewhere not on the restricted list.

“Eventually, I flew straight to Dubrovnik last-minute before going on to Montenegro. The British people I overheard at immigration into Croatia all seemed to be transiting to Montenegro like me.”

Aysha plans to spend the next while staying put, to make all the hassle worth it. “I haven’t got my return flight to London sorted yet, but will no doubt be booking that at the last minute,” she says.

The verdict

A winner, just about. “Due to all the rebookings and additional PCR tests I would say I’ve easily spent an additional £400 than originally planned,” Aysha says. “But I’m glad to have a holiday this summer. There were a few moments where I thought it’s not worth travelling but now that I am here swimming in the bays near Kotor surrounded by mountains I can say confidently that it was.”

Would she book another amber-listed trip? “Unlikely,” she admits. “Taking into account the hassle I have faced, I need a couple of months of calm! And I was looking forward to enjoying a full return to normal in London, though this is now delayed and may never come to fruition.”

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
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