When it comes to cool client events in the PR industry, being sent on a press trip to one of the highest rated cities in America to drink cocktails and learn about an award-winning whiskey for a week, is basically the crème de la crème.

Our client, Westward Whiskey, the journalists attending, and myself, knew the week would be filled with amazing beverages, delicious food, sightseeing, and lots of laughs. What no one expected though when we booked the trip in January, was that Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) would hit.

When we landed in Portland, Coronavirus was an issue.  However, it wasn’t at crisis stage. The first two days of the trip saw site visits to different distilleries, fine dining restaurants, and dive bars.

But by day three, things took a dramatic turn. President Donald Trump shut the borders to anyone coming from Europe and there were rumours he was going to cancel all flights in and out of the country.  Then the Canadian borders closed, and the confirmed cases in Oregon and Washington (the state we were in, and its neighbour) were growing rapidly.

This announcement changed the sentiment immediately, with everyone on the press trip concerned about whether they would be able to return home or not. Plus – although it wasn’t a top-concern – the majority of venues closed straight after the press conference, sending our perfectly-crafted itinerary into disarray.

Naturally, we were all given the choice to leave early, but every one of us agreed that we had come this far and we wanted to see the trip through. So, for the next three days, we tasted more whiskey, washed our hands almost every five minutes, tried to keep our distance as much as possible, and carried on as normally as possible.

At our farewell dinner, all of the Australians received an alert notifying us that it would be a legal requirement to self-quarantine for two weeks upon our arrival back home. In true Aussie spirit, even though this changed all of our lives significantly (one of the journalists lost thousands of dollars by having to cancel an event they were hosting, another had to be separated from his children, etc.) we all kept a positive tone. In fact, everyone kept saying how shocked they were at how we were just rolling with the punches.

The Australian Government then began urging residents to come home, and flights were being cancelled constantly. On the final day we all waited nervously about whether our flights would leave as scheduled, and all of us were concerned about the possibility of being stranded in the US during this pandemic.

Fortunately, all of us made it home on our alternate flights, and home safety. I don’t know about the others, but I let out a sigh of relief when my plane touched down. At least no matter what happened from that point on, I knew I would be close to my family, friends, and puppy.

When I turned my mobile off aeroplane mode, there were messages from dozens of people (Agent99 team members, the Westward team, family members, and even other journalists from the trip) checking I was okay.

Our lives and businesses are currently going through unprecedented challenges, so I urge you to treat others with extra kindness, check in with people often, and don’t be selfish. Comradery is the only way we will get through these times.

And, whether you are social distancing or self-quarantining, take time each day to think about what you are grateful for. For me, it is being back in a country with healthcare, having a job where I can work remotely when necessary, my own health and that of my family and friends, and working with brands who not only send us on amazing press trips, but also have the courage to pivot and make bold moves in these trying times.   

Be safe, and feel free to send toilet paper or food while I bunker down for the next fortnight 😉

Agent Nic