The saying goes that relief can be "a weight off your chest". But I'd never truly experienced that physical feeling until today, when the plane wheels touched down on New Zealand tarmac.
My husband and I had been travelling through Peru and Argentina, starting our holiday before a pandemic was declared.
But we've spent the last three days racing against the clock to get home. Every hour that ticked by, more borders closed, more travel routes shut off, and fewer backup options remained.
First, it was just a rumour that the borders might close soon. We decided it was time to be cautious, end our trip early, and book a new flight out.
We were told we had two of the last three seats on that plane.
As we moved out of the regions of Argentina towards the main centres we could fly out from, routes shut down behind us.
Domestic travel shut down 12 hours after we reached the main centre of Buenos Aires. The small towns we'd been in went into lockdown quarantine.
As we stood in a line for a connecting flight, we found out Chile had closed its border. "But our flight transits out through there", we said. Can we still go through?
For now, the airline worker said. But nothing is guaranteed.
Other airlines shut down their flights out of the country. Other New Zealanders spotted us in queues, asked where we were going, if there were seats on our flight. They told us the airlines that had shut down their routes simply shrugged, and told them the flight didn't exist anymore.
It was like watching the path behind you disappear, while not being sure if the path ahead of you could be trusted.
I fixated on the transit through Chile. There were no more direct flights from Buenos Aires to New Zealand, so I told myself if we could just get through Chile, we would be safe. There would be other flight options, even if our booked flight fell through.
When that first flight landed in Chile, I felt relief, but not weightlessness. The transit was a success, but all we were learning through this process was that nothing was guaranteed.
Flights continued being cancelled around us. More than half of the flights on the airport signs had flashing red "cancelled" next to them.
Rumours ran rampant that New Zealand might close its borders. I told myself they wouldn't let us be stranded, but wasn't entirely convinced.
When we boarded the plane from Santiago to New Zealand, my relief increased, but still wasn't total. There had been stories of planes turning back, some for medical reasons, some unexplained.
Every little cough was met by fellow passengers with side eye and shuffling away.
Twelve hours in the air is a long time when the last you heard was the Government might be making an announcement on borders, and you just have to hope you're on the right side of it when you land.
So when the descent began, the cabin lights dimmed, and the plane wheels finally touched tarmac, for the first time in my life I felt it. A physical weight, lifting off my chest. Home.
It took two and a half hours to clear customs. Audio warnings played on loop, telling us how to self-isolate, and stay distant from other people.
Huge posters dominated the hallways displaying Covid-19 safety messages and self-isolation information. New arrival cards were handed out, asking for more information on where you had been, and if you had any Covid-19 symptoms.
Every passenger had to individually speak to a customs officer about the self-isolation requirements, how they were getting home, and where they would be.
You will be checked, the officer warned us. It's not if, it's when. Don't think you can get away with not isolating.
They didn't need to worry about us. Home is the only place I've wanted to be for the last three days.
No e-gates to clear customs, but another personal chat with a customs officer for each passenger.
And finally - fresh air. Outside, to the car, to home. To a shower to decontaminate from the flight, and a nap.
Two weeks at home will be heaven.