Jomana Karadsheh with her husband and son. She washed after her journey before she dared touch them.

I negotiated canceled flights, an unknown carrier and a 'sleep box' to get to my son

Updated 10:18 AM ET, Tue May 12, 2020

We are publishing personal essays from CNN's global staff as they live and cover the story of Covid-19. Jomana Karadsheh is an international correspondent based in Istanbul.

(CNN)It had seemed sensible at the time -- having my British husband take our four-year-old son to the UK as the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold in Europe. He wanted to be close to his family and, as a former NHS and military paramedic, he wanted to volunteer to help if needed.

They left Turkey on one of the last flights out to London in March. My son, Alex, is used to me traveling so our goodbyes were relaxed and I was content, sure that if I needed to, I'd be able to just jump on a plane and catch up with them.
In the days after they left, I kept convincing myself that it would be fine, that there was no way Turkey would just stop all flights.
But it did.
My heart sank when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced "international flights have ended." That was the moment when all those "what ifs" and worst-case scenarios started racing through my head. What if there's an emergency? What if I cannot get to them? What if they can't get to me?
Closed shops and empty spaces at Istanbul's airport.
After a couple of weeks of separation and self-isolation, I had to get back with my family. But with shut borders and airports it seemed impossible. Until my hours on Twitter proved fruitful, with advisories from the UK and US embassies about commercial flights still operating out of Istanbul for those who wanted to leave.
Qatar Airways was up and running with a #Takingyouhome campaign. Ticket prices were significantly higher than usual but I booked my route to London via Doha.
The thought of going through airports and sitting on planes at a time like this was terrifying, so I packed my carry-on with the essentials for traveling during a global pandemic: several masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and surface wipes.
Social distancing was encouraged at Istanbul's airport with signs on seats,
The night before the flight I woke up several times, and nervously took my temperature, knowing that there were already fever checks in place at Istanbul airport.
Then the next morning I woke again to a message that the flight has been delayed. And from there it went from bad to worse. Another delay, then another, then what I really did not want to hear -- the flight was canceled.
Mentally, I was prepared for the trip, the risks, the restrictions, the unknown -- but I was not ready for this. I just wanted to see my family and the weeks of bottling up all the anxieties and emotions came rolling out with a flood of tears.
My booking was moved to the next scheduled flight. My husband, Matt, on the other end of the phone kept saying, "It's OK, it's just another five days."
But it wasn't. Before the next flight, Qatar Airways suspended its services out of Istanbul. Months of separation from my family was suddenly a very real possibility.
I was too emotional to think clearly, but thankfully colleagues in Istanbul and Abu Dhabi helped me look up different options. We found one way out, on Belarus' national carrier via its capital, Minsk.
I'll confess I had never heard of the Belavia airline before but some research and reassurance from coworkers in Moscow who'd flown with them made me decide to take the flight.
I fly regularly on one of the many three and a half hour daily flights to London from Istanbul. But this journey was scheduled for 28 hours -- 22 hours of them a layover in Minsk Airport.
The flight to Minsk was almost like being in the pre-coronavirus days. Many passengers wore masks and regularly used hand sanitizer, but the flight crew seemed pretty relaxed. They didn't all wear masks and gloves, and it did not seem like there were any attempts to enforce social distancing on board.
Days earlier, Belarus's longtime President Alexander Lukashenko had been dismissive of the pandemic's severity. He suggested drinking vodka and going for the traditional sauna to protect one against the virus
It was a similar story at Minsk Airport -- no temperature checks or social distancing guidelines, a far cry from the strict measures of Turkey where masks are mandatory.
But Belarus does impose 14 days of compulsory quarantine for anyone entering the country, so remaining in the airport was the only option for transiting passengers like me.
In the transit area, people were spaced out simply because there weren't that many passengers around. But there was no way I was going to sit in a communal area for 22 hours. I am a journalist and I usually enjoy exploring new places even if it's just a country's airport. But this time, all I wanted to do was find a corner and hide.
So I rented a "sleep box" -- a little wooden cabin in the middle of the airport. It offered a bed, an electrical outlet and social distancing -- all that I needed!
The bed had disposable linens, but I still cove