Should I stay or Should I go?
I admit, I’m a bit obsessed with making travel plans, even when I can’t go anywhere! I dream of a day I can get paid to travel. A day when I can see as much of the world as possible. Thus, like for many, the quarantine has put a big kibosh on all of that. I have finally started to take mini trips because I don’t want to lose my travel chops during this interminable pandemic. Read about our recent visit to Fort Baker and a hike in Tiburon.
In anticipation of one day being free from the apocalypse, I follow what the “travel experts” have to say regarding what is in store for wander lusters, business travelers, and those of us who simply want to visit family after this hideous hiatus. I turned to the publications I believe are doing a good job in keeping travelers informed. Below are some points taken from Travel & Leisure, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Blonde Abroad, and The Points Guy.
Several of the articles were written earlier in the Spring and Summer, and some more recently. The earlier publications referred to the obvious shifts, such as “expect fewer crowds.” This seems humorous now that we know everything was completely shut down, and the word “crowds” dropped off our vocabulary list! Now that this ordeal is going on longer than originally expected, the predictions are changing.
Virus and Restrictions
Epidemiologists who were interviewed suggested some basic things, such as don’t go to active hot spots where lock downs and quarantines may surprise you. I checked out the CDC app TravWell, which gives information about viruses and health warnings all over the world. Did you know you need to avoid Polio and Ebola as well as Covid 19? A favorite blogger, Kiki, aka Kiersten Rich, of The Blonde Abroad highly recommends App in the Air because it not only helps you to organize your trip, but gives up to date info on travel restrictions during the pandemic.
Some countries, such as South Korea, require visitors to quarantine for 14 days and puts them up in a hotel with food provided. (Yup, you guessed it! The USA does not do this and has suffered 47 times more cases of Covid, than South Korea. Science Daily ) Some places, such as Alaska and Egypt, require visitors to arrive with proof of a negative Covid test. Arrive without it and you must pay for a test upon landing. Maine will allow anyone to come in, but residents are not allowed to return home without a two-week quarantine. If you attended a gathering that included 500 people or more, out of state, then you cannot return to Kansas. (Who the heck attended a gathering of 500 people or more since March??? Oh, wait, we know exactly who offered super spreader rallies during this time.) Anyone can come to California, but if you are from California, you can’t go to Connecticut. And the most brilliant place on earth, New Zealand, simply will not allow anyone to enter the country unless you are a citizen or have a critical purpose for going there. (New Zealand has had only approximately 1500 confirmed Covid cases and 25 deaths, total, since the first case emerged in February). The inconsistencies between borders goes on and on. You get the picture.
Doctors also remind us that we can’t just think about our own health when travelling, but must consider the health of those where we are going. We can infect others as much as they can infect us. For instance, if I had the virus and took my bucket list trip to Easter Island, my infection could prove devastating to the island’s mere 5000 inhabitants.
Have you looked at the CDC website? Literally, the map of the world is a dark, burnt orange, which means Level 3: Covid 19 Risk Is High. There are very few gray and yellow spots indicating No Health Notice: Covid 19 Risk is Low or Very Low: Antarctica, Greenland, Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Thailand, and New Zealand. That’s it people. Of approximately 251 countries recognized by the United Nations, only ten are somewhat safe, or low risk, for non-essential travelers as of October 13, 2020. Then, there are Turkmenistan and North Korea who have not submitted their data to the World Health Organization (WHO). They have a very dark gray color, which means definitely, DO NOT go there!
Here is the scenario I obsess about when I lay awake thinking of a non-essential trip to the east coast to visit family right now:
I fly from SFO to BOS, to visit my sister. Upon arrival, I would have to quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative Covid Test that has been administered 72 hours prior to arrival in MA. Failure to comply would result in a $500 fine. Then, I want to visit my other sister in Maine. Luckily, the restrictions from Massachusetts to Maine have just been lifted, so I neither have to produce a negative test nor quarantine for two weeks. Then, off to Vermont to visit my brother, where quarantine-free leisure travel is also allowed. Sounds great, right? But let’s really break it down.
Just because I can get off a plane with mask and shield, and then drive around New England in a rental car (because I can’t be in a car with anyone), doesn’t mean I can be mask free and sleep in my siblings’ homes. It still means I have to socially distance when I see them, stay in a rental or hotel, and not hug them, which is sort of the whole point of going in the first place. You can see that the emotional and practical issues abound!
Airline experts quoted in these articles state that the rebound or return to the new normal is likely to be staggered, as it will be for all other businesses. Travel will begin in the hubs where the outbreak is contained, and offerings will expand as the world becomes safer. We are already seeing that flight choices have dramatically shrunk during these six months. For instance, our daughter booked a non-stop across the country to school, but that flight was cancelled and she had to change planes in Dulles only to take a smaller, more crowded, plane to her destination. Many direct routes may not be available again for a while. T&L reports that hotels and airlines are tracking the searches people are making. While some may be feeling more confident about leaving home, they are not willing to commit to anything just yet. People are booking domestic trips for a few months into the future, but are likely to cancel them if things don’t improve, or get worse. The surge in driving trips has been remarkable apparently, and the rental car and RV/Van market has seen a big uptick in activity. That, I predict, is likely to continue. We have family members who drove to the Midwest in a rental to see their grandchild, thus avoiding any quarantining when they arrived. After a great week, they flew home. I suspect that those who were not necessarily road trippers before, will find that they are happy to stay safe in their car and stay domestic. The economy needs it, and people are not going to feel comfortable to fly for a long time. I know many people who have taken the work/school-from-home concept on the road. With no reason to stay home, and WiFi everywhere, they are on the go. A friend is taking her two school age children to Carmel midweek, because, why not? We have been talking about the van idea a lot. Have you seen those luxury Mercedes Sprinter Vans?
Hotels took a huge hit during this time and are offering many incentives to compete with the Airbnb and VRBO rental services. Check out the deals. I have heard many people are feeling safer in hotels now because, with fewer rooms being booked, the crowds are nonexistent. No one cleans your room each day, but if you order take out and avoid elevators, things appear to be safe. We are looking into a trip to a favorite spot, Laguna Beach, soon and found many choices for rentals. Whereas pre-pandemic, everything would be booked. I don’t see prices dropping, necessarily, but there seems to be more available than is typical during the Thanksgiving holiday.
These are the questions we all need to ask before planning any trip:
How socially distant can you be from others in an airport, a plane, a train, etc.?
How often are all the surfaces and air cleaned?
What about ventilation?
What protective gear are the staff and the passenger required to wear?
And how will this be enforced?
Airlines, hotels, Airbnb, and VRBO, etc. are not uniform in this regard. Some flights have empty seats and others are full. Some airports are not requiring masks, others are. The lack of consistency tells me that it is every woman for herself out there! According to everything I have read, it doesn’t seem like we can count on the regulations or the big business mentality to keep us safe.
Things like biometric screenings, hands free check in, and literally never touching a person or a surface is becoming more the norm. These systems are not likely to disappear but will become more efficient, I suspect, and will change travel forever. Remember how different security lines were before 9/11? It doesn’t take an expert to know that post pandemic, we will never return to some of our pre-pandemic habits and protocols. Airports now have testing kiosks where the massage and pedicure stands used to be.
Having Fun When You Get There
I think this is the big question for me and really differs greatly depending on where you are going. For a trip to my family in Massachusetts, I won’t need entertainment, restaurants, or museums. But for a vacation to somewhere I have never been, different story. We already know that outdoor adventures, sites, and monuments are much safer currently, which is why people flocked to the Grand Canyon this summer! Restaurants are offering take out, and outdoor dining choices are everywhere, so that will continue. The big bustling city trips are being swapped out for the quiet, remote, and more relaxing getaways. I will avoid the kind of “fun” that places me inside a busy casino, or drinking the night away in a crowded bar.
That being said, we have our daughter’s college graduation in May and our nephew’s wedding in June. We are planning on going, but what will the “fun” look like? No hugging? No shared food experiences? Socially distance dance floor? We’ll see what happens! Let’s hope Maxine the Vaccine shows up!
Post vaccine, people will obviously begin to regain their confidence. Slowly. We have experienced a collective trauma, and like 9/11, we will help each other heal. Part of the way trauma recovery works is that people talk about it, others listen and understand, and there is a general shared experience of growth. The emotional overlay is huge however, and will continue to be so. Yet, once we start taking risks and venture out of our nests, I trust we will start to feel safe in the world again.
I’m not the only one itching to visit family I haven’t seen since this began. People like me will be craving that European café, or the Bali beach bungalow, and we will start to go again. Armed with our masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, we will slowly start to feel normal again. We will want to spend those travel dollars and check things off our bucket lists.
Because, if we learned anything during 2020, it is that you never know what tomorrow will bring, so you damn well better live for today!
Stay safe everyone!