Three Days in Cairo

Planning Travel During COVID

It only takes one glance at an online travel forum to see that the ire towards travelers planning a getaway during COVID is overwhelming. And that’s within travel-focused networks. While I understand the notion of wanting to stay safe and keep the virus at bay in communities that have managed COVID, the idea of completely cutting off travel indefinitely seems not only unrealistic but also detrimental for many destinations that rely on tourism to keep locals afloat. While we had to pull the plug on our long-awaited trip to South Africa + Zanzibar (South Africa is likely not open to international travelers for the foreseeable future), we pivoted and expanded our trip into two segments: a getaway to Greece – just the two of us! – plus a few weeks in Sri Lanka with my parents in lieu of our African adventure. The strangest part of planning travel during COVID is that most of us who are brainstorming getaways (not just repatriation trips home or essential journeys) feel ashamed or embarrassed to share that we’re hitting the road, especially where airports and planes are involved. We’ve been working on revised plans for a couple of months now but I’ve kept it pretty hush-hush because it feels weird and maybe a bit tone-deaf to share. But isn’t it time we start talking about how to restart travel again? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the pros and cons (and potential hiccups), and have had long discussions with my parents about their desire/ability to travel abroad. Those convos and the whole process of planning travel during COVID brought a few key points to light. Below, I’m sharing a few elements to keep in mind when we talk about planning travel during COVID. For the folks out there who think that the notion of travel is abhorrently wrong, I’d ask you to think a bit more deeply about the points I’m sharing below.

We’ll be following the rules + regs of the countries we’re in

Two Days in Symi, Greece; Traveling During COVID

Let me start here because I think this is probably one of the most important aspects of choosing to travel. International travel is increasingly common and feels a bit like a God-given right for most of us. Having it ripped out from under us so abruptly left some of us feeling claustrophobic and uneasy. The thought of not being able to travel again felt wrong on so many levels. When I think on how helpless I felt initially being confined to the borders of our own home, I feel grateful for the prospect of being able to travel again in general. Food and beverage service is limited on the plane? I get it. I have to wear a mask at the airport and on the airplane? I’m happy to abide by those rules because I’m electing to travel. Testing upon arrival in Greece is randomized; if we’re the ones that are picked, we’re prepared to carve out time for testing and isolation while the tests are completed. In Sri Lanka, there’s a host of testing required (prior to arrival, upon arrival, and multiple times during your stay). We’ll have tests prepped and will be ready for a bit of extra time in airports when we arrive. We are choosing to travel; choosing to enter other countries which are not our own. And they’re allowing us entry (hallelujah!). If that entry comes with some provisions, how can we not understand that after the months of work done (e.g. shelter in place protocols, business closures, etc.) to help keep the virus at bay in many of these destinations? Fundamentally, I think one of the most important aspects of travel during COVID is being flexible and understanding with COVID-related protocols. This is probably a given but knowing the details for the countries your visiting is clearly key. What testing is required prior to departure and upon arrival? What sort of mask-wearing is required out and about (e.g. at restaurants or museums)? Every country is handling this differently so having a good grasp of the environment you’re entering (and whether the trip is worth it with protocols in place) is important to weigh.

We all have different risk profiles

Handicap Accessibility in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

I’ve been astounded by the hate-filled remarks towards folks planning travel right now. Obviously, if you’re feeling unwell, stay home. If you’re elderly or immune-compromised, take extra precautions and avoid circumstances that increase your risks of being in contact with COVID. Traveling right now for those more at risk probably doesn’t make sense when weighed. If you’re just someone who is generally frightened about travel, then don’t travel. We all have different risk profiles, and we’ve taken the time to evaluate our own personal risks based on a) our departure point and destinations (i.e. coming from a COVID-free territory and entering areas with very low COVID prevalence), and 2) our ages, current health, etc. We’re young, healthy, thirty-somethings with no pre-existing conditions, and while that doesn’t preclude us from getting the virus, we have a different risk profile than someone who’s immune-compromised or an older adult. Instead of bashing each other for traveling, showing a bit of understanding and recognition of this would be a step in the right direction.

The goal isn’t to not travel, it’s to travel safely

Visiting Egypt

Both of those points above lead to my third point: the goal isn’t to not travel, it’s to travel safely. Travel must resume again but we need to use this restart as a chance to travel safely and responsibly (and maybe be more thoughtful about the environment while we’re at it). There are protocols in place currently to protect travelers, employees, and residents in destinations around the globe. We’re learning and evolving, which is apparent in the fact that protocols are being re-evaluated constantly. Those of us traveling this summer and fall are amongst the first to test out some of these safety protocols, and there’s no doubt that they’ll continue to morph while we’re traveling.

Being flexible is key

Dubrovnik City Walls Walk

Psychologically, this is an important point when traveling during COVID: flexibility is a must. Scott and I are traveling alone for the first segment of our trip which means we can be extremely flexible. Testing on arrival? Great. Quarantine required for a few days? We’ll deal with it. No public transport allowed for visitors? We can sort that out. Flights need to be re-routed due to load issues? An inconvenience yes, but hardly a real problem. For parents traveling with kids, I totally understand that flexibility is much tougher when you have little ones you’re responsible for — that’s the primary reason our friends with children have chosen not to travel (getting stuck somewhere or having to quarantine with toddlers sounds like a feat). Flexibility is one of the most important things with travel in normal circumstances because things rarely go perfectly from start to finish. Being able to adapt is an important skill for jet setters and it’s never more important than right now.

Livelihoods depend on travel

3 Days in Luang Prabang

Lastly, but certainly not least, I think it’s important for us to remember that travel is more than a luxury. In many destinations, travel is the core of the economy and is an important part of local livelihoods. Anguilla is a great example of this, along with the majority of other Caribbean islands and a slew of countries (particularly island nations) around the world. There are a number of destinations where tourism makes up 30% of the job market and a whole group of countries in Europe whose economies directly rely on tourism for 10%+ of jobs. Sure, we travel because it’s something that fuels us and is enjoyable, but travel is an important component in the larger global economic puzzle and the lack of tourism is particularly hard-hitting in developing nations where livelihoods have been substantially elevated by tourism. Take a peek at the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a glimpse of how tourism is increasingly important when we talk about livelihoods, inequality, responsible consumption, and so much more.

With that all said, my packing begins. We jet off to Greece soon and while I’m incredibly excited about the prospect of exploring again, my emotions are mixed for the first time ever. I’m excited for a change but it’s bittersweet leaving this safe bubble that we call home. We’ve enjoyed our time on the island more than ever before and have taken the time to explore beyond our normal haunts, which has been refreshing. This is undoubtedly the longest we’ve gone without traveling, though, and it’s time for a bit of a reboot. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m making a vow to never take travel for granted again.

Have you traveled during COVID? What was your experience like?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.