Apr 20, 2021

Cookbooks, YouTube videos, Zoom gatherings guide travelers to Palestine

Urfa, Turkey, the city of Abraham dedicated to the patriarch of Christianity, Judaism and Islam

"Have you been to Israel?'' is a common question.

I haven't, but in thinking about a future trip, I've stumbled onto a trove of information on Palestinian history, culture and food. I know now that the West Bank, including the cities of Hebron and Ramallah, will be on my itinerary.

This assumes a post-Covid era when more vaccinations have reached Palestinians, and international travel in general opens again. But Israel is leading the world in vaccinations, and while it's not yet possible to travel there, it is a good time to begin researching the possibilities beyond Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Travel guidebook author and television host Rick Steves' excellent YouTube video titled "The Holy Land: Israel and Palestine Today," is good place to start. Along with the usual religious and historical sites in Jerusalem, Steves leads viewers to an olive harvest near Hebron, a family home in Bethlehem and a university in Ramallah. 

Most useful is a 48-page downloadable guide Steves compiled that blends historical background with practical advice.

"Arriving in Bethlehem, I checked into my guesthouse, and within minutes, met my Palestinian tour guide," Steves writes."He took me to a tourist-friendly restaurant that posted a “families only” sign so they could turn away rowdy young men. I guess we looked harmless enough, as they let us right in. We sat down, and an impressive array of Palestinian dishes appeared.

"For too many, unfortunately, the word 'Palestinian' raises an automatic association with terrorism. Because of this fear, the typical Christian pilgrimage tour visits Bethlehem as a side-trip from Israel...These unfortunate travelers miss a lot and come home with only one narrative. "

Reem Kassis

East Jerusalem native Reem Kassis, author of The Palestinian Table and a new book, The Arabesque Table, expressed the same sentiment in a recent interview with NPR's Terry Gross. 

"It's comical because all it takes is for me to use the word 'Palestinian' and anything that I want to talk about — no matter how far removed from politics — suddenly it's political," she said.

Kassis' books could double as travel guides to Palestine and other parts of the Middle East with insights into the Arabic origin of familiar foods such as hummus and bagels. She uses food as a common denominator, stressing that  "regardless of where you come from or what religion you are or what your beliefs are, you have to eat. "

Another excellent resource is the The Abraham Path Initiative (API), a nonprofit organization established to develop walking trails for tourists to learn about the people and culture of the Middle East, a geographical description it replaces with "Southwest Asia" to avoid pre-conceived judgements.

Pilgrams in Abraham's Cave, Urfa, Turkey

API started when 25 people embarked on a trip from Urfa in Turkey to Hebron, following the prophet Abraham’s legendary walk from what may have been his place of birth, to the place he is believed to be buried. This laid the foundation for the development of walking trails approximating the travels of Abraham and his family in Mesopotamia, who shared hospitality with people they met along the way

Since that time, API has worked with local partners to create over 2,000 miles of trails in Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Sinai, and Iraq, providing economic benefits to local communities and opportunities for walkers to have positive intercultural encounters. 

During Covid, I've enjoyed tuning into API's Webinars on YouTube featuring interviews with people in those areas involved in organic farming, olive oil production, seed sourcing and Saudi tourism. Check the website for upcoming Zoom events.

Anyone looking for an organized tour into Palestine might want to consider one of the "Reality Tours" offered by San Francisco-based Global Exchange, an international nonprofit dedicated to promoting social and economic justice.

All tours are on hold for the moment, but pre-Covid, the group sponsored an annual "Palestine During the Olive Harvest" trip where visitors had the opportunity to volunteer with local farmers.  Travelers took part in Oktoberfest in Taybeh, featuring traditional Palestinian dance, music, and food. This trip has been on my list for some time, so I'm hoping it will restart in the fall of 2022 if not this year. 

"Marhaba! I'm Charlie, born and raised in the old city in Jerusalem," is how a young guide begins a walking tour sponsored by tenLocals, a new Covid-era company employing local guides in cities around the world who give live tours in real time to travelers over Zoom.

Charlie focuses on Jerusalem where he includes a walk through a Jewish neighborhood bordering the West Bank, and a stroll through the Musrara neighborhood where the Green line (border) between Israel and the West Bank was drawn. 

Finally, The Bradt Guide to Palestine, separate from the publisher's guide to Israel, is one of the few guidebooks devoted exclusively to Palestine. It hasn't been updated since 2011, so it's most useful for general information, historical perspective and an overall sense of why go.

Writes author Sarah Irving, "This tiny area packs in more historical, religious and cultural heritage than perhaps anywhere else in the world."

Apr 6, 2021

Thumbs up, thumbs down for post-Covid policies on tap for 2021 travel


Iceland is open to U.S. visitors who have been vaccinated

As Covid vaccinations ramp up across the U.S., it's time to sort through some of the ideas on how to kick-start travel here and abroad.

Here's my take on what policies deserve a thumbs up or thumbs down as summer approaches, Covid is still with us, and pent-up demand fuels an uptick in travel.

Airline change/cancellation fees

Thumbs up to a policy in effect at most airlines to waive cancellation and change fees. You won't get your money but you will get a credit good for future travel. Airlines must continue this policy if they expect to discourage passengers from traveling while sick just to avoid paying a change fee.

Thumbs down to a policy in effect by most airlines to exclude basic economy fares from the change/cancellation fee waivers. 

Airbnb cancellation policies

Thumbs up to Airbnb hosts who offer full refunds on reservations (including the Airbnb service fee) cancelled a week or less ahead of arrival. This is a major incentive to book ahead without worrying about how Covid changes could impact your trip.

Thumbs down to a decision by some some hosts to require payment in full with the promise of just a 50 percent refund if you cancel.  A recent search for Airbnbs on the Big Island of Hawaii turned up many with liberal cancellation polices, but it wasn't always easy to recognize those that didn't because of the tricky wording advertising "Free cancellation" for 48 hours; after that, get a 50 percent refund minus the service fee." 

Vaccine verification 

Thumbs up to efforts by various private companies and airline groups to standardize a system for digital verification of Covid vaccinations and tests. Other countries are ahead of the U.S. with this, and thus will make it easier for their citizens to travel internationally. Let's hope we catch up, but so far, with so much whining about privacy,  it looks like we'll have to rely on privately-developed apps rather than a federal standard.

Thumbs down to efforts in Florida and Texas to thwart a vaccine verification system by insisting on calling this a "passport," and turning the issue into one of privacy rather than public health.  

International travel 

Thumbs up to airlines and countries that require either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to enter. I predict most countries will adopt the Iceland model: Enter freely with proof of vaccination or do a double test (on departure and arrival) along with a short quarantine in between.

Thumbs down to airlines and countries that require nothing more than a temperature check to travel. This so far applies to U.S. airlines flying domestically and countries such as Mexico which has put tourism ahead of health precautions. 

Hawaii requires visitors to have a negative Covid test


Thumbs up to states such as Hawaii and countries such as Greece and Iceland which have come up with reasonable safety protocols such as requiring negative tests and/or vaccinations, masks and social distancing.

Thumbs down to states such as Texas, Florida, North Dakota and South Dakota and others with no mask mandates or other Covid safety restrictions. And a big thumbs down to Jamaica for its new Covid-era travel policy which restricts visitors to a tourist zone filled with corporate-owned resorts and expensive government-approved transport.

Foreign visitors must stay inside a special""Resilient Corridor" and stay only in hotels on a government "approved" list. They can only visit attractions approved by the Jamaica Tourist Board, and must travel to and from the sites on transportation licensed under the Tourist Board Act.  


Thumbs up to Norwegian Cruise Line, Windstar and a few others for announcing they will require vaccination for all guests and crew. Expect other lines to follow as they gear up to resume cruises from U.S. ports in July.

Thumbs down to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for recommending but not requiring cruise lines to make sure all passengers and crew are vaccinated. By making vaccinations a recommendation rather than a requirement, the CDC avoided conflict with Florida, one of the biggest bases of operation for the cruise industry.

Mar 16, 2021

Lend a hand: How travelers can help from home while waiting out the pandemic


Chef Erum from Shef.com

The New York Times recently interviewed a 30-something couple about their hopes for post-Covid summer travel in Italy.

Their plan: "We will rent a house so we have our own space," the woman said. "I imagine we'll interact with the community less than we normally would."

I can't think of a worse plan for anyone hoping to experience the culture of another country. Until the notion of "restarting" travel moves away from the idea of building a wall between ourselves and the people around us, I prefer to focus on finding ways here at home to connect with people and places in far-off destinations. 

This is how my husband and I found ourselves sitting down to a dinner recently prepared by Erum, a young Seattle-area home cook who prepares Hyderabadi-Pakistani fusion meals delivered by Shef.com, an Airbnb-like platform for immigrant cooks who earn money by sharing the cuisine of their cultures. 

For around $45, including a tip and delivery to our home, we sampled Erum's mother's recipes for aaloo palak, a vegetarian dish of soft spinach and potato blended with tomato paste; chicken achar gosht, boneless chicken cooked in a tomato and chili sauce; and sheer khorma, a traditional dessert, made with milk, vermacelli. My only regret is not requesting one-star heat. The spicy meal literally fired up memories of our travels in India some years ago where we enjoyed local cooking in three different homestays.  

Perhaps best of all, ordering take-out from Shef.com provided a connection with an enterprising young entrepreneur from a part of the world that needs the support of travelers who can't yet travel. Finding more opportunities like is a good way to spend some of our travel dollars while we wait out the pandemic.

Live virtual walking tours with tenLocals

This is the reason I support Boston-based tenLocals which charges participants a small fee (around $14.90-$19.90) for a live virtual tour with a faraway guide out of work due to the pandemic.  We've so far visited India, Bhutan, Russia and Ukraine along with small groups of other travelers, all connected to the guide and each other live on Zoom where everyone can interact and ask questions. Upcoming trips include a tour of an urban forest in Tokyo; a day in the life of a Venice citizen living on the island of Murano in Italy; and a tour of an artisan chocolate factory in Quito, Ecuador. The video and sound quality vary with the guide, but I've found all to be generous with their time and willing to answer any questions that come up.

New York's Museum of Food and Drink uses food as a lens for cultural understanding. It's  Kitchen Without Borders program connects participants with recipes and stories from refugee and immigrant chefs in one-hour online sessions ($15) sponsored by Eat Offbeat, a catering and meal delivery service staffed by chefs from Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Venezuela, and other countries.

Free are interactive Zoom programs sponsored by the Abraham Path Initiative, a nonprofit established to develop walking trails for tourists to to connect with people in the Middle East. Since Covid, API has focused on webinars called "Meet us on the Abraham Path."  The most recent featured Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library where she works with farmers to recover threatened heirloom varieties.

Making a small loan through Kiva.org has long been one of my favorite ways to support third-world entrepreneurs in need of help to start or support a small business. Kiva organizes lenders into groups, and uses non-profit organizations to find and vet borrowers who pay back the money on a monthly schedule. Once a borrower pays back in full, the money is available for Kiva lenders to reclaim or lend again. So far, I've rolled over an initial $125 investment 59 times for a total of $1,475 loans in 16 countries.

I nearly always look for an opportunity to make a loan in a country where we plan to travel. Farmers in Peru and Myanmar were the most recent. Another focus has been female entrepreneurs in Cambodia where we traveled some years ago. Recently, however, I began to think about the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. from Central America, and what we could do to help prop up their local economies.

This how I came to find Madelin, Jose and Maritza, bread bakers in rural Nicaragua, in need of a loan to buy flour, yeast, margarine, firewood and sugar. I joined 21 other lenders, each us contributing a minimum of $25 towards a $1,025 loan to be paid back over 14 months. So for, success. Despite Covid, the bakers have paid back 60 percent of the loan amount, with $400 more to go.

Feb 13, 2021

Vaccinations could soon replace testing, quarantines for cruises, international travel


The American Queen Steamboat line will require passengers to be vaccinated

"Vaccinations will be key to the reopening of borders and to enhancing travel confidence." Goh Choon Phong, CEO of Singapore Airlines.

Will U.S. airlines require passengers to have COVID-19 vaccinations to board domestic flights? Doubtful. The CEO of United Airlines says he wants to make the vaccine mandatory for employees, yet his airline, along with other U.S. carriers, opposes any suggestion of requiring negative Covid tests, let alone vaccinations, from the flying public.

How is it that people will feel more apt to fly knowing that the crew has been vaccinated, but their fellow passengers board with nothing more than a temperature check?

It makes no sense, which is why when it comes to restarting international travel as well as cruising, it's going to be one or the other, but not neither.  

I expect most cruise lines to eventually follow the lead of  the American Queen Steamboat Company and its sister company Victory Cruise Lines which will require all guests and crew to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for all sailings, starting in July.

Once vaccinations are widely available, most foreign countries will likely adopt rules similar to what Iceland (currently closed to residents of the U.S., Canada and the UK) requires. That is a double COVID-testing procedure (on arrival and five days after) along with a quarantine of 5-6 days UNLESS travelers arrive with a certificate of previous COVID-19 infection or a certificate of vaccination.

Iceland's Covid travel policy

Governments are free to come up with their own entry a requirements, of course, and some will be more lenient or restrictive than others, but proof of vaccination and/or a negative test seem certain to become standard practice once international borders reopen. Some might require both, especially if ongoing research determines that people who have been vaccinated can still carry the virus and transmit it to others. The state of Hawaii, which requires travelers to have proof of a negative test to avoid quarantine, is weighing whether or not to waive test requirements for those who have been vaccinated.  

This brings us to what travel promoters are hyping as "health passports." Rest assured, there will be no "passport" guaranteeing anyone entry across any border, or offering assurance that the rules won't change between the time you arrive and depart.

What various airlines and travel organizations aim to come up with is a digital wallet where you could permanently store your testing and vaccine records.

Etihad Airways and Emirates will start using a digital travel pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association, to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide airlines and governments documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested.

The challenge is creating a document or app that is accepted around the world, that protects privacy and is accessible to people regardless of their access to smartphones.

In the meantime, it would seem wise for U.S. airlines to stop fighting the suggestion that passengers test negative for COVID-19 before boarding domestic flights.

Finding a way to assure passengers that everyone on the plane has been tested would seem  to boost confidence in air travel, but U.S. carriers believe it would discourage travel, or at least that's the excuse for not wanting to bother.

A coalition of airline, travel and aerospace industries and union and airport groups have urged U.S. President Joe Biden not to impose testing requirements, arguing that domestic testing requirements could cause logistical havoc and further reduce demand. 

Sorry guys, but half-way measures like temperature checks,  enhanced cleaning, new filtration systems and empty middle seats just won't cut it. 

Harvard University researchers agree. They endorsed the idea of rapid testing of passengers in a recent report.

"Viral testing is an important public health screening mechanism that can quickly and efficiently identify those with infections and stop them from undergoing activities that could expose others, including potential travel,'' Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a summary of the 262-page report.

Requiring testing for all travelers would not guarantee a plane full of virus-free passengers but may serve a "critical need'' in identifying asymptomatic passengers and keeping them off planes, reducing the risk of transmission, the report concluded.

Rather than kicking and screaming about how costly and inconvenient test requirements would be, a better idea would be for U.S. carriers to follow the lead of Delta Airlines. Delta is pro-actively looking into in-home testing options for passengers departing to destinations, such as Hawaii, that require negative tests. It's also partnering with hotels outside the country that have on-site testing (required to reenter the United States). 

Delta's Covid map

Still a work in progress is a shaded map showing what countries are open to visitors, are open with restrictions or have restricted entry. Can you guess the names of the four countries that currently carry no restrictions on travel? One is in North America, another in Eastern Europe and two are in Africa. 

Jan 24, 2021

Before booking your next trip, check the dates on those five-star reviews


My favorite Mexico City hotel: Temporarily closed 

If you rely on online reviews and guidebook recommendations for travel planning, you'll notice something different when you start researching your next trip.  

Much of the information will be outdated by almost a year. With Covid-19 halting travel around the world, guidebook authors were unable to update their work. Bloggers were unable to travel. Hotels and restaurants, used to generating hundreds of reviews each month on sites such as TripAdvisor.com and Booking.com, garnered only a handful of mentions, mostly from locals commenting on services eliminated or changed during Covid.

The upside is that if you are traveling now, there's useful Covid-related information included in  recent online posts.

Traveling now? Check hotel websites for Covid policies

The downside for longer-term trip planning is that the research will take more time, and require more cross-referencing to unearth bits of timely and accurate information. A hotel or restaurant that rated five-star reviews may no longer exist, or could be under new ownership with a less-than-charming new manager.

Example: When Google reported my favorite small hotel in Mexico City "permanently closed," I was sad, but skeptical, so I did some checking and found a notice on TripAdvisor that the hotel is temporarily closed until July. When it reopens, it will be hard to know if the standards have changed. The last review was written almost a year ago in February.

For those of us who have taken a few local trips during Covid, or for those who plan to do more once vaccinated, it's important we take the time to contribute fresh reviews. In time, we'll be able to start detecting trends again, and distinguish between one person's bad experience and a pattern of similar complaints. 

I almost skipped posting a review of a Georgian restaurant in downtown Seattle that we tried recently for take- out. The food was excellent, and Yelp reviews were plentiful, but when I noticed that only four customers had left a review on TripAdvisor since November 5, I decided to contribute. 

At the Hotel Theodore in downtown Seattle, someone from management responds to every review posted on TripAdvisor. Sadly there have been only 11 since November, but those included timely and helpful comments for anyone traveling during Covid.

"They brought delivery food up to my room to minimize my contact with the outside world," wrote one guest.

"Due to Covid, some room amenities, like the coffee maker had been removed (The Theadore had in-room Nespresso machines), but the coffee stand in the lobby provided good coffee," another commented.

With Canada's borders closed to U.S. travelers, all four reviews posted since November for the Fairmount Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, were written by people from British Columbia.

"Due to Covid, the Gold Lounge was not open; however, room service was fantastic," one guest wrote. "They brought up a small fridge for us, along with extra tea and welcome drinks given we were celebrating my mom’s birthday. "

For updated policies during Covid, hotel and restaurant web sites seem mostly reliable.

The chapel next door to Il Convento hotel in Naples, Italy

Il Convento, my favorite hotel in Naples, Italy, posts a lengthy list of Covid precautions that include sanitizing the mattresses, cushions and curtains after the departure of each customer, and the elimination of bedspreads, decorative cushions and doilies. Breakfast, normally served around a large, communal table, is now served in the room.

Guidebook publishers research and edit their books a year in advance of publication, so losing all of 2020 will mean most of what's available in print will be information researched in 2019.

Rick Steves planned a new 2021 edition of his Paris guidebook this month, but with France's borders closed to international travel for most of the past year, this would seem difficult to pull off. But Steves' writers routinely post changes to printed guidebook information online, so readers would do well to check his website for current hotel and restaurant information, and use the printed books for historical background and itinerary planning. He maintains an active archive of general types of travel information on his website, along with an archive of past TV shows, podcasts and a tentative line-up of tour itineraries in 2021. 

Other publishers have been using their websites to post topical articles on travel trends.

Fodors.com recently carried articles on topics such as "Thinking about traveling just to get vaccinated," and "I just returned from city packed with tourists (Dubai). Here's what it was like." It's also running a series on "Best Road Trips in America." 

In Your Pocket Guides which publishes free downloadable e-guides to countries and cities many other publishers ignore, tags its online postings with the date they were last updated. Most carry a date of February or March of 2020. A posting called "Basque Food: 5 Must-Try Dishes in Bilbao"  likely is as useful today as it was a year ago. Not so with an article posted around the same time on the "Top 10 Annual Events in Bilbao," nearly all cancelled last year due to Covid. 

Culinarybackstreets.com publishes some of my favorite online city guides, with food-focused articles designed to wet the appetite for its walking tours in cities such as Istanbul, Barcelona, Mexico City and Tbilisi. There's a charge for the walking tours but the city guides are free, and local writers keep them current.

Recent posts include a December, 2020 story about a Syrian man helping refugees become food entrepreneurs in Istanbul and a piece written in early January, 2021 on a family tamale operation near Oaxaca, Mexico. I love both of these cities, so will use these articles to take a culinary voyage for now, then bookmark them for future travels. 

Jan 4, 2021

Here's some ideas on how to plan a short, safe getaway in the new year


Home sweet home

Last year was the first in the past 40 that my husband and I didn't leave the United States. We haven't been on a plane since January, 2019. Our passports haven't been stamped in 14 months.

What we have come to look forward to are short two or three-night excursions within our own state of Washington or neighboring Oregon. We settle into an Airbnb, map out walks and hikes, research restaurants with outdoor seating, scout out bakeries for breakfast fixings, and make plans to connect with friends.   

These mini-breaks have bridged the gap between choosing to stay home for a year and dissing precautions and jumping on a plane to Mexico

It's important to be a responsible traveler, whether crossing the ocean or a county line. By choosing destinations and accommodations that minimize risks, we've been able to get out and explore without feeling as if we've compromised our safety or the safety of others.

Even with vaccines coming, much of what we will be able to do will depend on the situation elsewhere. Until Covid cases decline and travel restrictions ease, we may have to be content with baby steps for a while longer. 

So...if you're ready to get out, here's my advice for planning a short and safe getaway:

*Stay close to home, meaning within your state if possible. Avoid long-distance travel, and abide by state government (ie: California) restrictions for non-essential travel.

A ferry trip across the Puget Sound

Check what the Covid situation is in the area you plan to visit.  For example, we normally would like to spend a weekend snowshoeing in or around Leavenworth, a popular German-themed town in Eastern Washington. But Leavenworth is in Chelan County where the total Covid cases per 10,000 residents (627) is among the highest in the state. Leavenworth also tends to attract crowds. This winter, we'll choose instead to go to a county close to the Mount Baker ski area where the cases (160) are much lower, and fewer people go.

*We choose Airbnbs over hotels, mainly because by booking self-contained units such as mother-in-law apartments or backyard cottages, we cut the risks associated with indoor lobbies, elevators, hallways etc. used by many people at the same time.

We used to book Airbnbs that were rooms, often suites with private baths, inside people's homes. We avoid those now in favor of detached units with kitchens.

Hotels may have the advantage when it comes to professional cleaning protocols, but this is less of an issue now that Covid is believed to be spread mostly through aerosols rather than by touching surfaces.

Nevertheless, most Airbnb hosts adhere to Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning protocol—a set of standards developed by Airbnb with health and hospitality experts for COVID-19 times and beyond. Some leave the unit empty a day or two between guests. Check on their policy if this is a concern. We bring our own pillows.

* Research restaurants ahead of time to identify those with outdoor patios, heaters etc. Make sure the Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews you consult are up-to-date (Many are not due to Covid closings), and recheck hours and menu changes. Limited seating may mean reservations are required, and there might be a time limit on occupying the table. 

We usually bring our own fixings for one dinner, and scout out a restaurant with outdoor seating for the other. Booking a table earlier rather than later guarantees you'll encounter fewer people. We recently enjoyed a lovely 4:30 p.m. (It's dark by then in the Pacific Northwest) on the patio of the charming Nell Thorn restaurant in the waterside village of La Conner. Few of the tables were occupied. 

*We're all feeling like we'd like to connect more with our out-of-town friends. Booking an Airbnb close to where they live rather than staying with them is an option that works well during Covid. 

It's not wise to gather indoors at the moment, but we can make plans to connect for walks, coffee or backyard picnics or patio dinners when the weather cooperates. 

This worked out well for us over New Year's when we booked an Airbnb a mile from the home of friends on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Happy New Year!

Bundled up with jackets, hats and wearing fingerless gloves, we enjoyed homemade dinners and wine on their outdoor deck, warmed by flames from a potbelly gas heater. 

Dec 16, 2020

Planning to travel in 2021? Prepare for vaccine requirements, more testing


Gjirokastra, Albania where Americans can still visit 

It's time to spin the crystal ball, and make a few predictions for travel in 2021. Not surprisingly, almost everything depends on the successful rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. and abroad.

Vaccination and testing

When it comes to international travel, look for many countries to require proof of a vaccination and a negative Covid test for entry.

U.S. airlines, unless ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration (which at this time imposes NO Covid regulations on airlines or airports), likely won't require vaccinations, but foreign airlines will. Australia-based Qantas was the first to say it will require proof once vaccinations become available. Asian airlines will almost certainly follow. And many nations are sure to add Covid vaccination to their list of entry requirements. 

If you don't already have a smart phone capable of downloading apps, plan on getting one. United and four other airlines so far have announced plans use the CommonPass app on international flights. The app allows passengers to download virus test results and vaccination certificates to a smart phone. It then checks the data and issues confirmation codes to confirm health status. Competing apps are in the works, so let's hope the industry can coalesce around a universal system.  

Most airlines mandate that passengers wear masks in flight, but look for the FAA, under the Biden Administration, to make it a federal requirement. 

Hopefully more airlines will join Delta and United Airlines in asking domestic and international travelers to voluntarily provide key contact information to aid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s contact tracing efforts. The hope is that by collecting information directly from passengers, it can reduce the time it takes health officials to track travelers who may have been exposed to others on their flight who have tested positive.


Airports with the foresight and resources to make changes should be cleaner, more efficient places to be. Los Angeles International, for instance, is investing in ultraviolet cleaning technologies, and adding touchless components throughout the terminals. Prepare to give up some privacy. The airport is trying out a thermal camera program in the international terminal to measure passengers' body temperatures, and is implementing biometric boarding for international flights. 

Flexibility to cancel

Look for U.S. airlines to continue to waive cancellation and change fees for domestic and international travel. It's doubtful airlines will leave middle seats open once demand picks up, but it's possible some will create another tier or expand premium economy for those willing to pay a higher fare. 

Where to go

Many travelers consider safety when they decide where to travel. In the near future, this will include how well different countries bring Covid under control. Brazil is a mess right now. Australia is nearly back to normal. Spain has been especially hard-hit; Iceland has not. Some countries, such as Albania, will welcome American travelers without requiring a vaccine, test or quarantine. Others, such as Canada, will keep their borders closed. 

Covid will continue to factor into where to travel in the U.S. as well as internationally.  I live in Seattle, for instance, but would not consider traveling to neighboring Idaho for many reasons, including the high numbers of cases, overwhelmed hospitals and a general disregard for Covid restrictions in some parts of the state. With its bike trails and brew pubs, Boise has earned a reputation as a nice place to visit, but it dropped several notches in my book after the mayor and chief of police said intense protests outside the health department building — as well as outside some health officials’ homes — were threatening public safety. 

As autocratic leaders and right-wing extremist groups become more vocal, the political climate in various countries and states will influence travel decisions.

Travelers always have had to ask themselves how they feel about traveling to places with repressive regimes. Now we need to consider what it might be like to go to places where, not just the leaders, but much of the local population support extreme right-wing movements. 

Budapest is a beautiful city governed by an autocratic prime minister 

Hungary’s parliament just passed a law effectively banning adoptions for same-sex couples, the latest in a succession of restrictions on LGBT rights under autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom many there support.

More than 100 towns in Poland have passed resolutions declaring themselves free of LGBT “ideology. With Poland ranked the worst place in the European Union to be gay or trans in 2020, some Poles have found themselves facing the dilemma of whether to stay and fight or to escape. 

Raising unusual ethical and safety questions is Qatar Airway's recent announcement that it will partner with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines on non-stop flights between Seattle and Doha. Qatar recently required women aboard 10 flights from Doha to deplane, and undergo medically invasive exams after an abandoned newborn was found in an airport bathroom.