May 31, 2020

Post-COVID travel: Just because we can go, will we want to? Should we?

Cheese as art in a French village

When will it be safe to travel?

That seems to be the question on everyone's mind.

Perhaps, as one reader points out, we should be asking, "When will reasonably safe travel be fun?"

"It's hard to enjoy traveling if you have to view every other human as a potential killer," he wrote. 

I might substitute the word "threat" for killer. But he has a point.

Just because we can go, will we still want to? Maybe more important, should we?
This is a good time to think about what our next trip will be like, and how the experience could be changed by COVID-19.

Restaurant goers in Japan, for instance, are encouraged to sit side by side rather than face to face, refrain from talking as much as possible, and listen to background music instead. Not my idea of how to enjoy an expensive kaiseki dinner.

Lively street markets are a part of Parisian life

I love Paris, but will I still love it when plexiglass barriers go up around cafe tables, espresso arrives in a plastic cup and shopping at a neighborhood market becomes a hands-off, hurry-up affair? On the other hand, will I love it more when there are fewer people on the buses, trains and in restaurants and museums, albeit longer waits for everything?

There will be upsides and downsides to life in a post -COVID world. 

It's too early to tell what things will be like in the fall or in 2021. Most countries have closed international borders to Americans for now, but when they reopen, becoming a socially-responsible traveler will be more important than ever. 

Besides drumming up enthusiasm for a trip that discourages contact with people, and has us obsessing over every door knob and room key, we'll need to consider the impact our actions might have on others.

There will be zero tolerance for the traveler who ignores masking and social-distancing, then falls ill and expects a foreign government to provide medical care and a place to isolate until an airline agrees to let him or her on a plane. 

I'm not in favor of making decisions based on "What if" questions. I hate the term "new normal" because that implies where we are now is where we will be forever, or "until there's vaccine." I have no plans to revert to touring the USA in an RV to "stay safe." That said, it does seem like a good time for a reality check, not to discourage future plans, but to plan around what changes the future might bring.

Some examples:

*More people will buy travel insurance, but these policies will require more scrutiny.
Travel insurance covers you if you're ill and can't travel, or have to cancel or cut short your trip due to illness. Unless it's an expensive "cancel for any reason" policy, it doesn't cover you simply because you decide you don't want to go (ie: a new virus outbreak close to the time you plan to travel). 

Expect new polices to incorporate COVID-19- specific language, either including pandemic-related circumstances or excluding them from coverage.

* What is health care like where you plan to travel? Does your insurance plan cover emergency medical care outside the U.S.? What would you do if you became ill, had to quarantine, and your hotel asked you to leave?

*What is your airline's track record on the number of passengers becoming infected on its flights? Everyone assumes the risk is high, but is it? Commercial airplanes use high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA filters, which catches 99 percent of airborne microbes. 

Given that, there are lots of ways airlines could do more to reassure passengers. They could start by waiving cancellation and change fees for passengers who might otherwise fly when they are sick with a flu or cold. Contact tracing should yield some useful statistics on infection spread. Airlines should be required to share that information so travelers can assess which ones are doing the best job at screening passengers and crews.

*What are the border restrictions? Hawaii is a fortress at the moment, with all travelers required to isolate in their rooms for two weeks. Some countries are accepting travelers from neighboring countries, but not yet from the U.S.  Wherever you are thinking of going, consider how welcome you will be. This applies to regional destinations and resort towns in the U.S. that normally want tourists, but aren't yet ready for crowds.

Remote Reykjavik

* What destinations make most sense? I love big Asian and European cities, but visiting them requires moving through crowded airports and using lots of public transportation. Flying into a secondary city, renting a car and touring smaller towns might be a more COVID-friendly option. So will looking beyond the traditional European gateways such as Italy, the UK, Spain and France. Visiting countries such as Iceland or Ireland where the main attractions are outdoors makes more sense, as does exploring off-the-radar destinations such as Georgia, the South Caucasus nation between Turkey and Russia, where the response to the virus was swift and infections few.  

Tbilisi, Georgia

Looking back on a visit last year with a friend who rented an apartment in Southern France, I can envision many such itineraries that fit into the "reasonably safe" category with the emphasis on reasonable. 

We got around by walking or driving short distances. We ate at small restaurants with outdoor tables, walked, hiked and dropped in at family-owned wineries with few visitors. 

It's the kind of trip that fits the times, one focused on outdoor activities conducive to distancing precautions. For now, that seems to make more sense than trying to figure out how to stay healthy and avoid people in a big city or crowded museum.  And certainly more fun.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent thoughts on travel and most items we have had a ponder about as well. Greece is slowly opening up so we are considering a number of road trip 'staycations' here. Your description of your trip to Southern France pretty much describes our lifestyle here - outdoors, small restaurants, walking options, so we will see what the next few weeks bring. We've taken a day trip and plan to set out for a few days now that year-round hotels have opened (today) and the small mom and pops are opening June 15th. Don't forget Greece when looking at future travel destinations!