Traveling During the Pandemic

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When will we be able to travel again? What about going to this country, that festival or a favorite party weekend with friends? This question is flooding the minds of everyone affected by the stay-at-home order. It’s nearly impossible to predict the next three months, let alone the rest of the year.

Our current situation has created mass chaos in the travel industry with cancellations, rebooking, and understanding updates. Travel companies are changing policies daily. As a travel advisor, I’m attended crash courses in Force Majeure and Act of God clauses.

During video calls and online seminars, the travel industry is preparing for the reality of “when” we’ll venture back out. As you can imagine, opinions vary. Some advisors are hoping that we may be able to salvage something of the summer. However, some hints have been given in headlines across the globe. A Spanish newspaper stated that bars, hotels and restaurants aren’t likely to be open until the government’s “Phase 2” of openings at the end of 2020. Few believe Italy will be open to mass tourism this year. Munich announced that Oktoberfest will not be held. Countless Pride events or parties have been cancelled, or postponed, which is disheartening for everyone involved.

Considering those circumstances, the next big question is “What” will be open and even thinking further, who and “how many” will be allowed to go? When we can go to museums, parks, and other recreational places, what will it take to open those and what will capacity be? In addition to those questions, we wonder if countries could completely close again should there be a second burst of virus outbreaks. There have already been and will continue to be many variables in the travel industry, which includes potentially more headaches for travelers, especially for consumers who book their travel themselves.

When we tune into the authority’s daily updates, we hope that they have the answers we need. We wish we could hear the magic answer that says how to survive the chaos and we want to know what we will be able to do in the coming year. As a Travel Advisor, Avid Nomads Travel’s clients hope that I am the authority that has those answers as well.

Unfortunately, no one has the answers to it all, but here are my suggestions. First, readjust your expectations and plans for at least the next few months. Open your mind to the idea that this could continue for this year. The worst case scenario is that this situation could spill over into the following year. Places, such as museums and local state and national parks, will start to open with limitations. Our first opportunities after the stay-at-home orders are lifted will be to visit places we can drive to. Consider it a rediscovery and revival of the Great American Road trip, without the backwards facing station wagon seats! With two or three tanks of gas (oh, the cruel irony of today’s cheap gas prices!) and 3.5 days there are tons of road trips that could be done from Chicago. Culture seekers, such as art connoisseurs and self-labeled foodies, could have plenty of options in nearby cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis. Outdoor festivals may be cancelled but maybe the great outdoors won’t be. Canoeing, camping, rafting, and hiking could be possible in various places. One item on my to do list is to cover more of The Great Lakes Circle Tour, a 6500-mile route of lighthouses, harbors, wineries, cliffs, beaches, lodges and islands. Maybe this will be the summer to rent a car, grab a few friends, and go. These ideas are still dependent upon opening and social distance restrictions.

My next bit of advice is to be flexible and open minded. Travel suppliers, hotels and associated businesses are doing everything they can to stay on the positive side of the current economic scale. Many trips that were cancelled have been given additional credits and generous rebooking travel windows. If you rebook to something later this year or beyond, as I have with my own Egypt trip, understand that things are all subject to change.

If you’re considering booking your next trip abroad, I’d consider the fall, but that still comes with risk. If you choose to book something for then, have the mentality that the trip could possibly not happen, and you may have to be open to rescheduling. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the cancellation policies of the trip you’re booking.

Mayor Lightfoot has suggested the Stay at Home Order may continue into June, but as we know it’s hard to factually say that. There’s plenty of uncertainty of what will be open, what social distancing requirements will be, and how they’ll be applied elsewhere.

Before you pack your bags and jet off to any destination, follow and understand their local standards. Policies and procedures on safety precautions should stay in the forefront of your mind and keep “Plan B” in your back pocket. The reality is that precautions may fluctuate until an effective treatment or a vaccination is available. Be sure to understand the policies of not only your local area, but also your destinations’ policies, and any places you may stop along your journey, for example, the location of your layover flight. Once travel resumes, be prepared that what you encounter over the next several months or more may continue to be different. For example, the all-inclusive resorts may reopen and have a maximum occupancy for an extended period of time.

Looking ahead, I highly recommend to mark something on your calendar, just be sure to have it scheduled several months in advance. Having something to look forward to may bring you the excitement and anticipation that we have all been missing during the current stay-at-home orders. You will have to decide which financial or health risks are within your boundaries. Keep in mind that what you may find acceptable, neighboring governments could say otherwise and may veto your plans on short notice.

Should you book a trip, it’s become clear in this current situation how important it is to protect your investment with travel protection. We’ve also learned the importance of reading the small print behind all policies. Many cancelled trips have had greater flexibility in rescheduling for clients that purchased protection than those without while some companies state a pandemic isn’t covered in their policies.

While we continue to sequester ourselves for now, it is a great time to reflect upon past trips and look forward to the future. Call me an Avid Nomad but I am confident that we will travel again. Over the past several weeks, my clients have expressed how much my travel consultation services have meant to them during these unprecedented times. When you choose to travel again, carefully select a professional to serve as your planner, group coordinator, and advocate. When the world changes, a travel advisor may be a top supporter for you, your trip, co-travelers, and your investment.

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By Ryan Cowden. Created on May 22, 2020. Updated Oct. 26, 2020. From Editorials & Opinions.

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Ryan Cowden is the owner and founder of Avid Nomad Travel in Chicago, a full-service Travel Advisor with a specialty in creating customized travel experiences.

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