Should you plan a trip as the pandemic continues?

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This summer, it looked like Americans were finally starting to travel again, both nationally and internationally, but the recent increase in the delta variant and continued spikes in COVID have caused travel restrictions to return and added fear and fear. uncertainty about travel. Some countries ban US visitors, while others introduce rules that seem to change almost daily, as do the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel advisories and the list of “high-risk destinations”. From the agency.

On the positive side, immunization levels around the world continue to rise, as do the safety measures taken by airlines, destinations, hotels and tour operators. But children under 12 still can’t get the vaccine, adding anxiety to family travel, and “enforcing health protocols” varies widely by location.

Given this uncertainty, is now a good time to travel or even plan a trip?

Here, travel industry and health experts assess the current state of travel and determine if it’s time to plan a trip.

Weigh the risks of travel against the rewards

“Traveling now is about balancing the risks and benefits,” says Paul Holtom, MD, infectious disease specialist and chief epidemiologist at LAC + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I agree that there is a mental health and wellness benefit to traveling, but there are inherent risks as well, with the elderly in a higher risk group. If you want to travel, you must do all you can to reduce these risks. “

“Deciding whether or not to travel in 2021 is a personal choice that primarily depends on your health risk profile and your willingness to deal with potential logistical challenges,” said Joost Scheve, managing director of the service company. travel agent based in Boulder, Colorado. Kimkim.

Joshua Bush, General Manager of Avenue Two Travel in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Agrees that traveling “now comes down to risk tolerance and awareness, but it is possible to travel now and to do so ethically and safely. “.

But why travel now? “Most of our clients have recognized over the past two years that you only live once. With the right precautions, they value their freedom to travel, explore and above all to connect with the world, ”says Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond, a New York-based travel agency specializing in the travel market. luxury. “And right now there are great values ​​and most places are not overcrowded. “

So how do you manage your travel risk? The most obvious way to drastically reduce your risk: Get vaccinated against COVID-19. During a White House briefing in September, CDC director Rochelle Walensky gave this advice: “First of all, if you are not vaccinated, we recommend that you do not travel. But people who are fully vaccinated and wearing masks can travel. Travel counselors agree. “For your own safety and for the safety of those around you, getting vaccinated and wearing masks is the right thing to do,” Bush said.

But even the vaccinated face health risks when they travel now. “While it is unlikely that a vaccinated person will contract COVID, it is not impossible,” Holtom warns. “These cases are more likely to be mild or asymptomatic, but given the testing requirements to return to the United States, that still means you will have to quarantine for two weeks in a foreign country.” [if traveling abroad]. And if you happen to suffer from some other type of serious illness or injury while traveling, you will need to use local healthcare facilities which may be substandard or overburdened with COVID patients. “

In terms of timing, Holtom says, “Historically, we’ve seen a wave of viruses in the fall and winter with lower temperatures and increased indoor gatherings. But none of us have a crystal ball; we really don’t know what’s coming.

With the uncertainty of virus trends and travel restrictions, reducing the risk of travel now comes down to being as knowledgeable as possible about your destination and travel patterns, as well as your own health, both physical. and mental. You won’t get the calming benefits of travel if you’re constantly stressed out. “When traveling, you will find yourself in airports and other places that can be crowded. If you are not comfortable with these kinds of situations in your hometown, traveling now may not be ideal for you, ”advises Scheve. “But if you are leading a fairly normal life right now, we have found that most of our travelers had no issues and in many cases benefited from a relative lack of crowds as many places have fewer visitors. “

Traveling to the United States

Domestic travel within the United States, particularly road trips, have seen great popularity over the past year due to lack of state border restrictions and reliance on local health care. “California is open for business and welcomes returning travelers, while encouraging locals to explore their own backyards,” said Caroline Beteta, general manager of Visit California. But some national regions experiencing COVID outbreaks are actively discouraging travel. Hawaii Governor David Ige recently “discouraged residents” from traveling “between the islands and urged all other visitors to forgo pleasure travel to the islands until October. “Our hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity and the intensive care units are filling up. Now is not the right time to travel to Hawaii.

For domestic destinations, Holtom recommends that you do your research on the status of specific regions. For example, in California at the end of September, “LA County currently has very low COVID counts, but in the Central Valley[the Fresno-Stockton region] hospitals are filled to 120% of their capacity. Likewise, Bush advises travelers “to stay away from places with much lower vaccination rates, such as the southern states of the United States.” National road trips to outdoor areas such as national parks have been popular, although with some parks becoming overcrowded, instead look to explore less-visited national parks, such as Dry Tortugas near Key West, Florida, and the mountains. Guadalupe in West Texas.

Traveling to other countries

Like domestic destinations, international countries currently vary widely between being open and welcoming, or closed and higher risk. The CDC currently lists at least 80 countries and territories as “very high risk – avoid travel” (including popular destinations such as the Bahamas, Thailand and the UK), with dozens more considered ” at high risk ”(including Brazil, Denmark and Mexico). Even if you want to go somewhere, you might not be allowed in: Australia and New Zealand have long been closed to leisure travel, while Belgium and Sweden recently banned all American visitors. However, many allow US visitors with proof of vaccination.

On the other hand, Portugal recently announced that it “will remain open to travelers from the United States” “even if the EU” has removed the United States from its “safe list”. Carolina Trejos, Marketing Director of Costa Rica Tourism, just welcomed: “Costa Rica invites travelers to enjoy the many nature experiences across the country that facilitate social distancing, with guidelines in place for any our tourism industry operates safely. Travel counselor Joshua Bush also recommends Costa Rica as a “good choice” for travelers affected by COVID.

It is therefore essential to consult the country-specific travel advisories of the CDC and the Department of State, as well as the applicable rules and regulations of your destination country and any notices from the United States Embassy in that country.

You can also reduce the risk and stress of international travel through planning strategies. Scheve recommends taking direct flights to avoid the crowds and hassle of connecting flights. Bush says many of his agency’s clients opt for a higher cabin class on the plane, airport lounge access, or even private flights. “We recently connected small groups of like-minded travelers on private jets to help keep costs down, while providing the peace of mind of flying privately in a smaller ‘travel bubble’.”

Consider vacations focused on “the great outdoors,” suggests Ezon, “and exploring remote places from the comfort of one home port, rather than changing accommodations frequently.” To splurge, he says a great COVID-friendly trip right now is the Amalfi Coast in Italy, staying at the new Borgo Sant Andrea hotel, with outdoor experiences such as hiking the path of the gods, a boat ride to Capri, alfresco dining every night and a visit to Pompeii – one of the greatest open-air museums in the world. He recommends Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and South Africa as other good outdoor-oriented destinations.

“Over the past year and a half, our active trips to Europe have been in high demand as travelers seek outdoor adventures, including walking tours offering fresh air, iconic routes, locations remote and a guarantee of travel guides and vaccinated friends. travelers, ”said Matt Berna, general manager of California-based Intrepid Travel North America. Intrepid hikes through the Italian Dolomites and around Mont Blanc in France have been popular, as has the lesser-known Rota Vicentina along the Portuguese coast.

Even “in countries the CDC calls’ high risk ‘,’ all-inclusive resorts can be safe havens, Bush says”: “Many resorts in the Caribbean and Los Cabos, for example, provide a sense of security with on-site testing. and by containing guests while providing plenty to do so that the vacation experience is not hampered. Many Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons around the world still have room, even for vacations. The travel agencies that are partners of the big luxury brands generally have an inventory and access to high-value-added equipment to cover the costs.

Holtom is still waiting to book his long-delayed 40th birthday trip with his wife to Spain because, for him, “at the moment things are too uncertain to plan anything. I want to wait for the COVID numbers to stabilize first. However, he felt safe taking his family on a day trip near his home in August. He, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren had fun at Disneyland in Anaheim, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. He accepted the trip because of his confidence in Southern California’s current COVID-19 security measures and Disney’s handling of the outdoor park environment, complete with distancing protocols and plenty of hand sanitizers available.



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