Travel is Different Now

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Back in Reykjavik, and I have good news! Our Ethiopian friend, Mula, messaged us over the weekend! I didn’t want to pry; he made reference to ‘seven months of war and genocide.’ But all of you who have so kindly expressed concern about him will be pleased to know he’s alive. We’ll stay in touch with him. Hopefully things will improve in Ethiopia.

Travel is Different Now

Tourism is gradually picking up here in Iceland. I wrote last week about the changing seasons; what I didn’t mention was the increase in whale-watching boats in the fjord, and the sudden arrival of 27 campers in the field next to the village. They seemed to be mostly locals on holiday, and given that Icelanders are … Icelandic … we didn’t actually talk to any of the visitors. We did meet an American man who was staying up the way. I think of him as an escapee—as in, he escaped from the US as soon as Iceland would let him in, and is planning to stay away as long as possible.

Four thousand people landed at the international airport here last weekend; apparently the Covid testing facilities are feeling the strain of processing all those tests. The tourism industry is ecstatic. I think the government epidemiologist is distinctly less thrilled, but tourism is a significant part of the Icelandic economy. We’ve seen variations on that tension everywhere we’ve been since the pandemic began.

Everyone we know in the US has been vaccinated, and we’re watching the case numbers drop and feeling huge relief; for the first time in a year and a half, I’m less worried about my family and friends back home. It’s all fantastic news, and the sense that life is getting back to normal is palpable, even from here.

As a result, I suppose, of the gradual return to normalcy in the US, I’m starting to get questions from readers about travel—a lot of y’all have trips in the works, in various stages of planning, over the next few months, or maybe you’re just starting to fantasize about that bucket list destination. 

I don’t want to discourage anyone—heaven knows, I’m nothing if not game for an adventure, and I firmly believe everyone should experience the world beyond their own backyard. But I wanted to reiterate a few things, or perhaps give some of you a heads-up, in case you haven’t connected the dots from some of my previous posts. (See, for instance, Wheelchairs Without Borders.)

Travel is different right now.

The first thing you’ll need to do is check (and double-check, regularly) the entrance requirements for your desired destination. Things are changing. A country that is closed right now might be planning to reopen soon, or vice-versa. I can’t say that loudly enough—things are changing. (Insert country of your choice) may be open right now, but that doesn’t mean it will be in August, or November, or next January.

One of the things we noticed back at the beginning of the pandemic was the sudden 180-degree pivot of airline check-in agents. They used to be in the business of getting people on planes. Now they’re in the business of keeping people OFF of planes. If they can find a problem or inconsistency in your paperwork, they will. This scrutiny seemed to peak (as far as we could tell) last fall, but it’s still pretty intense. Be prepared, and if you get anxious about people in uniforms frowning at your passport (like I do), maybe get a prescription for that.

Which leads me to: paperwork. So. Much. Paperwork. Places where we used to be able to breeze through immigration visa-free, with a glance and a welcome, now require a multitude of forms, documents, test results, etc. There’s paperwork that has to be submitted before travel, more when we check in, and yet more to get through passport control. Have printed copies of everything, preferably in duplicate, and keep them readily accessible.

This is probably stating the obvious, but you’ll likely need to prove you’ve been vaccinated. What format does that proof need to be in? An app? A QR code? An official piece of paper? You’ll want to find out before you buy a non-refundable plane ticket.

Think carefully about any testing requirements in your destination, and make a back-step plan for where/how/when you’re going to get that done. Then think about the same issues for your return journey. If you have to be home by a certain date, and you have to get tested in order to get there, have a plan, and be aware of the cost. Trust me on this. Our move from Thailand to Iceland required, in all, six Covid tests over ten days, to the tune of seven hundred dollars. And three of those tests were free—of the seven hundred dollars, five hundred were unexpected.

If there are sights, events, or restaurants that are important to you at your destination, are they open? Do they require pre-booking? Do they require proof of vaccination or a negative test? Again, be sure you know how to prove it.

Is there a curfew? Mask requirements? Distancing? It’s important to know the rules before you arrive—you don’t want to be a jerk. You also don’t want to be fined, which is a very real possibility in many places. Many countries are handling the pandemic very differently from what you may be used to.

If you’re planning to stay in a hotel, you may find that the included breakfast is a pre-packed box that you pick up in the lobby and take to your room, or the buffet is now a choice of three items that you order from your seat.

If you’re going to a place that is having a big outbreak (which I don’t recommend), be aware that medical services might be limited. You may think you’re bullet-proof because you’ve been vaccinated, and you may be right, with regard to Covid. But what if you fall off a scooter, or get bitten by a dog, or eat some questionable meat-on-a-stick and develop the worst traveler’s diarrhea of your life? Will you be able to get medical care if you need it?

Finally, be prepared for the unexpected. Keep an eye on the data, especially case numbers in the place you’re going. If they start to rise, do a little digging in the local news. What are the chances you’ll be quarantined when you arrive, or when you return to the US? What if you test positive, in spite of your best efforts, and are confined to an isolation facility when you had planned to be heading home? Is there any chance the country you’re visiting will go into a sudden lockdown? Are you prepared for those possibilities? Things can change on a dime; see above—the five hundred dollars we spent on unexpected Covid tests in the Zurich airport.

I get the impression the narrative in the US is that the pandemic is over—yippee! We all want to move on; I get it.  But if you’re looking for a vacation that will help you forget about Covid, you might want to wait a while.

Take care,

Lisa

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