• Ashlea J. Russell

Travel in the Time of COVID

Updated: Aug 23

I wouldn’t be the first to say that this past year/year and a half has been unusual. Some people are quick to correct that we have actually seen epidemiological outbreaks in recent history and that epidemics happen all the time. I think what makes this time different, is that it happened when were enjoying a level of freedom of movement and ease of insight and connection to other people and places around the world, that we hadn’t had before. It’s one thing, to see your own town or country face a challenge, but it’s a whole other experience to see everyone and everywhere be up against the same thing. Watching celebrities and average folk, the rich and poor, the young and old, from every culture and walk of life live streaming from quarantine, posting pictures from hospitals, sharing videos of neighbours, friends and families, singing, talking, relating, from an uncomfortable distance was something we all shared. The sudden sensation of us all being alone together, the fear of not knowing who or what to trust lest it be infected as we battled an invisible enemy that crept silently across the globe. Regardless of your stance politically on what did, didn’t or should have happened, these experiences have both united and polarized us as humans.


As we edge toward normalcy, or at the very least a return of freedom, many of us are ready to dig out the luggage and hit the road again but what if it isn’t safe? What is life like out there beyond the confines of our homes? Is it insensitive to want to explore again while so many people are suffering, whether it be economically or health wise? Will we be publicly shunned for throwing caution to the wind during a pandemic? Unfortunately, I’m not some sort of oracle who can answer these questions for you but I have arrived at my own conclusions of what is responsible for me to do, both as a citizen of the world and as a lover of travel. Before I explain what I’ve planned, I’m going to tell you how I got there, starting with:


Surgical Mask



Why Do You Need To Go So Badly Anyways?


This is something I get a lot. There is a common misconception that travel is a luxury and it has to be expensive and elaborate and therefore falls into the category of “a treat”. I can say with certainty that although I do treat myself here and there my travel life often costs less than my life at home. I don’t see travel as some unattainable hobby reserved for the rich and famous and if we’re going to be really controversial, Travel is One of My Top Priorities. How I came to work and live in the travel world is a story for another day but I will say that it is a massive contributor to my personal growth and mental health. The anonymity associated with arriving somewhere you’ve never been, where every face is new and every corner holds something to discover, provides a catharsis all the therapy in the world can’t match. Yes, this can be daunting but I think the best way to find out who you really are and what you’re made of is to remove yourself from all the people, constructs and comforts you’re used to and then see what you do next.


My last trip that was longer than a weekend was in June of 2019 when I visited Nicaragua and Costa Rica, making this the longest amount of time I have gone without travelling in my adult life. A priority in my life that I used as a form of therapy was removed with such violence and replaced with one of the world’s longest lockdowns in the 550 sqft of a Toronto condo. To say my mental health has suffered during this period would be an understatement so when people ask “Why do you need to go so badly anyways?” my answer is “Because I have to”.

Taking in the Volcano View while ATVing, Monteverde, Costa Rica


Isn’t Travel Banned?


While it is strongly advised against to travel unnecessarily, it is not actually banned in most countries. Everywhere is handling this somewhat differently but many countries, particularly those who are developing, rely heavily on travel and tourism to sustain their economy and they have worked hard and cleverly using available science, to bring travelers back safely and soon. Before making any plans you will need to do some research into the country you live in and the country you’d like to visit to see what protocols have been put in place but as of August 2021 it is possible to travel safely to other countries.


So You’re Saying It’s Safe?


If we take the advice and perspective of governments and health organizations around the world as gospel, it is my perspective that very few places are likely to be any less safe than where you already are. For example, I live in a condo building in a busy part of Toronto in Canada. While I do my bit to remain socially distanced, disinfected and cautious, following all of the health guidelines that are mandated by all the different levels of government in Canada if I need food, I will leave my secure, clean condo. Once I do, I will encounter two communal hallways, an elevator [with buttons], a lobby and two access doors before I’m outside. Then, I’ll walk through various sidewalk restaurants on the busiest street in the city, passing strangers along the way, until I enter a grocery store where I get to touch everything everyone else has been touching and then bring those items back with me down the street, through my two access doors, lobby, elevator [with buttons], two communal hallways and into my secure, clean condo. I appreciate not everyone lives the way that I do but the point I’m making remains the same. Countries like Mexico for example have implemented temperature checks, mandatory hand sanitizing, capacity limitations and masking for places like beaches, restaurants and stores and that’s a lot more than what’s being done where I live.


At this point, we know what we need to do to protect ourselves and others from the spread of this pandemic and these tourist destination countries are doing their part to facilitate all of these measures, at which point it is down to the individual traveler to do the same.


Will It Even Be Worth Going If Everything Is Closed?


As I mentioned previously, many countries rely heavily on travel and tourism to sustain their economy and therefore have measures in place to safely allow tourists and travelers to explore and enjoy these destinations. Using Mexico as another example, they have implemented measures like capacity and access restrictions, time blocked pre-purchase entry tickets and private tourism to keep things ticking over. Let’s say you’d like to visit Teotihuacán near Mexico City, you can still walk along the Avenue of the Dead, marvel at the Pyramid of the Sun and drink in the history of this UNESCO World Heritage site dating back over 2,000 years. The indoor museum area is closed but this is a great opportunity to hire a local guide, for a really reasonable price, to lead you around the site and explain in more detail what those information boards would tell you about what you’re actually experiencing.


How about The Blue House – Frida Kahlo Museum? In “the old days” you’d show up, join a long line and shuffle your way through this beautiful exhibit, navigating your way around other people and trying to figure out how to crop that lady’s head out of your picture without knocking anything over. Now, you’ll prebook online, receive a specific window of time to arrive and along with your small group of capacity controlled fellow tourists, after being temperature checked and disinfected, you’ll have time to explore the museum with a sense of calm curiosity.



Sunset, Panama City, Panama


So What Have I Decided?


If it wasn’t clear by now, I’m going on a trip. I did hours of research, spoke to friends in the travel community, referred to government advice and I decided that the best way for me to travel safely was to choose a base. I am fortunate to be able to work remotely and while that used to be unusual, most industries these days allow for some form of remote work, even if just temporarily. I delved into a lot of different countries and I settled on basing myself in a small beach town on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. While I am normally someone who likes to explore many places during my trips, I decided the best thing to do this time would be to find a small town to relax and work in and then add a little, well-planned travel around that.


I look forward to sharing my experiences in Mexico over the coming months. I will be writing about my experiences in the places I visit, not only as a travel destination but as a traveler during pandemic times.


What Next?


While not everyone is ready to take the leap back into exploring the world and leaving the bubbles we’ve become accustomed to, if you are feeling brave you’re going to want to be more prepared than usual. I have planned out much more of this trip than what I usually would because during these times this is really the only way to avoid disappointment and potential trouble with officials, while ensuring you get to do and see as much as your time, interests and budget allow.


In upcoming posts I’ll be sharing what extra considerations you need to make when choosing a destination (as well as a few ideas of where to go!) and what sort of advanced preparation to account for before you go, to make sure you have the best possible experience. To be clear, these are not normal times and just booking a flight and a couple of nights accommodation will simply not suffice. I will cover everything from travel insurance to What If I Get Stuck? contingency planning so you’ll be well-equipped to dig that luggage out and get to exploring as soon as you’re comfortable. Until next time!


Ashlea

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