• Ashlea J. Russell

Where to Travel During the Pandemic: Things to Consider

Times are strange! That’s no secret. In 2020 the whole world was thrust into a worldwide chaos none of us were ready for. Although we aren’t out of the woods yet, many places have done the one thing humans are best at: adapted. There is still a lot of uncertainty hanging over travel at the moment, but many people are choosing to get back out into the world for a much-needed change of scenery. In my last post I explained my thoughts on this and why I’m one of those people.


Initially I wanted to provide a few travel destination recommendations for the pandemic but as I began research for this feature I realized that it’s just too much of a moving target. The covid landscape is constantly changing and what destinations are and aren’t doing is also on a sliding scale. So I decided that instead of making a recommendation that could change by next week I would share with you the criteria I used when choosing my next destination and what you should be looking out for when choosing yours. I will be using Mexico as a reference point so you can see why I opted to travel there instead of somewhere else.


Suitcase


Last Things First


Unlike how travel used to be, now you not only need to consider where you’re going but also coming home. The first thing you need to do is check your own country’s government guidelines for travel. I live in Canada and up until recently international travel for non-essential purposes was not allowed. Governments are going to great lengths to protect their citizens and that often includes restricting who can enter and what they need to do so. I’m a citizen of Canada and therefore have the right to enter but the government is now controlling what that looks like. It is important to read the government guidelines from your country in detail and ensure you fully understand what is required of you before you book anything. To you give you an example of what sort of hoops you may have to jump through, I’m going to highlight some of the restrictions Canada has implemented.


Fully vaccinated Canadians returning to Canada are required to present a negative PCR test prior to boarding their flight home. This test has several additional requirements:


1. Only specific tests are deemed acceptable, and the government website goes so far as to list the test names. Canada is strict on this and requires a PCR test, not an antigen test. PCR tests are not cheap and are harder to come by than the antigen tests accepted by the States.


2. The test must be completed by an approved laboratory. This restriction is tricky because they don’t actually tell you which laboratories they consider approved so a little research is required to see which labs seem reputable.


3. The test must be conducted within 72 hours of your departure flight to Canada. This can be a challenge especially if you have a stopover along the way because you may have to test twice, once to enter your transit country and once to enter Canada. PCR tests can take up to 48 hours for results which can mean a bit of math to make sure you have your valid results in time.


4. Finally, the test results must include some key information. Full name and date of birth, laboratory information, date of test, type of test and result of test.


Showing up without all of the above requirements being met can result in a fine of $5,000 along with a mandatory quarantine stay which you would also be liable to pay for. Talk about an expensive oversight! Each country is different and the rules are changing all the time so be sure to have the most up to date information before travelling.




What to Consider


When researching destinations for my first trip since the pandemic I decided to focus on a few key criteria:


1. Safety First: Where are they taking visitor safety most seriously and implementing safety measures to protect locals and travellers?


2. What to Expect: Where is tourism still operational, are they open to visitors, and is there still plenty to do and see?


3. Plan for the Worst: During these times, things can change on a dime so which destinations have the best contingency plans for travellers should they test positive or be unable to return home?




Safety First


Safety should be your number one priority. If a country isn’t doing its best to implement safety measures then I wouldn’t even bother considering it. Safety is absolutely paramount not only for travellers but also for people who live in the travel destinations. If a destination isn’t taking additional care to protect everyone then not only are individual travellers at risk but entire communities. With the different variants making their way around the world we are seeing very wealthy countries and cities struggle to stay afloat in response to treating the virus locally. Imagine what could happen to a small village, indigenous community or developing nation with a similar outbreak.


When doing your research I recommend going directly to the official tourism website and looking for the COVID-19 response page. Each country and sometimes region, does things differently so I recommend familiarising yourself with what your destination is doing. This will give you a good idea of how much is or isn’t being done for prevention.


Tourism is a major economic industry in Mexico so it was no surprise that they got to work as soon as possible to lay steps for the return of visitors. Mexico implemented a nationwide traffic light system which is divided by states. Depending on the case count in each state they will move up and down the system tightening and relaxing restrictions to maintain an appropriate level of safety and this information is updated in real time online.


Another great resource that gives a more local perspective is to follow a few local tour operators on social media. If you find one with an active Instagram or Facebook you can see up to the minute updates of what it is really like in situ. Just the other day I watched a live stream by Eco Adventures in Puerto Escondido, Mexico where they took us down to the beach to show the safety measures in place after a recent surge in covid cases in the region. It was really reassuring to see local officials taking temperatures, enforcing the mask and social distancing mandate, monitoring capacity on the beach and disinfecting and screening visitors before entry. It’s also helpful that these tour operators generally speak great English and are ready and willing to answer any questions you have to set your mind at ease before booking.


To help visitors plan the safest possible experience the Mexican Ministry of Tourism has also implemented a program called The Clean Point Quality Seal. This program demarcates tourism service providers that adhere to a rigorous set of safety and cleanliness protocols and best practices to protect visitors and employees alike. The program covers a broad range of services from car rental to coffee shops, bars to eco tourism and more. Additional steps like this really make a difference so look for this sort of program when researching where to go.


Mexican Street Decorations


What to Expect


The advice in the safety section applies here too. Take a look at the official tourism website and local tour operators to see what’s open. The official website will give information on the blanket restrictions such as capacity requirements, curfews and closures. As small businesses have suffered during the pandemic and many closed entirely it’s important to look at a local level to see what is still operational. For example, in some areas beaches are open only during the day and certain tours that used to run every day now run on a restricted schedule or by request only.


For a tourism powerhouse like Mexico, an argument could be made that this could be the best time to visit yet. All the major touristic sites are open with enhanced safety protocols and capacity restrictions. Many of these sites, especially those in the larger tourist hubs are now operating on a prebooking basis. While this does mean a little more preplanning and a little less see-as-you-go it can also mean an improved experience. If you’re anything like me, pandemic or no pandemic, being herded around like tourist cattle ruins my experience. I tend to find myself working my way to the exit more so than actually enjoying the attraction itself so the capacity restrictions and timed entries are a bit of a dream come true for me. The prebooking systems mean you have a specific window of time to enter which is basically like getting in line early without having to actually get in line early. The capacity restriction means you have space to take it all in, move at your own pace and aren’t elbowing your way to the front of the pack.


Mexican Pesos


In terms of bang for your buck this is a fantastic time to visit some places. Mexico is doing its best to entice travellers back and some of that will reflect in your wallet. I recently booked a private airport transfer in Cancun which was 50% off and even included two tickets to a tour of our choice, a total savings of about $90 USD. It is worth mentioning that I had also quoted this transfer through my accommodation and was given the regular rate with no bonus tour.


Other deals I’ve been able to secure through a little internet wandering include 30% off a hotel stay which included free breakfast, bicycle rental and covid testing for my return home and 50% off a full day eco tourism trip to a national park.


When researching where you want to go it’s worth considering what deals are on offer. In my recent experience the best offers are coming from the accommodation or tour operators themselves. I like to use the big third-party websites for ideas and then find the provider directly to see what benefits they offer. In addition to monetary benefits, you’ll tend to see increased flexibility and cancellation, bonus inclusions and discounts for other local businesses.


Plan for the Worst


While we all hope it doesn’t happen to us, it could. In the event that you were to contract the virus what happens next is dependent on where you are and where you’re headed. Some countries operate under a mandatory quarantine policy which can be expensive. Others don’t require official quarantine at all which could mean out of pocket expensive for extended accommodation. Many insurance providers also don’t cover covid related expenses because it’s a well-known fact that it’s basically everywhere, whereas some will allow you to pay a premium for extended coverage.


Mexico doesn’t offer a government mandated contingency plan for covid positive travellers so travellers are responsible for covering the cost of their own additional accommodation. Accommodation is generally quite affordable in Mexico so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to pay for extra nights to self-quarantine. Other countries may have an expensive quarantine policy or more costly accommodation which would be something to consider.


The moral of the story when planning travel during a pandemic is that we don’t know what we don’t know. So my best advice is this: Research everything, make safety your top priority, book and confirm as much as you can in advance, plan for the best, prepare for the alternative.


Over the next several posts I’ll be writing about my experiences actually travelling during the pandemic so make sure you come back for the honest truth about what to expect and follow me on Instagram to see Mexico along the way! Until next time, be bold!



Ashlea

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