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What does it feel like to travel right now?

Travel looks so different during Covid-19.

Aside from a short road trip to Pennsylvania, I’ve barely left my neighborhood. However, there definitely are people traveling. That’s why I reached out to a few travel experts who’ve embarked on trips in the last few months. Whether by car or air, their boots on the ground experience give insight into what it feels like to travel right now. They give me hope that travel will come back (and hopefully soon).

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Jeff Jenkins

Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube
Jeff Jenkins is the founder of ChubbyDiaries.com, an online community for plus-size travelers who are passionate about seeing the world, experiencing new foods, and learning clever hacks along the way.

I saw that you did a big National Park tour. Where did you go? What inspired the journey?
Yes, I went to Glacier, Yellowstone, grand Tetons, and Theodore Roosevelt national Park! Due to the pandemic, I decided to explore our backyard. I’d never been on a cross-country trip. At the time, I still had 17 more states to visit to complete all 50. So this is a great way to social distance and travel domestically.

What were you most nervous about?
To be honest, I knew I was going to parts of the country where there weren’t a lot of POCs (people of color), so I didn’t know if I was going to be confronted with any discrimination. Also, I was nervous about bears LOL.

Did you fly? If so, what was the experience like?
Yes, I flew to North Dakota and it was an interesting experience because there were so many people flying Frontier that day. We ended up upgrading our seats so that we didn’t have to sit next to people. But I liked all the safety precautions that they had in place.

In what ways was preparation different for this trip than usual?
First, since we would be gone longer than most of my normal trips, I had to prepare a suitcase for few weeks. We also had to prepare for cooler weather and camping! This was the first time my wife went camping and my first time camping in a National Park.

What safety precautions did you take?
We did a lot of research and called a lot of our friends who have been to these national parks. We got the ins and the outs from them about safety precaution.

What precautions were taken at your destination (for example, hotels, campgrounds, park rangers, etc.)?
We loaded up on bear spray, we looked at all the updated signs and fliers that told us about the area and if there were any potential dangers. One ranger told us that there were bears in the area and the moment we set up our campground in Grand Teton National Park, a mama bear and her 3 Cubs were strolling next to our campsite. For hotels, it came down to if they were clean enough and we ended up having to switch rooms because one of them was filthy.

Were the crowds normal or was it empty? If empty, was it a nice empty or an eerie empty?
Oh no, every park was full! At Glacier one park ranger told me that was the most people he ever seen in the park on a Monday in his life. The park was full before 9 AM. They ended up having to do one car out, one car in. Similar situations for the other parks. We met a couple from Michigan and we asked them outside of Yellowstone if they’d seen a lot of wildlife. They said “No, but we did see a lot of people!”

As a tourist, how were you received by the locals? Warmly… or not so much?
For the most part, we were around a lot of tourists. I would stop and talk to as many locals as I could, but they were all friendly and excited that I was there. I didn’t meet a lot of park seasonal workers. The conversations that I had with them were great, but most of them didn’t live in that area after the season was over.

Were you able to do and see everything you wanted, or did you feel limited?
We felt limited by the scarcity of camping sites. We didn’t know how hard it was going to be to find a camp site in the parks. A lot of the campgrounds were closed due to Covid and they were only a handful of them open. Some you needed a reservation which was booked out a couple of months in advance and others you need to be in line by 3 or 4 AM in the morning for the first-come-first-serve.

I was a little sad that we weren’t able to go to the east side of Glacier National Park, but the west side was immaculate and I have no complaints.

I think my expectations was that there weren’t going to be that many things open, but there was so much stuff that we could do and see that it turned out to be a great experience.

Advice for anyone considering travel right now?
My advice always is to check CDC guidelines, and also the city and state that you are visiting. Through my road trip I found that some cities and states have fully opened and others are partially open, so make sure you check beforehand.

 

Charlotte Simpson

Instagram | Facebook
Charlotte Simpson is a retired guidance counselor from Indianapolis. To date, Charlotte has visited all 50 states and over 80 countries. After losing her husband of 31 years, she decided to live her best solo life and see the world.

traveling black widow - covid

I saw that you recently road tripped from Indianapolis to Chicago. What inspired your trip?
I was inspired to take a road trip to Chicago as Labor Day Weekend approached and the travel bug and wanderlust overtook my entire being. I usually travel in September, which has the best weather worldwide, and with no trip planned I just had to get away.

What were you most nervous about when traveling?
I wasn’t nervous at all about the trip as I had researched Chicago and Illinois’ Covid status and regulations. It actually seemed a safer place than home.

I was a bit anxious though after we crossed the state line and began seeing freeway warnings that those entering from Covid Hotspots would need to Self-Quarantine for 14 days. I honestly wasn’t sure if we were a Hotspot, but had only seen on the news that our numbers were dropping and schools could safely reopen.

In what ways was preparation different for this trip than usual?
My preparation was different in that I did momentarily consider what should I take if, for some reason, I became ill or detained in Chicago. I imagined – worse case scenario – reflecting on how surprisingly quickly the stay-home order was  implemented in March with no real warning. So I took plenty cash (for bribes -LOL), snacks for the room, and a new magazine. I really didn’t dwell on it.

What safety precautions did you take?
Safety wise, I took a sanitizer for the room and made sure to have plenty in my purse. I trusted that the room would be sanitized and unused for 3 days as stated on their COVID info.

traveling black widow - covid

What precautions were taken at your destination (for example, hotels, parks/sites, etc.)?
At the hotel there was no valet parking, resulting in our getting lost in the massive underground maze-like garage. Perfect Social Distancing at check-in. No bellmen, but large luggage carts available. Entrance was quite a distance from the usual front of the hotel, dramatically reducing social contact. No maid, room service and mini bar was empty and unplugged. They did send us up a mini-fridge. Remote was in a plastic cover. Only two people were allowed on elevator. Breakfast menu was limited and seating was distanced.

When we arrived, we immediately went to the magnificent pool with great Chicago skyline views. My daughter and I were the a ONLY two people wearing masks. Prior to that everyone on the street and in the hotel had been masked. It was evident that a complete air of abandon happened near the water. The area was packed. I felt so uneasy because it looked exactly like scenes on the news of places that have seen a spike in Covid because of holiday gatherings. We didn’t utilize that area.

Were the crowds normal or was it empty? If empty, was it a nice empty or an eerie empty?
Navy Pier and touristy sites were closed and blocked off. There were NO crowds anywhere. The renown “Bean”  was blocked off. Buckingham Fountain was turned off. We walked to see it, other than one police car, we were the only people. It was eerie. That area of Michigan Avenue was so empty that you felt like you’re one of a handful of survivors in some science fiction novel with a crazy plot you can’t figure out. Clearly we can’t really be in Chicago!?

traveling black widow - covid

North Michigan was incredibly sparse too. Many buildings were boarded up from demonstrators and looters on previous nights. There was a sizable police presence mainly on horseback and walking and standing around in small groups. Many store required temperature checks to enter. All were limiting the number of customers.

As a tourist, how were you received by the locals? Warmly… or not so much?
We were SOOO warmly received by everyone, from hotel staff to sales clerks and especially restaurants. We ate outdoors in Greektown where the restaurant had a very limited menu. Rush Street was closed to increase outdoor seating/ which also maintained excellent distancing despite the obvious popularity of all those restaurants. Menus were always either limited or had somethings unavailable due to reduced hours/seating/Covid.
Waiters didn’t give you the traditional Chicago rush AT ALL.

Were you able to do and see everything you wanted, or did you feel limited?
I felt limited. It was not a typical Chicago getaway, but still a wonderful time in a magnificent city.

Advice for anyone considering travel right now?
For anyone considering travel now I’d say, GO, if you feel compelled to travel. But realize that there will probably be numerous limitations: access to tourist sites, restaurants seating and offerings, museum hours and reservations, unexpected closing of some place you’d hoped to see.

It will definitely be an unforgettable experience, and worth the trip to actually experience being the only person at a place where you’ve always been shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. I’m going back for my annual Christmas decorations tour on the Magnificent Mile getaway.

 

Angel Castellanos

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Angel is a US-based travel expert who teaches people how to travel well, smart and often.

angel castellanos - covid travel

You traveled both to Mexico and Turkey in the last few months. What inspired those journeys?
They are two countries that are accepting American travelers that rose to the top of my list. I hadn’t been to Mexico in several years and after weeks of lockdown and isolation, I needed a mental health break. I had only been to Istanbul and never really explored much of Turkey. Both countries required no quarantine upon arrival and had COVID statistics that made me feel comfortable about their infection rates.

What were you most nervous about when traveling internationally?
Getting infected or spreading COVID to others were my biggest fears. Since both countries had great public policies in place to prevent the spread, those fears quickly went away after being in country for a couple of days.

Also, I was nervous that people would misunderstand why I was traveling and I was nervous about being travel shamed. At the end of the day, I feel a responsibility to my followers, readers and the travel community, to report on what is happening in tourism during this challenging time.

angel castellanos - covid travel

What was the flight experience like?
On Internationally based airlines like Qatar, Turkish & AeroMexico, it was stellar. I felt very safe by their common sense rules and regulations that passengers actively participate in during the flying process. AeroMexico even spray sanitized all passengers carry-ons before boarding. Qatar provides free face shields for all passengers. All international airlines that I have flown are boarding and deplaning back to front and vice versa. For international airlines, it’s a combination of changes we can’t see and new rules we take part in. Unlike US-based airlines, international carriers that I flew are still serving meals and drinks. On US-based domestic airlines, I have felt less safe, but I can see that they are progressing and continuing to make the necessary changes.

You’re currently in Turkey. In what ways was preparation different for these trips than usual?
Double-checking open vs closed sites became very important. I learned in Mexico most tourist sites, like Pyramids, were still closed. In Turkey, most sites are open but have limited hours. So I have to keep checking opening and closing times vigilantly. Google has been my go-to and seems to be accurate on current closings and COVID operating hour updates.

I also had to put my health in the forefront and consider that for every type of booking or activity. So I specifically chose areas or destinations that had public health policy in place to protect locals and visitors. As someone who enjoys adventure and the outdoors, social distancing is sometimes part of the journey. So I wove into my trips plenty of opportunities to get outdoors or get off the beaten path.

angel castellanos - covid travel

What safety precautions did you take?
I looked at the infection rates in each country and compared them to what was happening in my own city and state. That gave me peace of mind. I packed a PPE kit that including several masks, hand sanitizer gel, sanitizing wipes and gloves. I also mentally thought through the flying process, hotel check in and rental car process. Preparing myself to clean and sanitize everything was not hard because I’m a germaphobe. During a pandemic, I knew I had to step it up my sanitization routine. I never used to sanitize my luggage, but I do now.

What precautions were taken at your destination (for example, hotels, parks/sites, beaches, etc.)?
I mixed in various outdoor and social distancing activities. Turkey is perfect for social distancing because of the variety the country has to offer. I hiked the Lycian Way, visited National Parks, hired a boat to go island hopping, spent plenty of time on the beach and visited lots of archeological sites that are outside. I didn’t take public transportation in Turkey, so I hired a car for a couple of weeks and made it a road trip.

In Mexico, masks and hand sanitizer are required when entering any building. Social distancing is in place at restaurants. At the time of my trip, Quintana Roo limited hotel room bookings to 30% capacity. My hotel in Playa del Carmen had a full body spray sanitizer that everyone had to go through when entering or exiting the hotel.

Turkey required masks, hand sanitizer and there was hand sanitizer everywhere. In Pamukkale, guards would yell at people who were not wearing a mask while walking around. The Safe Tourism Certificate was prominently displayed by properties that adhered to the guidelines and recommended safety procedures. Social distancing was evident everywhere. Beach clubs socially distanced their sun beds and even sprayed them down between use. Sites in Turkey limited hours and encouraged social distancing.

I had not been in a restaurant since COVID started in March. Every restaurant I ate at in Mexico or Turkey socially distanced. I also only ate at places that had fans and/or outside patios.

Were the crowds normal or was it empty? If empty, was it a nice empty or an eerie empty?
The crowds were really minimal. In Mexico, that was great because the because the usually crowded beaches of Playa Del Carmen & Tulum were empty.

In Turkey, it was a once in a lifetime experience to have Unesco World Heritage Sites to myself. Revisiting Istanbul during the pandemic, the crowds were noticeable thin. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the lack of crowds. No crowds though, means little for the local economy.

As tourists, how were you received by the locals? Warmly… or not so much?
I was treated very warmly in both countries. That is no surprise since both countries are very hospitable to foreigners and their peoples are notoriously generous. During COVID, everyone in tourism and local merchants expressed their deep gratitude for my visit. Their sincerity made a deep impact on me. It was clear they appreciated the business. Some people couldn’t believe they were seeing an American traveling. It was like a unicorn in the wild. It made me think that I was giving them hope that American travelers would be back someday.

Were you able to do and see everything you wanted, or did you feel limited?
I felt limited in my ability to interact with locals, deep dive into making local connections and telling their story. Social distancing was in the back of my mind so it was hard to truly engage with locals in a meaningful way. As someone who values human connection, this was very hard on me. It became easier the more I traveled and truthfully I don’t know if my adventurous and gregarious spirit stayed tempered the whole time.

Advice for anyone considering travel right now?
Travel right now is a deeply personal choice. It’s something that should be considered seriously. All travelers considering travel should speak with their Dr. Also, travelers have to be mentally prepared for things to be different. The energy and process of traveling will be different.

Brian Kelly

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy (TPG) has been publishing hands-on advice to help readers maximize their travel experiences since the site debuted in June 2010. What started out as a points-and-miles blog by founder and CEO Brian Kelly has evolved into a lifestyle media brand with 10 million unique visitors a month.

the points guy - covid19

I saw that you recently traveled both to Antigua and Croatia. What inspired those journeys?
I traveled to Antigua and Croatia because of my need to see what international travel was like right now. It is my job to explore and educate our millions of readers what it’s like out there. It was also important for me to understand the process of traveling during the pandemic so that I could best educate my readers on how to travel safely.

What were you most nervous about when traveling internationally?
I was most nervous about being able to get quick and reliable COVID-19 tests. There are lot of them out there, including rapid tests which most countries don’t accept, but luckily, I have been able to figure out how to get quick COVID-19 tests through NYU Langone here in Manhattan that are approved by the destinations I have traveled to.

What was the flight experience like?
It was totally fine! But don’t expect hot meals and full service on all flights. The experience has been stripped down and it really depends on the airlines and routes with what is offered. But frankly, I was so thankful to just be up in the skies and I made sure to plan accordingly and eat my meals before my flights.

In what ways was preparation different for these trips than usual trips?
The preparation was obviously different than before because I had to get COVID-19 tests prior to my travels. Additionally, it is also more important now than ever to stay up to date on the ever changing rules of your destinations (i.e. do you have to quarantine, what businesses are open, etc.)

I also was sure to have a backup plan. For example, I connected in London on my way to Croatia so that in the event I didn’t get let into Croatia or my flight was cancelled, I would be able to stay in London for the time being as the UK is open to Americans.

What safety precautions did you take?
I have had COVID-19 and have the antibodies, so my risk is more minimal than others but I am always sure to practice social distancing, always wear my mask, and to take a COVID-19 test before any travels.

Were the crowds normal or was it empty? If empty, was it a nice empty or an eerie empty?
Crowds were a fraction of what they usually are so it was really the perfect time to visit Croatia. There were people there so it wasn’t an eerie empty, but it wasn’t too crowded, so you felt comfortable and safe.

As a tourist, how were you received by the locals? Warmly… or not so much?
Both in Antigua and Croatia, the locals were so grateful and appreciative to have us there. So much of their income comes from tourism so they were so appreciative and welcoming and wanted me to let Americans know that they are welcomed and will not be harassed if they do travel to their home country.

Were you able to do and see everything you wanted, or did you feel limited?
I went to Antigua in June, so a lot of things were shut down so I spent most of my time there at the resort. So be sure to choose a resort that has a lot of amenities, dining, and activities if you are going to travel to a country that is not fully opened yet.

Advice for anyone considering travel right now?
Always be sure to talk to your doctor and consider your levels of risk when deciding if you want to travel right now. That said, if you are healthy and safe to travel – it can be a wonderful time to do so. Mexico, for example, is not that far away and is still open to Americans, so that might be a great place for people to consider.

Have you traveled during Covid-19? What did you learn?

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Travel looks different during Covid-19. I reached out to atravel experts who've recently taken trips. Here's how it feels like to travel now.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Yes. I flew at the end of June 2020 on Delta, up and back which involved a 3-night stay. I had 4 planes, 2 layovers and 3 airports roundtrip. This was from Greenville, South Carolina to St. Louis, Missouri. Layover in Atlanta. Delta required masks.

    I had flown to see my daughter’s wedding Venue, as well as go wedding accessory shopping with her. The Venue was beautiful! We enjoyed the food-tasting, too. Masks were not required.

    The two bridal shops we went in required masks. Both also required appointments. My heart broke inside when I knew how delighted ny daughter was trying on wedding veils, yet I could only see her delight in her eyes because she was wearing the bridal mask that she had ordered for the occasion. The two accessories that I had hoped to buy was purchased.

    It had been a successfup trip. An emotional one for my daughter and me, especially not knowing if our states would ban or require quarantines at the time of the wedding this year in December as we hugged each other with see-you-later goodbyes, and please stay safe.

    Both flights were great. Going up, I was the only one on my row of 3 seats. From Atlanta, I was the only one. Going back, 3 out of 5 seat row. One out of 3 seats.

    What a special trip! Before the trip I was very nervous about wearing a mask for hours each way. I was used to getting out on weekends with my husband with no mask because we had huge distances in between to social distance from others at huge lakes and state parks that only allowed 25 people at a time. Thanks to the air directly above my head on the planes, I could breathe fine. The air poured down inside my mask.

    I had a very enjoyable trip. My advice is for someone who wants to fly, GO. My biggest fear was not to be able to breathe. And that did not happen. 🙂

  2. My husband and I didn’t feel ready to fly but were definitely ready to get out of Charlotte, NC. We have family in New Jersey but the state required a 14-day quarantine, so no go. South was too hot! So in August we created a driving “Tour de Tennessee” and spent eight days seeing what the Volunteer State had to offer: Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga, and off-the-beaten path points of interest in between. Although the usual music scenes in Nashville and Memphis were not not happening, we found plenty of unique places to explore.

    We were in Nashville for the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the women’s right to vote. At an outdoor ceremony at the Parthenon, we watched a dozen female skydivers!

    In Memphis (our favorite) the National Civil Rights Museum was open with COVID-19 restrictions and…Graceland was also open with restrictions, but practically deserted. Imagine being the only two people in every room in Elvis’s house! And Shelby Farms Park was a fantastic find – five times the size of Central Park, miles of biking and hiking trails, half a dozen lakes of all sizes.

    Chattanooga on the weekend was busy, lots of folks walking the bridges and riverside streets, and masks were a little looser (literally) so we were careful choosing our activities. The Modern Art Museum was doing a great job with safety guidelines, though, and the Chattanooga Valley Railroad Museum has dozens of locomotives to see in its outdoor train yard.

    We stayed in Airbnb’s and visited at least two breweries in each city, ate most meals outside, and had a great vacation. Two weeks after returning home, no COVID symptoms, and we declared our adventure a success. It CAN be done if everyone follows protocols. Thank you, Tennessee!

  3. I flew from NY City (JFK) to Raleigh, NC in June and September. I flew American in June, Delta in September. Based on my experiences, I will NEVER fly American again, and will loyally fly Delta whenever I can. On my American flights, every single seat was filled, we boarded in the traditional grouping style, mask usage wasn’t enforced, and I saw American crew in the crowded terminals without masks. Delta was stellar: the terminal was supplied with hand sanitizer stations, every other seat in the waiting areas in the terminals was marked to remain empty for social distancing, and every single Delta employee was wearing a mask at all times. We boarded back to front and deplaned in reverse order, mask usage was enforced on the planes, and we were handed a goody bag containing bottled water, snacks, and hand sanitizer once we were seated. On the Delta regional jet, in four person rows (two and two), only one person was seated per row, unless travelers were together, and every other row was skipped wherever possible. Stellar precautions! On my return to NY, I’m required to quarantine for two weeks. Thank goodness for grocery delivery!

    In NYC, most people are very careful with observing the COVID-19 precautions, but not so much in NC – where the numbers are currently high! In NC, masks are required to enter stores and restaurants, but other than that, many people weren’t adhering to the CDC recommendations. As a family, we’re as observant of precautions as we can be, so when I visited, there were very limited activities we engaged in. We did go into one restaurant in June. The seating was very spread out, the servers were all wearing masks, and diners were required to wear masks when not seated. It made me very nervous to be inside in a restaurant, so we ate and left quickly. It was disorienting after not being inside restaurants for so many months. I haven’t been inside a restaurant since, and won’t do so again until there’s an effective vaccine. Raleigh has many beautiful parks, so we took advantage of socially distanced walking in the wonderful weather. Downtown was quite empty, so it seemed odd, but not scary.

    I have grown children in NC, so I’ll be back periodically. Not as often as pre-pandemic. And not visiting as many places as I’d like to until the situation eases.

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