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Planning Travel During COVID-19

Planning travel in the middle of a pandemic is not easy. We’re all wondering where we can go, and if we should book our flights and accommodations now, despite uncertainties. Here’s some things to consider, given what we know today:

International Travel

Are luxury cruises back? There are glimmers of hope. Consider Crystal Cruises, a high-end cruise line (surely an industry bellwether). The company announced last month that it will operate 7-night cruises in the Bahamas on their luxury ship, the Crystal Serenity. Those cruises will commence in July, 2021 and continue through October. On this news, Crystal recorded its biggest single day of bookings in history! By March 19, nearly 4000 travelers had made reservations and nearly 200 had signed up for back-to-back cruises. In fact, 80% of Crystal’s butler-serviced penthouses were snatched up for the summer trips. That’s a tremendous response, considering that these bookings are just for a cruise in the Bahamas—and in hurricane season no less! (Note that only inoculated people with negative COVID tests are allowed to board.) Hot of the Press: Just yesterday, Crystal announced it’s beginning (on August 5, 2021) 10-night cruises roundtrip from St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On the other side of the world, Crystal is deploying a new, state-of-the-art ship, Crystal Endeavor, a 200-passenger German-engineered vessel (Polar Class 6) designed to travel in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The company promises it will be “the most spacious, fastest and most powerful expedition ship in the industry”—and, knowing Crystal, the most luxurious. Endeavor will offer 10-night circumnavigations of Iceland, which will open to vaccinated Americans in July, 2021. Need we mention that the scenery will be spectacular?! Still, in case you’re reluctant to pull yourself away from luxury and step ashore, you can view wildlife from the comfort of your own butler-served suite, thanks to cameras mounted in the nest and underwater! 😊

As for our own travel plans, we’ve placed a deposit on an expedition cruise to East Greenland in September, an August trip to Switzerland and a December trip to Patagonia. None of these journeys, however, are guaranteed, since COVID restrictions (country closures and/or quarantines) are in place now.

So where can you go if you’re suffering from cabin fever? In addition to Iceland (note that Iceland Air is presently offering excellent air fares now), Ireland, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Greece have opened to vaccinated travelers. Lindblad Expeditions, for example, is now offering trips to the Galapagos and Greece. Also, check with Wild Frontiers for adventure trips to more exotic destinations, including Saudi Arabia, Montenegro, Romania, and more.

In sum, international travel remains highly problematic and may not return to normalcy until 2022 at the earliest. To check current travel policies by country, here’s a helpful link from NBC News. (To see where you can go now, look for a green bar in the first and third column.) You should also check out the latest travel updates from the U.S. Department of State and the CDC.

Domestic Travel

For now, domestic travel is the best solution for those of us who want a change of scenery. But beware. COVID travel restrictions and requirements vary by state and city—and can be difficult to navigate. In fact, approximately half the states have some kind of restrictions or quarantine in place.

And although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that travel is safe for anyone who has been vaccinated, the Center discourages non-essential travel. Furthermore, restrictions, even for the vaccinated, vary by state and city and change often. So don’t rely solely on online data. To get the most up-to-date information, speak directly with people at CVBs, tourism offices, hotels and the like at your intended destination. (For example, we hope to travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the next six months. Online information indicates that the state is enforcing a quarantine for visitors. But when we called Santa Fe’s tourism office, we learned that the quarantine had been lifted, and we are welcome!)

For information by state, check out this article from the New York Times as well as this page from Skyscanner, which also has updates on airline flight schedules and cancellation policies (again, please check with the airlines directly). Also, visit this page maintained by Peter Greenberg.

The CDC offers two useful tools online to help travelers plan their trips. One site links to state and local restrictions by city, state or ZIP code. The other includes a color-coded map of the infection rate by state, so people can easily see how prevalent the virus is at their destination.

Conclusions:

  •  It’s best to plan an international journey through professional travel companies or operators who make it their business to keep up with all the rapidly changing COVID policies and offer clients much flexibility to adjust travel dates
  •  Remain flexible. Don’t make deposits on trips unless they are refundable (very rare) and/or your travel dates can be postponed without penalties. This comment apples to both ground and air arrangements.
  •  Purchase travel insurance on your deposits and on the trip itself, and ask if the dates that can be adjusted or the policy can be put on hold should your trip be postponed.
  • As for domestic travel within the U.S., make sure you check multiple sources to verify the travel restrictions and requirements in the states and cities to which you are traveling.
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