Kids are back in school, and travel to the most popular destinations has gotten easier. Prices have dropped from their peak season highs, the crowded places will be less crowded, and the weather is more tolerable. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year...for travel. The only thing that isn't so wonderful is the resurgence of seasonal illnesses. Like COVID. It's Back. Not in any sense of the darkest days of the pandemic, but in a predictable, seasonal sort of way just as colds and the flu come back every year. The alarmist headlines are back as well, just as predictably. They offer dire warnings of new variants, of nursing homes overflowing with COVID cases, of schools and businesses reinstituting mask mandates, and of travel restrictions being resumed. Um…no.
From what I can tell, based on reading beyond the click-bait headlines, the headlines are based on the same recommendations health care professionals have been putting out for the past three years, and on the actions taken by a handful of private schools in L.A. and N.Y.C., and one Hollywood studio. The Hollywood studio almost doesn’t count since actors and writers are on strike and will be for the foreseeable future. In spite of the headlines and social media screeds. There's nothing new to any of that.
For the travel industry, COVID has become just another seasonal bug. No foreign destination has implemented any new travel restrictions, nor does it seem likely any will. I’m not suggesting COVID doesn’t continue to pose a risk. It does, and perhaps more so if you travel. But so do the many seasonal illnesses that we’ve learned to live with. COVID is just one more. Throughout the summer we’ve heard from people who have returned from trips with COVID along with their usual souvenirs. So far, anybody we know who has come down with COVID while traveling experienced a relatively mild case and recovered quickly. I say that not to diminish the potential of a serious outcome for some…just to share what we’ve seen. It’s anecdotal, but for me it is more reliable than what I’ve read in the news or on social media.
We’ve made five trips so far this year and haven’t come back with COVID, or any other illness for that matter. Our most recent trip was an Alaska cruise. We were invited by our host agency to join 50 of our travel advisor colleagues, an invitation extended to Janet because she is one of our host agency’s top selling travel advisors. Some of our colleagues on that cruise reported coming down with COVID, either during the cruise or shortly after their return home. We did not.
So how are we able to avoid COVID when so many of our colleagues can’t? We continue to follow simple precautions that work for us. I’m not suggesting that any of the things we do are necessary for you, nor that they would be adequate for you if you have special considerations like a compromised immune system. As I’ve said all along, your personal risk tolerance to COVID and any steps you feel appropriate to counter that risk are things only you can determine. Here is what we do when we travel to avoid getting sick:
1. We keep current with our vaccinations. Our last COVID booster was in the spring after the bivalent vaccine was released, and we’ll get another booster next month once the vaccine covering the latest COVID variant is released. We also get the annual flu shot. I haven’t seen any foreign destination regress to requiring either COVID vaccination or testing as a condition for entry. And while I don’t expect that to change as a result of seasonal resurgences of COVID, we continue to track all entry requirements for the destinations our clients travel to.
2. We travel with N95 masks. We don’t often wear the masks anymore, but it is comforting to know we have them if we get stuck sitting next to someone on an airplane that is sneezing, coughing, or sniffling their way through the flight. Recent studies have suggested masks did little, if anything, to limit the spread of COVID through the general population. But those same studies concluded that was due to the lack of universal acceptance masking faced. We still buy into the practice of masking up, when it makes sense, as a personal protective measure.
3. We avoid crowded, enclosed spaces as much as we can. When you travel you can’t always succeed, and we don’t let our desire to avoid crowds interfere with our enjoyment of travel. During our most recent cruise when our colleagues who came down with COVID were socializing at all the popular (and crowded) cruise ship bars and entertainment venues without masks, we chose to steer clear. We still went to shows in the ship’s main theater, and we went to bars and lounges, without masking up…we just avoided them when the crowds were at their worst. To be honest that wasn’t because of any concern over COVID. It was because we’ve cruised so often that the most popular (and crowded) venues are not as interesting to us as they once were. We prefer spending time in the ship’s less crowded areas…there are plenty of those to be found even on a packed cruise ship. You just have to look for them.
4. We wash our hands when we visit the restroom, as well as before entering a public dining area, but we no longer worry about pulling out the hand sanitizer every five minutes.
5. We believe in handshakes and hugs when the people we are greeting do the same. If someone is sniffling, sneezing or coughing we go with a fist bump, but otherwise we are all in on traditional greetings.
6. We continue to test ourselves when we return from travel if we have plans to get together with family or friends within a week of our return, for their protection. Now that the government no longer offers free COVID test kits and our stockpile of test kits has been exhausted, we’ll probably rely more on avoidance rather than testing in the future. But we will buy more test kits for those occasions when avoidance isn’t an option.
COVID is just another in the long list of seasonal bugs we face when we travel. We’ve learned to live with it because the benefits of traveling to new places outweigh the risks. For us. And the next time we do come down with COVID, as we surely will, we’ll deal with it just as we do when we come down with a cold or the flu. But we will continue to travel.