By Bruce Frankel
After what we have all experienced since mid-March of this year, I suspect you need a vacation and are dreaming of it now.
Although our world has been turned upside down by this pandemic, we still owe it to ourselves to return to the travel experiences that provide the healthy benefits that reenergize, refocus, explore and allow us to celebrate the beautiful world we live in. So, let us start planning your next vacation.
The fundamentals associated with selecting the best vacation options include the following considerations; who are the specific travelers in the group, the approximate budget, the amount of time and when the travel needs to take place as well as the type of experience you are seeking, including the level of accommodations.
Some vacations are easier to plan than others. Fortunately, we live in an area with close proximity to beautiful mountains and beaches that allow for wonderful vacation experiences. For vacation destinations that require flights, there are additional considerations associated with the more elaborate arrangements.
Going forward, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we travel as significantly as the events of 9/11 have. As a response to the September 11 attacks, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established for the security of the traveling public in the United States. Today, the general public is well aware of the security policies and procedures necessary to travel.
Now, new health protocols are added for travelers based on local, state and country government policies and screening requirements. Travelers will need to know the specifics for each jurisdiction. Traveler updates are posted on various government agency websites including The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the uncertainty created by the changing status of the pandemic in certain regions, travel operations such as cruise ships, tour companies, resorts, airlines, hotels and transfer agents have all created new ‘terms and conditions’ that often include more flexibility in their change and cancellation policies and need to be reviewed accordingly.
Where in the past, travel insurance was more of an option, today many travel experiences require or highly recommend that it is in place for your specific trip. Policies have been updated to address the pandemic. Keep in mind that concerns or fear of travel is generally not a covered reason under a cancellation policy.
Between the pent-up demand, intensified by ‘pandemic fatigue’ and some great on-line travel promotions being offered, the biggest question facing most vacationers is, “When can I go?” And the answer is that this is an individual decision that should be based on both risk factors and experience expectations.
Weigh the Risk – Clearly, COVID-19 has created a major health concern for all travel. As some destinations open to visitors and transportation becomes available, everyone has a different comfort level concerning the risk of exposure to the virus. It is always recommended that you check with your health provider to seek their advice. Although the travel industry has done an incredible job with enhanced quality, safety, and hygiene protocols, unfortunately, there are still risks. For example, there is no social distancing on an airplane. As a passenger, are you willing to take the risk and be comfortable with just wearing a mask? And if you plan to visit a popular public place like a museum or attraction, will the crowd exposure also be a concern?
Keep in mind that COVID-19 is not the first infectious disease to impact travel. Over the years we have dealt with things like the H5N1 influenza, SARS, Ebola, norovirus and the Zika virus and hopefully we will get this behind us in the near future.
Consider the Experience – Just as everyday life experiences have changed due to the pandemic, so has the traditional vacation experience. Let’s face it, no one wants to wear a face mask, but we do it as an important public health service.
Each destination has their own policies and restrictions, and many are more restrictive than ours. From pre-approved authorization, often where a recent negative COVID-19 test must be uploaded, to local curfews as well as limited access to popular attractions and local public places. Keep in mind that if a destination suddenly becomes a ‘hotspot’ for the coronavirus, significant changes can be implemented at the last minute.
As we become more comfortable and accepting of the COVID-19 public safety protocols, they might not seem as much of a deterrent for a future vacation. Getting away and a change of environment can be well worth the inconvenience. With more restrictions that discourage travel, some places can be less crowded and less expensive.
The pandemic has also created additional enhancements and changes that will help the traveler. New technology, especially for increased use of mobile apps to simplify the travel process from checking-in to detailed updated travel information, allow for a safer and easier travel experience. And by the end of 2021, I would not be surprised if you will see companies like Lab Corp offering effective rapid testing to meet the entry requirements for various destinations at airport concession stands.
During the initial vacation planning process, it might be helpful to contact a professional travel advisor for assistance. Many do not charge their clients a fee and the extra service can be a great benefit through these changing times.
Remember as with most of life, attitude is everything. Having realistic expectations and preparing to accept that things might not go as planned, does not have to ruin a great vacation experience. And planning a vacation during this holiday season can be the first step to creating a meaningful and wonderful lifetime memory.
Bruce Frankel is President of The Mindful Traveler.