2020 was a horrific year for the travel and tourism industry. In fact, the latest reports show “a 74 per cent decrease in the number of international arrivals” or one billion fewer international arrivals during the last year. But I’m not here to spew out statistics. I’m just here to tell you every precaution I took to not get sick while traveling – and what I’ve learned from flying to 20 countries during the pandemic.
If you read the title of this webpage, you’ll see that traveling is essential for my job. Actually, it is my job. And when I’m not working, I’m probably on a plane to see my girlfriend who lives on another continent. I worry far more about radiation while flying than I do Covid-19.
As someone who travels for work, I’ve seen firsthand how flying is literally the safest mode of public transportation. I was working throughout the beginning, middle, and end (I hope) of the Covid-19 pandemic. And I watched the travel industry suffer its worst crisis ever, worse than 9/11. In the months leading to Congress passing the CARES Act pt deux, I received 5 furlough notices. 5 times, I thought my dream job of flying that I worked years and years to build was coming to an end.
Save the world, but do it safely
Most people around the world have it far, far worse. I believe that it’s our moral responsibility to support people in developing countries that rely on tourism for survival. Because of travel restrictions and requirements, between 100 and 120 million tourism jobs have been put at risk. People can’t feed their families. They don’t have the luck to get to debate about $1600 or $3000 stimulus checks. So if there’s a way I can bring some much needed income, I’ll pick a trip to Peru instead of Florida any day.
Since the pandemic started, I’ve been to 20 countries. Many have been middle ground countries that my European girlfriend and I were both allowed to visit so we could see each other. But others have been trips to low-risk countries that have been unfairly devastated by Covid-19.
Let me take you to Egypt. Imagine the Great Pyramids of Giza, normally bustling with hoards of tourists from around the world. Now, imagine having the whole place to yourself. Strange. Now, imagine a couple camel guides begging you to go for a camel ride, bartering their own price down to 10 Egyptian pounds – the equivalent of 64 cents. That’s the situation in so many of these countries.
Here’s what we did – and what you can do – to travel the world safely without getting yourself or anyone else sick, while bringing much needed income to the hardworking people around the world who need it the most.
Travel to countries with low or decreasing Covid cases
This sounds like a no brainer, right? The first thing I always do before choosing somewhere to travel is check the numbers.
It’s possibly the best thing you can to do reduce risk. Here are some examples:
To do this, you need to be flexible. You should book with an airline that offers fares with zero change fees. Hotels have been pretty vacant, and prices tend to remain stable until a couple days prior to travel, meaning you can wait to book until you’re sure you’re leaving.
It’s also wise to compare testing numbers so you give each country an even playing field. You can check the total tests per 1 million people, plus all other relevant data at worldometers.info.
Don’t let your guard down
During our travels, we had a simple philosophy: pretend everyone else is infected, and react accordingly. This might be overreacting, but it works.
We refused to meet up with others, even close friends, if we weren’t all wearing face masks and staying outdoors the whole time. We refused to eat indoors at restaurants. And we refused to go to bars, parties, or anywhere we could be pressured to let our guard (or mask) down.
I also recommend avoiding public ground transportation. The ventilation systems on buses and trains don’t come close to the sophistication and cleanliness offered by modern airliners. Instead, rent a car. And if you have to take a taxi, make sure that everyone is wearing masks and all the windows are (at least slightly) open.
Get tested before, during, and after travel
The worst thing you could do is inadvertently get someone else sick, especially in a developing country.
The CDC recommends getting tested for Covid-19 1 to 3 days before travel and 3-5 days after returning from travel. They require getting tested within 3 days of returning to the states. I highly recommend heeding to this advice even if it’s not required. Why chance it?
Use the right masks
The CDC has gone back and forth on correct mask usage, but the science confirms that wearing an N95 or KN95 mask provides the best protection against the airborne particulates that carry Covid-19. Sure, you can wear two masks, but just one KN95 mask provides more protection than two cloth masks.
Make sure your mask seals correctly. A “hack”, if you can call it that, we used was taping the masks to our faces. Since you may have to temporarily remove your mask to eat and go through security, I highly recommend Nexcare Sensitive Skin Paper Tape, rated 5-stars on amazon. Carry the tape on your person so you can re-seal your mask each time you take it off.
Choose your accommodation wisely
Though a kitchenette isn’t a very attractive proposition, why not hone your cooking skills this next trip? This could be an opportunity for romance, to explore your culinary talents, or just to save some hard-earned cash. Any excuse to avoid restaurants (and especially bars) – zones of high-risk, especially if you can’t eat outdoors.
Speaking of the outdoors, try booking a room with openable windows if you can. Though the Covid-19 approval/gold-seal that large-chain hotels advertise so much are nice, they’re no guarantee of cleanliness. I still recommend wiping down surfaces with disinfecting wipes and keeping the windows open as much as possible.
Make sure to check the travel requirements before leaving
Some countries can be quite particular when it comes to the travel requirements. For example, many countries don’t accept rapid/antigen testing, while others accept only certain types of antigen tests. Timing varies. For example, St. Lucia requires a PCR test within 5 days of arrival, whereas the British Virgin Islands require one within 72 hours.
If you’re wondering where you can get tested before leaving, check out this helpful blog post. Verify that you’ll receive your test results in time for your travels.
Almost every country requires you to complete some sort of health form – and usually, you can save a lot of time by filling out the required health forms online. This will save you time spent standing in a crowded terminal next to a bunch of other people who didn’t do their research ahead of time. I personally witnessed this on a trip to Mexico last fall.
To meet the CDC testing requirement before returning home, make sure to select a Covid testing center at your destination and set up testing ahead of time.
Plan your excursions carefully
Avoid situations that put you in crowded areas where mask-wearing rules aren’t particularly respected.
In Peru, we found ourselves in an extremely uncomfortable situation. After much research, we found an inexpensive excursion to the incredible rainbow mountain with great reviews. The next day, we were up at 430AM and excited as ever to visit this marvel of the world. We hopped on the van with great expectations, and well… you may know where I’m going. We were amongst the first to be picked up before filling up our van to 8 people on the way to rainbow mountain.
The ventilation system was completely turned off.
The guide had NO clue how to operate it.
Two of the occupants REFUSED to wear masks, using the “I can’t breathe with it” excuse. One of them was clearly sick with something.
It was a nightmare. For the entire 3-4 hour drive each way, we both wore not one, but TWO KN95 masks, kept our eyes closed as much as possible (pretending to nap), and didn’t talk to anyone. We promised ourselves to never do that again, and we booked private tours for the remainder of our trip.
Much like the yellow fever vaccine, a Covid-19 vaccine may become a requirement to travel abroad to some countries. At worst, it will eliminate quarantine requirements and maybe even having to take PCR tests. Imagine that: no more weird swabs being shoved into your face!
Vaccines are the quickest way out of this and a huge step towards safe, accessible international travel. Though they might not completely eliminate risk, the vaccines have been proven to prevent severe disease – even with the new variants. We personally cannot wait to be vaccinated and add another layer of protection to our international travels.