Where to start? My last post was about Seattle and the renovated Space Needle. March 1, 2020, one day after Washington State announced the first death from COVID-19 in the United States. (It would later add two deaths that occurred on February 26. And the Los Angeles Times has reported that scientists and epidemiologists raised alarms in December.)
Still, the “novel coronovirus” seemed distant and surely not as vicious as some claimed. It wasn’t the first coronavirus, after all, and would soon be contained. Not because the United States was special or immune, but because the whole thing just seemed impossible. Surreal. A sci-fi plot.
And here we are…
Once it became clear that the world was one big Petri dish, we watched as countries locked down. Borders closed. Airlines stopped flying. Travel companies first postponed tours, then reluctantly cancelled them. With 1 in 10 people around the globe working in hospitality and travel, the loss is staggering. (For the COVID-savvy, this is equal to the populations of Italy and South Korea combined.)
Still, we had hope. In February, friends who were scheduled for a Bordeaux barge trip in mid-March asked me if they should cancel. I’m not a CDC expert (nor do I pretend to be one on television) but the virus was still just getting started. Not yet, I said. Within two weeks, of course, the idea of getting on a plane to go anywhere seemed preposterous. It was that fast.
My turn with the virus
On March 8, I took my granddaughter to Chicago to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. We took a commuter train to and from; then Chicago’s Red Line to get lunch; then sat with a thousand other Alvin Ailey fans at the huge Auditorium Theatre for a couple of hours.
A few days later, I had a dry cough. Sore throat. Next, the headache. Body aches. Fever. Overwhelming fatigue…two nights in a row, I slept 14 hours. Plus daytime naps.
I self-quarantined and phoned the doctor. No tests were available, so I was advised to stay in and let them know if things got worse. Thankfully, things didn’t get worse. And after about five days, the symptoms started to retreat. By ten days, I felt fine. I’m fully recovered, one of the fortunate 80%. Until an antibody test is available to everyone, I won’t have a definite diagnosis of COVID-19. That also is a little unsettling.
My point in writing this is to stress the need to comply with all the recommendations. On March 8, there were a handful of cases in Chicago…but I’m certain this is where I contracted the virus. Just doing ordinary activities on a beautiful Sunday.
Will travel still matter?
I’ll be honest: For the moment, I’ve lost my taste for travel. I just want health and safety for all. Especially the front-line medical workers. When millions of people are out of work and “essential” workers are helping us all shelter-in-place, planning a trip seems almost indecent.
Surely, travel will return. It always does. But it will take time; air traffic didn’t get back to its pre-9/11 level until 2004. As I write this, current flights are down 90%. Predictions for “normal” flights are sometime in 2023; the first to fly, called “tip-toe travelers,” will be business flyers and people who can afford to “escape,” which translates to those who are affluent.
What to do in the meantime? Travel junkies fall into two camps:
- The Dreamers: Some people love to just think about where they’d like to go. Armchair travelers, if you will. They page through AFAR and Conde-Nast Traveler, deciding which places will top their list when they can once again leave home. They pull travel books and guides off the shelf, browse tour websites, or stream documentaries and Rick Steves Europe shows. Just thinking and dreaming about the future makes them content…and hopeful.
- The Doubters: It’s not that they don’t want to travel–au contraire! It’s just that these folks find it difficult to whip up enthusiasm for a journey that’s remote and uncertain. That 2021 trip that’s been on the docket for the past two years? Too hard to even think about, even though they have “cancel for any reason” insurance. Right now, it’s easier to tuck the idea away. The idea is still there, but until they know more, they choose to do other things.
However we’re reacting to being homebound right now, we’re coping the best we know how. And looking ahead. Even a weekend getaway sounds heavenly. For that matter, so does a sit-down meal at a restaurant!
Predictions for Post-Covid-19 Travel
Just as after 9/11, there’s going to be a new “normal” for travel. That much is certain. But what else will change? Here are some predictions from experts:
- Airlines will be quicker to prohibit you from boarding if you have a sniffle. Maybe they’ll take temperatures, or ask you about your recent health history.
- Proof of vaccination, or of immunity, not just for Covid-19, but whatever else infectious disease gurus tell us we should have.
- Tougher immigration rules, such as temperatures, self-isolation from certain countries, maybe even rapid testing.
- Countries may have a “lockdown switch” to allow or prevent or limit entry, as well as prohibit travelers from another country where a disease is not well-controlled.
- Higher airline costs, especially as flights slowly ramp back up. There will be fewer planes and probably fewer seats on those planes. All this means we’ll be paying more for fewer flight options.
- If you weren’t buying travel insurance before, you will be now. And you’ll be reading the fine print carefully to see what’s covered…and what’s not.
- You’ll be packing more wipes, hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves. Let’s hope that the ridiculous 3-1-1 rule goes away, so we can safely carry the supplies we need.
Am I willing to give up travel? No, of course not. But it’s going to come at a greater cost, financially, logistically, and emotionally. It’s still going to be worth it. In the meantime, stay safe and wash your hands.
I’ll have ways to help pass the time, but here are a few things for now: