Guide to summer travel: Where to go, what to do — and whether to book at all
As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, and travel disruptions — from visas cancellations to flight suspensions — increase by the day, many people are wondering what to do about their summer holidays, if anything at all.
Will the situation be worse this summer — or better? Which countries will be safe? And is flying a good idea? As fast as questions are being answered, new ones emerge.
While the decision to travel will hinge upon a variety of factors — from your age and personal risk aversion to your reasons for traveling in the first place — there is no need to completely throw out your summer travel plans yet.
It is, however, time to start thinking strategically about them.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that high-risk travelers avoid non-essential air travel in the United States. That includes older adults and anyone (no matter the age) with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
Despite a recent spate of articles about avoiding germs on airplanes, the CDC deems the risk of infection during air travel to be low, noting: "Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes."
The same cannot be said of cruises.
The CDC recommends that travelers defer all cruise ship travel for the time being, noting that they "put large numbers of people, often from countries around the world, in frequent and close contact with each other."
Assuming you have the appetite to book air travel, where to? It's easy to avoid the hardest hit countries right now, but which nations will see infections rise next?
With news about the coronavirus changing by the hour, predicting where circumstances will stand come June is nearly impossible.
International travelers can access community spread information as well as travel advice at the CDC risk assessment map, which employs a tiered alert system on the potential health risks of visiting various countries.
Currently, countries marked with a "Warning Level 3" — the highest level and where the CDC recommends all non-essential travel be avoided — include China, Iran and most of Europe, including Scandinavia and Iceland.
From the map, it appears that no place in the world has either no reported risk level or limited community spread, including Antarctica.
"Right now, Europe and the U.S. are practically in lockdown," said Mark Wong, an executive at Small Luxury Hotels of the World. "Cross-border travel will be minimized. We are currently focusing on staycations, within-country travel … domestic travel will recover from this crisis first."
With oil prices plunging and gas prices expected to drop, the summer of 2020 may shape up to be the year people take to the road.
"Road trips — the drive market — will be this summer's trend," said Wong. "Travelers will be more comfortable hopping into their own cars or rental vehicles than commuting in mass transportation."
Outdoor trips to less populated areas are one way to avoid crowds.
Camping, cycling and wilderness trips, exploring national parks (while skipping the most heavily-visited spots) and touring lesser-known vineyards in popular wine regions are seen as safer choices, for the time being.
Depending on your home country, affluent vacationers can consider luxury ranches in Montana, gardening and cooking classes with a two-Michelin-starred chef outside of Oxford, helicopter-assisted fly fishing in New Zealand, or a surfing and raw food retreat in Byron Bay, Australia.
Got young kids? Skip the annual trip to the amusement park for a cabin by the lake. Stay in home rentals, bed-and-breakfasts or boutique hotels to reduce your exposure to others. Or instead of one large trip, devise a series of one-day road trips to places in your own backyard. If there was ever a time to get creative, it's now.
Lastly, don't lose the plot while trying to avoid people. While a rural home or remote island may seem like the best chance of a coronavirus-free escape, consideration should also be given to the availability of medical expertise and infrastructure in the area, should you fall sick while on holiday.
Should you show symptoms of illness during or following your trip, you may be quarantined for up to 14 days after your return, depending on where you live.
In fact, if you are on an airplane or come into close contact with another traveler who is infected, you may be subject to the same restrictions even though you are not ill. There is also a chance of travel bans being instituted while you're away, which could delay your return.
Plan trips to end more than two weeks in advance of important business meetings, school tests or other life events. And ensure your health insurance policy covers your medical expenses at your travel destination.
The coronavirus is particularly dangerous for older adults and those with underlying conditions.
The same goes for those living with or in close contact with members of those groups. Anyone who fits those profiles should consider taking a pass on 2020 summer travel.
The best airfare and hotel deals usually require prepayment, which is often non-refundable. Luckily, many travel companies are amending their cancellation policies during the coronavirus.
"Hotels and airlines are hungry for business in the current climate," said Tim Hentschel, CEO and co-founder of booking website HotelPlanner. "They are cutting prices by 60% or more and giving the flexibility to cancel and change dates without a penalty."
The Cape Kudu Hotel located on Koh Yao Noi, a small island off Phuket, Thailand, is allowing guests who prepaid for their stays to postpone their holidays until later in the year. Additional leeway may be granted, though customers need to ask directly, said Tirawan Taechaubol, the owner of Cape & Kantary Hotels.
"This drop in demand has been unprecedented — a 50% drop in global travel in less than a week," said Hentschel. "In comparison, when SARS hit the industry, global bookings only fell by 10% over a few months."
Hentschel believes the travel market recovery will be just as fast as its downturn.
"Once the summer comes, and people feel safe to travel, all the pent-up demand will snatch up good deals and unsold inventory quickly," said Hentschel. "Our suggestion is to lock in the good deals now because waiting till summer arrives will be too late."
And if summer arrives and worldwide the outbreak situation has not improved?
Travelers "can always cancel and book a staycation last minute," said Hentschel.
While some travelers are enticed by discounts, others are waiting on the sidelines to see how the coronavirus will play out this spring.
"Forward bookings are weak right now," said Wong. "Many travelers are in a 'wait-and-see' mode."
Frequent traveler Shannon Harman has plans to go to Napa Valley, California, and a family reunion in Texas this summer, but is reluctant to purchase tickets to a friend's 50th birthday party in Turkey in August.
"I am now seriously considering if the risk is worth it," said Harman. "I will research the facts and not join in the paranoia that seems to be rampant today. As it stands at the moment, I have no plans to change my travel schedule."
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