IMG_5537 Covid-19 in 2021: Five Lessons for Travelers Travel
Street art, Colombia’s San Andres Island. It says something like – “Suppose I am Covid-19. You want to play with me? Care for your life and that of your parents, children, spouse and friends. Care for your loved ones. Love is the key.”

With 2021 drawing to a close, it’s clear that Covid isn’t ready to loosen its spiky grip on the world.

The pandemic is grinding on after almost two long years, and now the highly contagious Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire. There are still so many unknowns: Just how dangerous is Omicron? Who is at greatest risk? How effective are the vaccines? Real data is just starting to filter in, but early indications are that the disease caused by Omicron might not be as severe and that boosted vaccines offer strong protection. But what about the next variant, and the one after that?

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Credit: Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Speaking for just about everyone on the planet, we’re exhausted and discouraged. But for us travel addicts, Covid offers plenty of extra pitfalls. How do we indulge our jones to wander while keeping ourselves, and others, safe? And – with apologies to Rudyard Kipling – how do we keep our cool when everyone around us is losing theirs? That, in a nutshell, is travel in the age of Covid.

Here are some lessons we’ve learned as we dip our toes into the daunting new world of travel.

1. Be prepared for testing, testing, testing.

Don’t like having a stick up your nose? Well, if you’re committed to multi-country, international travel, get used to it. And be aware that Covid testing can take a serious bite out of your travel budget, depending on the countries you’re visiting.

IMG_2493 Covid-19 in 2021: Five Lessons for Travelers Travel
At the Medellin airport, testing is fast and easy on your way out (if you only need an antigen test). $95,000 Colombian pesos is about $23 US.

On our recent trip to the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Bonaire, we had to get three costly PCR tests over the course of a week: one to enter Aruba, another to enter Bonaire, and then another to re-enter Aruba for our flight home to Colombia. The PCRs on Bonaire were especially pricey at $170 apiece (someone out there’s making some serious money on Covid testing, I tell ya!). Not only did we spend a chunk of money on testing alone, we had to use some of our valuable island time looking for testing places and setting up appointments and had to arrange our activities around the 48-hour time time window for valid tests. And there’s no exemption for fully vaccinated folks like us.

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The journey is the reward: Aruba’s spectacular Eagle Beach

We get it.  All of the ABC islands have been slammed by Covid, so we completely understand their need to protect their citizens as much as possible. But the hard truth is that we now have to factor the expense of covid testing in to every trip budget, especially if we’ll be hopping between multiple countries. No problem – if it’s the price we have to pay to help these countries keep their populations safe, while still enjoying some travel freedom, we’re willing to do it.

2. Get vaccinated and boosted (when you’re eligible).

Unvaccinated travelers face growing obstacles as country after country tightens its restrictions for visitors. As we speak, our home country of Colombia has just implemented a new rule for tourists – no vaccination, no entry. And in many countries, you will be limited in terms of where you can go in public. Just last week, we were “carded” for the

583984D7-376C-4FA7-879D-C9F3AC3BD874_1_201_a-1024x887 Covid-19 in 2021: Five Lessons for Travelers Travel
John getting his second jab in May

first time to get into a restaurant in Medellín (part of a recently enacted rule preventing unvaccinated from entering many types of public venues).

This just in: According to BBC news, UK researchers are saying that vaccine boosters likely provide up to 85% protection against serious illness caused by Omicron. Good news!

3. Stay informed.

Covid entry requirements for various countries are a moving target, especially as more information unfolds about Omicron. In fact, everything in this post will probably be obsolete by this afternoon, so getting up-to-the-minute info is critical. Also, be aware that many countries require that travelers complete an online application with uploaded test results and vaccine info BEFORE they arrive (we encountered that in both Aruba and Bonaire, and Colombia has its own version now). Be sure to check the health ministry website of the country you’ll be visiting for the most accurate information.

IMG_5531-1 Covid-19 in 2021: Five Lessons for Travelers Travel
Billboard spotted on Colombia’s San Andres Island last week

Here’s a great feature on the CNN website that breaks down current Covid entry requirements for some of the world’s most popular destinations, together with Covid news updates from many countries. (Note: This is best viewed on a computer or using the CNN app, if you’re on a mobile device.) You can also subscribe to CNN’s Unlocking the World newsletter for up-to-the-minute info.

4. Patience is everything.

Our blogger friend Debbie writes the excellent travel blog “My Teeth Fell Off the Charles Bridge” (yes, there’s a cool story behind that!), about her and her husband Ron’s experiences as travelers and former expats in Nicaragua. In a perfect example of Murphy’s Law, Debbie recently posted about their aborted trip to Iceland. In parts funny, sad, and infuriating, it encapsulates perfectly everything that’s challenging about international travel right now.

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Waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for the rental car at the Aruba airport

As Debbie pointed out so astutely, air travel had already become nightmarish long before Covid. Putting a lot of tired and frustrated people together in a situation they can’t control, one that’s bound to create lots of hardship or disappointment for them, is a recipe for a lot of anger. The media is no doubt contributing by over-hyping every outrageous thing passengers have done lately. (Have you seen this one, just out today??) But I swear I don’t remember any stories about passengers punching flight attendants and knocking out their teeth before Covid. Or people screaming obscenities at other people they’ve never met, just because they can’t get to their overhead bag. It seems that Covid has dialed up the travel rage-o-meter, a lot.

Another by-product of the pandemic is the intense labor shortage in the service industry. We waited an hour and a half after landing in Aruba for our rental car, simply because the poor overwhelmed staff was backed up  and unable to process cars in time. And at restaurant after restaurant, servers were stretched thin with too many tables.

The upshot? When you’re packing your bags, make sure and include a ton of patience and empathy for airline crews and other service folks who are doing their best – and fellow travelers who are as stressed as you are.

5. Choose hope.

Since we’re “glass half full” folks, we truly believe that this too shall pass. One reason for hope: how far the world has come in such a short time in understanding, tracking, and treating this virus. About this time last year, the very first doses of Covid-19 vaccines were being rolled out to frontline healthcare workers in the U.S., and as of today almost 60% of the world population has received one dose. Of course there are still huge challenges (don’t get me up on my global vaccine inequity soapbox), but that’s still pretty remarkable.

What will the world look like a year from now? Who knows? But by choosing hope, we can foresee a world in which Covid, while endemic, can be easily prevented with a yearly vaccine, and things are more or less back to “normal.” At least, until the next pandemic (and there WILL be one).

Here’s to lots of fun and carefree travel adventures in 2022 and beyond!

 

32 Comments

  1. Julie Castleberry Reply

    All good information, thank you! I’m headed to Cancun in March so I’m ready for testing and expenses to test!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Great, Julie! We’ve been hearing some crazy things lately about Cancun – be careful. Hugs to you and your family!

  2. Thanks for including me in your informative article, Susan and John. Traveling is very challenging regardless of Covid, and now things are even more unpredictable with Omicron. We have three international trips planned this winter, and who knows if we will be able to complete any of them. You are certainly right about packing patience. Thanks again.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      As we speak, we’re thinking about canceling our trip to Spain in February. That will be the THIRD time we’ve canceled that trip. I think the scariest aspect of Covid is all of the “big unknowns.” Thanks again for letting us use your great content – and good luck with those trips!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Same back ‘atcha, Donna! 🙂

  3. Ugh, and double ugh, I say. Too bad you’re having to go through all that nonsense, but it’s good to see you’re keeping a sense of patience, if not humor about it. You really don’t want to know how I feel about the anti-vax crowd right now. My darkest musing is that we’re missing a great Darwinian opportunity not forcing them to get the shot. Read between the lines, feel free. Hey, great to hear you enjoyed the ABCs. stay well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You know you’re preaching to the choir, amigo! It’s so very sad how much of this (including Omicron) could have been prevented if most of the world was vaccinated by now. So much needless suffering. It’s not just the anti-vaxxers, it’s the shameful inequality of vaccine distribution around the world. In my darkest musings, I think this might actually be the big death knell for humans, so Darwin will win out anyway. But then I read more hopeful stories about how Omicron might be less serious and deadly. Let’s hope the news continues to get a little better each day.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks for reading – happy holidays to you and Theresa!

  4. Very timely post with spot on observations. We are just finishing up 3 weeks in French Polynesia after 2 1/2 months in Europe and we experienced a lot of what you mentioned. Right now flexibility is a necessity and planning on extra covid related costs a norm. Stay safe.
    Steve

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Flexibility – so critical for travelers at any time, but especially now! Glad you’ve been able to enjoy French Polynesia and Europe. Where are you headed next? Stay safe yourselves 🙂

  5. It’s going to be with us for a long time I fear. So then will be all of these tests and restrictions. Thank goodness I haven’t seen a thong wearer in our travels!!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, yes, I’m trying to “unsee” in my head that guy with the thong! Ugh. It seems like there’s no end to the outrageous behavior of some travelers these days. My heart really goes out to the flight attendants and airline workers – I honestly don’t know how they manage. Hope you two are doing well and staying safe!

  6. Very informative post you have here, many travelers are anxious to travel after the pandemic, but they come to find out that traveling is a lot more stressful than it was before. I haven’t traveled since the pandemic started, but when I do, I will take all of this in consideration.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      And it seems to be getting more stressful all the time. I think it’s going to take a long time (if ever) for international travel to feel anything like it was before Covid. Here’s wishing you safe travels ahead, and a peaceful holiday season!

  7. Well, travel is full of new challenges and pitfalls (and costs!) but as you know, we’re doing what we can. God knows what we would do without wifi!! We’re confident travelling, but our main concern really is that whatever country we are in, chooses to shut down and we are left with nothing to do, but we continue to hope to get lucky. We do remember hearing right at the start, that the usual pattern of a coronavirus is that it mutates multiple times, weakening each time until it becomes no more of a threat than the common cold. We are optimistically hoping that pattern has started with Omicron, but it’ll be some time before we know that, we fear.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Those are exactly the kinds of issues we’re looking at as we weigh whether to go through with our planned trip to Spain in Feb. Because we have two senior dogs, we can’t afford to get stuck somewhere because of a lockdown. I’ve seen those stories about the potential of the virus to keep weakening with each variant, but I’ve seen others that say it could become stronger. Soooo many unknowns . . .all we can do is be hopeful.

      Hope you two have a wonderful, safe, and fulfilling holiday!

  8. All great info (I seem to be missing #2, though…). Traveling is no fun anymore, but your friend Debbie was correct in that it hasn’t been fun anymore long before that, ever since 9/11 in my opinion and each year airlines tried to save more money. At the moment, we are glad to be traveling in our own vehicle, although that comes with challenges as well, of course.

    I totally get countries wanting to be safe, but I do think they should make an exception for fully-vaccinated and boosted people and make their tests affordable. Especially if they want the tourist sector to recover or everyone to be extra careful.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Oops, thanks for catching that! You know how hard it is to proof your own stuff 🙂 I added one more “lesson” – see what you think!

      Glad you’re enjoying traveling in your own vehicle. It really is the way to go in these times, and so much fun. We’ll never forget the big Colombian road trip we took this year, and we’re already making plans for next year.

      Happy holidays to both of you!
      – Susan

    • Thank you for your very timely information. I agree that there are too many unknowns to know where we are are going from here. Vaccinations and boosters are so important!

      • John and Susan Pazera Reply

        Hi Mimi! Thanks for your comment. Agree, it’s never been more important to get vaccinated, and to find a way to get vaccination rates higher in poorer countries. I wish there weren’t so many people who completely disagree with that. But you know how I feel 🙂

  9. Susan Hays Reply

    Hi Susan and John, Thanks for sharing your experiences. For those of us who love to travel, especially down that “unbeaten path”, staying home is torture. Somehow my weekly drive across the Narrow’s Bridge, “Galloping Gertie” (yeah the one that collapsed in 1940) just doesn’t quite do the same for me. Still have Bhutan on the top of my bucket list. Couldn’t agree more….patience and kindness….can’t have enough. Even at our poorest, we are far better off than most of the world’s population. Thanks again for spreading the word! Happy and safe travels to the two of you!!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Helloooo back to you and John, and Merry Christmas! I can just picture you driving across Galloping Gertie and dreaming of Bhutan. (Isn’t that the country with the happiness index?) And you are totally preaching to the choir – every day we wake up with so much gratitude for all we have, when so many are going with so much less. It’s humbling. Here’s wishing both of you a fantastic new year filled with adventure!

  10. Good tips and advice. We’re not quite ready for international travel yet but we’re hopeful that 2022 will be the year. I am optimistic as well. Despite the newest challenges, we are in a much better place than a year ago. Happy holidays and all the best to you both in the new year.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I think 2022 will a much better year for all, Caroline! Here’s wishing you and your family a wonderful, peaceful, and safe holiday season.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Happiest of holidays to you, Muriel, and all the best to you and your family! 🙂

  11. This is a great post to wrap up 2021. I loved the part about “don’t like having a stick up your nose, well get used to it”. Gave me quite the laugh thinking back to how many COVID tests we had to take coming back into Hong Kong after our trip to the US. Choosing hope is a great message to finish out the year!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Becky! We followed all your experiences with Covid measures in Hong Kong. Is it now a lot worse with Omicron? I’m guessing Hong Kong has abandoned its “zero covid” strategy by now – it just doesn’t seem feasible anywhere with Omicron.

      Anyway, here’s hoping things get better soon. We wish all the best for you and your family in 2022!

  12. Susan and John, this is great advice. I particularly like your emphasis on patience and hope – they’re both so important. James and I want to wish you a fabulous New Year filled with joy and peace. ~Terri

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      And a Happy New Year to you and James, Terri! Here’s hoping 2022 brings you everything you hope for. All the best from John and me. 🙂

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