a group of chairs and umbrellas on a beach
Virgin's Departure Beach in Barbados

There are many things keeping people from flying across borders right now.

Right or wrong, pre-flight testing for vaccinated passengers is one of them. People just won’t risk testing positive abroad, knowing a short trip could end up turning into a long one, in potentially prison like conditions. A vacation just isn’t worth the risk, for some.

That’s not so much a problem for me. What is a problem for me, is the inconsistency of the visitor experience and enjoyment at the other end, and how hard it is to get proper information about rules and etiquette abroad.

Like the Caribbean, where some countries or islands have beaches closed, boat trips banned and early evening curfews, or Thailand where alcohol cannot be consumed in most quarantine hotels, or places where masks outdoors are the societal norm.

For better and worse, life where I am right now — in London — is fairly back to normal, and the more normal it becomes, the less inclined I become to take steps “backward”, with trips to places where the experience may be compromised. Particularly, when I’d be paying to do so.

a group of chairs and umbrellas on a beach

Planning Goes Beyond The Norm

Love is not tourism is a phrase I see a lot these days. It’s true. Many people have been separated for far too long, and will do anything to reconnect across borders. I feel very fortunate not to be one of them.

I’ve been able to be connected to those I love during the pandemic, so travel to me right now isn’t about a dire need to reconnect, but the potential of enjoyment abroad.

If that means going to a beach destination where I can’t take boat rides, or can’t actually set foot on the beach, or face a strict curfew– that’s a problem for my desire.

This has created a new layer of travel planning, which goes far beyond considerations of optimal flight times, best location for hotels and the off chance of getting a great bargain. And gathering information on these subjects isn’t quite standard, like flights.

Within Europe, member states have totally different levels of “openness”. Even within the United States, the societal norms in Los Angeles are vastly different than those on Daytona Beach, in Florida.

Figuring out the status-quo in a destination — when and where masks are required, if you need proof of vaccination for bars, whether bars are still open, whether hotels are mostly still closed, if the “vibe” on tourists is bad — these things are all more forum and friend conversations than dependable resources like the New York Times.

It makes information more difficult to find, and also more difficult to trust, given how subjective it is. It’s also constantly changing. I’m in Barcelona right now, and had been somewhat worried about the trip, given what I’d been reading about the experience, with things closed and most people wearing masks outdoors.

As a visitor, I’d never want to be an insulting outlier and would’ve followed suit, but I was thrilled to see that most of what I’d read was actually wrong. Everyone masks up to shop indoors, or to walk to their table, but I’d say actually 90%+ aren’t wearing one outside. So much more is open than I’d been reading, as well.

The trip feels 100% worth it, compared to a feeling of “it might be worth it” just days before leaving. It’s really challenging right now.

a large building with many people

I’m from New York and spent nearly half the year there this year, but I left when masks were largely being chucked, and understand now that many are reverting to wearing them in most indoor settings. Some have even done the same outdoors.

Again, this may be a “no biggie” to some, including me, but also might be a dealbreaker to people who’ve been waiting to experience cities at their best. Not everyone has the resources to visit places over and over again.

I mention this because even having spent half the year there, I have to “phone a friend” to get an accurate depiction of what’s “normal” and what’s not right now in the city. So much changes month to month. Until that changes, travel will be “complicated.”

I’m constantly covering the latest changes in travel restrictions, and whenever there’s a positive development, it’s generally only a matter of time until someone chimes in with an account of how limited most typical tourist activities are right now, in a given place.

This Too Shall Pass

With limited exceptions, borders are reopening now, not closing. Many risk averse countries have shifted conversations to safely reopening travel. Thing which seemed impossible just six months ago, are now entirely possible.

That’s the main hurdle in travel being removed: being allowed in. The next hurdle, is unlocking travel experiences worth traveling for, as restaurants reopen, hotels up their service levels and restrictions slowly fade away.

As the pandemic becomes endemic thanks to vaccination and improved treatments, cases to keep the things which make travel so special, closed, will start to fade. Like many of the most frustrating things in the global pandemic, this too shall pass.

Until it does, varying visitor experiences from country to country, or even state to state will keep my travels limited to what I can suss out about a place before I get there. To me, it’s one of the biggest problems in the travel recovery.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I get what you’re saying, we all have our reasons for travel or not at this time. I will say, my family and I recently spent 2 weeks in Spain for a wedding and vacation the beginning of Sept. Based upon reports I heard in the news I was kind of expecting “Gloom & Doom.” My friends and family in the country were telling me the opposite. If our travels around the entire country are any indication, we were much more comfortable in Spain than back here at home. It was great to be out, dine outdoors, people behaving like the best of humanity, this was the case in Portugal as well. A huge contrast to the current mentality and behavior of those here at home, I live in the SF Bay area of California. By this I don’t mean mask compliance or non, I’m referring to the overall hate that is displayed evermore so now than before. I wasn’t concerned with a potential for a positive PCR test prior to returning home, we’re all vaccinated and having knowledge of possible outcomes and end results I had a contingency plan. I think that’s something people fail to think about, if you’re test home to the US is positive you will not be allowed to travel home until you’ve finished a 10 day quarantine I believe and subsequent negative test. The TAT of our PCR tests from Quiron Salud was 10 hours, much faster TAT than our pre-trip PCR testing, my wife and I had our results 52 minutes before our departure time despite testing 3 days prior, quite ridiculous. Either way a great time was had by the 5 of us (wife, son, his 2 friends, myself) in large part due to the lack of travelers. We travelled the entire country, Malaga, Sevilla, Huelva, Madrid I finally made it to Valle de Los Caidos, Valencia, Tavira & Faro Portugal. I’ve booked our 20th Anniversary trip to Paris, we can hardly wait to enjoy all that it has to offer, my wife has been and I have not. By the way, membership has it’s privileges: 3rd Moderna “booster” Sept 20th.

  2. Valid and insightful. My wife and I are going to Jamaica before long and a lot of the things you mention are considerations for us.

  3. I went to Barcelona and a new night time curfew had started. You could not dine after 10pm. The experience was terrible, and really put me off a city I really enjoyed visiting otherwise.

    I had no idea of the new restrictions, they came in suddenly and had no choice to comply, much to the detriment of my enjoyment. Why would you pay to visit a destination and be subjected to draconian measures.

    A friend went to Barcelona a week earlier, and he had a great time, enjoying late night dining, bars, clubs. Thats all I wanted, but I got caught out with new rules. This only reinforces how one persons experience can be totally different to anothers.

  4. Analysis is right on, but how about some guidance on using self-tests purchased in the US, taken just before return, their validity returning to the States?

  5. Thanks! Very helpful. Probably a good idea to get the navica app and do some experimentation prior to departure.

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