In my opinion, international travel won’t fully recover until fully vaccinated people are spared from taking covid-19 tests before departure.

When speaking to friends right now, I’d say all of whom are vaccinated, it’s no longer fear of the virus that’s keeping people from taking an international trip, but real fear of what might happen if they test positive abroad.

Covid-19 vaccines are fulfilling the ultimate goal of keeping the majority of people from bad health outcomes, but not necessarily from asymptomatic cases and the unknowns of what might happen if they test positive abroad, or the quarantine conditions that can follow.

The logistics of what happens when people do test positive abroad are rarely pretty.

No one wants to go “over” on time off of work due to prolonged, forced isolation – and thousands in added trip expenses can create real hardship. I just don’t see how travel can meaningfully rebound if cases, rather than vaccinations are the metric.

Travel Recovery? Not Quite.

From the jump, I don’t mind testing. I’m used to it, but not everyone is. I’ve flown when practical all year, and that meant obliging to more than 20 covid-19 tests to facilitate the trips, and even more days in mandatory quarantine in some countries.

No positives yet – fingers crossed, but it occurs to me on each and every trip, that if this was designed as a short one, it could immediately become a very long one, with just a single test.

Now that vaccinations have reached critical numbers, and most have had access to them, I like the approach of countries which require proof of vaccination, but no longer also demand a test too.

Tests = Stress

I love hearing feedback from friends who aren’t as travel obsessed as I am, in part because they provide priceless real world data points about the sentiment and worries most people feel.

I always find these chats fascinating, because I quickly realize just how stressful they find picking a covid-19 testing provider for travel, let alone taking one. There’s usually a few angry smirks about added costs, too.

When it comes down to brass tax — book or no book thinking – – this is where the greatest hesitation appears to come up. There’s real worry about taking a test upon arrival, or before being allowed to return, largely because most tests are known for a margin of false positive, which can crush a trip.

If you only have 5 days of holiday from work, can you afford to be stuck for an extra 10 days? If you’re forced to quarantine in place for 10 days, can you afford 10 more days at your hotel or Airbnb? These are heavy issues even for savvy travelers.

Trends Don’t Lie

When examining travel trends this year, most movement was regional, and prioritized places where testing was not required, such as a domestic trip, or for many Americans, Mexico.

Places where testing was not required, or was free and easy, won out in a big way.

In places where testing was required, or would be needed before return, some clever resorts offered “free lodging if you test positive” to get people over their fears. I’m not endorsing that style of travel necessarily, just stating facts.

Putting test costs aside, vaccinated people from places of similar levels of risk really aren’t moving the needle on meaningful covid-19 metrics in the wrong direction.

In the USA, 97% of people in hospital for covid-19 are unvaccinated and 99% of covid-19 deaths are also from the unvaccinated. I witnessed first hand just how easy it was to get vaccinated in the USA for many months now, with or without papers.

Travel simply won’t recover until proof of vaccination is the “out” for testing.

My Opinion On The Great Travel Recovery

In my opinion, allowing international travel to return to a more binary “vaccinated, or not vaccinated”, will be the only way to fully unlock recovery. People want more perks for doing their part.

Either you did your part and can travel freely with proof of vaccination, without the need to show a negative test, or you didn’t and are subject to jumping through hoops until you do.

Most covid-19 related health worries for fully vaccinated people are finally taking a back seat (there are other health worries in life outside of covid-19, of course), but the prolonged worries of facing an unknown setting abroad, or potentially losing a job, or getting hit with thousands in unforeseen expenses bring too many variables for many sound minds.

Join the Conversation

36 Comments

  1. Are you kidding or suffering from a possible stroke? So you think it’s appropriate for someone to travel without testing when they could still carry and spread it – especially in places where populations may not have the same privilege of receiving vaccinations to protect those most vulnerable to serious illness? Or health care systems that can support a surge? How gobsmackingly arrogant and selfish. Sorry it’s inconvenient but all that preaching about caring for the health of others doesn’t get to stop because the vaccines didn’t do what we hoped – prevent infection and transmission. Suck it up buttercup.

    1. I tried to think of a polite way to handle this, and I can’t.

      I state specifically that I don’t mind testing, multiple times. I’m not advocating for one thing or another – i’m simply addressing many data points and the sentiment of many travelers. That is: (like it or not) travel won’t recover while testing creates such jeopardy for each trip.

      Guess what? Countries can set their own border policies. You don’t. I don’t. If their populations haven’t been able to be vaccinated or can’t risk a surge, they shouldn’t be open. It’s why many are still closed.

      For those which have high levels of vaccination and despite cases aren’t seeing surges among vaccinated people, that’s an entirely different story. This is an account of why travel won’t recover fully, and you’re almost proving all my points for me. It’s an opinion of outcome, not whether I like it or not. Good luck in life.

      1. Gilbert I agree with your article. Testing vaccinated people is certainly a major obstacle to the return of leisure travel. The cost, the logistics, etc. It’s certainly a major reason why I haven’t traveled much this year. The comment from Raffaela is extremely rude. Their opinion is not wrong, but the delivery is just mean.

    2. Gilbert, don’t always agree with you, but certainly look forward to your articles each week, and I certainly agree with you on this good article!

      It hit the nail on the head for me. I travel for work a lot, but the wife and I are definitely not booking any cruises or anything in the exotic locations in the Pacific or Caribbean because we just don’t wanna deal with the testing.

      Like everyone—We hibernated for “two weeks” to flatten the curve, social distanced, wear the masks when REQUIRED, we went and got our shots……and every time, they keep coming up with something new to keep us from moving about.

      I now only fly for work, when REQUIRED. I was considering some vacations for late Sept/Oct, And I simply don’t want to deal with the testing, masking, etc., I’m over it. thank God for Fishing to help keep us sane!

  2. The current state of things is that even fully vaccinate people can contract, carry, get sick from, and transmit the virus. The U.S. CDC is only counting “breakthrough” cases as being vaccinated people who are hospitalized or die from their infection. They are not counting the people who test positive or recover without hospitalization, regardless of how sick they got at home. So you “aren’t seeing surges among vaccinated people” because they aren’t being counted. Only a few states and counties are counting all breakthrough infections:

    https://www.propublica.org/article/the-cdc-only-tracks-a-fraction-of-breakthrough-covid-19-infections-even-as-cases-surge

    Vaccinations sterilized Covid A, but not Covid D. And since Covid D is now the predominant version, requirements for testing are entirely justified. Everyone can still transmit it. Vaccination simply improves your own chances of recovery.

    1. I hear you, kind of, but I believe your statements are lacking appropriate context. As I noted in another comment, I’m not in any way saying covid-19 and the seasonal flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year were always the same. They weren’t — covid-19 was unequivocally much worse. But now, thanks to the miracle of vaccines and antibodies, the covid pandemic is becoming endemic. We don’t track cases for these other seasonal illnesses, and if people are getting over it for the most part, like with others, tracking cases would be the first time we’ve societally done that with an endemic illness. Just like with flu, norovirus, anything else awful, if someone feels unwell, they should isolate. We societally track deaths, hospitalizations of these things, and if progress on mitigating worst outcomes with covid-19 continues, it’s hard to see why it would need to be unique.

  3. Aside from government mandated bans it is the testing that is stopping me travelling. I am currently BA gold so I usually fly a fair bit but after numerous cancelled flights and changing requirements I am weary from all the restrictions and have given up looking for flights for now. I agree with your article . It is a very worrying prospect for the international airline industry if my feelings are representative.

    1. I’m currently sitting on the beach on Lefkada, Greece. Third Greek trip of the summer and I managed Iceland as well. 100% agree with you on the testing though-my stomach is in knots every time I head to get my ‘test to return (to the UK)’ done. Not had a positive test, but know loads of people who have and as you said, it isn’t pretty.
      The worst part is that lies the British government told to push the vaccinations…get jabbed and ‘get your freedom’ back. Freedom, as long as you test yourself into oblivion, pay ridiculous prices for ‘government approved’ test packages when you’re back, never get the results…

  4. I agree that international travel won’t recover until people that are vaccinated are no longer required to provide negative Covid-19 PCR test results. We are being told that you need to be vaccinated, but vaccination means nothing when you are flying internationally. Reward people with not having to prove negative Covid-19 PCR test results and get rid of the necessary Covid-19 paperwork to travel. Also, don’t force quarantine on vaccinated people. It is proven that there are numerous false positive test results.

  5. I definitely agree with you on the problem posed by the testing risk (and, if anything, I think people may be under-appreciating the financial risk they’re taking on if they test positive while on vacation).

    Not sure I agree that the solution is to not test vaccinated folks — arguing that they might have to deal with the consequences of being infected and spreading the virus isn’t likely to sway a lot of people. If you’re positive, you *should* be refraining from travel (just as you should be refraining from going to work if you were at home).

    I suspect testing is going to be a long-term feature of cross-border travel, and the travel industry needs to work around that. It is kind of astonishing to me they haven’t come up with better solutions by now; it seems like the industry instead chose to make the incorrect bet earlier this year that the pandemic was ending.

    To me, a sustainable travel industry approach might be a combination of: (1) easy and cheap access to travel insurance that covers testing positive (countries could provide it, airlines could provide it, third parties could provide it) — remove the financial risk of the tests; and then (2) cheaper, easier, and more widely-accepted testing like the Abbott Binax; that product is great, the price needs to come down more. These two steps both seem feasible and would go a long way.

      1. Oh, I totally agree in the long term, but practically speaking I fear we may be years away from that for many (if not most) countries. I suspect a country will want to keep testing until they have (1) sufficient internal vaccination providing an effective defense and (2) enough time has gone by to feel comfortable the variant situation has stabilized.

        Problem, though, is it seems to me we’re heading toward a situation where the perception will be that by far the best comprehensive protection is 3 MRNA doses. The US will take months starting in September to deliver 3rd doses, and I can’t imagine testing going away during that time. And the rest of the world is in a far trickier spot: a deep deep backlog to access enough 2 doses of MRNAs, let alone 3, and a lot of countries also having to navigate having relied heavily on vaccines that no longer seem as effective.

        And this all assumes another tricky variant doesn’t emerge. If I were the travel industry, I just don’t think I’d be making that bet.

      2. Exactly. I have the J & J vaccine but would rather have natural immunity now. I am not trusting any Expert that doesn’t refer to this as an endemic. Bright side I leave for Italy Friday!

  6. Testing for the vaccinated isn’t going away anytime soon. May even be here in 2023. Don’t like it, don’t travel. So much time is spent talking about what should happen, rather than what is happening.

  7. I definitely think this an important point. Have you seen the latest Cambridge University study that includes the death rate by age in the UK with the Delta variant? Same as the seasonal flu. I read it in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago . A few others reported on it without sensor ship. The reality is we are in an endemic…not a pandemic…the virus going to do its thing regardless. The sooner people accept that and stop being motivated by fear… travel will not return back to normal. It really cracks me up all the hope that was sold to the masses regarding the vaccines… and now boosters are needed in nine months? That doesn’t give me confidence they really know what they are doing. The US administration making decisions is a dumpster fire.

  8. Me personally, I’m all for a vaccination requirement before so much as being allowed to set foot inside an airport let alone on a plane. Just like people cannot smoke indoors due to spreading second-hand smoke, there should be the same restriction with covid as covid is even worse as it cannot be seen. No vaccine – no entry.

    For me personally, I’m one of those people you are referencing Gilbert. I won’t travel internationally due to testing and prolonged mask wearing in the plane. I’m certainly NOT an anti-masker as I always wear a mask in public. I just don’t care to wear one for 12+ hours continuously on a transatlantic flight is all. If there was a firm requirement for vaccination to be able to travel we could drop a lot of these restrictions. Of course as one other commenter stated here, if a country cannot handle a potential surge then they shouldn’t open. Vaccinated people may get the virus and still spread it. The ones at risk are those not vaccinated. Even if it goes from one vaccinated person to another, the likely outcome is minimal if anything. So the risk is those unvaccinated. If a country’s population cannot handle that, they should not open.

    1. What an apples to orangutan comparison. When people are fear driven their reasoning skills diminish and their will submits to tyranny…of course for the moral good…and for someone to experiment with your DNA and the vaccines don’t even work now. No thanks.

  9. What drives me up the proverbial wall is the inconsistency in requiring testing prior to entering the U.S. from an international origin. My wife and I are in our late 70’s and fully vaccinated. We are planning an international trip in November and the thought of wearing a mask for a 14 flight is not pleasant. However, I am willing to do so for the protection of those who can not receive the vaccine. Mind you, I said “can not receive the vaccine” for medical reasons because frankly if you choose to not take the vaccine in response to conspiracy theories, it is not my responsibility to protect you. However, what I don’t understand is why the same government that insists that I, as a vaccinated citizen that has followed all the rules, inconsistent as they have been, must be tested prior to returning to the U.S. while at the same time allowing thousands of people entry across the southern borders every month without testing and then sending them all over the country.

    It just boggles my mind…

  10. Great article, Gilbert. There are some people who will simply never accept a return to normal life until we are at Covid Zero (which isn’t happening). I took two international trips earlier this year and put up with the testing and masking b/c it was still a time before the vaccine was readily available. Now that I have been vaccinated, I’m simply not willing to do it any longer. I’ll spend my time and money in places that reward the vaccinated with no testing and no masks (hello, NYC and Florida).

  11. Raffaella are you kidding! Gilbert politely outlined the reasons why a lot of people are not traveling right now and then you launch into a hate filled tirade of PC BS. It’s people such as yourself who are unfortunately in charge of these mandates! I feel sorry for anyone such as yourself who cannot grasp the concept of personal responsibility and common sense.

  12. I went to Thailand last month as part of the Phuket Sandbox. Both on the flight out and the flight back I was within 15 minutes of being kicked off the flight because the PCR results had not yet been received. In the case of the departure, I took the test at noon on Monday (they’re not available on Sunday) and finally got the results at 10. 25 pm on Tuesday. While in Thailand I had to take 4 PCR tests (Including the one necessary for the return) at $100. The tests ended up costing me more than the hotel. While in principle I under the motives behind the tests, if tourism is going to recover, they have to figure out a way to make the tests more efficient (and cheaper)

  13. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), United States recorded 16,306,656 Coronavirus Recovered people since the epidemic began. Why is it nobody ever talks about them. Do we never get to travel again even though we don’t need the vaccine? According to Scientific evidence, immunity triggered by SARS-CoV-2 infection will be extraordinarily long-lasting.

  14. Its an important issue that you are discussing but,
    I think you are mixing things up a bit and misleading people by presenting the wrong solution as the only solution.
    You are not realy focusing on solving the travel problem by splitting people by health status. We all know the science already, as good as they are presented to be, for the moment, they don’t prevent or stop transmission.
    Its like saying, lets solve the international travel by not testing people with blue eyes, or, lets not test females. What about not testing people that go to gym, have under 15% body fat and can benchpress 200 pounds 😉

    The test is important and only take seconds to take so its not an issue at all! The problem is super easy to solve by having all travel tests for free. The real price of the tests is negligible and free testing can be very easy to do.

    What about if a person test positive?
    Well UK paid people furlough to stay home for a year, dont think paying for one more person to stay in a hotel for two weeks will break the bank, probably US or EU won’t have that problem either. Or they can provide free insurance.

    So yes, a free insurance and a free fast tests will solve all international travel issues.

    The question is why the easy things are not being done so we can travel easy?
    Is it because most people are being misleaded to put too much focus on dividing themselves by the vaccinated vs unvaccinated agenda rather than unite and work as a team to find real solutions on real problems?

  15. We move about Perth without any restrictions. COVID free here. There are so many jobs they can’t be filled. I am fully vaccinated as of today and courteous all the time.

  16. AA56 how long would you like people to stay home. It’s already been 18+ months. 2 years, 5 years, 10 years? What about when the next variant pops up? Let’s Stop living in fear and use some common sense.

  17. AA56 Why 80%? You are obviously talking ‘Herd Immunity’ percentages, If you are, that isn’t going to happen/work either. The Delta variant affects the fully vaccinated regardless or have you missed that part in world news and now we have the ‘Lambda’ variant which is causing concern.
    I agree with Cmorgan, how long do we have to be shut away?
    Luckily for you living in COVID free Perth at the present time, how long do you think you this is going to stay that way when poorer countries don’t even have vaccines … It’s only a matter of before the Perth bubble will burst whilst virus is raging in some parts of the world, no country, region or area is safe whilst virus is still circulating?
    The whole world needs to be 80%+ vaccinated to make a difference (not just certain areas), which is probably never going to happen?
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00728-2
    I am 52, not irresponsible, never had COVID and double Pfizer vaccinated. I am from the UK, have visited 13 US states, Canada and Mexico between 2015-2019 and have not travelled at all since first lockdown here in March 2019… But completely agree with Gilbert’s comments, something different needs to be done for full recovery as work dependent/avid travellers cannot live like this for many years to come.

  18. AA56. My wife and I are vaccinated as are 53% of the people in AK (12 and older). That number will NEVER reach 80% in this state. We are offered flu vaccination for free every year and that # has also never reached 80%. There are certain people who will never get vaccinated and that is there choice. We have travelled throughout the pandemic both internationally and domestically. Life MUST go on.

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