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Thoughts: Travel (and life) in times of a pandemic

In the beginning of 2020, I wanted to make the most out of my (new) hub in New York City and travel around the USA as well as to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and potentially South America. And then in March… the pandemic hit the public scene.

As for many, COVID-19 canceled most of my travel plans this year. New York was under a shelter in place order for a good bit, I did not leave my apartment for about a month and even now, 7 months, 2 months and 5 days later, life has not gone back to normal. Instead, Europe and other parts of the world are facing new, record-breaking surges in cases and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we will live with special circumstances for a while.

The New Normal

I am one of the lucky ones. Both my partner’s and my job can be done remotely and we were not faced with furloughs, termination, reduced hours or income loss. My family across Germany and the USA has for the most part been spared by the virus or only has mild symptoms.

Still, I am staying cautious. After all, this is not over. I still limit my social interactions to a total of 4 people outside of my household, wash my hands regularly and thoroughly, wear a mask when I leave the house and mainly go out only for necessities or to catch some fresh air.

Do masks make a difference?

I have been more confident in doing that by experiencing first hand that face masks do make a difference. After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25th, 2020 by police, I joined the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in Brooklyn and Manhattan with thousands of others. Like many, I was concerned for the health consequences but no subsequent surge in cases was registered. Social distancing was not possible but most people (including me) wore masks. In a way, aside from being an important social movement, these protests were a big medical experiment on the efficiency of masks. And in my book, they pass.

Travel concerns during the hight of the pandemic

Nonetheless, my travel has been limited. My biggest fear until this day is going abroad and the US borders closing unexpectedly like they did in March. Since I am not a US citizen but live here on a non-immigrant work visa, I don’t want to risk getting locked out. This means that I haven’t been able to go back to Germany and visit family members or friends since December 2019. To be honest, that has been emotionally difficult especially on birthdays and holidays.

Also, New York state and specifically New York City had the highest number of cases worldwide for a good bit. Due to that hotspot status, it would not have been responsible to travel and potentially carry it to another state while being asymptomatic. So traveling in general was out of the question for the first couple of months while testing was not readily available.

Additionally, while scientists were still trying to figure out details about the coronavirus and COVID-19, travel did not seem safe and sensible to begin with. How could you catch it? Could you be safe on a train, bus or even plane? It did not seem worth the risk.

Dipping my toe into travel (Staycation)

Nonetheless, after a couple of months, my “Reisefieber” (travel fever) grew unbareable. By mid June, my partner and I had been stuck in our Brooklyn apartment with only short visits to the park for about 3 months. And even New York can feel very limited when you cannot move around freely. I felt like the walls were closing in on me and like I needed to leave the city to be able to properly breath. So after discussing with my partner, we decided that there could be a safe way for me to get away for a little bit (his work unfortunately did not allow for him to join).

There were still a lot of unknowns with regard to the virus though. So flight travel was out for me personally. I also did not plan on going anywhere where I would have to get in contact with a lot of people. Instead, for the first time in my life, this city girl craved nature and to just be away from it all.

Initially, I was considering to rent a car and drive up and down the North East. But I quickly found out that New York residents were banned from entering a lot of US states, making it quite difficult to legally travel. This led me to keep it as simple as possible.

I looked at potential Airbnbs around New York state and found a little gem just outside New York City in Irvington, New York (USA). I was super excited and made arrangements to take the train and stay for a week. To not waste any of my precious American vacation days, I worked from my Airbnb during the day and relaxed and explored in the late afternoon / early evening. It was exactly what the doctor prescribed. It was lovely being surrounded by forests, going for long walks in the area and enjoying the summer sunbathing in the garden with a good book. Simple, but soothing for my soul. Being out of the dense neighborhoods of New York meant you did not have to worry as much about encountering other pedestrians and could walk and breath freely.

Making bigger plans (National travel)

Since my company does not allow me to save my vacation days for next year, I wanted to make the most of the days that I had to take in 2020. During my research for a one-week trip in October, I found out that the state of Hawaii was just about to ease their travel restrictions. With a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before departure, you could skip the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine and explore the islands with only small limitations.

Hawaii had been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was super excited for that prospect. I did some additional research on the safety of flight travel during the pandemic, but felt confident with the current measures taken by airlines and the efficiency of masks. So I booked my flight to Maui, rental car and Airbnb and set out.

And I was honestly happy with that choice. American Airlines had a good health concept set in place (mandatory face masks throughout the flight, extra cleaning and disinfection, no in-flight meal service, only one round of non-alcoholic beverages and one snack) so that I actually felt comfortable even with full flights.

And Maui was honestly gorgeous. The weather was amazing, swimming and snorkeling perfect and lots of nature to see. It actually felt like a vacation away from it all. And just in time.

What’s on the horizon?

About a week after my return, the COVID-19 cases started surging again across the globe. Even though there are measures you can take to travel safely, it seems wise to decide on a case by case basis whether you should venture out further than a staycation:

  • Do I live in a place with a high number of cases? Might I unknowingly carry COVID-19 to my travel region?
  • Is my travel region a place with a high number of cases? Might I unknowingly carry COVID-19 back to my home region?
  • Do I have a way of traveling safely? Can I keep the danger of infection as low as possible?
    • Get tested for COVID-19 before (and potentially after) you trip
    • Stay home if you feel sick
    • Social distance
    • Wear a face mask in public
    • Wash hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Am I willing to abide by the rules and regulations set in place by my travel region and my home region, e.g. regarding quarantine and testing?
  • Am I willing to take extra precautions and follow volunteer guidelines to keep the pandemic under control, e.g. by social distancing and wearing a face mask in public?

To me, these are a couple of basic guidelines to follow and things to consider to travel responsibly. With these in mind, travel might definitely be possible, especially when done responsibly. So, I will keep testing it out while trying to keep those around me and myself as safe as possible.

How about you?
Have you done any traveling since the pandemic started?

Cover picture was taken in Irvington, New York (USA) in Jun 2020


4 thoughts on “Thoughts: Travel (and life) in times of a pandemic

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  1. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on COVID-19 and the dilemma concerning travel moving forward from here (btw, “Reisefieber”= wanderlust). However, as much as it’s killing me not to travel for well over a year now, I know that the pandemic is much more serious than ever, and it’d be selfish for any of us to travel during these precarious times. I’m still a firm believer that it’s better to wait for COVID-19 to dissipate (whenever that may be), and that we have decades to look forward to with travel afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I whole heartedly agree, Rebecca. At the end of the day, it is crucial for all of to keep this pandemic contained and as safe as possible. Therefore I believe in refraining from travel if your place of residence or your selected destination do not allow for it. The world will be open to us sometime in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Danke für deinen sehr informativen Bericht über die Situation in den Staaten. Reisen ist meine Leidenschaft und es fehlt mir sehr. Als die Corona Zahlen im Sommer niedriger waren, habe ich Reisen in Deutschland und nach Österreich unternommen (siehe Berichte im Blog). Momentan leben wir im zweiten Lockdown, der bei uns touristische Übernachtungen ausschließt. Da ich in München wohne, kann ich schöne Tagesausflüge in die Natur unternehmen. Reisen ins Ausland, soweit sie überhaupt möglich sind, würde ich zur Zeit nicht unternehmen, weil ich nicht zur weiteren Ausbreitung beitragen will. Auch die Vorstellung, im Ausland ernsthaft an Corona zu erkranken, schreckt mich. Die Intensivversorgung ist zu Hause noch ziemlich gut ..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Auch dir vielen Dank für deine Schilderungen. In den USA ist vom Reisen mittlerweile aufgrund der steigenden Zahlen auch wieder abzuraten. Lass uns darauf hoffen, dass die Pandemie Anfang nächsten Jahren endlich endgültig abebbt und wir anschließend wieder guten Gewissens die Welt erkunden können. Bleib sicher uns gesund 🤞🌍


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