Coronavirus: What Travellers Need To Know

Disclaimer: This post is up-to-date as of March 14, 2020. Travel during the coronavirus is highly individual and truly depends on the circumstances. Travellers should always refer to the WHO and a given destination’s government website for the most up-to-date information. All information in this post is my opinion only and not to be taken as medical advice. 

Right now, the whole world is only talking about one thing – coronavirus. This sucks, because it takes the focus off of climate change which is a much greater threat to humanity, our way of life and all life on the planet as we know if it.

Since you came here for Coronavirus info though, I’ll stick to the point and do my best to advise you on the situation. Whole countries have been quarantined, there is an increasing numbers of infections (March 14th), visas are being revoked, and new developments are happening every day – it’s a lot to handle. 

Coronavirus is having a huge affect on travelers and the travel industry – increasing numbers of travelers are cancelling or delaying their trips, or being forced to change or abandon their plans because of quarantines. More still are keeping an eye on the news, waiting with bated breath and understandably some anxiety to see what happens in their part of the world or the places they plan on shortly traveling to. 

These are hard times for travelers, yes, but this issue reaches far beyond just us. Our families, friends, and respective communities are all affected by our decisions, so we need to make sure that we make the right one. By the end of this article, it is my hope that you will feel a little bit less anxious about the current situation, understand what it’s like to travel during the coronavirus outbreak, and have a better idea of what to do about any upcoming travels you may have booked. 

 

How is the Coronavirus Affecting Travel?

By now, I’m sure that everyone has heard about the coronavirus, and particularly how contagious it is. Since we’re here to talk about travel, I’ll skip the medical stuff. If you need a refresher, you can refer to this recent article from Johns Hopkins.

Back to the point at hand, the coronavirus outbreak has had a well-documented, direct effect on tourism and all of us in the industry, especially within the last month. Thanks to coronavirus, countries are cracking down on border control, establishing regular quarantines, and doing everything they can to stop the spread of the disease within their borders. 

As a result, whether by choice or force, many travellers have had to cancel plans. Some, concerned about getting sick, opt to stay at home voluntarily. Others try to press on with their plans, only to have their flights cancelled by their airlines, or their destinations quarantined. 

To give an example close to my own heart – my own tour company Epic Backpacker Tours has had to cancel our planned maiden tour to Iran. When many of Iran’s neighbouring countries decided to close their borders (to land and air travel) with Iran in the hopes of limiting their own exposure, all of the flights in and out of Iran were canceled. We had to cancel the trip last second – a heartbreaking moment for us and our local Iranian partners. Side note: we’re still planning to run the tour in October once the Coronavirus situation has burned itself out – stay tuned. 

The economic impact of the virus is being keenly felt – going back to Iran, estimates say 100% of spring tourism was lost. Locals suddenly have no work and less means, not to mention lost opportunities to show how amazing Iran is.

This example is extreme, but not unique. In Italy, where the biggest issues with tourism were once long lines and insufferable crowds, now locals are dealing with altogether different situations: completely empty attractions. It goes without saying that this decrease in visitors has caused Italy’s tourism to suffer. The same is happening across Europe and Asia – even Thailand’s monkey population (seriously) is going hungry with no tourists to feed them. 

Is it OK to Travel During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Let’s cut to the chase and say this: if you want to travel during the coronavirus outbreak, it is possible to do so. There are countries that are less difficult to visit (like those in South America), and those that still have low or no coronavirus presence. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

That said, the real question isn’t if you can travel amid coronavirus, it’s if you should. 

 

empty airport coronavirus

This is pretty much the state of every airport right now.

Ok, Should I Still Travel During the Coronavirus Outbreak?

Traveling during the coronavirus outbreak is an ethical dilemma: while you might be young, fit, healthy, and at low risk to be seriously affected by it, you’re still very able to pass the virus along, increasing transmission rates. After all, tourism is a big part of how coronavirus became a worldwide issue. 

In my opinion, we can’t only think of ourselves and the insanely affordable deals on flights right now – we have to take into consideration those around us, especially those who are more susceptible like the elderly or immuno-compromised. It is also irresponsible to travel to a country with very basic medical care – like the mountainous areas in the ‘Stans – as if you bring in the virus you risk exposing a population who have no doctors and no hospitals nearby. 

I often talk about responsible travel as it relates to the environment, but I think we have to hold ourselves morally accountable in a situation like this as well. If we can go romping all over the world without endangering anyone, then more power to us. If, on the other hand, we are putting others at risk by spreading this disease to new places, infecting our friends and family, potentially overwhelming hospitals in less-developed places – that’s about as far from responsible as you can get. 

There is also the logistical side of things – you may be quarantined when you land at your destination, or when you get home – definitely not a good use of your vacation days. There is a possibility quarantines will change while you’re on vacation, leaving you unable to travel on or return home. Many tourist attractions are closed or limited right now as well. 

At this point, when we seem to be at the height of public fear and government action limiting travel, it might be best to bunker down and postpone travel plans. If you can delay your trip for a couple of months, then do it. By that time, the outbreak may have subsided and travel will be easier and safer for all involved. 

However, if cancelling simply isn’t an option for you, all isn’t lost – you can still travel, you just need to adjust. Avoid visiting high-risk areas (keep tabs on the WHO website) and do your due diligence to make sure you won’t be quarantined on arrival or turning up to a destination that’s completely shut down. Keep scrolling for travel tips – I’ve got a few tips! 

What’s It Like Traveling During the Outbreak?

In the hardest-hit countries, it’s surreal, to say the least. Empty airplanes, shuttered bars, abandoned attractions, deserted streets; it’s all very strange, especially in once-thriving tourist hotspots like Rome or Florence. I’m sure that a lot of people wished that they could see the Colosseum one day bereft of crowds, but the current situation is probably not what they wished for. 

 

travelling during Coronavirus

The standard sight at travel hubs these days.

 

We’ve all seen the memes about buying $20 flights and wrapping yourself in saran wrap to make the journey. It’s true, there are deals to be had, but I must temper people’s expectations. There’s a good chance that many attractions, restaurants, and nightlife will be shut, and no one wants to spend their vacation in a hotel room. 

That said, for some countries, as of right now it’s business as usual. Here in Bali, the mood is currently relaxed – the only noticeable difference in everyday life is fewer tourists (and for once the traffic is not too bad), but the beaches and temples are all still open and there’s still plenty of dickheads driving around without helmets (more on that in a moment). 

Tips for Traveling During the Outbreak

  1. WASH YOUR HANDS – It’s one of the most spouted preventive measures for a reason: washing your hands fucking works. Wash them before and after you eat, go to the bathroom, ride the bus, whatever. Bring along some hand sanitizer as well. 
  2. Avoid touching your face – Enough said, yeah? 
  3. If you suspect you’re sick, isolate yourself first – Going to the doctor the very moment you feel ill is not necessarily a good thing. If you just have a cold, you could be wasting people’s time and attention, which is limited these days. Do what the CDC says and self-quarantine – that is, go to bed, wait it out a few days, and don’t go into public yet. 
  4. Position yourself strategically on the plane – It’s unlikely you’ll be on a full flight right now, but if you are, NatGeo advises to book a window seat. If you’re on an emptier flight, take advantage and spread out from your fellow travellers. 
  5. Don’t rely upon breathing masks – Turns out they might actually increase transmission rate. 
  6. Be aware of “social distancing” – In some cases, like in Italy, some governments are advising people to keep a distance of 3 feet beteween them. I’m sure someone said it’d be a cold day in Hell when Italians are no longer touchy-feely, but, alas, that’s today.
  7. WEAR A DAMN HELMET (etc) – Hospitals are somewhere you want to avoid visiting at the best of times as many viruses, infections etc are to be found there. Protect yourself even more than you normally would so that you can avoid going to hospital for an injury and then being unfortunate enough to catch Coronavirus – that would suck.
  8. DON’T TRAVEL IF YOU HAVE A COMPROMISED IMMUNE SYSTEM – If you’re older or have troubles with health, now is not the time to hop on a flight. 

Navigating Quarantines and Border Closures 

This will be the most frustrating part of your trip when traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, as travel restrictions are changing on a daily basis. 

Here are some things that you should consider when dealing with immigration and quarantines:

  1. Know that certain countries are considered high-risk – If you’ve been to China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, or Iran within 14 days, you’re likely going to have a harder time getting into many places. 
  2. Quarantined or turned away – If immigration flags you as a risk, you’ll either be required to stay in quarantine or you’ll be banned from entering altogether. The average quarantine period is 14 days, but some countries require up to 28 days. quarantine standards differ as well – some countries just require a declaration and proof that you’re staying home or inside, while others may take you to a dedicated space for observation.
  3. Getting visas may be more difficult – India, Thailand, and many others are starting to revoke or postpone travel visas. Do your research and see if you can bring any supporting documents, like a clean bill of health, to make the process smoother. Sometimes the revoking of visas makes no sense – for example, India is turning away all Italian passport holders – even those who have spent a year or more out of Italy, IN India and just popped up to Nepal for a border run… 
  4. Try waiting it out in a “safe” country – If you’ve been in a high-risk country and are afraid another country will bar you from entering, consider altering your plans to a less-strict country and proceed after 14-28 days. Make sure you’re monitoring yourself for any symptoms during that time! 
  5. Fly from a low-risk city – An entire country is not always considered high-risk; sometimes it’s just certain regions and cities. If you’re in a high-risk zone, sometimes it’s just a matter of traveling outside the zone first and then flying from a different airport. 
  6. Check the travel bans often – Regulations change frequently. Stay on top of them so you know what to do. 
Hand Sanitizer coronavirus

Stock up if you can – hand sanitizer is in short supply!

What to Do When Returning Home

Coming home from a country that is in the headlines is never easy. Social stigmatization, uneasiness, fear over what could happen; all of these are to be expected when coronavirus is at the front of everyone’s thoughts. 

First off, if you’re put in quarantine, STAY THERE. It may seem horrible at first to be isolated, but it’s for the good of everyone else. Failing to do so may not only result in criminal charges but could spread the virus further. Don’t do it. 

Second, stay in quarantine until told otherwise.

If you know someone who has tested positive for coronavirus or is returning from a red zone, be supportive. With proper rest and care, most patients will make a full recovery. 

What if I Want To Cancel my Trip?

First off, you need to double check with your airline. If your ticket wasn’t already refunded because of the coronavirus, as has happened in some cases, then you’ll need to go through the usual channels to cancel or change your ticket. 

Most larger airlines include the option of cancelling or refunding your ticket when you purchase it, and many are extending that courtesy specifically because of the virus. 

In regards to accommodation and attraction tickets, again, it’s a case-by-case basis – but be aware that many are loosening their cancellation policies here as well, so even if your hostel wasn’t offering free cancellation when you booked, it might be now. 

elbow bumping coronavirus

Apparently, we’re doing this now.

A Word On Travel Insurance 

Usually when the shit hits the fan, travel insurance would be your last and ultimate line of defense. In the case of the coronavirus, it behaves much in the same way – it helps but only under certain circumstances. 

If you’ve bought insurance and want to know where you stand, or are looking for insurance for an upcoming trip, go straight to your insurance provider – there are many specific details that will go into your eligibility, including whether your home government has advised against non-essential travel. If you’re like us and are insured through World Nomads, you can head this way and see all the details.

It is important to note that World Nomads and practically every single travel insurance provider out there, does not include a CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) policy. That means you likely can’t claim fees from a trip you’re cancelling out of worry, even if that might be the right call. To have a CFAR policy included, you’ll need to pay extra and these are not cheap by any means.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of media attention surrounding coronavirus right now – in travel circles, it’s all anyone’s talking about. Maybe you’ve seen it at home, with empty grocery store shelves and deserted streets. It’s a strange time to be on the road, to say the least. 

Travel right now is still possible, but as we’ve now discussed at length, it might not be advisable today or tomorrow. If you’re heading out anyway, stay safe – wash and sanitize your hands, monitor your personal symptoms, and don’t head to an infection hotspot. Be a responsible traveller the best way that you can – whether that’s precaution on the road, delaying your trip, or something in between.  

Here is my final synopsis – if you have travels planned and you can postpone them then do. If you live in some backwards country where you only get 2 weeks of holiday a year (such as the USA) and you have an upcoming trip planned and it is NOT to a corona hit country then it probably is OK to go – but it’s a personal decision. In general, try to avoid all but essential or unchangeable travel at the moment.

If you are already out on the road, like myself, and you feel comfortable hunkering down where you are then this may be your best option. I am living in Bali and some folks out here expect the island to be quarantined at some point in the next 4 weeks, I’ve made necessary preparations and if it happens, I’m ready to roll with it without panicking.

Hang in there, my fellow travellers – this shall pass. We may not know yet how much longer it will take, but we’ll bounce back. The world is still beautiful and once this mist lifts we’ll see more than ever that there are wonderful adventures to be had…