There’s a lot that’s changed over the past couple of months, which has made travel nearly impossible, and in some ways, impractical. After careful deliberation, we decided to take a short weekend trip in the world post-covid and here is what was different and what you should prepare for when you decide to travel again.
Why I decided now would be a good time to travel
I’ve been very vocal about the fact that people shouldn’t travel during the pandemic. So when did I feel it was safe and when will you know when it’s safe? The answer probably depends on where you live and the state of the pandemic there. For me, new cases had been steadily dropping for over a month in the Czech Republic. Strict social distancing measures were relaxed in waves with the majority of them dropped on May 11. Several weeks later and new cases were still under 50 per day, despite increasing crowds outside in public spaces. With just over 2,000 active cases in the whole country (of a population of 10.7 million), we decided to go for it. At any rate, we would be safest anywhere outside of Prague where the number of cases is the highest.
In addition to being in the sweet spot after measures were relaxed to make sure new cases weren’t dramatically spiking, we also beat out another upcoming change: the opening of borders to tourists from other countries. The Czech Republic would be emptier now than it will be in June or July when neighbors are allowed to start visiting. That means more crowding, and more people from potential coronavirus hot spots. Sure enough, when we arrived at our Karlovy Vary hotel, we were told we were the first guests of the hotel since they reopened. During a time when you can’t be sure how well a room was cleaned or how many people stayed there before you, that was a nice relief.
The new burden of documentation for travel
As an American expat living in the Czech Republic, the first thing that crossed my mind is that even though we’re not leaving the country, hotels could refuse us service because of our passports which we need to check in. So before we booked anything, we contacted several hotels to make sure they would allow us to stay, given that we’re Czech residents and haven’t left the county in months.
As borders slowly open up to other countries, surely this will be something to consider when travel becomes possible. Will countries screen out only residents of certain countries with outbreaks or will they ban entry to certain passports altogether? Unfortunately in some cases, the decision might be left to the passport control agent, in which case it might be a matter of luck.
Since we weren’t crossing borders, we didn’t need to take a coronavirus test, but that seems to be how some countries will allow international tourists. So in addition to being screened by your passport or residency documents, you may have to show a negative coronavirus test to either enter or leave the country (or both). For the time being, this makes international travel extremely impractical.
The travel restrictions that now define travel
Since free movement became legal again, anyone traveling by bus or train is now required to wear a facemask, which is not easy to do in a stuffy bus even for just two hours. This was a good tester trip because now I know that if an airline on a transatlantic flight imposes the same requirement, I would probably need to be sedated to tolerate it. In addition to facemasks being required for the duration of the trip, the bus toilet can no longer be used. For a 2-hour jaunt to Karlovy Vary, this isn’t such a huge problem, but would I be willing to take a 6-10 hour bus across Europe again while these restrictions are in place? Maybe not.
How coronavirus might determine our travel destinations
I don’t know about you, but something about being quarantined for almost two months really made me feel claustrophobic and wary of big crowds. Contrary to popular memes, I have little interest in getting back to crowded bars or clubs. But I did want to be outside without the burden of wearing a facemask. So we chose Karlovy Vary, where we could spend the majority of our time on solitary hikes in the woods. Maybe the era of crowded tourist cities will finally come to an end as people seek to escape to a more secluded and peaceful setting where there is less likelihood of contagion.
Many Czechs seem to have a similar mindset, with hotels out in the country starting to get booked up for the summer season even though Prague accommodations are still largely empty. There’s only so much you can do to escape the crowds in a big city, so people are getting as far away from big cities as possible.
Brand new travel worries
Travel is always kind of stressful but now that sickness is at the forefront of everybody’s mind, I have to say I don’t love sitting on a bus behind someone who was coughing for 5 minutes straight. It could happen on your commute to work just the same, but the idea of getting infected when you’re on vacation is especially stressful. That nagging fear persists in the back of your mind when you’re eating the hotel’s buffet breakfast or when a restaurant gets unexpectedly crowded.
After one day of intense hiking in the spring sun, my body felt that good kind of feverish you feel when you go to the beach or do strenuous exercise. But I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of panic about the possibility that if I was running a fever even for reasons totally unrelated to coronavirus, I might not be allowed to go back home even within the country where I live. This also made me grateful that our trip was only the weekend and not long enough for a bus-related viral infection to incubate and show symptoms. Despite the well-handled response and the competence of Czech doctors countrywide, I still rather get sick at home where I have access to my own doctors and can quarantine in my own home than get sick anywhere else.
Changed post-trip experiences
In the same way that washing your hands has become the first thing you do when you get home now, coming home from a trip post-covid means immediately unpacking and stripping off all your clothes to put them straight into the wash. It means jumping right in the shower as if you were in contact with radioactive material before you allow yourself to really inhabit your home again.
I’m also spending more time reviewing all of the places we visited that we’d one day like to return to. Cities that rely on tourism may not have much revenue for the coming months or years. So if you had a really nice time somewhere, aside from your patronage, you can donate a short review on popular sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp to let other travelers and locals know how amazing that one restaurant or hotel was.
So what did I learn from my first post-Covid travel experience?
Being in another city just after lockdown isn’t all that different from being in your own city. The weather is lovely so everyone wants to be out in the sun. Restaurants are enacting social distancing measures, blocking out tables or preventing people from sitting at the bar. Since borders are still closed, public spaces are sparsely populated with the exception of locals. Though it was undoubtedly enjoyable, the biggest issue with taking a trip during this time is how long you have to spend traveling to get to your destination. Until coronavirus cools down everywhere in the world, I might not be comfortable with taking long flights or train rides as this would logically make you most susceptible. And it’s much more likely that I’ll want to go only to places where I can be as far away from other people as possible. Perhaps there will be a lot of remote summer cabins in my future. Hectic city vacations can take a hike.