Browsing Category General Travel

 Travel During Pandemic – Everything You Need to Know

Coronavirus and Travel:

  1. All About International Travel and Coronavirus Travel Restrictions
  2. All About Domestic Travel and Coronavirus Travel Restrictions
  3. How to Move Around in India
  4. Ways to Travel in Your Country
  5. Things to do before traveling
  6. Safe Travel Practices
  7. Travel Resources

 

Traveling in a Pandemic

When I made that one-day trip to Delhi for some essential work at the beginning of March, I didn’t know that that would be the only travel for months to come. Else I would have stuffed myself with the Bengaluru airport’s crispy masala dosas that I so love. 

Or if I had known that my two-day road trip to BR Hills in February was the only jungle vacation I would take in the many ensuing months, I would have extended it by a few days. Seeing those sloth bears sprint in front of our jeep and leopards hiding behind the thickets could never get tiring. 

But I’m not clairvoyant, not yet. 

As soon as India and the world shut down, I restricted myself to my small but open place in Bengaluru, a city that has served to be my home despite my serious resistance. It only seems fair that I would have spent my digital nomad life on the banks of the river Kali or somewhere in Southeast Asia or a small village of Europe, but I stick around Bengaluru to be with my partner who works in this Silicon Valley of India. 

Truth be told, I have a love and hate relationship with Bengaluru like I have one with India.

Bangalore is a big city with every unimaginable facility but I feel lost in the hustle and bustle here. If I wasn’t stationed in a jungly corner of the town far away from the notorious quotidian traffic, I would have run away years ago.

But as this town harbors many of my friends and now my partner, I come and go. As long as I can leave to be in Himachal for months or fly to Malaysia on a moment’s notice, how can I complain? 

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Bangalore is the only city where such scenes are common.

 

I am not even grumbling now when I had to cancel all my travel plans, and I can’t make any new ones, at least not with all the liberties I like. 

As usual, I didn’t have a long itinerary printed out. I was planning to travel extensively within India, yet again. On my list were the villages of Maharashtra, more jungles and beaches of Karnataka, Northeast India, Odisha, and maybe the recurrent trip to Goa. The monsoon could have been spent rambling around Myanmar, Phillippines, and Papua New Guinea. Turkey was on the list, too.

But here I stop and thank my lackadaisical attitude towards planning and booking trips otherwise I would have lost a lot of money and a lot of heart if I had to cancel a fully-planned journey.

Not to undermine that sailing through the pandemic is a journey on its own. 

Did you have to cancel many trips?

Let bygones be bygones. Hope you were able to recover your booking amounts. If not, let those be things of the past, too. People are loosing much more. You can think of the lost money as a donation to those hotels and tourism industry organizations who are having a hard time just to stay alive. And if even a big hotel chain refuses to give your promised refund, ask for help. Write to the company on social media, email, or tweet to the tourism industry, highlight to a newspaper, do whatever you can. 

How could the travel industry not suffer when travel is halted, borders are shut, international flights stand suspended, in some places hotels and restaurants cannot be opened, public sites are closed, every state is implementing its own rules, and the restrictions change constantly. 

The Washington Post reported, “According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the decline in international tourism for the rest of 2020 could translate to $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in lost revenue for the industry.”

Even where traveling is allowed, people are thinking of their physical health and mental well-being before stepping out. And that is how it should be.

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Some people suggest that even talking about traveling is a crime when the world is facing a global crisis. I appreciate the thought. If you are in a highly infected area, please stay indoors. If you wish to go to an infected area, it is a bad idea. As I will explain later, international travel is a definite no-go right now, unless you just want to go back home to be with your family. And I will only suggest traveling domestically if you can travel by your own car, stay in a remote or secluded property, and your adventures are limited to hiking in the empty woods. 

In the later sections, I go into the details of when it would be safe to travel again, the pandemic travel restrictions, and safe travel practices so please keep reading. I hope this guide on traveling during a pandemic will keep you inspired about future travel and will provide all the information you need.

 

Let us look at the current travel conditions together. 

 

Can You Travel Internationally Right Now? Along With International Travel Restrictions.

 

Given how most of the international flights aren’t functional, yet, I can’t imagine how would you go to another country. What did you say? Swim through the Atlantic? Nice one. Please get a few eels for me on your way back. Even an iceberg would do. Take a car across the Myanmar India border? Hop onto a flight from the UK to Chile? Good luck, mate.

Jokes aside, traveling to a foreign destination is a bad idea right now.

How will you assure yours and others’ safety on such a long journey full of exposure points? Would you even be able to travel freely once you arrive? What would you do if a foreign country or your home country closes the borders due to a sudden spike in cases or because of some other emergency?

These are only some of the questions all aspirant travelers should ask.

I have almost killed your international travel plans but let us look at the travel conditions of some of the major continents to be hopeless more precisely.

Europe 

Since July 1, Europe has opened up its borders for these 15 countries(to be updated every two weeks): Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay, and China, if China agrees to allow EU travelers to visit as well. You can read more about the particular restrictions here.

Everyone else should, for now, keep Europe out of mind.

Europe was never the number one place on my travel list but after pinning so many European travel posts and stumbling into its history and getting glimpses of the continent on two different trips, both, fifteen days long, I do want to travel slowly around Europe. But only after I have gone back to my first love, i.e. South America.

Since March, many countries of Europe such as Italy, Spain, Germany, and France have seen a record number of cases. While people are recovering now, it is not a good idea for outsiders to enter the continent. 

You can’t go now doesn’t imply that you can’t travel to the continent later. 

When you can finally visit Europe, what would you do there?

I want to sit by Maine again, cycle through old Dutch villages, practice Spanish in the villages of Spain, spend a few weeks in the Italian countryside, stay in a French chateau drinking delicious wine, go to the Anne Frank house, visit some more museums, eat my way around the continent, travel in the picturesque European trains, travel slowly through East Europe, scale Musala and the Matterhorn, and hope to run into the Europeans I have met on my previous travels. 

But all these travel ideas can only simmer now and I can’t let them come to a full boil in the imminent future. 

When would it be safe to travel to Europe again?

Spain, Italy, and Germany are still amongst the top infected countries. I suggest that please wait for at least two to three months and then reassess. 

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Austria. Such scenes will forever stay ethereal so you don’t have to hurry.

 

North America.

I am sure you do not want to go to the US right now. As of today, i.e. July 14, the US has about 2.3 million active cases (Source). 

What about the American citizens who are stuck outside their own country? Though I am no one to comment on what the citizens should do, they seem to be flying back slowly. But even some of the US people are advising other Americans to not go back(I read on Facebook), not in the current situation. And I am not just talking about the pandemic. 

I am sorry, my North American friends, but the US seems to be a bit fragile right now. I would love to hear your opinion in the comments. 

My hopes and good wishes for the country.

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A sign outside a restaurant somewhere in the US.

 

South America.

Currently(as of July 14), most of South America is sealed to the outsiders.

Countries like Chile, Brazil, and Peru have a high number of infected people. While India is running expatriation flights from the South American countries, I wouldn’t suggest you taking a flight there even if international flights open up soon. 

Also, South America is so far from most of the countries that it would be hard to get back home in case of any adversity. I will not think of heading back to this paradise until 2021. 

And while you hate me, travel to South America virtually with my travel guides and plan for a trip later. 

 

A combined update on other continents and countries. 

As of July 14. 

Canada borders aren’t open yet. Australia isn’t allowing foreign travelersThe UK is allowing travelers from 58 countries

Thailand and Dubai are closed. Turkey is entertaining international visitors. 

The Maldives is still considering if they should reopen. 

Iceland and Jamaica are open. Mexico and Egypt are welcoming travelers. Some of the Caribbean countries are opening borders in July. Bali is closed. 

You can look at the updated restrictions for each country here. I have also found this Kayak page to be useful. 

 

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Breaking myths about coronavirus. An illustration by the United Nations.

 

Even though borders are open, please have a look at the specific guidelines of each country. Most nations require a 14-day quarantine, a recent negative coronavirus test, or a new test and a shorter quarantine period amongst other rules and procedures. 

Having updated about the formal restrictions, I would add that even if a certain country is allowing international visitors, this is not the best time to take a foreign trip. The nations have opened up as tourism is essential for their economy. But if we get sick on any part of the journey, what would we do? Who would take care of us? Who would bring us back home? We would also pose a threat to everyone we meet on the way. 

Also Read: Rules and Guidelines for international travelers by the Indian Health Ministry

The major questions such as when will the virus die out, when would flights be available, what would be the airport protocol, what would happen to visas or tickets in case the journey has to be canceled or postponed due to unforeseen reasons, would there be affordable hotels, would museums be open, is it a good idea to go to the remote places are only some of the doubts.

And then we have to also think about coming back to a home with old parents or children.

The easiest way to answer the above questions and resolve the instability is to wait. We have time.

Please note: I will be updating the data in the article as and when the restriction changes. So keep visiting this page regularly to stay updated. Do let me know if you find some incoherent information in the piece. Thank you.

 

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Please don’t be sad about not being able to travel. The world is your oyster. An illustration by the United Nations.

 

Can You Do Domestic Travel in the Pandemic? Along With Domestic Travel Restrictions.

Even though most of the world is currently witnessing a high increase in COVID cases, people have started to travel domestically. Some domestic flights are functional, a few hotels have opened up their gates, not all the cities are under lockdown, and not all the state borders are sealed.

Indians have slowly started to travel within India. 

Srinidhi, an honest travel blogger, recently traveled from Chennai to Bengaluru to Udupi by road. Here are his journey details, but to summarize his trip I will say that he didn’t face any issue while traveling within the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. At the state borders, the police were checking the vehicles. 

I have read that in North India, too, interstate travel is tough but people are moving around within the state. 

EU and UK citizens are also traveling within their own and each other’s territory. Travel within the US is allowed with specific state-wise restrictions. 

Canadians can travel within their beautiful countryAustralia is partially open for domestic travel. Within Southeast Asia, domestic and cross-country travel is encouraged with limitations. 

As expected, domestic travel isn’t operating at full speed.

As Washington Post writes, “Travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth said that based on travel insurance policies purchased through its site between April 1 and May 10 for travel this summer, domestic trips account for 48 percent of planned summer travel, an increase from 15 percent last year. And booking site Travelocity noted that most hotel bookings are within 100 miles of where travelers live.”

Reiterating what I said above, I want to emphasize that we should only think about heading out in our own car or a rented taxi or on our bicycle, spend some time in secluded accommodation, limit our activities to hiking in the forest or walking in nature, and be back the same way. We should not aim for contact with others or hang out with a local host family or go sightseeing where there could be other people. Social distancing is the only way to assure safety.

The restraints may take away a little bit from the travel experience but we cannot afford to take a risk. 

What if you don’t own a car or don’t know how to drive one and you haven’t had a bicycle since high school? Keep reading or jump to the ways to travel domestically section to see your other options.

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Seems like an ideal vacation right now.

 

Best Ways to do Domestic Travel During the Pandemic.

Travel only if you are healthy and take all the necessary precautions on the road. 

1. Go to a national park In the first draft of this article I was advising people to go to the national parks. But after poring over the internet for hours and reading articles like this one, I am against going to any nature park right now. Your geography matters in terms of how crowded the park would be et cetera. But to cater to tourists the park employees would have to come in contact with you, local people would have to cook food, and other interactions will also happen. I am sure you and I are careful, but there could be someone infected who goes to a park and will become a carrier. 

 2. Go to a big tea or coffee estate or a big farmhouse with a secluded guesthouse and make a longer staycation. Cook your own food.

You are work from home. So you can do a few days of work from the guesthouse and a few days of roaming around in nature. Long-term travel is to stay, even experts concur.

Browse for availability and prices of accommodations here: ApartmentsResortsVillasB&B, and Guesthouses

3. Travel to a hill station and stay in a remote accommodation

Think cottages on hills.

4. Go to a beach town and make a staycation

A six feet distance is the minimum safe distance between two people.

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An illustration by the United Nations.

Though the scientists aren’t sure if the virus can be transmitted through water, some beaches are open.

If you are heading to a nearby beach town in your own car, stay in a secluded property. Avoid the bars and restaurants on the beach. Make your own picnic, find an empty corner of the beach, spread a bedsheet, and hang out there while keeping at least a 6-feet distance from others or leaving altogether if there are other people. You can also just stay in the balcony of your Bed and Breakfast and watch the waves from a distance. 

5. Fly to another city.  Do you know any city that doesn’t have any active cases? Good for you. But then you shouldn’t risk that city by traveling there. 

6. Do a one-day road trip with either home food or stop at clean places

7. Explore your city like a local – I am turning around this advice as if everyone starts exploring their cities, then we would be in a bad situation. 

Go on Urban hikes. See your city as you have never before. Wander in the back lanes of some forgotten neighborhood. Click pictures. Try black and white mode. Wake up before sunrise and go for a run.

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An illustration by the United Nations.

8. Drive in the vicinity of your city

9. Hike alone or with the people you live outside your town or village or mountain

10. Travel vicariously through books

My best way to travel during these few months has been to read about the places I have wanted to visit or about the ones I have already been to. Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman LewisZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (more of a classic than a travel book), Into Thin Air(climbing Mt. Everest), A walk through Barygaza, and One Life to Ride — A Motorcycle Journey to the High Himalayas are only some of the books I have read.

These are on my list now:

Pick up the books set up in faraway places. Read about Che Guevera’s Motorcycle journey through South America, delve into Pico Ayer’s Japan, and Find George Orwell in Burma. Keep all this information for later when the doors around the world open up again.

Within a few pages, you would find yourself traveling. And who knows you might come up with an amazing trip idea that you can execute later at the right time.

 

What are my upcoming travel plans?

I am not planning to travel internationally this year. I have even switched my international birthday trip, which is usually with my partner combining both our birthdays, to a domestic one(still a couple of months away) if conditions are appropriate. To hell with seeing as many countries as we can when the idea of someone sneezing near us makes us leave our bags and run skittishly without ever looking back.

I would go to a closer hill station and stay in a remote guesthouse or a secluded treehouse. Read. Walk in the pine woods. Write. Forage for mushrooms. And so on. But I would be slow and careful. 

The whole purpose of the trip would be to do a change of scene. That can be done by just driving to a place, checking in ourselves, and spending time there as if we were at home. And make that morning and evening walk in the woods a daily routine. That’s all.

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Streets are empty for a reason.

While we can focus on all negatives, I would like to say that now we can travel long-term for everyone is work-from-home and that could easily be work-from-hotel. I would count it as a little win. Won’t you?

 

 

To list down the ways to travel within each country would be out of the scope of this article. But I am penning down the ways to travel within India.

How to Move Around in India During the Pandemic

Intercity and Interstate travel.

By Air: Domestic Flights are functional. But I wouldn’t recommend them. 

By Road.

Bus: Interstate and Intrastate buses are running. Within a state, there are many buses between popular and big places but not every destination is covered right now. I saw buses between Bangalore and Udupi and Mangalore, but nothing much between smaller places. For example, there was no bus to Kamalapur, the gateway to Hampi. Also, buses are limited in numbers and dates. I only found buses for upcoming dates and nothing for the months beyond July. Buses are mostly non-ac, and I didn’t come across even one air-conditioned bus.

You can use Redbus to book bus tickets. Do pay attention to the cancellation policies. 

I wouldn’t recommend taking a bus either.

Car: You can of course drive down to the destination if you have your car. Or you can rent one on Zoom or Drivezy. You can also hire taxis to cross between states but expect to pay more than usual. 

Train: Limites trains are operational. Visit Irctc.co.in to check for dates and availabilities. But only travel by trains if you need to get back home and a drive seems impossible over the long distance. Avoid trains right now.

Intracity Travel. 

Cabs and taxis within most cities are functional. Autorickshaws are out on the streets, too. But stay indoors to stay safe.

Doesn’t look safe to me.

Accommodation: 

Some of the hotels and guesthouses are opening up under rules and regulations. When I checked different kinds of hotels on Booking, the per-night prices seemed similar to me. 

Browse for availability and prices here: ApartmentsResortsVillasB&B, and Guesthouses. Opt for remote, secluded, or private accommodations. 

I think driving by one’s own car or in a rented taxi is the best, and only 100 percent sure, way to travel. 

Travel Preparation in the Pandemic

Make refundable bookings. Get travel insurance. You can keep your loss to the minimum in this way. 

Apart from booking flexible tickets and hotels, you should also check your destination for allowed activities and open tourist places.

 

What about sightseeing, hiking and other adventures, and usual travel activities?

I wouldn’t recommend sightseeing as there would be other people, too.

But for hiking and other nature expeditions, check with the locals about the situation. You can ask in Facebook travel groups. Usually, local people reply in these communities. Call a local tour agent and enquire. 

Having said that, I would suggest you keep the trip to driving, staying at the accommodation, sitting with a view, walking in nature if possible, and making your own food.

As the situation is volatile, the best plan is to not have many plans. 

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Just lying down in the sun in a new place could also do it.

 

Safest Ways to Travel During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Some of the travel practices that I recommend to stay safe are:

1. Maintain physical distance from everyone, from even the pets.

2. Wash hands regularly.

3. Carry a sanitizer. 

4. Wear clean masks and, if possible, gloves. Here are some reusable unisex face bandanas, an outdoor reusable dust face mask with filters, another reusable neoprene/cotton face mask, some simple reusable bandanas, and disposable face masks

5. Try not to touch your nose and mouth frequently.

6. Don’t touch public surfaces.

7. Make sure the linen and the duvet in the hotel are clean.

8. While on a road trip, follow the best protocols at the highway breaks. 

9. Watch if anyone touches the doors of your car at the signals or a restaurant. Sanitize the handles before touching them yourself. 

10. On public transport(not recommended), carry your bedding or pillow. Wear the mask all the time. 

11. Purchase and use disposable shoe covers. Shoes are our constant area of contact with the outside environment.

12. Avoid streetside food. 

13. Eat at clean hotels that follow the prescribed guidelines.

14. Choose a remote or secluded accommodation over a city stay

15. Don’t do sightseeing 

16. Assume that public restrooms wouldn’t be properly disinfected.  Wipe the toilet seats with alcohol wipes and then use them. Wash your hands with soap.

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Travel Resources

Some Resources(in addition to the ones I have shared above):

      1. World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)
      2. World Tourism Organization (WTO)
      3. World Health Organization (WHO)
      4. Bureau of Immigration, India (BOI)
      5. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India
      6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

 

You can also reach out to the tourism board of the destination you want to visit on Twitter or any other social media. 

 

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Once a routine activity, travel feels like a luxury now. 

Renuka, one of my favorite traveler and a veteran travel blogger from the Voyager For Life writes, “Travel is never going to be the same again. Now we have to get accustomed to the “new normal” in the travel sphere as well. I am aware that whenever I pack my bags and step out of my home in the future, it will come with lots of new travel protocols. Now is the time to understand the value of freedom that we never really thought about. From the moment you board a hired cab to reach an airport/train station to boarding a plane/train to checking into a hotel, everything about travel will be different in the days to come.”

Agreeing with Renuka I will add that for at least a few months or a year we would all be cautious and then we would naturally fall into the earlier ruts of just packing our bags and leaving. And there is nothing wrong with that either.

But the current safety practices will definitely bring a positive change.

It is not that we don’t stay clean or don’t wash our hands or that we should wear masks and maintain social distance all the time, but the hygiene and safety practices that the tourism industry and travelers are following now will set a precedent for the future. I hope I won’t have to check in a dorm room or a cottage with dirty bedsheets or mosquito-blood-stained duvets. Maybe I wouldn’t have to request a fresh towel anymore for it would always be there. Hopefully, kitchens would be kept cleaner and the kitchen staff wouldn’t wear the same clothes for five days as I have seen sometimes. 

And travelers would also be more diligent with how we dispose of trash, rather than breathing on each other’s necks we might learn to stand at a little distance, and we may finally learn to wash our hands before dipping our fingers into that guacamole. 

Fingers crossed. 

Oh, irrespective of wherever you plan to go or how much closer you are to the travel date, please don’t travel if you think you or any of your family members or a travel companion is sick or about to catch a cold. 

Safety first, travelers.

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Now go. Live. Read. Travel. Wait. Wash. Eat. Repeat. 

Please note: I will be updating the data in the article as and when the restriction changes. So keep visiting this page regularly to stay updated. Do let me know if you find some incoherent information in the piece. Thank you.

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Are you traveling in the pandemic? How do you think travel would shape up in the rest of 2020? Would love to hear from you in the comments 🙂