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This summer it seemed like Americans were finally traveling again, both domestically and internationally, but the recent surge in Delta variant and persistent COVID peaks have led to a return to travel restrictions and increased fear and uncertainty about travel. Some countries prohibit US visitors while others introduce rules that seem to change almost daily, as well as the travel advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the agency’s list of “high-risk destinations”.

On the positive side, global vaccination rates are increasing, as are the safety measures taken by airlines, travel destinations, hotels and tour operators. But children under the age of 12 still can’t get vaccinated, which makes family travel worried, and health protocol enforcement varies widely by location.

Given this uncertainty, is now the right time to travel or even to plan a trip?

Here, the travel industry and health experts weigh up the current state of travel and whether now is the right time to plan a trip.

Weighing Travel Risks vs. Rewards

“Now, traveling is about weighing the risks and benefits,” said Paul Holtom, MD, infectious disease specialist and senior epidemiologist at LAC + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I agree that travel offers mental health and wellbeing benefits, but also inherent risks as seniors are at a higher risk group. If you want to travel, you should do everything possible to reduce these risks. “

“The decision whether or not to travel in 2021 is a personal decision, and it largely depends on your health risk profile and willingness to address potential logistical challenges,” said Joost Schreve, CEO of the travel services company based in Boulder, Colorado. Kimkim.

Joshua Bush, chief executive officer of Avenue Two Travel in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Agrees that travel today “depends on risk tolerance and awareness, but it is now possible to travel ethically and safely.”

But why travel now? “Most of our customers have realized in the past two years that you only live once. With the right precautions, they will appreciate their freedom to travel, explore, and most importantly, connect with the world, ”says Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond, a New York-based travel agency specializing in the luxury market. “And right now there are great values ​​and most places are not overcrowded.”

So how do you deal with your travel risk? The most obvious way to drastically reduce your risk: Get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a September briefing at the White House, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky gave the following advice: “If you are not vaccinated, the first thing we recommend that you do not travel is. But people who are fully vaccinated and wearing masks can travel. ”Travel agents agree. “For your own safety and for the safety of your fellow human beings, vaccinating and wearing masks are just the thing,” says Bush.

But the vaccinated are now also confronted with health risks when traveling. “While it is unlikely that a vaccinated person would contract COVID, it is not impossible“Warns Holtom. “These cases will be mild or asymptomatic, but given the testing requirements for returning to the US, this still means you will need to be quarantined abroad for two weeks [if traveling abroad]. And if you should suffer any other type of serious illness or injury while traveling, you will need to use local health facilities that may be inferior or overburdened by COVID patients. “

Regarding timing, Holtom says, “In the past we have seen virus spikes in fall and winter with lower temperatures and increased indoor gatherings. But none of us have a crystal ball; We really don’t know what’s coming. “

With the uncertainty of virus trends and travel restrictions, reducing travel risk is now about being as well informed as possible about your destination and travel options, as well as your own health – both physical and mental. You won’t get the calming benefits of traveling if you are stressed out all the time. “When you travel, you find yourself in airports and other places that can be crowded. If you are uncomfortable with such situations in your hometown, traveling now may not be ideal for you, ”advises Schreve. “But if you’re leading a pretty normal life at the moment, we’ve found that most of our travelers have had no problems and in many cases have had relatively few crowds as many places have fewer visitors.”

Travel within the USA

In particular, domestic travel to the United States travel by car, has enjoyed great popularity over the past year due to the lack of state border restrictions and trust in local health care. “California is open to business and leisure travelers, while also encouraging locals to explore their own backyards,” said Caroline Beteta, chief executive officer of Visit California. However, certain domestic regions experiencing spikes in COVID levels actively discourage travel. Hawaii Governor David Ige “recently advised residents not to travel between the islands” and urged all other visitors to avoid recreational travel to the islands until October. “Our hospitals are reaching their capacity,” and the intensive care units are filling up. Now is not a good time to go to Hawaii. “

For domestic travel destinations, Holtom recommends finding out about the status of certain regions. In California, for example, at the end of September, “LA County currently has very low COVID numbers, but” in the Central Valley “[the Fresno-Stockton region] Hospitals are busy at 120 percent. ”Similarly, Bush advises travelers to“ stay away from places where vaccination rates are much lower, such as the southern US states ”. Domestic road trips to outdoor areas like national parks have been popular, although some parks are crowded, exploring instead less visited national parks, such as Dry Tortugas near Key West, Florida, and the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas.

Travel to other countries

Like domestic travel destinations, international countries currently vary widely between open and welcoming, or closed and at higher risk. the CDC currently lists at least 80 countries and territories classified as “very high risk – avoid travel” (including popular destinations such as the Bahamas, Thailand and the UK) and dozen more as “high risk” (including Brazil, Denmark and Mexico). Even if you’re headed somewhere, you might not be let in: Australia and New Zealand have long been closed to recreational travel, while Belgium and Sweden recently banned all US visitors. However, many allow US visitors with proof of vaccination.

On the flip side, Portugal recently announced that it “will remain open to travelers from the United States” “despite the EU removing the US from its” safe list. “Carolina Trejos, Marketing Director of Costa Rica Tourism, just welcomed: “Costa Rica invites travelers to enjoy the many nature experiences across the country that make social distancing easy, with guidelines for the safe operation of our entire tourism industry.” Travel advisor Joshua Bush also recommends Costa Rica as a “good choice” for those worried about COVID Traveler.

It is therefore important to read the CDC’s country-specific travel advice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the current rules and regulations of your destination country and all notices from the US embassy in that country.

You can also use planning strategies to reduce the risk and stress of international travel. Schreve recommends taking direct flights to avoid the crowds and hassle of connections. Bush says many of his agency’s clients are opting for “a higher cabin class on the plane, access to the airport lounge” – even for charter private flights. “We recently joined small groups of like-minded travelers in private planes to cut costs while providing the peace of mind of flying privately in a smaller ‘travel bubble’.”

Consider a vacation that is “the great outdoors,” suggests Ezon, “and exploring remote locations from the comfort of a base, rather than changing accommodations frequently.” On a budget, he says, a great COVID- friendly trip be at the moment Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Stay at the new Borgo Sant Andrea Hotel for outdoor experiences like hiking the Path of the Gods, a boat trip to Capri, al fresco dining every evening and a visit to Pompeii – one of the greatest open-air museums in the world. He recommends Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and South Africa as some other good nature focus travel destinations.

“Over the past year and six, our Active Travel has been in high demand in Europe as travelers are looking for outdoor adventures, including fresh air hiking tours, iconic routes, remote locations and a guarantee for vaccinated guides and fellow travelers,” says Matt Berna, the California-based executive director of Intrepid Travel North America. Intrepid’s hikes through the Italian Dolomites and around Mont Blanc in France are just as popular as the lesser-known Rota Vicentina along the Portuguese coast.

Even “in countries that the CDC describes as“ high risk, ”“ all-inclusive resorts can offer safe havens, ”says Bush.“ Many resorts in the Caribbean and Los Cabos, for example, offer a sense of security with on-site security -Tests ”and by containing the guests and still offering plenty to do so that the holiday experience is not hindered. Many Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons around the world still have room for the holidays. Travel agents working with the big luxury brands usually have inventory and access to quality amenities to cover costs. “

Holtom is still waiting on his long-belated journey to his 40th. I want to wait for the COVID numbers to level off first. ”He felt safe, however, as he took his family on a day trip near his home this August. He, his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and four grandchildren recorded all the fun at Disneyland in Anaheim, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. He consented to the trip based on his confidence in the current COVID-19 security measures in Southern California and Disney’s management of the outdoor parking area with clearance logs and hand sanitizer abundantly available.