Traveling In The Time Of The Covid-19 Virus
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
To travel, or not to travel…
I’ve spoken to some people directly, and I know others are curious. Should we be traveling with this virus all over the place? Should I hurry and book a return ticket to New York in case they shut down all travel, everywhere, like my mom wants me to? In this post I will share my thoughts and experiences, and those of some of my fellow travelers.
Flying in to Cape Town, South Africa. What routes will remain open?
Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020
The world’s gone crazy, or at least it seems that way from everything you read or see on the television, especially now that a pandemic has been declared. There’s a story in the news in New Zealand about people buying up all the Paracetamol and, more alarming, fighting over toilet paper stock in the supermarket. My mom just told me her local Cosco in Florida had no toilet paper. In stark contrast, there are still many travelers out there. The other day I met three Swiss people who had been in Vietnam, near the border of China, and they said no one is making a big fuss about it. Some of my travel friends are going to Bali and their biggest concern is whether flights will go, not whether or not they should go. Other friends are currently in Asia and greatly enjoying their trip.
“How interesting that danger in travel can change overnight.”
A Shift Of Travel Concerns
Last year, going to places like Colombia, Lima and Cape Town, my biggest concerns were being mugged, kidnapped or murdered. This year, larger than all those anxieties is that I’m trying to avoid a tiny germ. And, even if I want to avoid it, re-routing of air traffic and country regulations will play more a role in my trip planning than anything else in the near future. So, it would seem, my mother no longer has to fear normal dangers, just about me trying not to be where the virus is. Of course, there is no safe place on earth, at this point, which means, in my opinion, you should do what you love because you may be exposed no matter what. Just this week I read that my hometown, New York, has more confirmed cases than here in New Zealand.
What I find more concerning is what the virus will do to us all as humans in the short term. I recently spoke with someone from Argentina. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I spent four months there last year and I love it there. One of my favorite traditions in Argentina is drinking yerba mate. The true intention of this drink is to share it with strangers and have beautiful conversations. Will that sharing still happen? In day-to-day interactions, I wonder whether to shake hands or give hugs at the moment, something I do naturally. (Have you seen the coronavirus footshake?) I’ve also been very lucky to be taken in by strangers throughout my entire trip. Will those offers stop in the short term?
Conspiracy Theories And The Bigger Picture
It’s way too easy to get sucked in to the drama, so you might not be thinking about other dimensions of the story. Let’s talk conspiracy for a moment. We’ve been led to believe the virus started in Wuhan, China by someone eating an animal that had the virus and the human body isn’t made to fight it off. Maybe that’s true. And, maybe we all know the Chinese eat strange foods and we simply easily believe that story. Interestingly, a Dean Koontz novel written in 1981 appears to have predicted this virus, or maybe that’s a hoax, too. (Probably is since the pages have different fonts and one doesn’t mention the book it comes from.) The one thing we all seem to agree on, so far, is that China tends to be very closed and protective of information, so we likely have no idea of what the truth is, and we may never know. My bigger question is, why didn’t China make up some bogus excuse and close their borders to contain the problem once they knew they had it?
A friend pointed out to me the timing of the virus being right after Trump wanted to impose sanctions on China. However, my favorite theory is from a Kiwi I met last week – he thinks the virus was started in America by Netflix because the more we self isolate, the more of it we’ll watch. A New Zealand radio station the other day read a story of a listener that said they couldn’t remember the name of the virus, Covid-19, until they realized it reminds them of the song, “Come on Eileen.” I do not mean to take this threat lightly, at all, however, a little levity, I think, is required so we don’t go mad with fear.
There is clearly a relationship between fear, future and investments. The outbreak is making some medical companies and producers of masks, for example, quite wealthy. For fun, I Googled how stocks have been impacted from prior viruses. Hypothetically, someone could use the virus to manipulate markets, catapult stocks, buy them at low cost, wait for them to rebound, and boom, instant billionaire. From my perspective, this virus is more about our reaction to it than the virus itself.
You can see that loud and clear with the media coverage. Have you noticed that all the news creates fear and hysteria? Remember that newspapers are a business designed to sell advertising space, and TV news is supported by their advertisers. This story sells news and that makes advertising lucrative. It’s a wise business choice for the media to perpetuate fear and report on this every day because they’re making a lot of profit. I’ll bet if the news ran stories about how many people have influenza right now and how many of them died, and reported that story, every day, the figures would also be scary. But they don’t, because that story won’t sell. (According to CNBC in February, 19 million people were infected with influenza in the US, of which 10,000 died, just for perspective. It’s highly contagious, and yet, we don’t close borders, create mass hysteria, and shut down travel for it.)
Also, consider that a lot of people have recovered from the Coronavirus. According to the John’s Hopkins tracker, over 63,000 people have gotten better, so far. And yet, there is not one news story about this!! In fact, I just googled “number of people who recovered from Coronavirus” and this link was buried in the results, which were mostly about how many people have died. Why isn’t the news talking about those that have recovered? Because that wouldn’t sell, or leave you in enough fear to buy into more news and spend all your money stocking up on commodities.
I’ve spoken before about how one of the reasons people don’t quit their job to travel full time or pursue a passion is being linked to a consumerist mentality that makes you think you need to spend your hard-earned money on stuff, which makes you accumulate too many bills to not have a job. Fears of Coronavirus are now making everyone go out and buy lots of stuff. Hmmm.
One of the hardships of full-time travel is not getting to see my parents as often as I like. If I were at home in the US, I now wouldn’t be able to visit them anyway, out of concern for putting them at risk.
My health insurance plan apparently won’t cover me for coronavirus-related needs unless I’m in my home country. They also won’t cover me if I fly into an impacted country. Hmmm.
“Luckily we are currently in countries with low-impact but we have become diligent on hand washing and not touching hand rails, door knobs etc. I’ve learned to use my elbow for many things I used to use my hands for. We bought all purpose cleaner with bleach and are cleaning surfaces in rooms and cars and airplanes as soon as we can. As of right now, we don’t plan to cancel our travels, but continue to monitor the situation.”
Submitted by Laureen Lund of My Fab Fifties Life.
“I’ve been travelling fulltime since September 2019. I’m also a Public Health Professional. I’m surprised at the coronavirus coverage in the UK and internationally. For most people this is a mild illness that can be avoided with good hand hygiene and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. It’s not dramatic but it works.
The advice from bodies like the World Health Organisation is calm and pragmatic.
I worry, selfishly, whether borders will be open to me as I continue my journey. More concerning is the discrimination being justified by the illness. Chinatown districts in Singapore and Malaysia are far quieter than others. People’s ability to make a living is affected – taxi drivers, restaurants, and tour companies. That’s a real problem.”
Submitted by Fiona Reynolds of The Adventures of Phileas Fiona
As a travelling expat, I’m preoccupied with little else than Covid-19. I am living in Oman on a tourist visa, and as I must exit the country every 30 days, I am seriously concerned there won’t be a country nearby where I can return from. More borders close every day. As well, my have plans to teach in China in May have been postponed by the university. I am not afraid of the virus, but I am afraid of getting stuck someplace I don’t want to be. Travelling home from Malaysia 2 weeks ago, at airports and on airplanes, I was struck by the fear in people’s eyes.
After a month in Morocco, we returned to Spain, stepping into a media explosion inciting panic buying loo rolls. Yet a sore throat followed by a high fever dragged us into a reality we didn’t want to engage in. As fulltimers in our fifth year we now look at things mindfully not with fear. So we researched Covid-19 symptoms and observed. It was just flu yet we chose to self isolate to be responsible. The virus itself doesn’t threaten our travels. We are healthy and not in a vulnerable category. My mum who is, is more likely to catch it in her local supermarket than we are travelling. We make discerning choices about where and how we travel based on our circumstances. We choose not to be embroiled by the drama.
Submitted by Karen Davies of The Motoroamers.
Our primary concern, as we suspect is true for other full-time travelers, is not knowing about potential future travel bans and how those might complicate our plans. We’re currently in Montenegro and were planning on staying here until the end of our 90-day tourist visa. Now, we’re planning on leaving sooner in case future developments make border crossings more difficult. At the moment, Montenegro is still one of the only countries in Europe without any confirmed cases. It’s a small country and people’s behavior hasn’t seemed to change much. However, it was still a bit tricky finding face masks for our onward journey.
Submitted by Linda Talarico of Travelitic