Travel as we know it has changed....for now.
Updated: May 12
COVID-19 has changed the way we plan for vacations and for the way we travel. How long lasting these changes are is the big unknown question...
Travel these days, for both business and pleasure, is virtually nonexistent, especially when it comes to international travel. Major cities, country borders and airports are shut down en masse as the CORONA-19 pandemic has impacted over 150 countries around the globe. Airlines are in need of government bailouts, cruise lines are facing bankruptcy and many hotels are at only 10 to 15% occupancy. The world of travel in 2020 has been completely changed and unfortunately, with that comes cancelled vacations for a large number of people and the resulting job losses have crippled the finances of so many people around the globe.
When the COVID-19 Coronavirus first started making the news reports in February of this year, many people, including myself, underestimated the nature of the virus and we thought "Oh it's no more serious than the flu virus that kills an average of 25 to 40,000 Americans annually" and we assumed it was no big deal. After all, it wasn't really making any impact here in the United States in February (that we knew of). Jason and I thought that we would be able to continue on with our Spring Break vacation plans, just like everyone else. We were supposed to go to New York City with Sarah and one of her friends for 4 nights as a belated 16th birthday celebration. We figured that we'd be good with hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. At that point, restaurants were still open, the subway was being cleaned daily and Broadway shows and museums were open as usual. Heck, 2 weeks before we left, I was talking with my doctor and even he thought it would be ok to go....just as long as we practiced good hand washing and brought hand sanitizer.
A week after talking to him, we realized that this was NOT just something equal to the flu and we cancelled our trip. A couple of days later, NYC was being shut down more and more each passing day. Good Morning America closed their studios to ticketed audiences. The lights went out on Broadway as it was decided that all shows would close temporarily. I began to get calls from restaurants we had reservations with, letting me know they would me "temporarily closed" during the time frame of our stay. We were lucky in that we were able to get our non-refundable airfare on Delta given back to us in a credit (something we would always be able to use), our hotel stay at the Warwick Hotel was given to us as a credit to use within a full year and I was able to get refunds on our NYC CityPass, our Broadway tickets, and everything else that we prepaid. Yes, we were bummed, but in the grand scheme of things, our loss of a vacation was trivial. A loss of vacation is nothing compared to the loss of a loved one due to illness or the loss of a job, resulting in the inability to feed your family. The same week we cancelled the trip, Florida shut down all public schools for the two weeks following Spring Break, the university I work for stopped all on-campus classes and switched to all Distance Learning classes and both Jason and I were instructed to begin working from home, while the state went into semi-total shut down.
Even DISNEY WORLD closed down. That's when we knew this shit was real...
Our 2nd trip this spring, a weekend trip to Nashville that was scheduled for the 3rd weekend in April, was also cancelled. We were going to be touring the college campuses of Belmont University and The University of the South in Sewanne, Tennessee. Since both schools also shut down their campuses amidst the growing pandemic fears in the US, there were no college tours to be had, so we decided to just do the campus tours next Spring. We had paid for our flights on Southwest using points, so our tickets were easily cancelled and our points refunded. Our stay at a Marriott south of Nashville was cancelled with no penalty, as was our rental car.
Yes, it sucked and Sarah was doubly disappointed as she was really looking forward to the campus tours for colleges, but at least she could hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, we would still be able to do our two week trip to Ireland and London in June . She was going to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of one of our dear family friends and she was SO excited about it. One thing this pandemic has shown a lot of people is that NOTHING is guaranteed in life. Once Pres. Trump essentially closed the borders to all international travel, Jason and I knew we wouldn't be able to go. Just last week, we received notification from British Airways that our flight from Dublin to London was cancelled, so we were given a full refund for our tickets. We were able to cancel the rental car in both Ireland and London, getting a full refund on both prepaid reservations, refunds on all the hotels we had booked and now we are in a holding pattern waiting on TAP Air Portugal to officially cancel our flights from Miami to Dublin (via Lisbon, Portugal) , so that we can then request a refund for our Business Class tickets, rather than just accept a future travel credit like the airlines WANT you to do, since they are hemorrhaging money these days. We can't just sit around and have a credit to travel on an airline that may not even be in existence when we plan our next trip to Europe. Luckily, there is a rule within both the European Union and the United States Dept. of Transportation that states that if the airline themselves cancels your flight, they are REQUIRED by law to give YOU the choice, not force only one option on you. You can get a full refund (which is supposed to be credited back within 2 weeks under regular circumstances) OR take the travel voucher. Right now Air Portugal has cancelled most flights through at least May 31st, so we are just doing a wait and see on the cancellation status until we get official word from the airline.
I wish I knew what the future holds for us, as a family and as a nation. We optimistically rebooked our trip to NYC for November of this year...and yes, I realize that there is the possibility of another wave of virus infections in the Fall, so we are going to have to play it by ear. We have nothing else planned this year vacation wise. My mom and stepdad just moved back to Florida from Tennessee, so we're not travelling up there this year at the holidays and honestly, with the economy being what it is and with a lot of companies downsizing due to major economic losses, we are focusing on paying off my car we bought in January (pre-pandemic) and the last bit of credit card balances we have. What I do know is that if we do go to NYC, it won't be the same as the trip we would have done in March. We won't be doing a Broadway show, we will be walking more rather than taking the crowded subway so we can better social distance and things like being in a TV studio audience probably wont be a part of our schedule. Will restaurants that we planned to go to even still be in business? There are so many questions, and so many variables....
What I have learned through all this:
I won't be booking any non-refundable hotels or airfare anytime in the next few years. It's too much of a gamble and even with "Cancel for Any Reason" travel insurance, which is moo-coo expensive, you only get a part of your cost back. Standard travel insurance does not cover pandemics, for the most part, and if you cancel because of virus related concerns, even with insurance you won't be able to be paid on a claim.
You won't even remotely catch us on a cruise in the near few years. Even if the major cruise lines manage to stay afloat (pardon the pun), I personally feel that cruising will forever be changed, from the food services to the shows and the casinos. The last thing we want to do is be stuck on a floating petri dish. I don't care how many precautions the cruise lines may take, it's not worth the risk to my family. The fun vibe of cruising, gambling in the casino, seeing shows and doing fun things on the ship with your family will never be the same, in my opinion.
Any trip I book will be done using a credit card that not only earns rewards points, but also offers traveler assistance or insurance in case of trip interruption. In my case, I booked with my Chase Ink business card. Chase offers great coverage on their branded cards for Marriott, Southwest Airlines, British Airways as well as their Chase Sapphire card which is one of the best travel rewards card on the market! While it might not cover cancellation insurance, it would come in handy if we are stuck in a city due to flight delays, border closures, etc...and we would be able to claim reimbursement. Also it can help with emergency medical coverage cost in a foreign country if needed.
While I like to plan our trips months and in some cases a year or two in advance, I know now that all the planning in the world doesn't matter one iota when it comes to something as simple as a virus. I can plan all I want, but we have to be prepared for anything and everything.
With that being said, we are still looking to travel next year....we have scheduled tentative plans for Spring Break of next year, staying at a Marriott hotel resort with a completely refundable hotel stay that can be cancelled up to 48 hours before arrival. I'll be writing more about that in another post :)
I hope everyone is healthy and that you and your family is doing well, all things considered. Remember to practice social distancing, wear a cloth face mask to prevent the spread of germs and always carry around some hand sanitizer! Let's continue to flatten the curve so that our doctors and nurses are not overwhelmed in the future as they had been over the last 2 months. We can and we will get through this together. Stay safe!!