What a month it has been. I went from thinking that I might still be able to pull off a weekend away this March to completely canning both trips that were planned for the short term. Even if I was still willing to travel, there is no way I could, given the restrictions in place. Not to mention tickets are being canceled left and right, although some airlines are refusing to issue refunds. Right now you’d be crazy to book travel during the coronavirus pandemic in the near-term. The world has changed so drastically so rapidly.
Now that I am cooped up at home and at the office literally 98% of the time (I do have the office to myself), it’s hard not to go stir crazy. I’m used to traveling somewhere at least every other month, often monthly, for either work or pleasure. January was busy with a couple status runs and a trip to London with two of my kids. February saw a miles and points meetup along with a work trip. This was capped off by a weekend away as a family for my daughter’s dance convention.
And then it ended. Completely. But being cooped up means I want to plan travel. The question is…should you plan travel during the coronavirus pandemic?
Travel Not Advised in the Short Term
If you want to go somewhere tomorrow, the answer is no. With “shelter in place” orders affecting multiple U.S. states, most people are simply hunkering down. The Costco gas station, normally a place you’ll find a consistent line on Sundays, was a ghost town yesterday. Travel is not advised at this time, and it is markedly down, even by car in my rural California county.
The overarching policy coming from the Department of State is a “Level 4 – Do Not Travel” advisory on March 19. This affects literally all international travel. Beyond that, domestic travel is highly discouraged as well. Some states are imposing their own restrictions, although the legal grounds of these orders are coming into question.
In the wake of this unprecedented global slowdown, hotels are temporarily closing and airlines are parking hundreds of planes. Even if you needed to travel, options are more limited. It goes without saying that the next few weeks will be the slowest travel period on record. The question is…when will we start seeing the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel?
Should You Book Travel During Coronavirus? When Might It Be Safe?
By safe, I don’t necessarily mean safe from the virus. If you’re worried about contracting COVID-19, stay home and isolate yourself to the fullest extent possible until the risk is well past. Personally, I would be entirely fine traveling now while taking precautions. However, the current “shelter in place” order means we’re doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus.
What I actually mean by safe is this: when can I safely assume travel will again be possible? It’s the question of planning. Are we looking at May? July? October? I wish I knew.
Just how far into the future should we look? Planning travel for early 2021 seems entirely safe (at least as safe as planning travel for this spring seemed last spring!). What I mean, though, is that it is unlikely that we will still be affected by a pandemic. If we are, it’s also more likely that nations will have figured out how to cope with it. I have no qualms booking trips for next year, and I actually already have part of one booked in January.
But what about closer in? Should you plan summer travel? This is the question that most people are likely asking. Summer is peak travel season. This is when families go on a week of vacation, and when many places, such as national parks, see the largest crowds. Will people miss out on their summer plans due to COVID-19? It’s certainly a possibility. The orders are set to expire by the end of April, but it’s also been floated that we will see a much longer period of social distancing and less travel.
Beyond taking a couple trips, there is so much that my kids do during the summer. If the current situation stays the same, camps, sports, and other events could be in question as well. It’s hard to swallow, but it may still be what ends up happening. I see it as unlikely, however.
What I Think We’ll See Over The Coming Weeks
Here’s my personal opinion: I simply cannot see the current status quo of “shelter in place” lasting more than a few more weeks. The virus is spreading rapidly, and it’s trajectory will soon become apparent with social distancing in place. I don’t think we’re even seeing the effect yet, as there are very obviously far more cases worldwide than have been confirmed to date. This is one reason I think we’ll see an ultimately low mortality rate from COVID-19, likely around 1%, not the 10% we’re seeing in Italy. Contrast the numbers we’re seeing in Germany.
The number of reports of people with either mild or completely asymptotic cases and inability to track the community spread, even early on, leads me to believe that there were far more cases in the U.S. during February than we thought. Early testing would have helped determine this, but that ship has long sailed. In any case, if it was more widespread before restrictions were in place, we’ll see the peak sooner. That is my rather broad, (mostly) unscientific opinion.
Personally, I don’t think the country can handle months of social distancing and substantial economic shut down. Plus, I’ve seen multiple revised death toll estimates downward that show that we may have overreacted in response to the threat. I expect that public sentiment may swing this way, especially as families become strapped in the wake of job loss. But I could be completely wrong. Given that the media loves calamity and disaster, fear may continue to outweigh the relative risk.
What I hope we’ll see is the curve starting to trend the other way (i.e. flatten). We’ll get a better feel for the actual death toll from coronavirus as testing (hopefully) becomes far more widespread. My worry is that testing is still going to be a limiting factor, with only the sickest people going to be tested. In any case, I expect that we’ll see a swing toward loosening restrictions and governmental orders in about 3-6 weeks, assuming measures do start to work and the numbers trend where I think they will. This is just my personal opinion. I have some science background, but I am absolutely not an epidemiologist.
How I Anticipate Travel Resuming
While travel around the globe ended rather precipitously, I don’t expect travel to pick up again the same way. It’ll be a gradual increase. It won’t simply be flipping the switch back to “on.” Governments will need to change their advisories. Restrictions and quarantine mandates will need to be eased. People wont’ travel, at least for leisure, unless they’re going to be welcomed and feel safe. It will take a while for people to feel safe, given the panic that has surrounded COVID-19.
This is what makes projecting a “safe” date for travel the most difficult. Personally, I’ve booked a trip for May. I’m optimistic (plus, it was only $38 to fly coast-to-coast round-trip, so no huge loss). A miles and points meetup I hope to attend in June? I give us a 50/50, mainly because there is lead time needed to make the decision whether or not to hold it.
Further out, I have high certainty we can take a family vacation in July. As far as a trip planned over Labor Day weekend in September, I’m 98% sure that’ll be a go. Did I book travel during the coronavirus shutdown for a great deal in October? That is also a yes.
Why? I have to believe that the world cannot stay shut down that long. Disease is something we’ve had to deal with for centuries. This may be a novel virus, but pandemics are not novel. At some point, the economy and social cost (including associated mortality) of staying shut down will outweigh the cost of moving back toward the status quo of global travel. Countries that rely on tourism as a major source of income are being devastated right now. This is a cost of the decisions that are being made.
Getting global travel rolling again will be an integral step to getting our world economy back on track. It’ll be a slow ramp up to the levels we saw previously, and it’s entirely possible that the travel landscape will be forever changed.
I have some travel plans locked in, and I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll even begin to see a marked increase in travel before spring is over. It is at least my hope.
What do you think the coming months hold? Are you going to book travel during the coronavirus shutdown for future dates?