Today (March 20, 2020): Traveling in times of the Coronavirus pandemic: my thoughts.
We are living in unprecedented and fearful times, as the coronavirus is bringing the world as we know it to a (temporary) standstill. Across the globe, countries are in lockdown, airlines are grounded, and hospitals cannot cope with the enormous influx of sick patients. The images that reach us from the intensive care units in northern Italy are heartbreaking and disturbing. And although it is easy to succumb to fear in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability, we should not let stress and anxiety become pandemics. And we should never stop loving, hoping and dreaming.
Obviously the current health crisis is having a huge impact on virtually every aspect of our daily life. Over the past weeks, I’ve received several questions from followers and travelers asking me how the coronavirus impacts my own travel life, and whether it will have an impact on my travel blog & vlog. First let me be clear that there are much worse things to be concerned about right now (traveling is a passion, not a necessity). But for anyone who is interested, here is some information on the topic:
- How the coronavirus pandemic affects my own travel plans
- How the coronavirus pandemic affects my travel blog & vlog
- Why I don’t care about travel right now
How the coronavirus pandemic affects my own travel plans
I had planned several trips in the coming weeks (Chicago, Costa Rica, Namibia), but I had to cancel them all. And while there are much worse things right now (I am thinking of everybody affected by Covid19), it’s still stressing and frustrating to negotiate with hotels & airlines about cancelled trips. Fyi, a pandemic isn’t covered by my travel insurance.
My most frustrating experience (so far) was cancelling my United Airlines ticket from Europe to Costa Rica (via Newark). First there was the USA ban for EU citizens (I am from the EU), then Costa Rica closed its borders to foreigners, and in the end one of my flight legs was also cancelled, so you wouldn’t think it would be too much of an issue to get a refund. Well, not with United Airlines. Instead of allowing me a refund because of the cancelled flight, they rebooked me on another flight, which arrives 20 hours later at my final destination and which I could never take (because I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the EU, I wouldn’t be allowed to transit via the USA, and I wouldn’t be allowed to enter Costa Rica). While I totally agree that airlines are now going through a horrible time, it is wrong that an airline is trying all it can to enforce a new flight schedule on me (one I couldn’t take anyway) so that it wouldn’t have to refund me but could keep my money (and give a credit) instead.
Regarding cancelling hotels, I have mixed experiences. Unfortunately, some of the (smaller) hotels that I booked myself only allow a credit towards a future stay, typically within a year. Remarkably, the prepaid hotel stays that I booked via my Virtuoso travel agent from Classic Travel were refunded after my travel agent reached out to the properties. I also learned that several of the larger hotel chains have adopted a new cancellation policy on existing bookings:
- Hilton is allowing all bookings, even non-refundable ones, to be canceled; this is valid for stays through April 30, 2020, when canceling at least 24 hours before scheduled arrival
- IHG is allowing all bookings, even non-refundable ones, to be canceled, for stays through April 30, 2020
- Hyatt allows all reservations (including advance purchase bookings) for stays before April 30, 2020 tobe changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours in advance.
- Marriot – whose brands include Westin, Sheraton, Residence Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Ritz-Carlton – is allowing full changes or cancelation free of charge up to 24 hours before arrival (changes have to be made by April 30).
- Four Seasons has lifted cancellation fees until April 15.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects my travel blog & vlog
Some of us would love to escape to an exotic destination right now and some would rather be safe at home. And although most of couldn’t care less about travel right now, I will continue with my travel blog & YouTube channel, if it was only to forget for a moment the current cruel reality that we are living in and to keep you inspired about exploring the world in the near future. I still have many trip reports in the pipeline of holidays that I took before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, so you can expect – among others – the following trip reports over the coming months:
- Flight reviews: Cathay Pacific (B777), Eva Air B777 (Business Class), Virgin Atlantic A350 (Upper Class), Delta A350 (Delta One Suite), Lufthansa A350 (Business Class), Lufthansa A380 (First Class), Etihad Airways B787 (Business Class), Etihad Airways A380 (First Class)
- Reviews of hotels in Croatia & Montenegro: Villa Dubrovnik and Aman Sveti Stefan
- Reviews of hotels in Cambodia: Phum Baitang (by Zannier Hotels), Alila Villas Koh Russey, and Shinta Mani Wild
- Reviews of hotels in India: Leela Palace New Delhi, Taj Lake Palace Hotel (Udaipur), and Oberoi Udaivilas (Udaipur)
- Reviews of hotels in New York: 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge and TWA Hotel at JFK
- Reviews of hotels in the Caribbean: Belmond La Samanna (St Martin) and Belmond Cap Juluca (Anguila)
I have decided to only start traveling again once the situation has dramatically improved. Depending on how long that takes, there is a chance that I will have to temporarily reduce the number of trip reports on my blog and clips on my YouTube channel. So be it.
Why I don’t care about travel right now
While it’s obviously disappointing that my travel plans are canceled, that’s nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what so many people are going through right now. The following letter written by Marco – a 31 year old Italian resident in abdominal surgery currently working in a North Italian hospital coronavirus unit – says it all:
It’s a nightmare. It really feels like being in a war field. Just today 4 patients died in my unit. Patients are continuously transferred to the critical area of the crisis unit or to the intensive care unit.
Dozens of patients arrive from the ER and you put them in the empty beds that you’ve just cleared with the transfers, in the best option. The suspected COVID19 patients are allocated right away with the frankly positive patients because you don’t really have the chance, resources or the time to run the test or wait for its result.
The patients that die are put in horrible black bags and brought immediately to the obituary. From the obituary they’re sent right away to the crematorium. It all happens under the eyes of the other perfectly awake COVID19 patients who are still breathing with some respiratory support. These patients are forced to witness what might happen to them within few hours because there are no curtains to pull to avoid this psychological torture. COVID19 patients die alone and they see it coming with fierce rawness.
At the end of the shift you have to call the families and give them an update, too often it’s a notice of where they might find the ashes of their beloved ones. It’s excruciating.
I never thought I’d have to live through something like this. I feel lost, I’m terrified.