By Bob Waite
There are tragedies far more consequential than the inability of a travel writer to travel.
It’s just that I can’t think of any at the moment.
Then the world shut down.
Subsequent planned trips to France, Jordan, Israel, Ecuador, and Panama were all postponed or cancelled. My travel was largely confined to trips to the kitchen for subsistence; to my office to teach my college students remotely; or to the family room to watch sporting events or movies.
The highlight during this period of enforced stasis was the rearrangement of the condiments in our fridge alphabetically, A-Z. And then reversing them.
But — Omicron variant permitting — brighter days have arrived. I have begun traveling again — but all is not as before. Here are a few tips and some added advice, based on my recent experiences.
Air Travel Appears Relatively Safe
I recently flew on four different airlines: Air Canada, Avianca, COPA, and LATAM. Each exhibited extraordinary care in screening passengers, spacing them within the aircraft, operating with enhanced air filtration (COPA, for example, has installed additional ventilation in their aircraft washrooms), and ensuring masking.
Airports — be it in Bogota, Quito, Panama City, Ottawa or Toronto — were equally vigilant by requiring proof of vaccination and masking.
Keep Documents Handy
You should treat your proof of vaccination document the way you do your passport — keep it safe and keep it handy. I recommend both an electronic version on your Smart Phone and a hard copy in your wallet or passport holder.
And be aware that while you might have obtained an exemption from vaccination in your home jurisdiction, that likely won’t cut it elsewhere. As Paladin might put it: Have Vaccination — Will Travel.
Constantly Check Requirements
Things can change daily, even hourly. We were told we would need PCR tests to enter the Galapagos; just a couple of days before we were to do so the requirement was dropped. We had pre-paid for the testing, which was priced at several hundred dollars, but fortunately our travel agent was able to obtain a refund.
In another example, Canada recently announced PCR tests will not be required of Canadians returning from the States on visits of 72 hours or less. And destinations like Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand, to name just a few, are constantly updating requirements. So it’s prudent to check frequently, especially as the Omicron variant threatens to once again disrupt travel around the world.
Don’t Expect Everything To Be The Same
Hotels and dining establishments may not be able to meet your expectations.
For example, I returned to the Portland Harbor Hotel in Maine in July. It is a luxury property that has maintained its luxury tariff — but, sadly, not its high standards. There was no breakfast service available and staffing was clearly stretched annoyingly thin.
A stay at another luxury property in November, The Bristol in Panama City, Panama, was equally disappointing. The room clearly had not been vetted by management and the TV remote batteries were dead, a light bulb was defunct, and the laundry bag and list were missing from the closet.
On the other hand, some properties, such as Wolf Cove Inn in Poland, Maine, and Hotel Patio Andaluz in Quito, Ecuador, have maintained their excellent service standards. Check recent reviews to avoid disappointment.
Your Visit Will Be Deeply Appreciated
In most instances, you will never feel more welcomed. In many countries tourism is vital to the economy and whole communities are dependent on tourist dollars.
We saw this most vividly in the Ecuadorean Amazon rain forest, where we stayed at the Napo Wildlife Center, an ecolodge established and run by the local indigenous community. We were among the first lodgers in over a year and our arrival was greeted with great warmth.
The same was true of the crew on the small boat that took us around the Galapagos archipelago. Even the captain seemed on the verge of tears as he explained how much it meant to have passengers after a 15-month hiatus.
It feels good to be traveling again — and to be writing once more about the experience. But be patient, be flexible, be thankful, and comply with the local rules and regulations.
In Quito masks are required on the streets. Amazingly, everyone complied. When I remarked on this at our hotel to a fellow who said he was from Seattle, he replied, “It’s great they are wearing masks, so that I don’t have to.”
It seems the ugly American tourist has also returned as COVID abates. But he was a one-off — and hopefully will remain a rarity.
Boston native Bob Waite has been writing about travel for 50 years. His articles have appeared in publications from the Boston Globe and San Francisco Examiner to the Toronto Star and Washington Post. Look for upcoming articles on Ecuador, the Galapagos, and Panama here at clarknorton.com
Top photo caption: Thien Hau Pagoda Buddhist Temple in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews