The excitement of embarking on new adventures is here! Countries across the world begin to reopen to travelers as they simultaneously grapple with realities such as global vaccine inequities. This brings up questions:
What care should we take as we begin to travel again?
How do we navigate through travel with thought and intention?
Last week, members of our global VAWAA family joined our Founder, Geetika Agrawal in a conversation with Ashlea Halpern, Contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and co-founder of Minnevangelist, and Rachel Bouton, Program Manager, Co-Branded Experiences at Atlas Obscura to discuss the way forward.
In making the decision of whether or not you should travel, the important questions to ask yourself are Where, How and Why. There are countries that rely on tourism, and are recovering from covid. There are a lot of places that are safe to travel to, if you are doing it in a conscientious way. It’s crucial to have a well rounded understanding of the status of your destination. Use this knowledge to assess the potential impact - both positive or negative - you would make by visiting that place.
Knowledge is key when assessing the decision to travel to a particular destination. While government travel advisories are important, it's important to get an insight into local perspectives. Catching up on local media is a great way to get a feel for what is happening on the ground. Is the place operational? Do people have access to vaccines? How many cases are they battling? Both Ashlea and Rachel worry about traveling to a city that is on lockdown for residents but open to travelers. They both agree - if you are visiting a place that is under lockdown, you should not be there.
Ashlea recommends checking the local events. If eighty percent of them are virtual, it might be a red flag. Instagram too, is a great resource to search by city and drill down on a location. There are local accounts which provide incredible local coverage.
Rachel and Ashlea both agree that - when traveling farther away from home - it has never been a better time to work with travel organizations that work directly with locals, a travel expert or local guide. They can provide you with the most realistic and real time info. Ashlea is planning a trip in the fall, and reached out to Culinary Backstreets to organize the trip for her. The first question she asked them was about whether it’s smart to travel there, and what the vibe is, on the ground. It’s a toss up between supporting local businesses, and making sure they actually want you!
Alternatively, this is the perfect time to do a one-on-one mini apprenticeship with a master artist or maker through VAWAA to pursue the passion you discovered over the past 15 months. This is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in both a culture and a craft, in a safe and organized manner.
Traveling doesn’t have to involve flying across the world. Ashlea recommends visiting a new town in your own state, where there could be lots to explore. She has planned a trip to Milkweed Inn, a small b&b in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, run by a talented chef. The Inn is so deep in the woods they have to pick you up from a gas station - all part of the excitement!
VAWAA community member, Alison, has plans to travel solo around Michigan where she lived for many years. She plans to use this opportunity to rediscover the State. During her upcoming solo trip to the Upper Peninsula she will be staying at a Vineyard. She hopes to see the Northern Lights while visiting two dark sky parks, and plans to spend time at Isle Royale, a remote island cluster known for having the largest concentration of Moose in the American continent.
Travel constraints are also making us more creative with how we travel. VAWAA guest and textile designer Heidi, who lives in Amsterdam, is only planning to travel to places she can bike to. She does not have a car and wants to avoid public transportation. She plans to discover places within the vicinity of Amsterdam - places she might not have otherwise explored.
Ursula, an archaeologist and cook, runs a B&B at her Family Estate and Vineyard in Puglia, in the South of Italy. Ursula offers a VAWAA focused on Historic Cuisine. She tells us that she can see that people in Italy are absolutely desperate and eager to be able to host guests again. A lot of the economy in Southern Italy is centered around tourism.
Alexandra lives in Nashville, Tennessee and shared how there seem to be two different views on receiving travelers. The main ‘touristic’ areas continued to embrace tourists. On the other hand, the more local, niche areas have not been too excited to have visitors.
Shaan lives in Bangkok and her next trip is likely to be to the United States to get a vaccine. The vaccine rollout has been incredibly slow in her country, and many travel agencies are focusing on vaccine tourism, offering foreign vacations centered around receiving the vaccine. From June to December of last year, Bangkok seemed covid free and had no international tourists. It was lovely during the time to be able to explore her own city and country without throngs of travelers around.
Jana, like many others, is travelling to see her loved ones. She looks forward to her trip to Denver where her boyfriend is from, and a weekend in Santa Fe with her sister. Jana hasn’t been on a plane in four hundred and fifty days. She’s excited, but also nervous about traveling again.
Adam who lived in the Virgin Islands discusses how - during the height of the pandemic - there was an influx of tourists coming in. This resulted in a push-pull dynamic between the locals who desperately needed tourism to survive, but also grappled with the lack of resources on their small island. It’s important to make sure that the destinations we travel to can handle tourism. For example, a place that has insufficient medical resources for the local population would probably not be a good idea to visit at this time.
Jenny is taking a trip to Alaska in July. She will take the local three day ferry from Washington to get to Juneau and camp out there. She is excited to see the glacier parks. A large part of Alaska’s tourism has been cruise ships, which have stopped operating for the last year.
Rachel has a lot of family focused travel in the books. She is traveling around Colorado where she spent the first twenty five years of her life. Rachel is driving down to the Sand Dunes National Park by way of Crestone, Colorado. Crestone, she tells us, is a small town of fifty people - yet many religions are practiced there! As part of the group trips she produces together for Atlas Obscura, Rachel says that a lot of individuals are increasingly sending in requests to join group trips. After a year of isolation, many people seek community, and are looking to forge meaningful relationships.
As is evidenced by the myriad of individual stories and perspectives, there is no one size-fits-all-formula when it comes to navigating travel.
The general consensus seems to reflect a shift to more conscious travel. Being more deliberate and intentional about where you travel to. A focus on slower travel, seeing fewer places for longer periods of time continues to be the way going forward. Most people have been isolated for the past year. A lot of immediate travel is likely to be centred around visiting friends & family.
Ashlea tells us that this is the time to choose experiences which mirror the behaviors we have had to maintain during the pandemic.
We now have to factor in a lot more considerations, carefully plan out where we are going, and how we are going to show up. This will probably involve planning in advance. “I now have to pack ahead of time, and go to the airport two hours earlier,” adds Rachel. Ashlea recommends a good travel credit card (her personal preference Chase Reserve) that understands the needs of travelers, and offers great perks. This can alleviate the apprehension about booking.
Carrying masks while traveling is an important travel accessory going forward. This will remain a part of our reality for the foreseeable future. “It’s a really simple and effective way to take care of a myriad of airborne diseases” says Adam. “If you can get vaccinated, you absolutely should”, adds Ashlea.
As a traveler, this is also a time to temper your expectations and be a bit resilient. Being tolerant to change and ambiguity is important. Flexibility as a traveler is one of the most important qualities, and more so now.
Make your travel plans, be a conscientious and thoughtful traveler. Consideration for the communities where you travel to is paramount. Now more than ever, we see the value and importance of human connection. As you travel, continue to lead with curiosity, joy - and an important third tenet - responsibility.
Written by Kimsuka Iyer
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