Travel during Covid-19: Why, where and how?

Covid-19 has delivered a halt on the global economy that relied so heavily on continuous growth and limitless consumption. It has also pressed a pause button on international travel, which many of us depend on for spiritual regeneration. Throughout 2020 and 2021 when the pandemic subjected us to the harshest of travel deprivations, it also served up some forced but necessary self-reflection. Much of it has to do with the fact that freedom to travel inevitably comes with responsibility.

This last point is nothing new. Pre-Covid-19, many of us would watch with horror- in Thailand, Egypt and elsewhere – the hordes of uncivilised package holidaymakers who didn’t seem to grasp where and why they were there but were prepared to travel in an unsustainable and unethical way. In 2020, the low-cost airlines and the unscrupulous parts of travel industry that would bring them there were the necessary victims of the Covid-19 travel bans and the pandemic’s gracious self-correction.

With the package holidaymakers out of the way, for the rest of us the fundamental question has remained: is it fair, safe or even right to travel amid a second or third wave? Will I catch the virus and bring it home? Will I be quarantined? What happens when I end up sick and get stuck somewhere unfamiliar for at least 10 days? Is it worth all the stress and hassle? Aren’t there just too many variables and should one be worrying all the time when travel, by definition, should be a time to relax?

I have written previously about why I travel in the first place and many of those reasons still stand. I have likened the urge to travel to escapism from the mundane realities of daily life – none greater than the hard lockdown of the past year. I have flagged the need for an authentic experience by exposure to novelty – none newer than Covid-19. So when the same advice came in late 2020 to again postpone travel and stay home as the best way to protect myself, I knew I should be on my way.

I have also stressed that I never arrive anywhere unprepared. Ever over-prepared, I picked Albania and North Macedonia for their test-free entry along with Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey for their lack of quarantine. I picked them all for their ease of PCR testing for onward travel and the breeze of getting around. I also prepared for being unprepared. I bought flights only with the negative test in hand and I booked hotels as I walked past the immigration desk.

And was it worth all the stress and hassle? True, in Sofia I would forego sit-down meals while in Mostar I would walk into closed museum doors. In Ohrid, by contrast, I would have the sights to myself. In Tirana and Skopje I would even take walking tours with locals who rely on tourism to live. I saw stuff that will stimulate me for months to come and I proved that I could cross half a dozen countries without getting sick. So – about that stress and hassle – a resounding yes should suffice.