March 14

Coronavirus: Thoughts from a Travel Writer and Doctor

Responsible Travel

Suitcase silhouette airplane for wondering whether to travel because of coronavirus

An Evolving Situation

The situation about coronavirus is changing all the time. I mention this further down but a reminder here: always check the most up to date, official information before making any decisions.

Coronavirus: Covid-19 and Travel

It's time to talk about coronavirus. If you're a regular reader, you're probably a fairly rational if not cynical soul*. I doubt that you'll have been too worried about the initial scaremongering, doom and gloom panicky news coverage. I also imagine you already wash your hands.

*If you're not, then hello and welcome! First thing to know about coronavirus is you don't need to panic. That never helps. Head here for the basics and what you DO need to know and do.*

But now that 16 million people are in quarantine in northern Italy and flights, events and conferences are being cancelled around the world, the situation has evolved. [Update already - the whole of Italy is in lockdown. Update again - the world is closing its borders.]

A lot of you are asking about whether or not you should book any new trips and whether or not you should cancel the ones you have.

And while I am a doctor, I am not a practising virologist (nor have I ever been - I worked in Intensive Care and the Emergency Unit until I left to follow a career in writing.)

India - Karnataka - Mysuru - Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel - Woman and exterior - travel writer Abigail King

Just back from India and Brazil. Talk about coronavirus everywhere...

Where to get information about Covid-19?

The standard source of medical information should always be the World Health Organisation and your local government. 


Yes, institutions are flawed. But there's no better source.


But I can offer my thoughts on the matter and offer some travel advice. There ARE some things you CAN do and some things we should ALL do. 

1) FOLLOW OFFICIAL ADVICE

Goes without saying, right? Don't panic-buy masks, phone before you visit a doctor's surgery, keep up to date with reliable information and don't break any travel restrictions. Take a very heavy pinch of salt to anything particularly frightening you see on social media. The duller the information, the more credible it is likely to be.

2) IF YOU HAVE ALREADY BOOKED A TRIP - SHOULD YOU CANCEL?

This depends. It depends a lot on where you are, where you plan to go, and when. For trips more than six months away, I'd suggest you hold tight.

First, of course, check out the official travel restrictions. These vary country by country and cannot and should not be broken. Decisions are made based on the most up to date information and expert committees. Do these sometimes get it wrong or have political points to score? Sure! But you won't be able to overcome them as an individual and how unbiased are the other reports you're reading across the internet?

OK, so you are technically free to go. Should you?

It's a personal decision. The majority of people with the illness survive. We all face far greater risks to our individual health in our home areas.

If you DO have existing health conditions, or someone close to you has, then you already know the drill. You need to speak to your doctor or nurse to work out your risk and balance this against what you want to or need to do.

However, from a quarantine point of view, things are not so straightforward. 

  • Do you have travel insurance? What will it cover? Most policies are unlikely to cover the full cost of something like this and you may be forced to stay somewhere else for two weeks or longer. If this would be a make or break issue for you, it's something to consider. 
  • What will be the response of your work if you are late back? Some companies will make you take this as annual leave.
  • What kind of tickets do you have? If you miss a return flight, you may need to buy a new one. 
  • What's your childcare situation? If you travel for work, are you prepared to be separated for a lengthy period of time?

It's not all about you

When public health experts recommend restrictions, it's to help the public. You may get the virus and be fine but perhaps you'll spread it to someone who won't be. That's why you should follow the guidelines. 

However, conversely, if you cancel all your travel plans when there is no need, that may also harm other people. The global economy is not a fancy phrase. If it collapses, people suffer in a very real way. Some will starve. Crime will soar.  There is nuance and complexity in all parts of this crisis.

Travel Insurance and Coronavirus

I am not a financial expert. However, the trigger for UK residents for MOST insurance policies seems to be when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to an area. This assumes, of course, that you took out the policy before the warning was given. 


Most policies will not pay out if you cancel because you are concerned that something MIGHT happen.


This is a useful and regularly updated article on travel, your money, insurance and Covid-19 from Money Saving Expert.

Holding coffee for coronavirus travel planning

THINGS THAT CAN HELP

1) Check whether you can change your ticket if needs be.

Many travel companies are offering more flexibility in their offerings at the moment to help customers deal with this and themselves stay afloat. British Airways, for example, have removed the change fee for certain bookings. 

2) Make sure people can contact you

Let airlines, hotels, tour groups, whomever, have your most up to date details. These companies will likely be ahead of you in monitoring the situation and can let you know as soon as they do if plans change. 

3) Get as healthy as possible

This should be a year round, lifelong aim, right? But we all get sloppy. Eat right, exercise, stop smoking and make sure you have all your pre-trip vaccinations and medications all ready. Create something constructive out of the chaos.

Quick Tip: Travel Insurance

If you typically travel more than once a year, look into buying an annual travel insurance policy right now. Companies will be reducing the cover they offer in order to stay afloat during this pandemic. The earlier you buy your cover, the better deal you are likely to get. 

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY BOOKED - SHOULD YOU?

This is a trickier subject. Everything is in flux at the moment but it won't be like this forever. However, financially, it makes sense to give yourself some wiggle room. The months March - June 2020 are likely to be incredibly volatile.

1) Look for bookings with free cancellation periods. Booking.com make this particularly clear when you book.

2) Check the small print before buying big ticket items. Cruises in particular seem to be under particular scrutiny. 

3) Consider travelling within your own region instead. You are less likely to be involved in a lockdown and you can help your local community recover from the drop in international visitors they will undoubtedly be experiencing. 

4) Leave it til the last minute. This comes with the chance that you won't be able to go where you want. But there's always somewhere good to go in the world. 

Egypt - Aswan - Philae Temple - woman standing at entrance - Abigail King travel writer

Trying to figure out the puzzle of Philae Temple

BOOKINGS ASIDE, WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

It looks as though Covid-19 is here to stay, at least for the short term. In terms of other infectious diseases, it's hard to predict whether it will exceed the one million deaths caused by malaria each year, or the 80 000 lost to smoking each year in the UK alone.  

But stats show that we humans are not great at dealing with stats, no matter how educated we are. And we also need to help to play our part in allowing healthcare systems to cope. It is a complex decision, loaded with nuance. 

Some things are sure, though...

PEOPLE WILL LOSE THEIR LIVELIHOODS IN A BIG WAY

Travel and tourism is the biggest industry on the planet, employing around one in ten people. And, yes, in the interests of full disclosure, that includes me. Although, as a side note, I'm also picking up medical writing work on coronavirus, so make of that what you will. 

A lot of businesses will go broke and if that sounds cold, remember that in much of the world, no job means no health cover so both travel and health are interlinked. Even in the UK, going broke can mean ending up with nowhere to live, so it's not as inconsequential as it may sound at first.

But let's get a little more upbeat. 

  • If you can, travel around your local area to make up for lost bookings. 
  • Travel plans more than six months away? Definitely don't cancel now! Keep checking the official sources. 
  • Keep reading about, dreaming about, planning and talking about travel. When this comes to an end (and it will) you will be ready to get some great deals AND support people who have taken a kicking. What could be better than that?

In a lockdown?

Obviously, follow the directions of the area you find yourselves in. We can debate which region of the world got it "right" in a few years' time, when all the facts are known. For now, don't make it up as you go along. Please follow your official advice. 

WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW?

I will update this page as the situation evolves. For faster updates, please check Twitter and Instagram stories.

But what do you want to ask about? There's so much noise and information out there that I don't want to just be another big blob in the crowd. 

I only want to do something useful. 

Let me know, 

Cheers, Abi

PS - LOADS more about India soon plus an upcoming trip to the gorgeous, rugged coast of west Wales. Stay tuned!


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  • We were supposed to go on an annual trip to Courshevel. We live in Bahrain but its a bit more complicated this year. Me, my daughter and her kids and husband will be coming from Houston where he was posted for work for a year (Im visiting) and my husband and son were coming from Bahrain. We were to meet in Geneva this week, but I told them I didn’t think it was a great idea. I would love your thoughts on this.
    Thankyou

    Reply

    • Hi Nancy, wow, that is complicated. I think that European travel is likely to be in flux for the next few weeks, so it depends. Please check the government advice for each country involved (arduous, I know.) If you have already booked your travel, I would watch and wait. If you haven’t, watch and wait might be the best option anyway. It is likely that the virus will be everywhere soon but it’s an ever evolving situation. Please go through the check points in this article and see how they apply to you. When are you planning to travel?

      Reply

    • Hey Nancy. Back again – right now, it seems that ever more countries are closing borders (and ski resorts.) Watch and wait, still, but the waiting is now likely to take longer than the ski season. Perhaps start looking to late autumn/fall?

      Reply

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