Traveling in the Times of COVID

Hey Y’all!
I was recently asked to write a guest article for She’ and am delighted to share it with you now that they have released it!

Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, & SARS-CoV-2. Who knew these three names could flip the world off its axis in a matter of weeks? We would soon begin to see drastic changes to the travel industry as we knew it. Cruises stranded at sea, air travel halted, and country borders rapidly closing.

I had just landed in Malaysia when I first heard of the novel coronavirus reports.  Four days later I was getting ready for my flight to Thailand and decided to be proactive by buying my first mask.  I had only ever worn a mask when I was in a hospital setting so it felt new and a bit awkward when I put it on for the 6 hours of travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Phuket.  At that time masks were not mandated and many people were not wearing them.  I received many long uncomfortable stares from people not wearing masks, meanwhile I was thinking, “Have you not seen the news?”.

After arriving in Phuket, Thailand there seemed to be breaking news on the rapid spread of coronavirus every day. A few days in, I booked a day trip and decided to wear my mask anytime I was in the van, with 10 other strangers.  When we would get out of the van to see temples or to explore the grounds of Phuket’s Big Buddha I would take my mask off if I was able to stay far from others in the fresh air.  After a few stops, I remember our tour guide making a comment about how I looked nicer without my mask on and she even said I didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it since everyone in the tour group is feeling okay.  As nice as her compliment was, I kept my mask on inside regardless. I still had 10 days left in my Southeast Asia backpacking trip and I wasn’t about to cut it short due to unexpected illness.

As a flight attendant I often worked flights that had upwards of 60 or more connecting passengers on their way to or from Asia.  Many times I observed their practice of mask usage and always wondered why they wore them for the whole duration of their journey.  I heard a common reason people wore masks in large cities was due to smog and poor air quality but why also while traveling indoors? Later, I read an article that explained most people wearing masks regularly, pre-Covid, wore them to protect themselves from others or to protect others from themselves if they were feeling unwell.  Now that made sense! I loved this concept because it is a very community oriented mindset as opposed to the individualistic mindset I often observe from people stateside.

After taking a compulsory travel hiatus for six months due to border restrictions worldwide, I decided it was time to test the waters of traveling during a global pandemic.  My options were limited as an American passport holder so a friend and I decided on Turkey.  I had always wanted to visit there and of course what better place for our first hot air balloon ride!  We secured our e-visa’s, purchased flights, booked hotels, and a new step in planning, we reviewed Turkey’s Covid-19 protocols to make sure we were compliant. 

We flew with Turkish Airlines and departed for Kayseri, Turkey via Istanbul on September 20th.  The gate agents took our temperatures before boarding and at the end of the jet bridge a couple crew members were providing hygiene kits to each passenger. The kits included three masks, a hand wipe, and a small bottle of sanitizing alcohol.  My friend and I came prepared but it was nice to have additional supplies for our 9 day trip.

While inflight our cabin crew was very attentive and followed strict protocols for masks and sanitizing the lavatories regularly.  They also monitored passengers in the cabin that may have forgotten to replace their mask after eating or drinking.  After landing in Istanbul we had 2 hours to make our connection.  As we made our way to the next flight we observed many signs and ground markers to remind us of maintaining a sufficient distance from others.  We would come to realize these visual reminders were the new normal throughout Turkey.  There was also sanitizing dispensers installed throughout the airport so you were never more than a few seconds away from clean hands.  Everything was clean and efficient, just what every traveler loves. 

Once we touched down in Kayseri we made our way to Göreme where we would spend the first half of our trip.  Unless you are in your hotel/hostel room and while seated at a restaurant table, masks are required everywhere.  As a side note on masks, our extra disposable masks from the Turkish Airlines hygiene kit came in handy for our outdoor activities as it was easier to breath while our cloth masks were great for evening outings and restaurants.  Since we got lucky and the weather was gorgeous most of the week, we opted for outdoor seating at restaurants.  Once we got to our table, there was always a bottle of kolonya to clean our hands with.  Kolonya, as we would learn over the next week, is a traditional Turkish perfume that can alternatively be used as an antiseptic because of its 80% alcohol content and refreshing smell of citrus.  By the end of our trip we loved it so much, we ended up bringing home two bottles each.  While in Istanbul, we took multiple ferry trips and noticed the staff periodically walking around to enforce the mask rule even in such an open environment.  Staff were also consistent with checking our temperature as we made our way through popular sights, national parks, and even some restaurants.  Overall, we had a great experience and felt safe the entire time; we also agreed that Turkey is doing it right when it comes to taking preventative measures.

In the age of COVID-19 I strongly urge you to review individual country requirements before traveling and although not all countries are mandating travel insurance that covers medical expenses, I highly recommend adding the small expense to your budget.  We spent $45 per person for our 9 day trip and it was worth the peace of mind. If you have a medical condition that puts you in a high risk category and more susceptible to illness, I would recommend holding off on leisure travel a bit longer and consulting your doctor before you make that decision.  However, if you have been hesitant or curious about making that first trip since the world flipped off its axis at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I say go for it.  Give the new COVID-Travel style a shot, who knows, you might actually like it!

Safe Travels,