Thursday, October 22

Should You Travel Abroad During Covid— and Where Can You Go?


For the recurring series, That’s Debatable, we take on a contentious issue of the day and present two spirited arguments—one in favor and other emphatically opposed. Previous installments from the series are here.

I’m a conscientious person. I don’t buck the system. I wait my turn in line. I’ve faithfully followed ever-shifting lockdown regulations for months here in Los Angeles. But my soul is crying uncle.

The call of nature, what Thoreau called the “tonic of wildness,” is hard to ignore during times like these. Millions of my fellow adventure travelers are jonesing for a restorative getaway. Weekend cyclists dream of peddling along flat, empty roadways in the bucolic Loire Valley. Recreational climbers itch to scurry along the limestone rock walls in the Greek islands.

An acquaintance of mine, surfer Hilary Morse has taken an extended vacation of sorts to Sayulita, the funky expat village near Puerto Vallarta. She’s been able to run her CBD company out of a rented home, while her 11-year-old son takes Spanish lessons and attends surf camp. Initially a tad fearful of getting sick, she now says her decision to travel has been life changing. “People down here are not consumed with Covid and American politics. It’s been such an emotionally healthy change.”


But America’s rising virus rates do raise the question: Am I being a jerk by exposing overseas communities to possible infection?

I’ve been eyeing a surf trip to Namibia, which now welcomes overseas travelers and is home to Skeleton Bay, a world-class wave running along a perfect sand bank. But then my rational side peeps up annoyingly: Is travel safe? Is it selfish?

The thought of air travel is the first stumbling block. Even before Covid, boarding a plane felt like stepping into a petri dish to germaphobes like me. But even if all seats are sold on a two-hour flight, the probability of getting Covid-19 from a nearby passenger is one in 4,300, according to a recent MIT study (They don’t have data for long-haul flights.) Airlines say that high-tech HEPA filters ensure that the air on planes is cleaner than that found in many restaurants or shopping malls.

Then there’s the lingering misconception that a developing country will be rife with virus and lax protocols. In reality, you might actually be safer overseas—given that, as of last week, the U.S. was reporting an infection rate of 2,423 per 100,000 residents—among the highest in the world. Still, sound judgment dictates traveling to a country with low-infection rates. That might mean avoiding nations like Brazil and Mexico, which accept U.S. travelers but also have some of the highest per capita Covid totals.

But America’s rising virus rates do raise the question: Am I being a jerk by exposing overseas communities to possible infection? Ultimately, I’d follow the guidance of countries allowing U.S. visitors. If they want me, I will assiduously obey their rules and do my utmost to keep locals safe. To ensure they are Covid free, many travelers can now get a rapid-test hours before getting on a plane.

Preaching abstinence doesn’t usually work. Teaching safe practices does. People need social connection and pleasure in their lives. Many need to travel, and they will. They just need to be smart about it. —Matthew King

NO, I WOULDN’T TRAVEL OVERSEAS NOW

At its most playful and divine, the experience of travel brings together the people of the world, openness and relaxation. I have long been a faithful travel fan, even a bit of a travel athlete, intrepid and proud. Right now the fares are low, planes and hotels have lots of room, and destinations are eager for business. Why not take advantage? Given the distressing state of the domestic landscape, is an international jaunt the ticket?

Are you kidding me? Are you mad? Okay, so the canaries flying the skies in the world’s airplanes don’t seem to be getting any sicker than the rest of us still down on the surface. But no, no thank you very much, this old budgie is not currently drawn to budging. I look around the nabe, notice the trees and native birdsong. Perhaps I’ve overlooked the pleasures of plashing in puddles already underfoot.


Where would I even get away to? A house on the Cape or an isolated cabin within driving distance is the most delightful escape fantasy I can wrap my head around.

Where would I even get away to? A house on the Cape or an isolated cabin within driving distance is the most delightful escape fantasy I can wrap my head around. Maybe a National Park. But tragically, not Paris, or Bali, or Machu Picchu. As of Oct. 15, 59 countries bar foreigners entirely, so they’re off the list. Ninety-odd countries admit foreigners who meet their individual restrictions vis-à-vis country of origin, medical documentation, on-site testing protocols or quarantines. Maybe check out the other 63? What are people there dealing with? How would I even meet them and schmooze? How are the local transmission and death rates? Let’s not forget wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest, and willful, cranky, pent-up and unemployed young people. Are restaurants open? I would have to come up with a place where I wouldn’t mind spending a chunk of time, in case of lockdown. Dare I consider getting sick there?

In the best of times, travel includes things going wrong—lost luggage, mislaid tickets, realizing that one has forgotten to pack socks—and these are generally just annoyances to be laughed off because one is relaxed and open. And I get it, life is always unpredictable. But right now, that’s not so much fun. Changing flight schedules, longer or shorter waiting times, public bathrooms, seat mates, taxis and car rentals, all with face mask and hand sanitizer. Gloves, maybe? Face shield? Each station of the cross will have its own protocol of checking, waiting, disinfection, documentation and incantation.

My stomach for anxiety has already been overindulged this year and is currently on a strict diet. I don’t need to tempt it with any little sugarcoated risks to consider, evaluate, think through or even dismiss. I can sense impending doom on a trip to the grocery store or on the subway.

Of course, there are travelers with stronger stomachs than mine and/or greater resources (say, a friend with a wildlife estate in Uganda). I wouldn’t discourage them from traveling. Anyone who wants to go should go and enjoy. Vaya con dios. —Alison Humes

IT’S A SMALLER WORLD AFTER ALL
Five countries— among the few open to Americans—tempting adventurers with their outdoor diversions

“Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing,” urged counterculture icon Hunter S. Thompson. Here, five countries now accepting U.S. tourists that might appeal to adventure hounds. Entry requirements vary, but in general travelers must present a recent negative Covid test. You can find country-specific guidance at CDC.gov. (Keep in mind that the U.S. State Department still urges Americans not to travel overseas.)

Barbados

Covid cases per 100K: 75*



Photo:

Getty

You’d think with all that water and all those islands that the Caribbean would be a hot spot for surfing. But blustery winds and fickle swells shut down most areas. The easternmost island of Barbados is the rare exception. Well-heeled sunbirds flock to resorts in the west, drawn by sugarlike sand and manicured golf courses. But adventure travelers head east, where a more bohemian vibe and North Shore-like surf calls. Kelly Slater, surfing’s GOAT, is a fan. He called Soup Bowl one of the top three waves he’s ever ridden. The rum ain’t bad either.

Croatia

Covid cases per 100K: 551



Photo:

Alamy

This Balkan nation, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, remains one of the few viable options for Americans hungry for a taste of Europe. The Dalmatian coast beckons with rocky beaches and seaside cafes that evoke the spirit of nearby Italy. For hikers and rock climbers, the prime attraction is Plitvice National Park, home to alpine forests, waterfalls and 16 interconnected lakes.

Ecuador

Covid cases per 100K: 873



Photo:

Alamy

The Texas-size nation features a stunning array of geography and microclimates. You can horseback ride in grassy valleys nestled in the Andes or head to the Amazonian rainforest for a naturalist-led trek. The Yasuni Reserve is believed to be home to the world’s most diverse set of species. You might even catch a piranha or two.

French Polynesia

Covid cases per 100K: 1,287



Photo:

Alamy

Tahiti is the most populous island in the archipelago nation, home to dozens of resorts. But 117 other islands await exploration from adventure travelers. A short ferry ride from Tahiti takes you to Moorea, one of the Windward islands that sits at the center of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. Jagged volcanic peaks lord over crystal-clear lagoons as warm and inviting as a toddler’s bath. Croissants and clownfish—what more could you want?

Zambia

Covid cases per 100K: 90



Photo:

Alamy

Most visitors to this landlocked southern African nation head to Victoria Falls. Deeper in the nation’s remote interior, you can head into bush notable for its absolute quiet and lack of human activity. Along the Zambezi River, you can play “African Queen” and watch enormous pods of crocodiles sunning themselves on sandbanks —M.K.

*Data from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, as of Oct. 15.

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