Here’s how experts recommend navigating the let-downs of post-pandemic travel.
With the rise of new coronavirus variants, this summer is undoubtedly an uncertain time for traveling. Yet despite the pandemic, jetting off on your annual holiday to the Italian Riviera or joining your family in Hawaii this August is still a possibility. Thanks to ongoing COVID vaccine efforts, international borders are reopening and restrictions are beginning to ease up. As Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and founder of Being, Sadaf Siddiqi, put it: it’s only natural you’ll want to look ahead to planning your next trip.
“We want to find that balance between addressing our cabin fever and also the reality that we may need to take things at a slower pace,” says Siddiqi. As eager as travelers are to book that next flight, it’s important to manage expectations about what it’s like to travel post-quarantine. Leaving home with an open mind can work to set ourselves up for success. Recognizing that not all countries are recovering from the pandemic at the same rate can allow for better understanding and flexibility. For travelers coming from the United States where mask mandates and social distancing requirements are being lifted, it’s important to remember that other destinations may be in the throes of lockdown, quarantine, and pandemic restrictions.
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The first step when planning a trip this summer is to familiarize yourself with the rules of your destination and know what’s open for business. Decide for yourself how you’ll feel if your favorite resort or that art gallery you’ve wanted to visit is now temporarily closed due to COVID. “If you’re prepared, you tend to go in with less heightened expectations, which is related to how disappointed you’re going to feel if your expectations aren’t met,” explains Siddiqi.
One of the biggest challenges facing travelers is the ever-evolving entry requirements and pandemic restrictions that vary by country. For Sandra Weinacht, founder and owner of the boutique tour company iNSIDE EUROPE, it’s all about staying up-to-date on the EU’s latest restrictions. Weinacht follows the German and Italian news to help potential clients design realistic and personalized itineraries.
“We’re working on September plans for very experienced travelers right now, but otherwise, we’ve turned down business,” says Weinacht. She doesn’t recommend first-timers visit Europe just yet because of the high levels of uncertainty, and the possibility her clients may not be unable to fulfill their dream European vacation.
With reduced capacity at museums, restaurants, and hotels—as well as reservations needed to visit many of the attractions –Weinacht is helping clients design itineraries with fewer stops and more time spent in each destination. “Slowing down is a big aspect,” explains Weinacht. “You have to think of the worst-case scenario and be prepared to maybe not be able to visit a certain place in case COVID numbers rise. Having been in this industry for 15 years, I always have a plan B, C, D, E, F, and G.”
Whether it’s trying a different cuisine or hiking in a new destination, to navigate potential closures and setbacks for your trip, try centering your vacation around the experiences you want to have instead of focusing on the details of your trip.
“There are so many internal reasons for why we travel, and if you’re uncertain about whether you should do something because of COVID, then try to think about what [needs] you’re trying to have met,” suggests Siddiqi. That could mean joining friends for a weekend road trip or planning a visit to Sedona’s trails versus jetting off to a European music festival or planning that walk along the Camino de Santiago this year. Even though your needs aren’t being met exactly the way you were hoping for, you can get creative in finding similar ways to fulfill them closer to home.
What’s clear is that traveling now will be different from summer’s past. Avoid comparing trips by flipping through Instagram or measuring your vacation against another traveler’s pictures. This means accepting and acknowledging that we’re still in a global pandemic and focusing on the bigger picture of keeping yourself and others safe. “When there’s not a reality test, that’s when your expectations are going to be met with disappointment,” adds Siddiqi.
To help cope with the feeling of disappointment when plans go astray, acknowledge it by saying it out loud to yourself or a friend, and admit that you’re disappointed the trip didn’t pan out the way you planned. “By labeling a feeling, we reduce the intensity of it,” suggests Siddiqi. “And if we’re sharing it with someone else, which is even better, it gives others a chance to support us.”
To keep yourself from being stuck in a downward spiral of disappointment, check in with yourself after you’ve had some time to wallow and assess the situation. “Ask yourself how bad this is and what your options are,” adds Siddiqi. “Ask yourself what would change if you can’t do X and Y on your trip and how this impacts you.”
With added measures like negative COVID tests to consider, anxiety can show up in many aspects of trip planning. Continue to stay hydrated, go on regular walks, and sleep well, advises Siddiqi. “You’re going to be in a more resilient space to handle those mess-ups versus if you weren’t taking care of yourself.”