Tag Archives: billie cohen

Machu Picchu, Peru

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

The gift we can give our graduates—and the gift they’ll give back to us

Graduation trips are among the most popular family trips we see here at WendyPerrin.com, and we agree that an academic achievement deserves to be marked with a fun, memorable—and yes, sometimes even educational—experience. To provide inspiration for your own travels with your favorite grad this year, we’ve looked back at the graduation trips arranged by our WOW List destination experts that have most delighted your fellow travelers.


Portugal: “The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect.”

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola im Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna. WOW! What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Paris: “Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre. Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage, and delivered us to our driver. I bet we saved two hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide: our private half-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up and coming Parisian designers, and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners, and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PARIS

Romania: “Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled…”

Legendary Bran (Dracula) historical castle of Transylvania, Brasov region, Romania, Eastern Europe

Bran Castle (a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle”) in Transylvania, Romania. Photo: Shutterstock

“I traveled to Romania on a last-minute graduation trip with my daughter, Amelia, in August 2023. We have done numerous trips with Wendy’s WOW List agents before and knew that finding an agent through Wendy was the only way to go. Even the destination of our trip was inspired by articles written by Wendy.

Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled. We chose Romania, and Wendy matched us up with Raluca and Ioana. Important to us was connecting with the local people and understanding the country.

Raluca and Ioana set us up with a local guide, Tavi, whose personality matched well with us, which was a good thing since we drove around Romania for 10 days with him. We started in Bucharest, which was great for my daughter to learn what can happen to a country if you vote in a narcissist authoritarian as a leader and to understand what life was like under the latter parts of communist ruling. We had a university history professor give us a tour of an apartment frozen in time from the 1980s under communist rule. We enjoyed wonderful restaurants, an amazing art exhibit, and historical sites in the city.

In Transylvania we enjoyed visiting the Cris Bethlen Castle. It was particularly fun for us since one of our favorite horror movies, The Nun, was shot there. A local man who lives in town jumped in and gave us a detailed tour, including side stories on the actors during the filming. We went on an amazing mountain bike ride (about 20 miles) primarily in the hills and forests with some fun single track as well. The mountain bike guide had helped to build the trails, which will eventually connect a large portion of Transylvania for mountain bike tours.

We saw wonderful fortressed churches and cities throughout our trip, including the beautiful Sighisoara. Always enjoying them without crowds and with a random local who had the keys to let us in the church or describe some interesting tidbit of history through our guide as the interpreter.

We met a local weaver whose family had been doing traditional weaving for generations and who rescued a loom headed for destruction. We enjoyed a visit with a local herbalist whose herb garden was expansive and whose knowledge of remedies was sought out throughout the area. Here we enjoyed a dinner in her home, again understanding her story and her life and sharing ours. We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO site Viscri, supported by King Charles, and enjoyed the views from the fortressed church over the rolling hills.

We moved on to Brasov. Here we had a private tour of Bran Castle and had the opportunity to climb into the highest turret to view the mountain pass that the lookouts would use in centuries past. When we expressed interest in a hike, Tavi took us up a mountainside where he had helped a friend build a cabin. We met one of his friends, a local shepherd, and discussed bears threatening his flock.

Bottom line our visit was filled with unique experiences where we connected with the people of Romania and attempted to understand their stories. Romania is a beautiful, relatively undiscovered country with rich medieval history and more recent history of the rise and fall of communism. It is not as restored as other places in Western Europe, but its beauty, its history, and its people are wonderful to experience. The smaller crowds allow for a much more enjoyable visit than other European countries.”—Theresa Boone

Read more reviews of Romania trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ROMANIA

South Africa & Botswana: “My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages!”

Lynn Casper

Thomas Casper celebrated his college graduation with a safari. Here, he’s atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Traveler Clare Casper

“Just back from South Africa and Botswana! My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages! We worked with Christian from Julian‘s office, who put together an itinerary that included places we had not even considered. Five days in South Africa included the awe-inspiring Grootbos Nature Preserve at the bottom of the continent. We explored ancient caves, went whale watching, hiking and thoroughly enjoyed the unforgettable cuisine at Grootbos! We loved our guide Hosea who gave us such in-depth history and cultural insight on the area. It was a small gesture, but my kids really appreciated Hosea taking them into a local market in Cape Town’s Bo-Kapp neighborhood to enjoy a mid-day snack.

After a day touring and hiking on the magnificent Table Mountain, we set off to Botswana for 6 days at 3 different safari camps. Each camp was in a different ecosystem, which was something we never would have considered and were so appreciative of Christian to plan in that manner. I knew I would see the animals but did not expect to learn so much from the guides at each camp. The magnificent birds were also an unexpected surprise. The delicious food and lovely staff will never be forgotten and really made the trip our favorite so far!

Kudos to Christian for setting up this amazing experience!”—Lynn Casper

Read more reviews of South Africa and Botswana trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA AND BOTSWANA

Switzerland: “We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible…”

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling out OHIO on top of Mt. Jungfrau.

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana….” —Andy Shafran

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

Japan: “I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation…”

Kyoto, Japan gardens at Heian Shrine in the spring season. - Image

Cherry blossoms bloom around Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, and our guides were fantastic: They were very flexible to accommodate our interests and energy levels and very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel.

Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park.

Scott’s choice of hotels was wonderful. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes—we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season. Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Condé Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.” —Patricia Klein

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO JAPAN

Austria: “I can only describe the experience as life-affirming…”

Cityscape views of one of Europe's most beautiful town, Vienna.

Vienna’s city streets, Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a 14-day family trip in Austria planned by Gwen. I can only describe the experience as life-affirming. The official occasion for the trip was my son’s graduation from high school and sending him off to music school in the fall, so we had a heavy musical focus, but there was truly something for everyone in the family. We toured palaces and cathedrals in Vienna, experienced local food, watched the Lipizzaner stallions perform and had a private tour of the stables.

We moved on to the Wachau Valley for wine tasting and breathtaking Danube scenery, then visited the abbeys of Melk and Stift-Admont. In Salzburg, we soaked up the music festival, saw the fortress and countless Sound of Music film locations, attended a Mozart opera, a Vienna Philharmonic concert, and a world-class string quartet. We learned to make apple strudel and Salzburg Nockerl, and visited the charming lake district outside Salzburg. We rounded out our trip with several days in Innsbruck and a final train ride to Munich, where we celebrated my son’s birthday at a beer hall and caught our flight home.

Gwen was helpful and responsive and understood my family’s diverse needs. She steered us away from tourist traps and embraced our interest in some off-the-beaten-path locations. She suggested lovely boutique hotel experiences and guides with extraordinary depth of knowledge of their cities.” —Katherine Stadler

Read more reviews of Austria trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA

Italy: “Our eight-day food tour was requested by our 21-year-old son who was graduating from university…”

Bologna, Italy Food store food market showcase full of food in Bologna city in Italy

Food market in Bologna, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our eight-day food tour of Italy was requested by our 21-year-old son, who was graduating from university. Milan was the starting point, next was Bologna to learn about the renowned foods of the region, and then a repeat visit to Florence—and we absolutely loved everything Maria planned. The drivers, guides, food tours, wine tasting, cooking class were all impeccable. In Milan, when our guide found out our son loved fashion, she made a call to a fashion designer, and we were able to meet with the designer. We spent an hour-plus speaking with him, trying on his designs, and buying some of his pieces.

In Bologna our guide took us on a delicious food tasting that culminated in copious amounts of prosciutto, hams, cheeses, bread, balsamic vinegar, wine. Our all-day food tour through Parma and Emilia-Romagna was incredible, as was the private wine tasting where we sat in the cellar with the vineyard owner for more than two hours, tasting food and wine pairings. The vineyard owner then asked our driver to detour us through the medieval village of Fontanellato, to view the castle and moat and to indulge in gelato.” —Deb Lurie

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Western Canada: “Our son wanted to mountain bike on Whistler/Blackcomb…”

Turquoise Wedgemount Lake and wild alpine flowers, Whistler, British Columbia Canada

Whistler, British Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently traveled to British Columbia to celebrate our son’s high school graduation. On Wendy Perrin’s recommendation, we contacted Sheri, who suggested that, given our time constraints, we limit our visit to Whistler and Tofino. That proved to be an excellent recommendation which allowed us to enjoy our vacation without being rushed. Our son wanted to mountain bike on Whistler/Blackcomb and truly enjoyed it.

Sheri suggested other activities which kept the rest of us active while our son spent the day on the mountain. Her recommendation that we stay at the Four Seasons Whistler was great. It’s a beautiful hotel with great staff and a wonderful breakfast. We enjoyed our time in Tofino as well; Sheri’s recommendations for lodging, food, and activities were perfect for us.” —John Masko

Read more reviews of British Columbia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO BRITISH COLUMBIA

Peru: “She is about to study marine biology in college, so Marisol steered us toward the right Amazon basin area we hadn’t even considered…”

Gateway of the Sun, One Day Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu. Photo: Southwind Adventures

Sun Gate, Machu Picchu. Photo: Southwind Adventures

“This was a special trip to Peru for my niece just graduating from high school. She is about to study marine biology in college, so Marisol steered us toward the right Amazon basin area we hadn’t even considered. My husband, niece, and I just returned yesterday from Peru and wanted to send a HUGE GRACIAS to Marisol and her crew for making this trip one of a lifetime! There’s no way I ever could have constructed such a wonderful journey on my own. For sure, it was packed, but we came back feeling we’d seen such a diversity in Peru.

It was a perfect balance of wildlife, culture, adventure and a bit of relaxation. And although the weather was terrible during our one-day Inca Trail hike, with rain and clouds obscuring Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, we still wouldn’t change a thing. I will of course recommend and tell everyone I know to use Marisol—and to once again trust a Wendy Perrin specialist. Over the years, I have used and vetted many of Wendy’s travel specialists—and, no doubt, Marisol and her team are top of the list.” —Jon Paul Buchmeyer

Read more reviews of Peru trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO PERU

Uzbekistan: “My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia…”

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Shutterstock

“My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia, so as a graduation present we took him to Uzbekistan. Not only would I recommend Uzbekistan as a travel destination, but I would highly recommend Zulya to anyone planning a trip there. She arranged for a wonderful guide to accompany us throughout the country; our guide stayed with us day and night, shared meals and her culture, and helped us navigate a very foreign language. Zulya even arranged for us to have lunch with her family in Bukhara. It was amazing. Her mother taught my son how to make Plov. The lunch was a true feast, with about 20 family members. After lunch we all got up and danced together. It was an experience my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and I will cherish forever.—Ron Klausner

Read more reviews of Uzbekistan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO UZBEKISTAN

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

U.S.A. passport and rubber stamp on page of passport.Travel concept

How to Renew Your Passport Now

Passport processing times, which were painfully long during Covid, are currently the shortest they have been in years. Why not seize the moment? Many countries have a six-month rule—meaning that your passport must be valid for at least six months past the end of your trip—so if your passport has less than a year left, now is a smart time to start renewing it.

Here’s what you need to know now about getting or renewing a passport:

How can I apply for a passport or renewal?

First-time applicants must apply in person; most renewals can be done by mail or dropped off at an acceptance facility, such as a post office or library (search for one near you). Make sure you have closely followed the rules for the required paperwork, documents, photos, and fees, whether you are applying for a renewal or a first-time passport. (Many delays these days are caused by incorrect paperwork and photos.) 

The State Department has tested a pilot program to renew online, but that program is currently paused. Check here for updates.

How long will it take?

As of this writing, the State Department reports that passport processing is taking 6 to 8 weeks from the day they receive your application (not the day you mail it). Expedited service is available for $60 and reduces wait time to 2 to 3 weeks. You can also add rush shipping for an additional charge, so that you receive your passport 1 or 2 days after it’s printed.

How much does it cost?

Adults 16 and older

  • First-time application: $165 ($130 application fee + $35 execution fee)
  • Renewal: $130

Children under 16

  • Must apply in person
  • $135 ($100 application fee + $35 execution fee)

Can I apply for a passport or renewal in person?

Generally speaking, adults renewing a current passport may not apply in person. (The criteria to apply in person are listed here.)

There are two exceptions. One is the Life-or-Death Emergency Service, for those who need to travel within 72 hours because an “immediate family member is outside of the United States, and he or she has died, or is dying (hospice care), or has a life-threatening illness or injury.”

The second is the Urgent Travel Service for those who need to travel internationally within 14 calendar days. Documentation is required.

No walk-ins are allowed, and you cannot transfer your appointment to another person.

Even if you live in a city with a passport office, there may not be appointments available that suit your timeline. It is not uncommon for urgent travelers to have to go to an office in another state for an open appointment. If traveling to another agency is not possible, look into a third-party expediting service (see below).

Can I use a third-party expediting service?

Yes, the State Department allows expediting services (called “courier services”) to submit passport applications and renewals for expedited processing. Essentially, they get the equivalent of an Emergency or Urgent Travel appointment and drop your application off directly at a passport office.

The service can save you time, but it comes with a high price tag. For example, Valentina Meehan, president of one such service, Passport Plus Visas, based in New York, says her company can get new passports and renewals as quickly as the next business day for $750 plus shipping, on top of the State Department fees.

In addition to cutting down the turnaround time for the whole process, expediting services come with some additional advantages that may prevent hassle and delays. “We will check and correct your paperwork for any mistakes, which can save valuable time and stress when processing,” Meehan explains. “For example, submitting a photo that does not follow the requirements of the State Department, signing the applications with a different signature that does not match your current passport, etc.—these can slow down the processing by at least one to two weeks, if not more.”

No matter which service you need or which company you choose, there’s an important caveat: The Passport Services agency limits the number of daily applications couriers can submit (and that goes for all offices across the country). So, think ahead because you’ll likely have to make a reservation with an expediting service, and they may not have a lot of slots.

How do I check the status of my application or renewal?

Once you’ve submitted an application, go here to check the status and sign up for email notifications. If you have not yet received your passport and are traveling internationally in the next two weeks, call the National Passport Information Center (877-487-2778).

Will my Global Entry membership still work once I have a new passport?

Your Global Entry expiration date is not tied to your passport, but you will need to update your account with your new passport number, which changes with each renewal; you can do this by clicking “Update Documents” when logged into the Trusted Traveler Program website. (A new passport number can also affect your TSA PreCheck status if you’re flying on a foreign airline that tries to locate your membership via your passport number.)

How can I renew my Global Entry?

There is a convenient option for Global Entry called “Enrollment on Arrival.” We’ve got details on that here.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

 

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Romantic Travel Ideas for an Anniversary Trip, or Any Trip

Considering what we’ve all been through in the past few years, it feels more important than ever to celebrate joyous milestones.  So we’ve collected these unforgettable wedding-anniversary trips enjoyed by your fellow travelers. They all used The WOW List to find the right trip planner who could deliver the maximized experience and VIP treatment that people who are celebrating a special anniversary deserve.  Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.


25th Anniversary trip to Panama: “I never would have found this hotel on my own. It is on a private island…”

Bungalow of a private resport in Panama.

An eco-friendly private-island resort, Isla Palenque located on the Pacific coast of Panama. Photo: Isla Palenque

“My husband and I had a fabulous 25th anniversary trip to Panama planned by Pierre. We started out with one night staying in the Old City in Panama City. At Pierre’s suggestion, we stayed at the American Trade hotel. It was fabulous. It was like a throwback in time but with all the modern luxuries. And the location was perfect for exploring the Old City and going out to eat. Pierre arranged a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant that could accommodate all of my husband’s dietary restrictions. To our surprise, they seated us at a secluded table on a balcony overlooking a plaza.

The next day was on to Isla Palenque. Absolute paradise. Pierre arranged all of the travel, from the car to the airport to the pickup at the airport in David and the boat ride then to Paradise. I never would have found this hotel on my own. I have never been to such a fabulous hotel. It is on a private island. 400 acres. Eight casitas and one villa. There are nearly 50 staff members for less than 20 guests. The water was 85°. The sand was soft as silk. The restaurant was excellent and very accommodating to our dietary restrictions. We went snorkeling, see kayaking, paddle boarding and dolphin watching. We still had plenty of time to do nothing on the private beach.

On the final day we had about 8 hours in Panama City before our evening flight back to the States. Pierre arranged a private guided tour of the Canal and the city. That was also fabulous.” —Randi Maidman

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO PANAMA

30th Anniversary trip to Antarctica: “When we entered the igloo, the ship’s crew had it decorated with anniversary décor along with champagne…”

Travelers in Antarctica

Jeff and Lisa Wellen having a ball on Antarctica.

“From the first Zoom call with Ashton and Christine, we knew we were in great hands for our dream trip to Antarctica. On this trip, we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and I asked if there could be something special I could do to surprise my wife on the trip. They took care of everything. They first surprised us with an anniversary bottle of champagne and a cake at our hotel in Santiago.

One of the things you can do on the ship is sleep in an igloo on the top deck. It was first come, first serve. We were able to get the igloo reserved for one night. When we entered the igloo, the ship’s crew had it decorated with anniversary décor along with champagne and treats. It was so emotional that it brought my wife and I to tears.

The Lindblad Resolution was spectacular, and we are so thankful Ashton pushed us to take this ship. This is their newest ship and we saw every day why this is the best ship to take to the Great White Continent….This ship’s capabilities allowed us to go to the eastern side of the peninsula. Not one of the other sixty ships in the area had the capabilities to do that. It allowed us to sail through the Weddell Sea and see enormous tabular icebergs the size of three or four football stadiums, 100’s of Emperor Penguin chicks, thousands of penguins, pods of killer whales and watched pods of humpbacks eating fifty yards from the ship.—Jeff Wellen

Read more reviews of Antarctica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ANTARCTICA

50th Anniversary trip to Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland: “Following in some of the footsteps of our original honeymoon…”

Tom Redburn

Lisa Redburn during a cooking lesson at Tatjana Ciciliani’s home in Trojir, Croatia. Photo: Traveler Tom Redburn

“Lisa and I have had a lot of wonderful adventures in our more than 50 years together, but for our 50th wedding anniversary trip to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Switzerland, the extraordinary planning of Claudia and Luisa took our travel experience to a whole new level. It’s true that Europe was already getting overrun with tourists during our six-week trip, but we rarely felt it because time after time Claudia and Luisa arranged guides and outings that took us away from the crowds and to hidden corners we never would have found on our own.

There are too many highlights to include all of them, but some of our most memorable moments were a gastronomic walking tour of Bologna with Giacomo, a guided E-bike ride along the Appian Way in Rome with Gioia, who spontaneously added in a visit to the multi-layered Church of San Clemente when we expressed interest in it, a guided cable car ride and walk to the top of Anacapri with Melania, and two hikes in the Dolomites with Paola, who revised her plans to reflect our own capacities for strenuous walking (there’s a theme here: nearly all our best guides were women). And that’s just Italy.

In Croatia and Slovenia, we enjoyed a guided walk up Mt. Srd above Dubrovnik, where two women from Piknik Dubrovnik had set up an extraordinary sunset picnic dinner just for us, two guided trips (one by E-bike, the other walking) in the backcountry of the islands of Korcula and Hvar that both included amazing private lunches far from the madding crowds, and an extraordinary tour by the charismatic Mario Bartulovic of his family’s winery and steep-sided vineyard on one of our only rainy days. We nearly cancelled but are so thankful that we didn’t. We also had a food shopping and cooking session with the charming Tatjana Ciciliani at her home in Trojir, near Split.

And the discovery of the trip, for us, was Slovenia, where we dined at the famous Hisa Franko (a 3 1/2-hour, 18-course tasting menu from chef Ana Ros), with a stay at tiny Chalets Nebesa, which is not to be missed if you are anywhere in the area. Four-room Nebesa (reserve far in advance!) is owned and run by Ana’s charming mother, father, sister and brother-in-law, and enjoys an extraordinary view in the Julian Alps over Kobarid, where there are still trenches from the devastating fighting along a front of World War I.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that, with only one or two exceptions, every guide was sensational, just about every accommodation was terrific, and nearly all the reserved dinners were a delight. And that’s not to mention our WOW Moment from Wendy of a lunch and wine tasting at the extraordinary BIBICh Winery, on a day when we traveled from Split to Zadar, right after visiting Krka National Park.

Luisa and Claudia took my idea of following in some of the footsteps of our original honeymoon trip to Europe (10 months on $6,000 in 1973-74 to Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Greece, Switzerland and France) and built it into an equally memorable highlight in our lives together. We spent our actual anniversary at a pension in the car-free Fex Valley in the Engadin that was one of the top places we stayed on our honeymoon. Our trip lived up to everything I had been dreaming about since we first thought of the idea more than two years in advance.” —Tom Redburn

Read more reviews of Central Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO CENTRAL EUROPE

50th Anniversary trip to the Galapagos Islands: “A bouquet of five dozen roses and a bottle of wine…”

Blue-footed Booby on rocks, in Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We shared with Allie our desire to focus on the Galapagos: the variety of wildlife, geography, and culture.   The trip was wonderful. Celeste, our mainland guide, met us at the airport and checked us in at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil. Our room, on the executive floor, was decorated with rose petals covering the bed and an assortment of chocolates in celebration of our anniversary (thanks, Allie).

We flew to the Islands and boarded the Endemic, a 16-passenger catamaran with floor to ceiling windows and balconies in each large stateroom. Carlos, a native of the Galapagos Islands, was our terrific naturalist guide. We visited the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Bartolome, Isabella, Fernandina, and Rabida. We snorkeled with marine iguanas, crabs, sharks, penguins, green Pacific turtles, flightless cormorants, and sea lions. We also saw land iguanas, flamingos, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, giant tortoises, pelicans, hawks, frigatebirds and many other endemic species. We took numerous hikes learning about the geology and geography of the Islands and viewing wildlife. Carlos kept us very busy, with four planned activities each day, including hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and panga rides. Guests were welcome to stay and relax onboard if they wanted to skip an activity.

Celeste escorted us from the Guayaquil airport to the Hotel del Parque on our return to the mainland. We were greeted in our suite with a bouquet of five dozen roses and a bottle of wine in celebration of our Anniversary (thanks again, Allie). With Allie’s advice and help, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” —Scott and Lorna Conroy

Read more reviews of Galapagos trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO THE GALAPAGOS

20th Anniversary trip to Italy: “Exploring the gardens and farm…eating the farm-to-table food…all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany…”

Andrea Phillips

Traveler Andrea Phillips and family enjoying a summer evening in Tuscany during their WOW trip.

“My family of four, with two teen girls, had a wonderful and action-packed trip to Italy in mid to late June covering Umbria, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, Lake Como and Milan, planned with Maria. We stayed at hotels that were the perfect fit (like the one in Florence that had a rooftop pool to beat the heat!), had the best rooms and locations and such personal service, all due to Maria’s connections.  Italy was busy with travelers while we were there, but I can honestly say that it did not affect our plans at all, as Maria had it coordinated and timed out so perfectly.

This trip was also to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and Maria had suggested two stops along the way that were very special. Wow, were they ever! Borgo Santo Pietro, a working farm & wellness resort in west Tuscany, and Grand Hotel Tremezzo, near Bellagio in Lake Como. Both resorts resembled something made out of a dream. Beautiful landscapes, amazing service, delicious food, gorgeous rooms, and so many amenities. At Borgo Santo Pietro, you had the feeling of being in a fairy garden wherever you went and around every corner, there was something new to discover.  Bicycles & e-bikes, animal-tending sessions, exploring the gardens and farm, tennis courts, the spa & classes, eating the farm-to-table food in their lovely restaurants, all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany. We did not want to leave!

The other amazing stop was the Hotel Grand Tremezzo, which is a standout feature on any Lake Como ferry ride with its striking architecture, gardens and in-lake floating pool in front, so actually staying there was quite a treat! The inner decor of the hotel and outer gardens were magical and so were the concierges and staff that were always ready to help. We enjoyed the spa, the many pools and casual restaurants and even had a private wakeboarding session one morning on the Lake! That is a memory that will never be forgotten and made this stop my girls’ favorite! Maria also arranged a great private boat tour to visit Bellagio and the famous villas of the lake with a lovely private guide, who had access to go inside the villas and educate us on all of the historic collections and stories. It was fascinating!

We were surprised with our WOW Moment early in this trip. We were given a special opportunity to be dressed up for the night in the Foligno Quintana traditional costumes for their festival later in the week. That was a unique experience and one that we would never have been able to arrange or even be allowed to do without Maria’s network in Italy. Thank you Wendy and Maria!

We had many other activities that were also highlights. In Umbria, we went canyoning through a roaring mountain river, had an in-depth local cooking class, a gelato-making class, and went truffle hunting with the cutest, yet very talented dogs. In Siena, we had lunch on the exact alleyway where the Mille Miglia Race of Classic Cars were driving through to enter the Il Campo (definitely because of Maria’s connections in Italy!). In Florence, we climbed the Brunelleschi Duomo, took a lively pizza-making class, saw the awe-inspiring David & the Uffizi Gallery, and took a relaxing Arno River boat ride. In Lucca, we rode bikes around the medieval walls where we crossed paths with a special parade of classic Fiat 500’s. In Bologna, we visited one of the world’s oldest universities, and in nearby Maranello, drove Ferraris through the streets of the town where they are made! In Milan, we had the privilege of being able to see the Last Supper, which was breathtaking. Needless to say, we were very busy on this trip!

It was a trip full of variety, which I had specifically asked Maria for when planning this vacation last fall, and she delivered!  When we head to Italy again, I will definitely have Maria help me plan our route around the country, but next time, we will stay longer than 3 nights at each stop to really experience the culture and have some more free time to explore on our own!” —Andrea Phillips

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ITALY

50th Anniversary safari: “A bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang…”

Two young lion cubs ( Panthera Leo) looking at the camera, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Two young lion cubs at the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. Photo: Shutterstock

“To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to take our two daughters and their families on an African safari. The trip Daniel planned for us was fantastic. Since we and our daughters live in 3 different U.S. cities, we met in Nairobi and stayed for 2 nights. The accommodations at the House of Waine were outstanding and the staff very accommodating, given two of our arrivals were very late and the 4 grandkids varied in age from 6 to 13. This gave us time to get over some jet lag and see some of Nairobi. We then flew via private charter for 4 nights to a Saruni camp in Samburu, followed by another private charter to a Saruni camp in Maasai Mara for 4 nights, before returning to Nairobi for our flights home.

The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. They had a special celebration for our anniversary at all three locations. They also celebrated one of our son-in-law’s birthdays while we were on the trip with a cake and singing at each location.

Samburu is semi-arid and Maasai Mara lush and green. It was great to see the two different areas and experience the different as well as similar animals in each. Daniel is the one that recommended the two different areas and we are quite happy he did. The pace of the trip which he planned was good; having 4 days at each camp gave us the time to truly experience and appreciate each area.

Our experience suggests that other travelers should pace their trip similar to ours. Two of our international flights were extremely late and having 2 nights in Nairobi before going to the safari camps allowed us to catch our breath. Also spending 4 nights at a camp allows you to settle in and appreciate the uniqueness of the location.

Seeing all the animals with our extended family at each location made this a special travel experience. Some of the most outstanding were seeing the 5 animals unique to the Samburu area, lions along with some cubs, leopards, cheetah, elephants, giraffes and hippos. The sundowners and meals in the bush also were very special times. Of these, the most memorable was having a bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang. They encouraged the kids and adults to participate and we all had a grand time. We would not have had all these wonderful experiences if it had not been for Daniel.” —David Magdanz

Read more reviews of African Safari trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START AN AFRICAN SAFARI TRIP

Norway: “We were serenaded by a musician playing a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle…”

Reine village with traditional red rorbu cottages, fishing boats and high mountains in the background on Lofoten islands in Norway.

Reine village surrounded by high mountains in Lofoten Islands in Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“We traveled from Oslo to Nesseby, which is past the Arctic Circle near the Russian border, spending 3 nights each in 7 venues. Torunn tailored the trip to our preferences, which lean toward a bit of adventure and agri-tourism. In the north we stayed at a 2-room lodge run by a Sami fisherman and spent a morning crab fishing on his boat and an afternoon on an archaeological walk with his wife. He was an excellent cook and served foods he and his wife had caught, shot, or foraged from the landscape. He served the crab we caught in 3 different preparations, each of which was excellent.

The next day we toured the area with a Sami reindeer herder. We also spent time on a small island well out in the Atlantic where we kayaked along the seashore to a lighthouse; foraged in Trondheim with a professional forager picking plants for our lunch; visited a dairy near Oslo producing a unique cheese product and advocating a more humane way to treat dairy cattle; and spent 3 nights at a farm with a gourmet chef specializing in dishes featuring fruit and vegetables from the farm. We received very personal treatment from the hosts at our smaller venues and each of them indicated how much they valued their relationship with Torunn.

Our wedding anniversary occurred during the trip and Torunn arranged a WOW Moment for us that was great fun. We were in Aurland at a farm set in a stunningly beautiful valley with steep mountainsides and many waterfalls. We were serenaded by a musician playing a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, a type of double-strung violin. The venue was a small shelter with a magnificent view, and we toasted ourselves and the trip with homemade pear Kombucha made by the chef. We thoroughly enjoyed it.” –George Stephens

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

20th Anniversary trip to Tahiti: “No noise other than the wind, the waves, and the coconut trees…”

Michael Ruma

Rainbow over Tahiti. Photo: Michael Ruma

“We traveled to Tahiti, visiting three different islands. I had held off on faraway, remote beach destinations for decades under the notion of the value for your money and the ease of travel of Mexico and the Caribbean. But given this trip was meant to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, I threw caution to the winds and went all in.

Getting to Tahiti is not the hard part. The adventure starts as soon as you begin booking your inter-island air travel, boat transfers, a sundry of activities, and actually coordinate all of the above to achieve a relaxing visit to the islands. We did not have to worry about any of this with Kleon at the helm. He asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then crafted an itinerary which slowly evolved into a spectacular journey with three ever-better chapters in a jaw-dropping beautiful region.

Our first stop was Vahine Island Resort and Spa. With nine acres and only a handful of rooms, this small island stop helped us relax, reset and realize what truly is Tahitian beauty and calm. No noise other than the wind, the waves, and the coconut trees. No thinking about meal choices with simple, but elegant prix fixe dinner menus. No people (there were a few other couples which we visited with over meals and activities), but a private tranquil island where my wife and I watched the sunset on the dock with baby blacktip reef sharks swimming underneath, cracked open fresh coconuts when thirsty, and went paddle boarding in the large bay between Vahine and Tahaa…all alone. The privacy, intimacy, and peace on this island with such a limited number of guests began to open my eyes to why we made the long journey to this beach.

We traveled to Bora Bora next. A water taxi with an impromptu stop to see over a hundred blacktip reef sharks in pristinely clear water was an unexpected highlight during our ride to the airport. No airport security made the trip even better. Upon arrival to Bora Bora, another boat awaited to transfer us to the St. Regis. While significantly more tourists visit this island, the number of hotels and additional guests did not diminish the striking beauty of Mount Otemanu. We enjoyed our over-the-water bungalow immensely, in particular, leaping off the deck into the refreshing turquoise lagoon water. We chose to refresh our diving skills and were incredibly fortunate to have two massive reef mantas swim two feet over our heads while we gazed upward from 40 feet below on the white sand bottom.

Immensely relaxed, in beach mode and thrilled with our first two hotel stays, we topped off our travel with our final nights at the Brando in Tetiaroa. Lunch at your private pool, scuba diving outside amongst a mountain of colorful coral, cocktails at sunset at the bar above the treeline…simply ask and your wish is their command. Getting to the hotel is equally spectacular using a singular private charter which whisked us to and from paradise without a worry and with ease. And for my wife who seems to attract mosquito bites wherever we may be, the hotel has an answer for that as well. Their island scientists eradicated the pest from the island without the use of any chemicals, allowing for outdoor enjoyment unlike any other experience where you may encounter the often annoying bugs. The experience at the Brando can only be described as sublime perfection, where any of your needs or desires instantly come to fruition.

Tahiti is burned into our memories with its unforgettably blue waters, tranquil relaxing days, vivid and abundant sea life and unique island vibes. Now home, we daydream daily of when we will return.” —Michael Ruma

Read more reviews of French Polynesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

25th Anniversary trip to Italy’s Cinque Terre: “All of our dinner reservations included the best tables and the best views…”

Colorful harbor at Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I had a fabulous trip to the Cinque Terre, Italy, for our 25th anniversary.

I had an initial meeting over Zoom with Anna to discuss the purpose of our trip and our style of travel, things we enjoy, etc. and then Anna basically took it from there. She came up with a suggested itinerary which we then discussed and finalized together.  I had no idea what to expect and we were WOWED from the moment we arrived. All of our transfers included first-class transportation services, each of our hotels provided a complimentary upgrade along with a welcome gift, and all of our dinner reservations included the best tables and the best views.

We especially loved our two boat days: One included a tour of Portofino and lunch at a restaurant overlooking the cove of San Fruttuoso, and another included a trip to Portovenere and lunch onboard in a beautiful bay. Anna’s advice was spot-on and we felt as though we were in excellent hands. We had the perfect balance of activities and down time and never felt overscheduled.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of northern Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO NORTHERN ITALY

30th Anniversary safari: “At each stop we were made to feel so special, with an incredible ‘sundowner’ experience at Old Drift, along with cakes and celebrations…”

Rainbow over Victoria Falls on Zambezi River, border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, Africa. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our 30th wedding anniversary was coming up, and I landed on an African safari as the perfect way to celebrate. We’ve just returned from this spectacular trip: Four days in Cape Town visiting Table Mountain, Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and of course the Winelands, along with a fantastic lunch at Glen Carlou; two nights at Victoria Falls in the lovely Old Drift Lodge; and six nights in Botswana: two at Savute, two at Camp Moremi, and two at Shinde. All the accommodations were outstanding, and the transport between camps was flawless.

At each stop we were made to feel so special, with an incredible ‘sundowner’ experience at Old Drift, along with cakes and celebrations at each safari camp for our anniversary. It was clear that Julian and team had taken exceptional effort to ensure all the camps were aware of our special event, which was a wonderful surprise that we really appreciated.

This complicated trip was made so easy!  While I often plan trips myself, I can highly recommend arranging a trip like this through an expert.  Julian’s services took all the stress out and we were left with nothing but fantastic fun and great memories.” —Nancy Megehee

Read more reviews of Southern Africa trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A SAFARI

25th Anniversary trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast: “Jennifer helped select a room with a stunning view of the Mediterranean…”

A postcard view of Amalfi Coast in Italy.

The Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We planned our trip to Italy to coincide with a friend’s wedding in Ravello and our own 25th wedding anniversary.  Jennifer made sure the transfer from Rome’s airport to our hotel in Capri was seamless. Given that this required planning a 2-hour car ride, 45-min ferry, and a taxi up to Anacapri, this was welcome expertise coming off of our long flight from the US!

In Capri, Jennifer helped select a beautiful hotel and a room with a stunning view of the Mediterranean. Even the porter helping with our luggage shared that it was one of his favorite rooms. For dining, Jennifer chose options that met our desire for terrific Caprese food, wonderful service, and exquisite views. For the most part, we just stuck to sitting out in the sun and going off to dinners in the evening. On one of the days, though, Jennifer chartered us a boat to explore the Amalfi Coast. Our captain and his crew were a perfect fit. We had a fantastic day on the water swimming, sunning, and posing for classic Amalfi photographs.

We left Capri to make our way to Ravello for the wedding. Jennifer made all of the arrangements, including a stop in the city of Amalfi itself for our favorite meal of the entire trip. We arrived for the wedding well rested, adjusted to the time zone, and ready to party.” —Stephan Roche

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Bora Bora: “A perfect day on a beautiful boat with snorkeling, swimming with sharks, spinner dolphins…”

overwater bungalows aerial view Brando Suites, Bora Bora.

Brando Suites, Bora Bora

“It was a trip of a lifetime, and Kleon made it happen for us! We went to Taha’a and Bora Bora and had the most relaxing and enjoyable time together because he managed all the details, which allowed us to just focus on each other.

Kleon set up the most romantic, private dinner on the beach, with live Polynesian music. The table was set with linen, flowers, a bottle of champagne chilling, all surrounded by tiki torches. It was picture-perfect.

Kleon’s relationships with French Polynesian locals gave us a unique opportunity to meet many extraordinary people: the family-owned vanilla plantation, the operation of a pearl farm, etc. He also arranged a boat tour around one of the islands. The captain and his first mate were so personable, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. It was fun listening to them talk about their backgrounds and their knowledge of the area and ocean life. It was a perfect day on a beautiful boat with snorkeling, swimming with sharks, seeing a huge, beautiful manta ray, spinner dolphins who gave us quite a show, and enjoying coconut water and snacks. Kleon shared that it was our anniversary, and the captain surprised us with real wine glasses and a bottle of chilled wine for a truly special day!” —Kimberly Redmon

Read more reviews of French Polynesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

25th Anniversary trip to Portugal: “They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve…”

Beautiful sandy beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal

Beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and his team planned a Portugal trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve, which we could not have obtained ourselves. Very few rooms at the very large hotel had ocean views, so this was a big deal (we even had two balconies facing the ocean).  All of their recommendations as to where to stay were great and took into account our preferences, which we discussed in a planning call. They planned great activities, like a lovely large private sailboat from Sintra back to Lisbon, a visit to an observatory (at night of course), and a private cruise along the cliffs of the Algarve. We would not have known about the lovely hotel converted from a farming village in the Alentejo if we hadn’t used a Portugal expert, and we wouldn’t have known which towns to visit. We loved the itinerary they planned and will use them again if we return to Portugal!” —Rita Solomon

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Belize: “While my husband played golf, she arranged a tour for me of the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich…”

Xunantunich Mayan ruins in Belize

Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Photo: Absolute Belize

Patricia is my new best friend. We told her that our trip to Belize was to celebrate our wedding anniversary. She listened to our wants and needs and more than delivered. She suggested that we split our January trip between inland and the coast and set us up with activities that satisfied both of our desires, since they were not necessarily the same.

My husband wanted to play golf, and Patricia made the arrangements for him. She satisfied our interest in culture and history with the Garifuna Cultural immersion. Additionally, while my husband played golf, she arranged a tour for me of the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and a day at the San Antonio Women’s Co-op to learn about the ancient Mayan life. Patricia joined me for my tour of Xunantunich, and my husband was jealous that he didn’t get to meet her in person.

On the coast we both wanted water sports. She arranged two wonderful boat/snorkel adventures for us, and one included a barbecue of freshly caught fish. Yes, my husband had the opportunity to reel in one fish while we were on the boat.  I cannot say enough good things about how we were treated by Patricia, our guides, the staff of the hotels that she recommended, and the activities that she arranged.” —Bonnie Warton

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

10th Anniversary trip to Peru: “When we arrived at our picnic, we were amazed to see a canopy tent popped up in a field that overlooked the Andes…”

Peru's Sacred Valley mountains and rivers

Peru’s Sacred Valley. Photo: Aracari

“Our favorite experience in Peru was on the afternoon of our 10th wedding anniversary. We thought we would be having a simple picnic lunch, but when we arrived at our picnic, we were amazed to see a canopy tent popped up in a field that overlooked the Andes. The table was tastefully decorated with linens, lace, fresh flowers, and local decor pieces. Wow!  A three-man cooking team prepared a lovely four-course meal in a separate tent while we sipped wine. There was even a portable toilet in a third small tent!  Nothing was overlooked. In fact, during our ten-day trip arranged by Marisol, no detail was left unturned, from our beautiful accommodations to our awesome local guide to the snacks in our vehicle. We had an incredible trip.” —Erica Stanforth

Read more reviews of Peru trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PERU

30th Anniversary trip to Australia: “Stuart must have told everyone that we were celebrating an anniversary…”

rustic beach bungalow overwater suite at Haggerstone Island resort at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The remote Haggerstone Island resort at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Haggerstone Island

Stuart planned the perfect trip for our 30th wedding anniversary: We spent three weeks in Australia, taking multiple in-country flights and visiting Melbourne, Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, Uluru, the Daintree Rainforest, and Sydney. We wanted luxury lodges and unique experiences, and our expectations were exceeded.

Stuart must have told everyone that we were celebrating an anniversary because, at each location, we received not only cards and good wishes but sometimes cakes or champagne or chocolates. But this is what blew us away: In Tasmania, at Saffire Freciynet, we tasted several excellent local gins one evening and commented to the staff on how much we liked them, and when we reached Sydney at the end of the trip, there was a gift of three bottles of gin and a lovely note from Stuart. That is one of the above-and-beyond gestures that made this trip extraordinary.” —Robin and Josh Madden

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

25th Anniversary trip to Provence: “We visited wineries, explored several old and charming towns, shopped and took a hike in the footsteps of Van Gogh…”

the hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

The village of Gordes, in Provence. Photo: Pixabay

“My wife and I took a long awaited celebration of our 25th anniversary and our 50th birthdays to Provence, France.  Philip planned a terrific trip which wound up being one of the best weeks of our entire lives!  He listened very carefully to our list of wants and desires and the result was a perfectly paced yet action-packed week. We visited wineries, explored several old and charming towns, ate in 3-Michelin-star restaurants as well as fantastic low key cafes, shopped and took a hike in the footsteps of Van Gogh. We have fallen in love with Provence and will definitely be going back. I am looking forward to seeing Philip’s plan for our next trip there!”—Brian Baltes

Read more reviews of France trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PROVENCE

Disney World: “Everyone knew it was our anniversary!”

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World.

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World. Photo: Disney

“While we take fairly involved adventure vacations (safaris, a dog-sledding expedition, and scuba diving, rafting and trekking trips), none have involved the degree of planning that our recent Disney trip did!  Disney World can be overwhelming: To maximize your time there, you need to carefully plan out your schedule for each day and manage restaurant reservations, show times, and Fast Passes.

Michelle’s advice was invaluable in this regard. She took into consideration that this was an adults-only vacation and made great suggestions such as visiting a practically empty and childless Magic Kingdom with an After Dark ticket. She managed to fit in a coveted reservation for Be Our Guest, and her recommendations for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival helped us navigate that fun event.  Michelle’s hard work enabled us to have a wonderful anniversary trip—and everyone knew it was our anniversary because Michelle told them!” —Barbara Sheridan

Read more reviews of Disney World trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD

2nd Anniversary trip to Spain: “Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants…”

Madrid, Spain. Gran Via, main shopping street at twilight.

Madrid’s Gran Via shopping strip lights up at night. Photo: Shutterstock

“I used Pablo to arrange a celebration trip to Spain—Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid—for my son and his wife for their 2nd wedding anniversary. One of their interests was to try different exclusive restaurants and wineries, and Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants. He arranged tours of boutique-style wineries, including a special wine-tour bike ride in Barcelona. Since my son is a guitar enthusiast, Pablo arranged for a Spanish guitar lesson and also got him into a special Flamenco show. Pablo had the ability to secure unique, private, and culturally enriching activities, allowing my son and daughter-in-law to experience Spanish cuisine and culture in a way that I am sure would not have been possible otherwise.” —Jeffrey Bernfield

Read more reviews of Spain trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

Paris: “I wanted to present her with the diamond ring she never got when we first got together 10 years ago”

Pont Alexandre III (Alexander the third bridge) over river Seine in Paris, France. Architecture and landmarks of Paris.

River Seine in Paris, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to make the most of a short trip to Paris to celebrate my wife’s birthday and to present her with the diamond ring she never got when we first got together 10 years ago. Jennifer made a variety of suggestions, and we decided I would surprise my wife with the ring in a renewal proposal aboard a private yacht. I had originally requested a Venetian boat, but at the last minute it had mechanical problems, rendering it unavailable. Jennifer quickly replaced it with Sophia Loren’s private yacht and assured me that the furnishings and seating would be altered to make it more intimate and romantic. The result was spot-on, resulting in the highlight of our trip.” —William Harwayne

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PARIS

53rd Anniversary trip to Australia: “We had a variety of activities—a sailing trip; driving the Great Ocean Road; wonderful guides for our hikes…”

Aerial view of the tip of Mornington Peninsula.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

Stuart put together a wonderful month-long visit to Australia for my husband and me, with a great balance of programmed activity and free time. We had a variety of activities—a sailing trip; driving the Great Ocean Road; wonderful, knowledgeable guides for our hikes—but we also had ample time to walk and hike on our own in the national parks and the cities. The biggest hurdle we had was that, once the itinerary was set, I had to postpone the trip by a few weeks. Stuart didn’t skip a beat—all was done with no worries. I wholeheartedly recommend him. I also want to thank Wendy for our WOW Moment in Melbourne. The boat ride on the Yarra River gave us an amazing perspective of the city. It was a very enjoyable addition to our 53rd wedding-anniversary day. Thank you!” —Sandra Southwick

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

10th Anniversary trip to Italy: “Our private boat captain picked us up in Capri, toured us around the island, let us swim in the grottos, and eventually dropped us off for the rest of our stay in Positano…”

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I rarely use a travel agent because we love to do the research and plan every detail of our vacations. However, this trip to Capri and the Amalfi Coast was for our 10-year wedding anniversary, so we wanted the ultimate luxury experience without having to worry about anything. Andrea really listened to what we wanted and tailored the trip accordingly. And there wasn’t a minute of it that went by that my husband and I didn’t think, ‘This was worth every penny and more.’  From the knowledgeable drivers to awesome tour guides and boat captains, it was beyond perfect. Our favorite day of the trip, and arguably in our lives, was when our private boat captain picked us up in Capri, toured us around the island, let us swim in the grottos, and eventually dropped us off for the rest of our stay in Positano. The views were stunning, but the captain really made our experience so special. Andrea has the connections with all of the right people, which makes the entire experience unlike any other.” —Meredith Still

Read more reviews of Capri and The Amalfi Coast trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO CAPRI AND THE AMALFI COAST

25th Anniversary trip to Bali: “Affordable luxury with a fascinating itinerary…”

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan lake landscape, one of famous tourist attraction in Bali, Indonesia - Image

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan Lake, Bali. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our trip to Bali was perfect for celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  Diane lined up affordable luxury with a fascinating itinerary.  We took in many diverse sites in the Ubud area from our base at the Komaneka Resort at Bisma, and the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa upgraded us to a lagoon-access suite, which was very relaxing.  Diane lined up the perfect English-speaking private guide and driver, and she also introduced us to Nadya, a clothing designer whose home we got to visit. Our trip was a great balance of guided travel and looking around on our own. We felt truly fortunate that we could make use of Diane’s excellent insight. She is a gem. Thank you!” —Charles Barber and Carolyn Roth

Read more reviews of Bali trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO BALI

50th Anniversary trip to Provence: “We particularly loved our canoe trip to the Pont du Gard and the private tour of the top level of the aqueduct…”

Leafy town square with fountain in a picturesque village in Provence, France

Saignon, Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I asked Philip to help us plan a week in Provence to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We stayed in the countryside in beautiful old hotels and especially loved the Baumanière in Les Baux. I originally thought it would be too fancy for us, but Philip persuaded me that it would be perfect, and it was. We had our 50th anniversary dinner in the two-Michelin-star restaurant there, complete with a chocolate anniversary ‘card.’  We particularly loved our canoe trip to the Pont du Gard and the private tour of the top level of the aqueduct—a perk not available to the general public. One whole day was devoted to a tour of the Luberon, including the towns of Lacoste, Menerbes, Gordes and Roussillon. It was a wonderful trip, perfectly planned and executed, and a memorable celebration for us.” —Barbara Rabin

Read more reviews of France trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO FRANCE

Hawaii: “A sunrise visit to the top of Mt. Haleakalā and a subsequent bike ride down, surfing lessons in Lahaina, a helicopter tour of the Big Island…”

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“We used Dani’s help to put together our trip to Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a great trip packed with hiking, a sunrise visit to the top of Mt. Haleakalā and a subsequent bike ride down, surfing lessons in Lahaina, and a helicopter tour of the Big Island, including the active volcano. Dani was in constant contact with us throughout, which was greatly appreciated, as we had questions about various things while we were there. We had mentioned this trip was a celebration of our wedding anniversary, and at both of our hotels there was chilled champagne and sweet treats, courtesy of Dani. She even managed to snag us an upgrade to a suite at the Four Seasons Hualalai, which was a pleasant surprise.” —Joseph McBrine

Read more reviews of Hawaii trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO HAWAII

60th Anniversary cruise in the Caribbean: “We were a family of 10 traveling for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary…”

Idyllic tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Antigua island in Caribbean

Antigua. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were a family of 10 traveling for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. We had first-time cruisers and seasoned cruisers, and we wanted an itinerary that would enable us to spend time together as well as enjoy personal time. For our specific needs, Tom suggested Celebrity Cruises, and we selected an itinerary in the ‘ABC islands’ with several days at sea. Everyone was very happy.  Both the sea days and the days in port offered everyone enough sightseeing, shopping, and relaxation options to keep as busy (or not) as we wanted. Some of us went to the beach, while others went to town and sightseeing. We all met for cocktails in the Martini Bar before our family dinner each night. It was a fun and successful cruise for everyone, and my parents especially appreciated the special touches that Tom provided—including champagne, flowers, and a delicious chocolate cake in their cabin.” —Lorraine Victor

Read more reviews of cruise trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A CRUISE EXPERIENCE

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Aerial view at famous european travel destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik old town.

Where You Can Travel If You’re Vaccinated—No Testing Required

Below are the countries you can enter without taking a Covid test prior to or on arrival, as long as you’re fully vaccinated. (Update: As of June 12, 2022, the U.S. no longer requires air travelers to show a negative test to enter the country.)

A growing number of countries have lifted all Covid requirements and don’t require either proof of vaccination or a negative test; you can find those here.

Additional countries welcome vaccinated travelers with a negative test or other requirements. You can find the full list of where you can travel here.

Mozambique

Zimbabwe


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

person swimming in clear blue water at Cheval Blanc Randheli resort in the Maldives

Honeymoon Ideas That Are Truly Special

Daydreaming about a honeymoon is exciting, but planning it can be stressful: Expectations are high, yet—thanks to that other big event you’re organizing—the amount of bandwidth and time you have for planning are low.  To make things easier, we’ve combed through our travelers’ trip reviews—meaning, feedback from the travelers who have used our WOW system to get VIP’d and get the best trips possible—to find honeymoon ideas worldwide to inspire you. These honeymoons were easy to plan, magical, and delivered the special treatment that all honeymooners deserve.  Get inspired, even if you’re a longtime married couple.  Who says you can’t go on a honeymoon every year?


Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora—because there’s no place dreamier than French Polynesia…if you plan it right!

Overwater bungalow and dock over turquoise water in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We married and honeymooned in French Polynesia. Kleon is a compassionate man who truly listened to all our quirks and wants and dreams, and then he turned them into a reality. He added experiences to our trip that brought me to tears because they were so beautiful. Each step of the journey just kept getting better and better.

As far as value, I joined Facebook groups for travel to French Polynesia and was surprised to see the cost others booked their travel for. Our travel costs were about the same, but we had upgraded rooms, drivers, guides, day rooms, etc., where others were asking for suggestions for where/when to go to various places, what to do with overlong layovers, etc. We never had to wonder where to go or what to do. We are ever so appreciative, and we would recommend Kleon to everyone!” —Margaret Arnold and Carl Hammerle

Read more reviews of French Polynesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

France, Monaco, Italy & Switzerland—for a road trip with romantic views, meals, and chateaux

Beautiful architecture in Saint Paul de Vence in Provence, south France.

Saint Paul de Vence in Provence, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I booked a very special trip, our honeymoon, with Philip this past December. We wanted to do a road trip through Europe. Our trip consisted of multiple moving parts, and Philip helped give us the honeymoon of our dreams.  My husband and I wanted to enjoy romantic, luxurious hotels, and every single one Philip booked was incredible. What was so nice was he made sure each was different as not to compete with each other. Each time we arrived at a new place we both could not stop smiling and saying “Wow”!

We started off in Geneva, Switzerland, where we kicked off our trip with a Christmas market that was across the street from our hotel. Our next stop was Gstaad, which felt like a winter wonderland. After that we drove to Chamonix, where we stayed in what was my husband’s dream spot at the top of Mount Blanc. It was truly something, we had to take the most charming red train to get to our hotel. The stars there were unlike any we had ever seen. After Chamonix we drove to Fossano, Italy, where we visited a castle and stayed in a suite that felt as if we were in an old Italian romance novel.

Next, we went to Monte Carlo, where our hotel key gave us access to the Monte Carlo Country Club. My husband is an avid tennis fan and this was really special for us. We enjoyed the famous American Bar, and the people of Monte Carlo couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. We stayed on the top floor and had the most incredible view of the city and water. We even were across from Rafa Nadal’s suite.

Following Monte Carlo we went to St Paul de Vence, where we relaxed in a spa hotel with a Mediterranean influence. Our trip’s pace started to slow down a bit on this second half which was really nice. Philip was able to get us reservations for meals at some exceptional places. Next was Aix in Provence where we stayed at a dreamy chateau. After that we went to Avignon where we stayed across from the Pope’s Palace. It felt as if we were in a castle. We had a car and it was very difficult driving through the narrow roads, but we made it and it was a fun part to look back on. We ended our trip in Paris on New Year’s Eve. It was a trip of a lifetime and we both were thrilled with our experience.

I don’t think we could have planned such a remarkable trip without Philip’s help, knowledge, and expertise. We had just planned our destination wedding and were a bit planned out. We wanted something to remember forever, that would blow us both away. This trip delivered and then some. We are so grateful for your recommendation, and look forward to booking another trip in the future! Thank you so much!!” —Margaret Harvey

Read more reviews of France trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO FRANCE

France—for WW2 history in Normandy and family-owned wineries in Burgundy

Etretat in Normandy. Photo: Fernando Grilli

“We had a wonderful honeymoon with Philip’s team. We had a great itinerary that helped us check many things off our bucket list and even add a few new things to it. From Bayeux in Normandy, we took a D-Day tour with a guide who had interviewed veterans of WW2, as well as people living in the area, and amassed a collection of stories that make the sites come alive and give you a more intimate connection to the events.

Another guide, Giselle, who came to France as a college student at the Sorbonne and has a doctorate in history, made Mont St Michel so interesting. We learned about the medical texts that were amassed there during the time of the abbey and how this knowledge was lost in the French Revolution when much was burned and destroyed. We saw the tides, and Giselle shared stories of how she has twice had to call for helicopters to rescue people.

From Normandy, we arrived in Beaune in Burgundy, and we met Brendan, a Brit who has been living in France for over 30 years. He started as a barge captain and has since become an expert on the wines of France. He has personal relationships with numerous wineries large and small. We saw the famous vineyards of Romanée-Conti and visited other vineyards and wineries. We mostly had tastings with smaller family houses that do not export to the U.S. We sat with family members tasting 5-15 different wines at each house. Each afternoon we were treated to a picnic consisting of local charcuterie and wine in a beautiful spot. At Domaine Daniel Séguinot et Filles, we sat at the table with the family and the bottlers who came in their special truck to bottle last year’s wine. Daniel is quite the character who kept bringing different wines, from premier cru to village appellation and different vintages.

We then moved north to Chablis and stayed at Chateau Vault De Lugny, a family-run hotel with a one-starred Michelin restaurant on site.  From this location, we continued with Brendan and visited other family wineries and learned about the northern wines of Burgundy.  We left feeling knowledgeable and with a better understanding of wine in general. Mostly we left with a huge appreciation of the families who have inherited and continue this vocation steeped in history, hard work, and a bit of the magic that the land gives to each vineyard, depending on where they are located.

We then had a driver take us to Paris to finish our honeymoon. We had planned this portion ourselves but were surprised with a WOW Moment: We were picked up and driven to a lovely afternoon cruise on the Seine, dining on a 3-course meal with a wine pairing from Alain Ducasse. It was a wonderful treat as we dined on gourmet food and wonderful wine, and cruised past some of Paris’ iconic sites.” —JoEllen Shelden

Read more reviews of France trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

START A TRIP TO FRANCE

Sri Lanka and the Maldives—for “relaxation, adventure, culture, food, and luxury”

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

Miguel did an amazing job planning our honeymoon to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We provided him with a rough idea of what we were looking for— a combination of relaxation, adventure, culture, food, and luxury—and he put together an outstanding trip. Not having to think about the itinerary, timing, schedule, etc., is a luxury in itself!  We simply were told when to show up and where and then went along for the ride!  Miguel and his team were  extremely helpful in arranging our accommodation in the Maldives, even negotiating an upgrade to half-board.

And Sri Lanka, for those who are considering it, is a special country that blew us away. It is amazing how so much history, culture, and diverse scenery fit into one tiny island. The people and food (food!!) were also a delight. We traveled the end of September through the first week of October, which was considered ‘shoulder season.’ We had AMAZING weather that was not too hot/humid and only experienced a spot shower or two. The crowds were light, so we never felt like cattle call through the sites. I cannot recommend visiting this nation enough… especially before more catch on to its charm!” —Shelley Devinny

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO SRI LANKA

Portugal—where even 19 days will leave you wanting more

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“Wendy calls it ‘The WOW List’ for a reason. Gonçalo crafted the trip of a lifetime for my new husband and me. We worked with him while deep in wedding planning, and he was extremely patient and responsive with us throughout the entire process, making our 19-day Portugal honeymoon the light at the end of the tunnel. I spoke with Gonçalo over the phone to kick things off, describing our interests and the cities we were wanting to visit. He was super kind and honest, letting us know what would be closed or perhaps unsafe to reach during the winter holiday (we traveled in the low season of December/January), but providing comparable options in other regions. We received the most well-thought-out and organized itinerary from him. It was the perfect balance of must-sees, off-the-beaten-path suggestions, and open days to relax and explore.

Over the course of the trip, we stayed at four properties, three of which were booked through Gonçalo (one was through my job, as I work at a hotel company) and, boy, were we treated like royalty. The properties were not only gorgeous and in prime locations, but we were upgraded to suites at each of them because they knew it was our honeymoon. We were also left various treats in our room on multiple occasions at each of the properties. To this day, we’re still talking about it!

It was very important to us to be able to experience Portugal’s wine regions, as Portuguese wines are our favorite to drink at home. Gonçalo arranged for three private tastings and tours for us, including a very special morning at Taylors in Porto. To explore Lisbon and Porto, Gonçalo arranged for private tour guides to show us around in style. For the sheer length of our trip and all that we did and indulged in, we felt that the prices were incredibly reasonable. Now we’re aching to go back. Forever grateful.” —Danielle Berman

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Tuscany and Florence—because all honeymooners should get to sleep in a medieval tower

Chiesa di San Biagio standing in a green landscape of Montepulciano Italy Tuscany

Chiesa di San Biagio, Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“With all the details we had to consider for the wedding, I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed by also researching and planning a big trip. Wendy Perrin’s WOW List made it easy to find a travel expert for Italy, and then it was simply a matter of describing my dream trip and hitting the submit button. Maria then emailed me to set up a phone call so we could discuss in more detail what we wanted to accomplish. Trying delicious food and wine were at the top of our list, but we also wanted to see the top landmarks and achieve a nice balance of art, culture, architecture and history. The itinerary she sent back was perfect and took all the stress out of the equation. Maria also provided location guides for both Rome and Florence, with suggestions for sightseeing, shopping and restaurants during our leisure time.

When we walked into our hotel room in Florence, in a 13th-century medieval tower, we jumped up and down because it was so awesome. The hotel even surprised us with a bottle of champagne on ice and snacks. Our favorite experiences of the trip included a lunch at a small family-owned vineyard and a cooking class in a private olive grove.

Without the help of Maria and her team, we wouldn’t have access to special experiences like these. Everything in our itinerary went according to plan, and we never had to worry about a thing. We are so happy we splurged, and are already dreaming of our next trip to Italy.” —Megan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Egypt—without the crowds and with a hot-air balloon ride over Luxor

Queen Hatshepsut's mortuary temple in Luxor as seen from our hot air balloon just after dawn Egypt.

Hot air balloon, Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Stephen Behnen

“We haven’t even unpacked our bags from our Honeymoon tour of Egypt and we are already planning to return for another one! Arlene, Jim, and everyone on the ground in Egypt did a spectacular job making us feel cared for, and the trip went off without a hitch, even in these uncertain times. Our Egyptologists (Reham and Bassem) were so knowledgeable and on top of their game that we would often have temples to ourselves, avoiding all other crowds. Our only regret is that we didn’t extend our trip for another extra week. If you’re considering taking this tour to Egypt, just book it. You will not regret it. And don’t forget to add a hot-air balloon ride over Luxor. I promise it will be magical!” —Rebecca Switzer

Read more reviews of Egypt trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

Tropical Asia—for an adventure “perfect in concept, orchestration, imagination, and detail”

Sunrise at Angkor Wat Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Photo: Shutterstock

Sandy planned a honeymoon trip for me and my bride to Cambodia, Laos, the southern islands of Thailand, and Bangkok. The experience he crafted was perfect: perfect in concept, orchestration, imagination and detail. I say this as a veteran traveler—I speak French and Spanish, have worked and lived in Paris, and have traveled throughout Europe, South and Central America, and to Hong Kong. Sandy’s work was the best I’ve had yet, and his in-country guides are thoughtful, dedicated folk who add their own magical touches to the experience. It is clear that he is very close to them and their families and cares a great deal about them. It is also very clear that he worked closely with them to make our experience into the adventure we’d hoped for.

I thought it might be helpful to describe a few of his guides that met us along our journey. Kheleur, our guide to Angkor Wat and Cambodia—welcoming, gentle, accommodating and masterful in his plans, and a subject matter expert in the temples. We loved how he created seamless transitions between touring and our wild events (for example, candle-lit dinners on rural tropical estates, sunset cocktails on the water about Angkor Thom) as much as we loved the archeological tours, evening cruises and dinners themselves. The boat tour and the villa dinner merit special praise—he made them appear as if magically created. The midday respite to allow for physical training (and swimming and napping) was brilliant.

Ek and Paan, our guides in Luang Prabang and the Laos countryside—warm, kind, absurdly welcoming. We were treated as family—I felt unworthy! They gave us love and generosity. Ek sparkles with goodwill and joie-de-vivre. He also seems to know every single person in town. When we threw a wrench into the plans he had made for us (we changed a lunch site and some afternoon touring) he cheerfully accommodated—and facilitated—our wishes as if it were nothing at all.

We loved Pablo, our guide in Thailand and Bangkok. Enthusiastic, a careful listener, an eager and engaged teacher of Thai culture and history, a gentleman whose goodwill and blithe spirit are as radiant as his smile. I am sure he has brought hundreds to the same five temples, has taken the same longboat cruise every week for years, and could apply for permanent citizenship at the flower market. You would be unable to tell—at each stop of the white van, he would genuinely brighten as he shared our discovery of each new scene. Truly, the journey Sandy crafted for us was educational, exciting, restorative. Cannot recommend highly enough.” —Charlie Mize

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Costa Rica—for “stunning nature and wildlife”

beach, coastline lined with green jungle at Costa Rica Carrillo and Samara Beaches in Costa Rica

A beach near Nosara, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we approached Irene in order to plan our trip to Costa Rica, she asked us in great detail about our lives, hobbies, and passions. We wanted an authentic and adventurous trip where we could immerse ourselves in the local culture and experience the stunning nature and wildlife. We began our trip by going to Irene’s mother’s house on the way to the Arenal volcano region. She was so welcoming and taught us how to make homemade tortillas and prepared an amazing Costa Rican lunch filled with Gallo pintos, chicken, yucca, etc.

In the Arenal region, Irene arranged for a beautiful hotel at the base of the volcano amongst the natural hot springs. It was an authentic Tico experience—Pura Vida all the way. We went ziplining, white water rafting, rappelling, and on a hanging bridge and wildlife tour. All in three days. It was amazing!!!

We then headed to Costa Rica’s Pacific side and to Nosara, a vibrant local beach village without major resorts or attractions but with everything we wanted. We surfed every day and stayed in an open-air hotel right on the beach, with a different menu each day and amazing staff.  We also got to see thousands of sea turtles arriving to lay their eggs, which only happens once or twice a year, for a few days!

Irene ensured we got the perfect honeymoon and that it was entirely hassle-free. We now are hoping to make this trip at least every two years and would not dream of doing so without her.” —John Allen Mixon

Read more reviews of Costa Rica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

South Africa and Mauritius—for a two-week safari-beach combo

Elephants, Singita Kruger, South Africa

An elephant family at Singita Kruger, Kruger National Park.

“My wife and I used Julian to plan our honeymoon to South Africa. We went away for two full weeks, and Julian provided thoughtful recommendations that met all our needs, from city exploration to adventure to relaxation. Our trip started in Cape Town, where we stayed at the gorgeous Cape Grace, then we headed to Kruger National Park where we stayed four nights on safari at Arathusa and Tintswalo—beautiful game reserves with excellent service and incredible sights. Then we stayed one night in Johannesburg at the African Rock Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel. Finally, we finished in Mauritius on the most beautiful beach at the One & Only. From start to finish, every single detail was accounted for, and all our transfers were seamless. We didn’t have to worry about a thing.” —William Giordano

Read more reviews of South Africa trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA

Bali—for gorgeous scenery, snorkeling, cooking classes…

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I just returned from the most fabulous honeymoon in Bali. Diane arranged the perfect trip—which had us stay in three different parts of the island to enjoy all the activities we were interested in. Both her planning and hotel suggestions were fabulous. From snorkeling to cooking classes, we enjoyed so much on this gorgeous island. We had a wonderful guide who enlightened and took great care of us. The Ubud Village Resort and Hotel Tugu are two of the most incredible places I have ever stayed and I would recommend both Diane and those gorgeous properties to anyone.” —Amy Rosoff

Read more reviews of Bali trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO BALI

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico—for a beautiful beachfront all-inclusive

aerial view of green coastline and ocean of Puerto Vallarta Mexico with hotels

Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Hotel Mousai

Zach and his team, did an amazing job helping us plan our honeymoon to Mexico. They provided us many options to choose from in different areas of Mexico, with great tips on places to go and stay, and things to do in each place. It was through their vigilance that we found our eventual resort, Hotel Mousai.

This particular resort was not even on our radar until they brought it to our attention. But it completely blew us away with how amazingly beautiful it was, especially with its views of the coast surrounding the Puerto Vallarta area. They arranged for our stay, as well as our transportation to and from the airport, including transportation to and from the maritime terminal. Overall, we had a great experience on our trip, in large part because of Zach’s excellent service.” —Patrick Kirkendall

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

The Maldives—where you can get more and pay less by using the right trip designer

Maldives Islands Ocean Tropical Beach

Imagine two full weeks here in the Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

“We went to Maldives for our honeymoon. We spent two full weeks there— 7 days at Emerald Maldives and 7 days at Amilla Fushi. We are older and this is our second marriage, so I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. I reached out to Wendy Perrin and she assigned Justin to help us arrange the trip. He was extremely helpful and responsive. He recommended the two resorts we stayed at, plus some additional ones (and maybe we should have taken his advice more closely). He made all the arrangements and even got us some additional upgrades. I would highly recommend using a trip planner. There was no additional cost to us and, in fact, we got more and paid less than if we tried to do it on our own.” —Allen Bartman

Read more reviews of Maldives trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO MALDIVES

Australia and New Zealand: “A dream come true…”

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

New Zealand’s Waiheke Island is affectionately known as the Island of Wine; locals take the ferry from Auckland for relaxed afternoons and long lunches. Photo: Shutterstock

Stuart and his team in Australia and New Zealand made our honeymoon trip a dream come true. Highlights included a driver and guide, Adil, to Auckland’s spectacular West Coast Beaches where we saw many gannets in their natural environment. Another was a day on Waiheke Island. We had a very knowledgeable guide, Geoff, who has, as we do, a big interest in wines. He guided us to three vineyards, all different in style, including a wonderful lunch at one. We had great tours of Sydney and Bondi Beach, as well as a day hiking in the Blue Mountains with locals who have lived in these places their entire life. So much knowledge!

Thank you to Stuart and to Wendy Perrin for a gorgeous WOW Moment—we really appreciate it. We had no idea what was happening until our driver delivered us to the Rose Bay Seaplane sight for our flight over Sydney and the surrounding beaches. Tom and I both love flying so our introduction to Sydney in this way was so amazing. We were the only two passengers and Tom sat in the co-pilot seat, enabling him to take fantastic photos of the beautiful city below us. The weather was perfect that day. It was over the top in every way!” —Susan Ketchum

Read more reviews of Australia trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

view of zurich airport runway from plane window

Smartest Airports for Making Connections

It seems like every day this summer, there’s been news of massive flight cancellations. And if it’s not cancellations, it’s lost luggage, long security lines, or extreme delays. It’s enough to make any traveler wish they had a private jet at their disposal (which is actually more affordable than you’d think). However, that said, most of us are going to fly commercial and we just want the easiest, most stress-free flying experience possible. Our top recommendation is to fly nonstop whenever possible (and there are great nonstop routes coming back online all the time), but we know that’s not always an option. So when you do have to make a connection, here are the airports that will make it as hassle-free as possible. (And, if you’re flying in business class, they have great lounges.)

Thanks to our go-to air-travel gurus for their input and first-hand experience recommending the best airports for connections: Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff of View From the Wing. (Hear more from both of them in our Q&A travel talk on the best flights, fares, miles and seats.)

European airports

  • Zurich, Switzerland: Wendy chose this airport for her layover en route to Romania, and it was a breeze.
  • Munich, Germany: Wendy chose this hub for her flight back, and while the distances can be long, getting through is easy and efficient. Gary suggests this hub instead of Frankfurt airport, which can be confusing to navigate. However, he adds that while Frankfurt isn’t the most user-friendly airport, the upside is that it (and other similarly large but unpleasant hubs like Paris’s Charles de Gaulle) probably offer more flight options if something goes wrong. “While I often find smaller airports friendlier for transit,” he explains, “what I like more than a small airport with an easy layout is a place that has a lot of flights to your destination [like Amsterdam]. You can fly LOT Polish through Warsaw to a number of places, but if your flight is delayed, there may not be as many ‘backup flights’ to get on as traveling through the larger hubs.”
  •  Amsterdam, the Netherlands: The headlines this summer might make you think Schiphol is not a great option, but don’t be misled, says Brett:  “That’s really been for local passengers who go through security checkpoints, not connectors.”
  • Vienna, Austria

Asian airports

Pool at Doha Airport

Qatar’s Doha International Airport has a pool, a spa, and other amenities. Photo: Billie Cohen

It’s important to make sure you meet the entry requirements of any country you transit through in Asia. Some countries in Asia still have strict pandemic restrictions, so make sure you can actually get into whatever country you’re connecting through, in case you miss your connection and there’s not another flight that day. “Before the pandemic,” says Gary, “I’d have said that Hong Kong is a great airport. Now, there are fewer flights and I wouldn’t want to get stuck there.” With that in mind, he and Brett recommend:

  • Changi, Singapore: “There’s a reason Singapore is considered the best airport in the world by many.  It’s a marvel for everything it offers,” says Gary.
  • Incheon, South Korea
  • Dubai, U.A.E.
  • Doha, Qatar

South American airports

Brett feels that there aren’t any great airports for connections in South America.  Instead, his recommendation is that if you can connect in the US, that’s your best bet.

US airports

Even if your destination is international, it can be smart to make a connection within the US rather than overseas. As an example, Gary explains: “I live in Austin…so choosing between Detroit and Frankfurt is relevant if I’m going to, say, Paris.” Brett offers these recommendations:

  • Charlotte: “It’s a big airport, so you don’t necessarily want the really short connecting times.  But it avoids much of the airspace crunch that hits the northeast, so delays are less of an issue. Even better, if you are delayed, they have rocking chairs available for you to pass the time.”
  • Detroit: “The big Delta hub makes it easy to get to and from smaller airports in the northeast. It’s a big operation, but it’s not hard to get around. Besides, it has a train running back and forth in the terminal, and that’s just fun. It can be a useful jumping-off point for Europe and Asia alike, so it’s a good way to avoid the coasts.”
  • Seattle: “Seattle is a big and growing airport, just opening its new customs and immigration facility. If you’re heading to Asia, it’s easily the best pick of the three West Coast gateways. The constant threat of fog delays in San Francisco, along with the maze of terminal hopping that may be required at LAX, makes Seattle an easier experience. As an added bonus, it is closer to the great circle path to Asia from most US cities, so it can mean a shorter connection time.”
  • Salt Lake City and Phoenix: “People don’t think of Salt Lake and Phoenix as global hubs, and they’d be right. But Delta and its partners fly from Salt Lake to Europe, as do American and its partners from Phoenix, so for those in the western US, this is an easy way to get to Europe. The airports are easy to navigate and rarely have weather delay issues.”

Airports close to your final destination

If your connection is at an airport really close to your final destination, you give yourself more options if that flight is delayed. As Gary found out recently when helping out a cousin with a trip from Porto to Brussels. “I booked an award flight on Air France that included a train segment [from Paris] to Brussels.  And if he missed the last train of the night, well, it’s just not that hard to get from Paris to Brussels where he absolutely needed to be.”

 

 

woman and son wearing masks on a plane

5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return Flight to the U.S.

Air travelers age two and older must still show a negative Covid test when flying back into the U.S. after an international trip.  Many other countries have dropped their testing requirements for entry (you can see our list of no-test countries here, and our list of countries without any entry requirements here), but when you’re coming to the U.S.—citizen or not—you still need to get that test shortly before your flight home, typically on the day before.

WOW List travel specialists have been doing a great job of arranging for local last-day-of-trip Covid tests that are hassle-free, convenient, and super-speedy:  Often a health technician comes to your hotel to swab you, then you receive your results by email later that day.

If you’re not using a WOW List travel specialist to optimize your trip, here are five ways to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible for yourself:

1. Choose antigen, not PCR

The CDC accepts either a PCR or an antigen test.  PCR results typically take longer to obtain. For the most control over how you spend the final day of your trip abroad, pack a couple of video-monitored self-administered antigen tests, so you can take your swab whenever it’s convenient for you as long as you have Wi-Fi and video capabilities. For where and how to get these tests, see How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel: Tests That Can Be Self-Administered Abroad.

2. Test as early as possible

The official allowable test window is one day before your flight, as opposed to a strict 24 hours. In other words, if your flight is on a Thursday, you can take your test anytime on Wednesday. If you test early in the one-day-before window, you’ll have more time to troubleshoot in case anything does wrong.

But do also confirm what your airline requires, as their employees are the ones who will check your paperwork. One traveler reported being turned away by an airline representative who insisted that the U.S. required a test within 24 hours of departure. (The WOW List guide accompanying the traveler advocated on her behalf; when that failed, he helped her get a quick test inside the airport so that she wouldn’t miss her flight.)

3. Schedule your return flight with your test date in mind

If your plan is to use a local pharmacy or lab for your test, don’t schedule your return flight to the U.S. for the day after a Sunday, a national holiday, or any other day when local pharmacies and labs are closed. If you’ve already scheduled your return flight and the previous day is a Sunday or a holiday, then it’s especially important to carry a couple of the aforementioned video-monitored, self-administered tests. They’re an easy Plan B.

4. Carry your results to the airport in both paper and electronic form.

Phones break, Wi-Fi can be spotty, or the airport person tasked with approving your results might randomly prefer paper. Be prepared for all checkpoint contingencies by having your test results on paper (your hotel can print them out for you) and easily accessible on your phone without internet service (meaning: download the results file directly to your phone).

5. Show documentation of recovery instead.

If you’ve had Covid within the past 90 days, and you’ve met the CDC’s criteria for travel (e.g., you no longer have any symptoms; you can see the rest here), and you’ve gotten a signed letter from your doctor, then you can skip the one-day test and instead show both the letter and your past positive test. The letter must adhere to a specific format and include specific information (such as your name and date of birth; the doctor’s name, address, and phone number; etc.), so review the CDC guidance carefully if you choose to go this route. If you have recovered from Covid but don’t have both the letter and the old test result (together known as “documentation of recovery”), you will need to take the one-day pre-return test like everyone else.

For more tips and solutions, check our collection of articles in: Your Biggest Covid Travel Questions Answered

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Shadow of an airliner over a blue water and a white-sand beach.

When Is the Best Time to Buy Airfare This Year?

Given the rise in fuel prices that’s happening now, given the surge in people who want to travel this summer, and given the no-fly zone over Russia, when should travelers buy their airline tickets for flights this year? We spoke to two air travel experts to get their insights.

If you’re traveling this summer

“For summer, buy now,” says Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, a service that not only helps people find and book the best flight options, but also monitors those flights for schedule changes. “Things are starting to get tight, and it might already be too late for the best availability.”

Savanthi Syth, Global Airlines Analyst for Raymond James Financial, agrees. “If there is no change fee, I think travelers should book tickets now. Fares are likely to remain high for the summer due to strong demand, constrained supply (as airlines make sure they have enough crew to avoid operational issues experienced last year), and fuel likely to remain elevated at least in the near term and possibly longer.”

Snyder is seeing that too. “You are starting to see higher fares, especially in premium cabins,” he says. “The lowest fares are long gone—especially to Europe.”

If you’re traveling this fall or winter

“For the fall and beyond, I would hold off, especially for airlines that have change fees,” Syth says. “If you plan on traveling around Thanksgiving or Christmas, I would recommend booking if you see a good fare, but can probably be patient otherwise. That said, I would not recommend waiting on booking those flights too close in, as demand around peak leisure travel periods has been resilient throughout the pandemic, once travel restrictions were lifted.”

And as Snyder explains, airfare pricing is tied to demand. “Loosely, 100 days before travel is when airlines start to play close attention to demand and set pricing to match.” That means that if you buy a ticket, say, a year in advance, that fare is just a rack rate—and most likely high. “There may be exceptions like on Christmas or Thanksgiving. But for normal travel periods, they just put in high fares.”

So when is the right time? “The answer is always ‘whenever you’re ready’,” says Snyder. “If travelers want the comfort of having it locked in, great for them. Others want to wait to see if it comes down. We just always tell people, if you see a ticket at a price you think is fair, get it. You’re going to spend so much time and energy trying to game the system and get the best deal that it’s often not going to be worth it.”

Not everything is changing, though. “You will continue to see fare sales at certain points, as you have seen in the past (like the end of summer), and I would take advantage of those if you can,” Syth says. “Some airlines are trying to encourage the use of points, so I would recommend checking what it would cost based on dollars or points before booking.”

The benchmarks or flags that travelers should look for

Contrary to what you might think, the red flag is not the increase in fuel prices. It’s the decrease in airlines’ capacity. “Fares don’t move just because gas gets pricey,” Snyder explains. “What changes is the number of seats the airlines put out there. They’ll look at their plan and say, ‘This made sense back when fuel was cheap, but now we need higher fares. We can’t just raise fares, so we’re going to cut back on flights and reduce the number of seats we’re putting out on the market because more people are fighting for fewer seats.’ So if you see them cutting capacity, you can expect higher fares.”

Where will you see it? Right in the news. Alaska and JetBlue both made mainstream headlines when they recently trimmed their flights and routes (and Cranky Concierge’s newsletter also covers those updates).

Will economy fares and premium fares be affected differently?

Syth thinks they are both likely to go up. “However, if there is a strong recovery in business demand, premium fares might go up faster this year,” she says. She notes that during the pandemic some travelers were willing to pay more for that better experience. “So far that seems to be holding, but I am not sure how long that lasts.”

Snyder also wonders about this. “They can raise the price, but if people won’t pay it, it doesn’t matter. Now people are paying more for their gas in cars and more for other goods, so they have less to pay for airfare.”

How international fares are likely to be affected

As both Syth and Snyder point out, fare trends depend on the destination, as well as factors such as how many flights go there, how big those planes are, how many travelers want to travel to go there, and global politics.

“I suspect Latin America will see cheaper fare offerings in the near- to medium-term than the Transatlantic, particularly to South America (although possibly not on U.S. airlines),” says Syth. “Asia will be a bit more mixed. Demand is low, so you would expect good fares, but capacity has also been pared back significantly. Also the Russia-Ukraine conflict has made it difficult for U.S. airlines to serve some South Asian destinations. Here too, it will vary by country.“

That said, both experts say Europe is going to be expensive because everyone wants to travel there. “You have two things going on: You have general demand of everyone wanting to travel, and you also have Asia off limits, so everyone is focusing on Europe,” Snyder says.

 

older male traveler in a red vintage Fiat car touring ruins around Rome Italy

This Couple Traveled to Rome Right Before the Pandemic—and Went Back Again Now

One of Wendy’s tips for smart travel in 2022 is: Don’t dismiss relatively Covid-safe places just because you’ve been there before. A local trip-planning expert can devise a completely different itinerary that gives you a fresh look at a place, and you’ll also have a built-in familiarity and comfort level that can help in pandemic times.

That’s what reader Kevin Haney did. As a holiday present to each other, he and his wife, Nancy, always travel in January. This year, they chose the same place they’d gone in January 2020, right before the pandemic: Rome.

“There’s so much to see,” he told me over the phone before they left for the Eternal City plus excursions to Naples, Pompeii and a few surrounding vineyards. They’re even using the same WOW List expert again, Jennifer Virgilio. “Jennifer did our Rome trip in 2020,” Kevin explained. “She lives there, so she’s able to offer insight of things to do and get access to private experiences, which is even more useful right now with Covid.”

I emailed with Kevin toward the end of his trip to see how the experience panned out and what it is like to travel in Italy now.

What’s the vibe of the places you’ve visited? How crowded are they?

None of the places we visited were crowded. As our guides told us, that has been the one advantage to Covid. We are in Rome at the exact same time as our pre-Covid trip in January 2020, and it is noticeable how much less crowded places are.

Where have you felt comfortable, and where have you not?

We have felt comfortable everywhere on this trip. With just a little common sense, we have been able to avoid crowds at indoor events.

Are people wearing masks and following other Covid protocols?

Yes. The Italian people are very conscious of following the protocols. They believe following the protocols is their responsibility to ensure that things get better and can return to normal. They do not see it as a political issue.

What has Jennifer done so far that made you feel safer?

Jennifer and her team have been able to get us after-hours access to the Borghese Gallery and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. We feel so fortunate to be able to experience these locations without the crowds, and we get the chance to learn so much with the expertise the local guides provide.

older male traveler wearing mask standing in front of Doria Pamphilj Palace Rome Italy

Kevin Haney at a private after-hours visit to the Doria Pamphilj Palace in Rome. Photo courtesy Kevin Haney

What other experiences have you had this trip?

We have also done a nightingale Trastevere food tour, a vintage Fiat tour, and a day trip to Naples and Pompeii. The crowds have been reduced from the past, but that allows you to enjoy the sights.

Is there anything you weren’t able to do because of the pandemic?

One tour, “A Focus on Caravaggio,” cancelled the day before we were to take it, as the guide got Covid and the people in her office had to quarantine because of exposure to her. We decided to spend that time exploring Rome on our own instead.

How have you found the transportation logistics—airports, trains?

Everything has gone very smoothly. Our planes were on time, and the trains we took on our day trip to Naples worked out well. The car service that we used was on time. None of the modes of transportation have been crowded or made us feel uncomfortable. Jennifer’s guides and drivers were all vaccinated and observed the Covid protocols of Italy. They made sure not to expose us to situations where we would feel uncomfortable and, when appropriate, adjusted the order in which to see things so as to avoid the crowds.

Is Italy different than before?

It was much better than expected. Everything was open and, because of the pre-trip planning and our guides, we always felt safe.

Where did you get your Covid test before returning to the U.S.?

We noticed that testing was readily available throughout Rome and Naples as it seemed like there was a tent to perform the test on every other corner, and our one guide who we had for Borghese and Doria Pamphilj was telling us she got tested once a week to make sure she was ok to perform tours.

Our pre-departure Covid test was performed at the hotel, thanks to Jennifer, so we had the results quickly and could enjoy our final day in Rome. Once we got our negative result, it confirmed why we use WOW List specialists like Jennifer when we travel to Europe, as it makes the trip go so smoothly.


 

We’re Here to Help

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the travel concerns that need to be addressed as a result of this pandemic. For many trips, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via The WOW List, which is the first step in my WOW approach to trip planning, created by popular demand from my longtime readers. It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews and getting benefits including priority status, VIP treatment, my advice from the start of your trip planning, and the chance to win a surprise, custom-designed WOW Moment on a third qualifying trip. It all starts when you tell us about the trip you want via the questionnaires on The WOW List.

The Best Way to See Egypt. Especially If You Don’t Like Boats.

I am not a boat person.

I have no interest in cruise ships, I’m not overly fond of short ferry rides either, and I’ve even gotten seasick on one of those supposedly too-big-to-rock, giant family-vacation ships…while it was moored for a special event. So when our WOW List Egypt expert Jim Berkeley tried to tell me that the Nile was so calm, and that my private six-cabin dahabiya sailboat would be so smooth that I wouldn’t even feel the movement, I dismissed him outright. People who don’t suffer from seasickness are not reliable sources.

But I wanted to go to Egypt, and I wanted to cruise the Nile, and they make drugs for this. So I packed a ton of anti-nausea medication and resigned myself to the expectation that I’d just be meclizine-dazed for four days. But I didn’t end up needing a single pill. What’s even crazier is that my time on the dahabiya turned out to be my favorite part of the whole trip. No one is more surprised than me.

I tell you all of this so that you’ll know that I am the last person who would steer you wrong about a boat vacation, and what I have to say on the topic is this: A dahabiya trip is the best way to experience Egypt.

Here are three reasons why.

It’s a breezy, outdoor experience.

Sailing on a dahabiya allows you to spend a good chunk of your day in the open air without overheating, despite the often-high temperatures in Egypt. My friends and I, along with the family of four from Belgium with whom we shared the boat, spent much of our time enjoying the views from the shaded top deck; that’s also where all of our meals were served. The cabins below deck were small, but none of us used them much except to sleep. Even so, they each had large windows (and two of the cabins had balconies) that allowed in plenty of fresh air. (You can see all my photos below.)

It feels very private and keeps you away from the crowds.

The boat’s small size allowed us to dock at sites where the mass-tourism Nile boats can’t. So we got to see several fascinating places completely alone. My favorite: the rock quarries of Gebel Silsileh, a valley that provided the stone for the famed ancient temples at Luxor, Karnak, and Kom Ombo, among others. We chose to hike to the quarry rather than ferry right to it from our boat (which is an option), and that turned out to be a really special morning. For two kilometers, we walked right along the stark border between the desert and the green fertile strip next to the river. I couldn’t take my eyes off that well defined natural line—except for when we were watching local farmers harvest dates and mangoes, and when an entire school of children poured out to their balconies to wave and shout hello to us.

Even when we visited the sights that all the boats go to, we usually were able to arrive before or after the rush—or on a different day entirely—since the big boats all follow a very rigid, fast-paced itinerary. (I recommend talking to your guide to find out what kind of flexibility you might have in your daily schedules; our guide sailed with us and that was a real perk.) For me, the trip felt like a relaxed meandering through off-the-beaten-path sites, rather than a to-do list of must-see temples.

It’s so relaxing and fun.

Our days quickly fell into a delicious rhythm: In the morning, we’d tour some fascinating sight, and then come back to the boat for lunch made fresh by our incredibly accommodating chef, Ali. Then we’d spend the rest of the day lounging around on the comfortably shaded open-air deck watching the green and yellow scenery go by. (As we got closer to Aswan, I saw more and more of the big ships, and very few of those had covered top decks—I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sit up there in Egypt’s strong sun.) At night, we’d feast again and then play games and talk until the generator went off around 10 or 11 and we all turned in for the night. In those four days, I laughed so much, and cemented friendships all across the boat.

Finally, one of the more subtle bonuses of the wind-powered dahabiya is how blissfully quiet it is. Every day I could hear the gentle splash of water against the hull, the ripple of the main sail in the breeze, and the afternoon call to prayer rising from villages on both sides of the river.

I’m not sure if all of this means I’m finally becoming a boat person. But I can say one thing for certain: I’m now definitely a dahabiya person.

START PLANNING A DAHABIYA CRUISE

We boarded the boat in a small village called Esna, just outside Luxor. At this point, I'm excited about the trip, but I'm also mentally preparing for motion sickness.
Cold hibiscus juice is a typical welcome drink in Egypt, and it's delicious—tart and refreshing. If you order it at a restaurant, ask them to go easy on the sugar; as our guide told us (and we soon learned for ourselves), Egyptians like their drinks to be very sweet.
Our home for the next four days. When we weren't touring on land or sleeping downstairs at night, we spent all of our time up here on the deck. We ate all our meals outside at the big dining table (except for one night when we had a picnic on land), and we read, lounged, talked, and played games in the various comfortable sitting areas. We had a wi-fi hot spot that went on with the generator (and lights and outlets) around 4pm each day and stayed on until sometime between 10pm and 11pm each night.
Egypt's iconic blue, green, and yellow view.
Me, not feeling the least bit seasick. I still can't believe it.
They even let me steer the boat.
But these guys did it much better.
A standard room. They're small (it is a boat, after all), but I was happy to see they all have such big breezy windows. I left them open during the day to air out the room, and then turned the air conditioner on for about an hour at night before the generator went off to cool down the room.
The two suites at the stern of the boat have balconies.
The balcony is great for lounging, reading, and napping, but consider yourself warned: If you happen to hang your laundry out here, sneaky crows might try to steal your socks. File under: Things I didn't know about boats. Or crows.
We sailed from Luxor to Aswan (the direction is south, but it's "up river"), and as we got closer to Aswan we saw more and more of these typical big white Nile cruise ships race by us.
What a dahabiya looks like next to one of those.
Our walk to the quarries of Gebel Silsileh. I took dozens of photos of the way the desert just ended and the narrow green jungle started. The green part wasn't that wide, and it ran all along the Nile like that.
Gebel Silsileh was one of my favorite stops. It was fascinating to see where giant blocks of sandstone had been carved out of the hills and imagine them being floated to Luxor to build the Karnak and Luxor temples we'd just seen days before. We were the only travelers at the site.
Our dahabiya docked at a site the big ships skip: Daraw market, where we stood in line behind a slew of locals to get our chance to sample handmade falafel.
The verdict: My friend said it was the best falafel he's ever eaten.
Of course I was more interested in the candy vendor across the way. Verdict: very sweet and very chewy.
Sails up, stresses gone. I'll miss this dahabiya lifestyle.

 

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Egypt, WOW Lister Jim Berkeley arranged reduced rates for my trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Jim via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.



Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Why You Should Go to Egypt Now

Egypt is on most people’s bucket list, and with good reason: 5,000 year-old feats of engineering genius, fascinating historical drama, rich traditions and culture. While the pyramids and temples will still be around if you wait a few years to go, right now you can experience them in a rare and special way. I traveled in Egypt for two weeks at the end of October (you can see more of my photos here and here) and am so glad I did. Here’s why it felt comfortable to me during Covid:

Almost all the sights are open air.

Nearly every place you’ll visit in Egypt is outdoors. So whether I was at the Great Pyramid of Giza or the soaring mountain temple of Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh), the grounds were so sprawling that they rarely felt crowded. I remember when we arrived at the temple of Kom Ombo on the Nile, there were maybe half a dozen large cruise boats clustered right outside (which was still fewer than the 20 or so you could expect in pre-pandemic times), and I expected to find all of those tourists clogging my path. But once we passed through the entrance arch, I was surprised. Everyone had dispersed throughout the grounds.

Obligatory shot of me at the pyramids at Giza—and it really was this empty. We saw some crowds at the entrance to the tomb inside the Great Pyramid, but we skipped that because (a) Covid and (b) we were going to see some much more impressive tombs later in our trip. And we did.
Not only was the Sphinx area free of the usual crowds, we had an additional VIP perk: We got to walk right up to its paws rather than view the famed man-lion from the elevated distant viewing platforms (you can see a group there across the way).
I even got to sit right between its paws, and walk all the way around the perimeter, see its tail (I didn’t even know it had a tail!) and shine a flashlight into a hole at the base where archaeologists had dug to see if there was anything under the statue. (Spoiler: There wasn't.)
tour guide teaching traveler to read hieroglyphs in Setau's tomb in El Kab Egypt
I learned to read a few hieroglyphs!
When we landed in Luxor city, we went straight to Karnak Temple, and it was the most crowded place we visited. But our guide had an idea to save the rest of the day: Continue right on to the air-conditioned Luxor Museum and the Luxor Temple (pictured), because while all the other tourists would be eating lunch and checking into their hotels, we would have those two places to ourselves.
view of Abu Simbel mountain temples in Egypt
Abu Simbel’s grounds are sprawling, so even though we flew there with a full plane of maybe 100 travelers, it didn’t feel like that many people once we were on the ground. Plus, since we were a small private trio rather than a big bus group, we were quicker out of the airport and got to the temples before them so we had the place to ourselves for a short while.

Most places aren’t crowded.

The fact is that almost everyone who goes to Egypt follows the same route. Unless you’re going to the beach resorts on the Sinai Peninsula, you’re on the well-trodden track between Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan, probably with part of the trip spent on a boat. And yet, I rarely felt like I was one of those masses being led along a conveyer belt.

Thanks to the pandemic, the world’s most popular places are not as busy as they’ve been in the past because tourism isn’t back up to its usual numbers. Egypt is no exception, and this holiday season is likely to be one of the most enjoyable as a result. The Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx are two of the most visited tourist sights in the world, but when I was there in mid-October, they had less than 50% of their usual number of visitors. The temple of Abu Simbel had less than 25%.

The few crowded places can be made uncrowded by the right local fixer.

At the Giza Plateau, my savvy local guide assigned by WOW List Egypt specialist Jim Berkeley arranged special access to the Sphinx’s paws. Regular visitors have to view the famous lion-pharaoh from an elevated distant road, but we were able to saunter right up to its feet, stand under its imposing noseless face, and even stroll around the entire perimeter of its body (have you ever seen the Sphinx’s tail? I hadn’t!). After that, he led us along unconventional routes through the park so that we rarely saw other travelers until we headed back to the main entrance. Then, on the day we flew to Luxor, he suggested we hit Luxor Temple over the lunch hour, when all the other tourists would be eating and checking into their hotels. And he was right.

Even before our trip began, Jim had orchestrated the timing of our itinerary right from the get-go so that it could alternate with the timing of the mass-group trips where possible. For example, while the big Nile boats all race to pre-set stops and unload at the same time on the same days, our nimble, private dahabiya boat could mosey up to those same stops after the big groups had all gone, or on a different day entirely.

“Indoor” sights are Covid-manageable.

While most temples I visited were completely open to the elements (except for a small few where the roofs were still amazingly intact), the tombs were enclosed, meaning you’ll descend staircases into underground rooms (as at Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens) or duck into nooks carved into the side of mountains (as at the ancient necropolis of El-Kab).

Even so, I found every tomb manageable in terms of my own comfort with Covid. If there was a group inside, I could always wait to enter until they came out. Keep in mind that some tombs are manned by a local “caretaker” who will enthusiastically point out artwork details and side rooms you may not have noticed, offer to take your photo, and expect a few Egyptian pounds in return. He will also, most likely, not be wearing a mask. But since I was double-masked and vaccinated, and in most tombs for only a few minutes, I didn’t mind. In fact, I really enjoyed those interactions: It’s always fun to meet locals and try to have piecemeal conversations. What’s more, tourism has been thin during the pandemic and these guys have been out of work—and they were clearly happy to have us back.

Pharoah Seti’s tomb (ca. 1279 BC) is one of the deepest tombs in the Valley of the Kings and it has incredibly vibrant paint colors and detailed artwork. My guide took me to the Valley really early one morning (we were there by 7:30am), and there was only one other group in the entire area. I had Seti’s multi-room resting place to myself, except for the caretaker and a trio of academics who were 3-D scanning the tomb for the Factum Foundation and showed me how it worked. So cool!

In all of my trip, there was no place where I felt stuck in a Covid situation I couldn’t easily remedy. And that includes the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which was the only place that really felt unsafe to me, due to its lack of air conditioning, hot rooms with no air flow, and swarms of large international tour groups who didn’t wear masks. But even there, I wasn’t trapped—I could just leave. And I did. Although my private guide did his best to navigate around the masses inside the Museum, and offered to bring us back at the end of the day when it might be less crowded, I opted to leave and wait outside, happily resting in the shade and reading my book about the history of the Nile. In contrast, my two friends felt comfortable enough to remain inside—so, again, it’s a personal decision. (And one that will be a moot point once the enormous Grand Egyptian Museum opens, sometime in 2022.)

You can use private guides and drivers who are vaccinated.

Each of our guides and drivers was vaccinated and wore a mask religiously. Even if the three of us travelers in the back took ours off, they kept theirs on. Hotel staff wore masks too (as well as gloves at some of the hotel restaurants). But other than that, very few people in Egypt—both Egyptians and international tourists—wore masks. (Although I could always spot an American group, because they all wore their masks.) But like I said above, the lack of masks rarely affected me because we were outside so much and, when I went indoors, I put mine on.

You can stick to hotel rooms that have balconies or windows that open.

Now that I’m traveling again during the Covid era, I prefer to stay in hotels that are well ventilated. A great view doesn’t hurt either. During my two weeks in Egypt, I stayed in four hotels, and each room had a balcony or window that opened.

At the Four Seasons Cairo, my balcony overlooked the Nile. In Luxor, Jim smartly put us in a hotel on the west bank of the river (the charming, courtyard-dotted Al Moudira)—which meant we were only a 20-minute drive from the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, rather than 45 if we’d stayed on the east bank like all the big tour groups. In Aswan, we stayed at the gorgeous and storied Old Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile, and enjoyed large balconies with views of Aswan’s tropical section of the Nile and the uniquely shaped rocks of Elephantine Island across the way. Even our airport-adjacent hotel on our last night in Cairo, the InterContinental City Stars Hotel, had two “Juliet”-style terraces with sliding-glass doors I could open for airflow.

A word of caution: In Cairo, most restaurants are indoors only. And people smoke. However, I’ve already been eating indoors in New York for months, and I felt that the restaurants we ate at in Cairo were less crowded than at home.

The view from my balcony at The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. That's Elephantine Island across the river, where you can walk through the remnants of an ancient village.
My room at The Old Cataract.
The charming, green-filled courtyard of Al Moudira in Luxor where we ate all our meals.
I loved the design of Al Moudira—a mix of ochres and bright gemstone colors, plus patios and outdoor sitting nooks all over the place. This indoor lounge shows the decor really well but whether due to Covid or the warm nights, all the guests preferred to hang out in the courtyard.
My balcony view at the Four Seasons Cairo Nile Plaza. It was fascinating to chart how different the river looked as we traveled south.
We spent our last night close to the airport at the InterContinental Cairo City Stars. We hung out by the pool and ate dinner at an open-air Egyptian restaurant that looked onto the pool deck. The hotel is also attached to an enormous, modern indoor mall and we explored that too.

 

There’s availability aboard private dahabiya boats that keep you from the crowds and get you to special sights.

We spent morning exploring ancient sights, and afternoons lounging on our own private boat.

Jim recommended I sail up the Nile on a dahabiya—a shallow-bottomed boat powered by two sails—and now I know why it is the best way to experience the Nile. For one thing, these smaller vessels can maneuver into ports that the big boats can’t access, which meant I got to visit more off-the-conveyer-belt sights. It also meant that when we did hit the big-ticket spots, we usually arrived before or after the rigidly scheduled times that the larger Nile boats have to follow. For another, I felt very Covid-comfortable onboard our floating home. My small group of three shared this boat with only one other party (a family of four from Belgium, who had told us they were vaccinated by the time we had our first afternoon tea) and the small crew (also vaccinated, as required by the government). After mornings of touring, we spent almost all our time outdoors on the covered, open-air deck, whether we were eating meals cooked fresh by our very accommodating private chef, relaxing in the many chaises longues, or talking and playing games with our new friends long into the night.

Egypt is simply amazing.

As I walked, dazed, through all the temples and tombs on our trip, I said “amazing” so many times that it became a running joke with our guide—each of us trying to outdo the other with better synonyms. Spectacular. Astounding. Incredible. Awesome. No matter what words we came up with, the experience of getting so close to Egypt’s ancient manmade marvels, and seeing the enduring details (and unexpectedly bright paint) of their artwork, is truly special. And to be able to do all that without battling crowds or jockeying for views between the heads of a hundred other visitors…well, that truly was amazing.

ASK US ABOUT AN EGYPT TRIP LIKE BILLIE’S

 


 

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Egypt, WOW Lister Jim Berkeley arranged reduced rates for my trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Jim via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Abbot BinaxNow antigen home test for Covid, laid out on a laptop computer

My Covid Test Experience Flying Home from Egypt

We get a lot of questions from travelers about how to manage the Covid testing needed to return to the U.S. after an international trip. When I was coming back from Egypt, it was on my mind too.

I’d originally packed a few self-administered, video-monitored eMed rapid antigen tests because I knew that they are CDC-approved, and I liked the idea of being able to get immediate results at the time of my own choosing, which turned out to be midnight. The whole process—from logging on with an eMed official to receiving the results—took me about 25 minutes (35 if you count the time it took me to call the hotel concierge and get my result printed and delivered to my room).

But since I also knew from my previous international pandemic-era trips (and from Wendy’s and Brook’s too) that the real gatekeepers of who gets to board a plane are the airline staff at check-in, I decided to test out these “at-home” tests vs. a standard PCR.

So I did some research. First, I emailed Egypt Air’s customer service center and received a response saying that they would accept antigen, NAAT, RT-LAMP, RT-PCR or TMA tests. Great!

But that response was in contrast to what I was hearing from some people on the ground in Egypt, who were saying that EgyptAir would only accept a PCR test.

Hmmm.

Hedging on the side of caution, the WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Egypt who planned my trip, Jim Berkeley, has all his travelers take PCRs. And he makes it super easy: A doctor comes right to your hotel, emails you the results, and then you get the printed-out results on your way to the airport.

To test out what would really happen at the airport, I took both tests. At airport check-in, I handed the first gatekeeper my eMed antigen results. I had the PCR results in my bag too, just in case I needed it, but it turned out that I didn’t. He waved me through. Then, when I approached the desk, I handed that agent my eMed antigen results too. She didn’t even blink an eye, even though the two friends I was traveling with handed her PCR documentation.

The moral? You have options for testing, and they’re all easy and don’t take much time or energy. I recommend you talk to your WOW List trip planner to find out if they know any additional local information, but don’t stress about it. Getting tested to come home is simple and should not keep you from getting back out there when you’re ready.

Abbot BinaxNow antigen home test for Covid, laid out on a laptop computer
The kit comes in the box on the left. When it's time, you log into the eMed website, and a representative guides you throgh the process. I held the test's QR code up to the camera, and then had to tilt my laptop screen so he could see the test as I prepared it. Next I tilted the screen up so he could monitor me as I swabbed my nose.
negative result of a rapid antigen covid test from self-adminisered eMed Abbot Binax covid testing kit
After 10 minutes, a guide came back on the call, had me position the card so they could see it through my laptop camera and confirmed that it was indeed negative. A few minutes later, I had the results in my inbox.
traveler's feet on balcony of Old Cataract Hotel room in Aswan Egypt Overlooking the Nile and elephantine island
It was nearly midnight when I took my test—but if I'd done it earlier in the day, this would have been my view while taking it.

 

My additional thoughts

eMed test

Pros: They’re easy and fast. They’re also economical if you are traveling with family or a group, because they’re sold as a pack of six for $150. You can also re-test yourself immediately if you get an invalid result or positive result you suspect is false. The video process is smooth and uncomplicated, and I didn’t have to wait at all before being connected to my “test guide,” even though I called in at midnight.

Cons: The test boxes are bulky and, per eMed instructions, they must be packed in your carry-on. So depending how many you take with you, that could be annoying. Once you get the emailed results, you’ll have to ask your TTE team or your hotel to print them out for you. Also, while this isn’t really a con, note that you must have access to strong enough wifi to support a 25-minute video call (you can use your phone or laptop).

PCR test

Pros: They’re easy and require no thought on your part. Most WOW Listers can arrange to have a medical worker come to your hotel and administer the test at a time that won’t interrupt your day and then have the results sent to you by email and printed out for you.

Cons: You may have to wait a day or two to get your results. In Egypt, I had them the next morning; but in Greece, it took two days (partly because the doctor had misspelled my name and I had to have that corrected). Also, the cost can add up. My Greece test cost 100 euros (about $115). In Egypt, it cost me $73. In both cases, I had to pay in cash.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Doctor holding passport with COVID-19 sign stamped onto a white paper,immunity passport or risk-free certificate concept,recovered Coronavirus COVID19 patients being issued proof of convalescence, UK

The Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make When Getting a Covid Test

Many countries and states require a pre-trip Covid test (here’s how to get a quick one), and you won’t be allowed in without proof of a negative result—even if you’ve been vaccinated, in some cases. But it’s not as easy as showing up with a piece of paper. Each destination has different requirements and processes, and travelers can run into unexpected complications that torpedo their trips. Such complications can be avoided by booking your trip through the right WOW List destination specialist—someone who knows the nitty-gritty of what’s needed for your destination and knows the local options that will make your life so much easier. We have plenty of first-hand reviews from travelers who’ve taken recent trips with their help, but we know that some people are determined to try to troubleshoot on their own. So here are the most common Covid-testing snafus that are currently tripping up travelers—and how to avoid them:

You thought you didn’t need a test because you were vaccinated—and you were wrong.

A few countries are allowing fully vaccinated travelers to bypass testing requirements, but many still demand a test. That’s not the only kind of pothole to watch out for. For example, while Ecuador doesn’t require vaccinated travelers to get a test to enter the country, those same travelers do need a test if they want to travel on to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

Questions about when, where, how, and if vaccine passports will be implemented still abound, so, to be safe, carry a hard copy of your vaccine card or other official proof that you’ve received your shots. And remember that most places only consider a person “fully vaccinated” 14 days after they’ve received all doses.

Your test wasn’t taken within the required time frame.

Different destinations are specifying different time frames for when incoming travelers should take their Covid test (including the U.S., which now requires a one-day window for non-vaccinated citizens and a three-day window for those who are fully vaccinated). Whereas most countries specify that a test be taken within a certain number of hours of your departure from your home, a few require the test to be taken within a certain number of hours of your arrival—a distinction that is easy to miss but has big consequences. WOW List trip-planning experts, who are regularly in touch with government officials in their regions, know how to avoid potential timing pitfalls, such as the time zone to use for calculating your testing window (your home’s or your destination’s) and whether a flight delay could invalidate your test results.

You didn’t get it from an approved lab.

Your destination might accept tests only from an approved list of labs (as Hawaii does) and may not accept any results from rapid tests or at-home kits (like St. Kitts and Nevis). Finding the right lab near you can be stressful, and that is where a WOW List trip planner can help. “I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon,” reader Jeff Goble told us about his trip to Bora Bora and the French Polynesia specialist he used for it. “We actually had to fly to LAX the Saturday before our Tuesday departure because it was not possible to get a PCR test with a quick turnaround in Arizona. Kleon worked really hard to help manage this with us and found a testing location in L.A. that met French Polynesia’s requirements and that would give our results back within 24 hours.”

The results don’t explicitly state the type of test you took.

The Covid test that’s required is usually a specific kind (for example, nasal swab versus saliva, in-person test versus mail-in kit), and the officials checking your documentation will look for proof of that on your certificate. If it’s not there, you could have a big problem. When my colleague Brook got her test results before her Maldives trip, she saw that the urgent-care clinic did not state on the certificate that it had performed a PCR test. Thanks to the Maldives specialist who had planned her trip, she knew that would be a dealbreaker. So she returned to the lab and had them add that wording and re-issue her documentation.

The results are dated wrong.

In addition to checking that the type of test is stated clearly on your certificate, confirm that your correct name and correct test date are printed there too. You don’t want to be stopped at the border because the lab’s computer stamped the wrong date or printed a different name from what’s on your passport. This happens!

You need an in-country test but don’t know where to find one.

Researching Covid-testing labs at home is hard enough. Imagine having to track one down in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. For her trip to the Maldives islands, Brook used a Maldives specialist on The WOW List who, when she needed a test in the Maldives in order to travel onward to Dubai, made it happen locally: He arranged for her Maldives resort to test her there (which involved a brief stop one morning at the resort’s clinic, after which her sample was sent by ship to a nearby lab and her butler was emailed the results the next day). In Turkey, this WOW List trip designer arranges for healthcare workers to administer tests to travelers at their hotels in the morning before they head out for the day; then by the time they get back in the evening, the results are ready for them.

You need a time-sensitive test in order to include an additional location.

Say you want to go to the Galapagos Islands. You’ll need to show your test results twice: once when you arrive in mainland Ecuador, and again before flying from there to the islands. (Even fully vaccinated travelers must get tested before going to the Galapagos.) You’re allowed to take the Ecuador test as many as three days prior to arrival, and the Galapagos test has to be within four days of arrival. This means you could need to get tested again in-country, depending on your itinerary and when you took your first test. One WOW Lister who just returned from the Galapagos figured out a solution: A private company can come to your hotel and administer the test. “We paid about $100 per person, and they emailed us results the next day,” he told us in an interview about his Galapagos trip during Covid.

The rules changed, and you didn’t know it.

Remember, testing rules (like so many other Covid-related travel requirements) are changing all the time. For example, time frames for tests may suddenly get shorter or longer, or the list of approved labs may be altered without notice. Just before Brook left for the Maldives, its government announced that the allowable window for testing had been increased from 72 to 96 hours; there was also some confusion about whether the documentation now needed to include the traveler’s passport number. The WOW List specialist who booked her trip spotted the potential problem and saw that it could lead to Brook being barred from her flight if Emirates didn’t have the updated info. So he contacted the Emirates staff himself to make sure they had the correct guidance from the Maldives government and that she could make her trip without a hitch.

The good news is that you do not need to figure all this out of your own or spend hours on the Internet trying to decipher other people’s experiences. You just need the right destination specialist to arrange and troubleshoot your trip. Check out these trips during Covid as examples of how the right specialist can be your savvy resource and safety net, and ask us to connect you with the best one for your needs here: Get a personalized trip recommendation.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021

Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021
Barcelona's beach was lively, even at 9:30 at night.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia - market outside
But there were so few crowds at Gaudi's famous Sagrada Familia church that a market popped up outside. In pre-pandemic times, this street would have been elbow-to-elbow with tourists.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia 1-June 2021 interior
I was mesmerized by the light coming through the stained glass windows. I never would have been able to take this picture in 2019. There would have been throngs of people all through this corridor.
Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia interior
This was as crowded as it got in the main part of the nave.
Barcelona Spain Las Ramblas-June 2021
Las Ramblas were wide open.
Barcelona Spain Gotchic quarter street-June 2021
So were the tiny streets in the Gothic Quarter, which made it so much more enjoyable to wander and visit the shops.
Barcelona Spain La Boqueria Market June 2021
La Boqueria market was calm and I had plenty of space (partly because I visited late in the day).
people eating outside of vBasilica of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona Spain
But it's not like the city was empty or deserted — it was lively in all the ways you'd want it to be. People were eating at a cute café outside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
Barcelona Spain port restaurants-June 2021
They were having late dinner at the restaurants along the port.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca food
I ate well too. At Vila Viniteca, my guide and I sat for nearly two hours with one of the shop's managers, just getting to know each other and tasting delicious Spanish cheeses and wines and fresh salad. That's tomato bread on the left, a simple yet delicious Catalan tapas of grilled bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt served everywhere in Barcelona.
Barcelona Spain Vila Viniteca market with tomatoes-June 2021
But, as my guide pointed out, you have to use the right tomatoes for it.
3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Every shopkeeper I spoke to was thrilled that travelers were starting to come back. At La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille maker in Barcelona, the staff even applauded me and I got a special tour of the shop and even learned a bit about shoemaking!
Barcelona Spain La Plata tapas restaurant with bartender
The tapas and pintxos crawl experience is a little different because of the pandemic. At La Plata, beers are served in plastic cups and you have to order from your table.
Barcelona Spain Sagardi tapas restaurant with covered food-June 2021
And at Sagardi, the tapas are kept behind glass — you can no longer just grab them off the counter yourself. But the food is still delicious, and I saw many groups of friends out at night to grab a drink and a skewered snack.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room
I found it so interesting (and helpful) that you can eat dinner earlier these days, if you prefer. Restaurants started opening earlier during the pandemic to account for curfews (now lifted), and so far they are continuing that trend. I wasn't able to stay up as late as a true Barcelonian, but maybe that was because I had this cool hotel room to come back to at The Serras.
Barcelona Spain Serras Hotel room-June 2021
The Serras Hotel is where Picasso had his first studio in Barcelona. The building overlooks the ocean, has a cool mod design, and my room had two balconies and a bathtub with a view!

 

When I posted photos of my experience at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, taken just a few days after the country had reopened, the comments I got back were full of awe. Not awe of the eye-popping details of Antoni Gaudí’s elaborate and famously unfinished church, but of the lack of people crowding into it.

The Sagrada Familia is the biggest tourism draw in Barcelona (and arguably, in Spain), but if you were to visit now, you may not even realize it. Because as Spain welcomes back visitors, there is a special opportunity: You can have it to yourself. Travelers arriving directly from the U.S. don’t even need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test. All we have to do is fill out one simple health declaration form.

Barcelona, in particular, feels different as it emerges from the pandemic—in the best way possible. The Gothic Quarter isn’t clogged with tourists, you can actually stroll along Las Ramblas rather than be pushed along by the swarm, La Boqueria Market is calmer, shopkeepers have time to chat, restaurants are open for dinner earlier than usual so you don’t have to wait until 10pm to eat (though you can—there’s no curfew in Spain!), and museums have plenty of tickets.

The major reason for this change? No cruise ships. In years past, Barcelona had been Europe’s busiest cruise destination (more than 800 ships docked there in 2019), and the city’s mayor, neighborhood groups, and local organizations were all working to limit the swarm. Now, as a result of the pandemic, cruises are still extremely limited throughout the country. And when I visited in mid-June, I didn’t spot a single ship in the harbor (which I could take in from my balcony at the lovely Serras Hotel).

The beach, however, was buzzing. Masks are no longer required outdoors in Spain, and Barcelonians were reveling in the open air and warm weather. In fact, all of Barcelona had the vibe of a summer beach town that hadn’t been slowed down at all by the pandemic. At 9:30 pm on a Sunday, people were still out on the sand, playing beach volleyball, picnicking, and hanging out by the water. The restaurants and bars that line the beach and port were all open, and a few blocks away, in the little neighborhood of Barceloneta, spots were even livelier, dotted with groups of friends laughing, reconnecting, and watching football. The whole scene felt alive and fresh in a way that only a beach city can be—and after a year and a half in insular, cramped New York, I breathed deeper and more freely than I thought possible.

As I talked to locals (not only my guides, but shopkeepers, waiters, hotel staff, bartenders, cheesemongers, candymakers, cobblers), I realized they were no longer holding their breath either. Barcelonians are happy to have us back. If you’d asked them the same question in 2018 or 2019, you might have heard grumbles about the overwhelming waves of tourists spilling through the city. But now, the warmth is palpable.

In fact, the staff at one store (the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona) were so happy to have international travelers back that they applauded me when they learned I was visiting from the U.S. I then spent an hour hanging out with them, learning about the store’s history, and swapping stories about our pandemic experiences. It was one of many moments during my two weeks in Europe that made me realize that (a) masks cannot hinder true connection and (b) the pandemic gave us travelers the unexpected gift of common ground with everyone we meet no matter where we go. And that’s not a downer—it’s common ground people were eager to discuss. Especially, if you’re chatting over a spread of Spanish wines and cheeses, which I did for a couple hours at Vila Viniteca, a wine distributor, shop and market founded in 1932 where I sat in a private wine cellar with my guide Veronica and a couple staff members as we sampled their wares.

If you find yourself grazing through Barcelona’s many snack spots like I did, be sure to save room for pintxos and tapas, because the restaurants are definitely open and ready for hungry guests. During the pandemic, they started opening earlier to accommodate an earlier curfew. But now that the curfew is lifted, many are still choosing to open at 7 or 8pm in order to serve more people (and, hopefully, make more money). When I visited, QR menus were the norm, and instead of grabbing snacks off an open bar, you had to sit and order at your table (you can read more about my tapas experience in Madrid), but the food was still delicious and the gregarious, fun atmosphere was still there, the crowds were merely smaller and had moved outside into the cool air.

Getting there

In addition to easy access to culture, food, and camaraderie, the logistics of getting to and from Barcelona are easy too. I flew into Barcelona from Paris, and filled out the required health declaration form online, received a QR code by email a few seconds later, and then showed it at a health-security checkpoint after deplaning. Totally hassle-free.

I also took a three-hour train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, and it could not have been easier or more relaxing. I booked my ticket online and I chose the quiet car for two reasons: First, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to loud talkers on their cell phones the whole way, but also as an added safety measure, since talking spreads particles and the train windows didn’t open. That said, I wasn’t too worried: I am vaccinated, and all passengers and staff were required to wear masks, plus I had a two-seater to myself, as did everyone else in my car. The train ride ended up being a surprisingly restful and enjoyable little break. It was very comfortable (air-conditioned, smooth, and nearly silent), and the scenery of villages and vineyards passing by was beautiful.

But even as I was pulling out of Barcelona, I was already missing it. The city is coming alive now, and it’s having a kind of aaaah moment to stretch, sparkle, and rejuvenate. Travelers who can get there soon, before all of the mass tourists and cruise ship passengers flood back in, will be revitalized by that energy (not to mention the joy of being in the Sagrada Familia without fighting for space and sightlines). We’ve all just spent more than a year living through the bad side of Covid; for pete’s sake, take advantage and reward yourself with the one upside.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, The Serras Hotel provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for two private guiding experiences.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

United States of America map. USA map with states and state names isolated

Every State’s Coronavirus and Travel Information

Even when you arm yourself with the info below—each state’s most useful resources about quarantine rules, caseloads, reopening (or re-closing) plans, and guidance for travelers—it is tough to anticipate all the potential snags of a Covid-era trip.

A smart, safe, luxury vacation within the U.S.—say, in a remote wilderness lodge in Alaska, or on a private sailboat off New England—is possible, but so much depends on your specific individual situation that we recommend you write to us directly for personalized advice. We are longtime travel journalists with a network of smart travel sources, so we’re accustomed to cutting through the noise and news to get reliable answers about travel during Covid-19 (which we’ve been collecting in our Covid-19 Travel section, which includes intel on testing, insurance, and first-hand accounts from travelers). If you are thinking about a future international trip, we can advise you on that too. Don’t miss our article tracking which countries are open to U.S. travelers and what you can do there; if you are fully vaccinated, you can check out the subset of countries where you can travel if you’re vaccinated without pre-trip testing.

Note that the CDC now requires all air passengers coming into the U.S. to have proof of a negative test or documentation of recovery from Covid-19 before they board the plane. This requirement goes for U.S. citizens too. (Masks are required on all forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.)

Once you land, the CDC recommends getting tested 3–5 days later, along with a post-trip self-quarantine of 7 days. Even if you test negative, they advise you to stay home for all 7 days. If you don’t get tested, the quarantine is 10 days. To help with that, we have info on how to get a quick-turnaround Covid test.

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

 

Alabama

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Alabama’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard

Traveler Information (Alabama Tourism)

 

Alaska

All nonresidents over the age of 10, including those who have been vaccinated, are asked to upload health declarations and information to Alaska’s Safe Travels online portal.

Travelers must provide proof of negative molecular-based SARS-CoV-2 test taken within 72 hours of arrival or take a free COVID-19 test at the airport. If your results are pending or if you take the test at the airport, you must strictly social distance (both at your own expense) until results come back.  A second test taken 5 to 14 days after arrival is requested.

Fully vaccinated travelers do not have to test or quarantine.

Travelers who have documentation that they tested positive within the past 90 days do not have to submit to pre-trip testing or testing on arrival, but are strongly encouraged to get tested after 5 to 14 days in the state.

Beginning June 1, 2021, at participating airports, all travelers to Alaska will be eligible to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information

Safe Travels information

Reopening Plan

Traveler information, restrictions, and advisories (Travel Alaska)

 

Arizona

No travel restrictions for visitors

State Coronavirus Updates

Department of Health Services and Reopening Guidance

Traveler information, restrictions, and advisories (Visit Arizona)

 

Arkansas

No travel restrictions for visitors

Arkansas COVID-19 Information Hub

Arkansas COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Traveler information (Arkansas Tourism)

 

California

The state strongly discourags travel, asking people to delay until they’re fully vaccinated. For those who must travel, the advice is to follow CDC guidelines, i.e. get tested 1-3 days before travel, and 3-5 days after travel, and when you get home, self-quarantine for 7 days, no matter what your test results were. If you didn’t get tested, self-quarantine for 10 days.

All restrictions except those for conventions of more than 5,000 attendees are scheduled to lift statewide on June 15.

California COVID-19 Information Hub

Business and activity restrictions by county

COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Traveler Information for the State (Visit California)

Traveler information by region (Visit California)

 

Colorado

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

Colorado COVID-19 Information Hub

Colorado COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Information on what’s open (state parks, campsites, retail, etc.)

Traveler guidance (Colorado Tourism)

 

Connecticut

No travel restrictions for visitors, but the state recommends following CDC guidelines for safe travel. Masks are required in public (indoors and outdoors) when six feet of social distancing is not possible

Connecticut COVID-19 Information Hub

Latest guidance on masks, social distancing, and what businesses are open

Traveler Advice and Regulations (Visit CT)

 

Delaware

No travel restrictions for visitors

Delaware’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Advisory (Visit Delaware)

 

Florida

No travel restrictions for visitors

Florida’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Florida’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Florida’s Reopening Plan

Traveler Advisory Updates (Florida Health Department)

Traveler Advice (Visit Florida)

Walt Disney World parks information (including mask requirement)

 

Georgia

No travel restrictions for visitors

Georgia’s COVID-19 Hub

Department of Health Daily Status Report

Traveler Advice and what’s open (Explore Georgia)

 

Hawaii

Hawaii has strict requirements for travelers:

•All travelers to Hawaii (including to Kau’ai) must have a negative Covid test prior to boarding the last leg of their flight to Hawaii and must upload the results to the state’s Safe Travels website before arrival. Anyone without a test or proof of the results must quarantine for 10 days. Travelers without a test or who cannot show sufficient proof of a negative test, must quarantine for 10 days or until they can show proof of negative results (testing and quarantine are at travelers’ own expense). All travelers, regardless of testing, will undergo temperature checks on arrival and must fill out a travel and health form. Some airlines are offer pre-flight virus testing to Hawaii-bound passengers.

Effective July 8: Travelers who have been fully vaccinated in the U.S. can bypass Hawaii’s pre-trip Covid test and quarantine requirement. Travelers must upload their CDC card to the state’s Safe Travels Program and bring the card with them to Hawaii.

•Only certain tests are accepted by the state of Hawaii: FDA-approved NAAT nasal swab test from a CLIA-certified approved partner laboratory.

•Covid tests and quarantine are no longer required for travel between islands.

Hawaii COVID-19 Information Hub

Hawaii Travel info: Safe Travels Hub and test results upload information

Travel FAQs

COVID-19 Data Dashboard

 

Idaho

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

Idaho’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Idaho’s Reopening Plan

Traveler Advice (Visit Idaho)

 

Illinois

The state has no restrictions for travelers, but Chicago does. The city’s testing and quarantine requirements are based on outbreak data for each state or territory. Travelers coming from a state or territory designated as Orange must quarantine for 10 days (or the length of their stay, if it’s less than 10 days), have proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival to Chicago, or be fully vaccinated no less than two weeks prior to arrival. Travelers from yellow states do not have to test or quarantine. Everyone has to wear masks and abide by social distancing.

Illinois COVID-19 Information Hub

Chicago COVID-19 Information Hub

Restore Illinois reopening plan

Chicago reopening information

Chicago Emergency Travel Order and yellow/orange state designations

 

Indiana

No travel restrictions for visitors

Indiana’s COVID-19 Information Hub and Data Dashboard

Traveler Resources (Visit Indiana)

Traveler Resources for Indianapolis (Visit Indy/Indianapolis Tourism)

 

Iowa

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

Iowa’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Current Case Status Dashboard

Traveler Advice (Travel Iowa)

 

Kansas

Quarantine is required for visitors who have been on a cruise, been to a mass event outside the state, and from certain states and countries. The length of the quarantine varies with each situation, and the list of states and countries is reviewed every two weeks. The length of quarantine may be shortened depending on whether you’ve been tested.

Kansas’s COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Cases Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Travel KS)

 

Kentucky

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

Kentucky’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Latest updates and openings

Travel Advisory (Kentucky state government)

 

Louisiana

No travel restrictions for visitors

Louisiana’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Information (Louisiana Travel)

Traveler info for New Orleans (New Orleans Tourism)

Maine

As of May 1, visitors from all states are exempt from Maine’s previous quarantine and testing requirements. However, if a state has a spike, the Maine CDC will re-apply requirements for visitors to and from that state.

Maine’s Coronavirus Hub

Division of Disease Surveillance and current data

Travel Protocols, FAQs, and Openings (Visit Maine Tourism)

Maryland

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Covid Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler Guidance (Visit Maryland) 

Massachusetts

Visitors and returning residents are advised to follow a 10-day quarantine.  If a traveler can show a negative test result administered up to 72 hours before arrival, or if they are two weeks out from their final dose of a vaccine, they may bypass quarantine (but quarantine must be observed until the test results are received). Visitors staying in Massachusetts for less than 24 hours can also bypass quarantine

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Covid-19 Travel Advisory (state government)

Tourism information and Traveler FAQ (Visit MA) 

Michigan

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Guidelines for Traveles (Michigan tourism)

 

Minnesota

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening plan and phases

Travel information (Minnesota Department of Health)

Travelers Guidance (Explore Minnesota)

 

Mississippi

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Mississippi Case and Data Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Visit Mississippi)

 

Missouri

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Missouri Recovery Plan

Traveler Guidance (Visit Missouri)

 

Montana

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance and Resources (Visit MT)

Contact Info for Montana’s Tribal Nations and Reservations

 

Nebraska

Visitors to Nebraska from domestic locations have no travel restrictions, but anyone arriving from an international destination must follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Nebraska Case and Data Dashboard

Traveler Recommendations (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)

Traveler Guidance (Visit Nebraska)

 

Nevada

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening and phases plan

State-wide Traveler Information (Visit Nevada)

Traveler Information for Las Vegas (Visit Las Vegas)

 

New Hampshire

Travelers from domestic locations have no travel restrictions, but are advised to follow CDC guidelines, including getting a PCR test 3-5 days after travel.

Travelers returning from cruises or international travel must quarantine for 10 days. They may test out of quarantine if they take a PCR test on day 6 or 7 (antigen/rapid tests are unacceptable), results come back negative, and they are asymptomatic. But the state advises these travelers to self-monitor for symptoms for all 10 days and strictly adhere to mitigation measures.

Travelers do not need to quarantine for 10 days or get tested for COVID-19 if either of the following apply: They have had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccination and more then 14 days have passed since receiving the second dose, OR they tested positive for active COVID-19 infection (by PCR or antigen testing) in the last 90 days (if the infection was more than 90 days ago, then the traveler must follow the quarantine rules).

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler information and quarantine rules (state)

Tourism resources (Visit NH)

 

New Jersey

Non-essential travel is strongly discouraged, but if you do travel it is recommended that you follow CDC guidelines and get tested 1–3 days before the trip and 3–5 days after. Even if you test negative, you should still quarantine for 7 days. If testing is not available or results are delayed, you should quarantine for 10 days.

Fully vaccinated travelers and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past three months are exempt.

All travelers from from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Delaware (even if unvaccinated) are also exempt.

NJ’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Live Data Dashboard

Traveler Quarantine Information and Health Form (Visit NJ)

Reopening Plan

 

New Mexico

Travelers arriving from high-risk states (with a 5% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day average) are advised to self-quarantine for at least 10 days and to seek out a Covid test. Testing locations and availabilities are available at togethernm.org.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions & Recommendations (New Mexico Department of Health)

Traveler information (New Mexico Tourism)

 

New York

There are no quarantine or testing requirements for asymptomatic domestic or asymptomatic international travelers arriving in New York, but the state still recommends testing and quarantine for the following groups:

•Fully vaccinated individuals who have not recovered from COVID-19 in the past 3
months are recommended to get tested 3-5 days after arrival in New York from
international travel.
•All unvaccinated domestic and international travelers who have not recovered from COVID-19 in the past 3 months are recommended to get tested 3-5 days after arrival in New York, consider non-mandated self-quarantine (7 days if tested on day 3-5, otherwise
10 days), and avoid contact with people at higher risk for severe disease for 14 days,
regardless of test result.

All travelers must still complete the Traveler Health Form unless the traveler had left New York for less than 24 hours or is coming to New York from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.

New York State’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Phased Regional Reopening Information

Cases and Data Dashboard

NY State Covid-19 Travel Advisory (state government)

NY State Traveler Information (NY State tourism)

New York City Traveler Information (NYCGo)

 

North Carolina

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan with information on local restrictions and what’s open

Traveler Guidance (Visit NC)

 

North Dakota

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Updates

Traveler Guidance (State Health Department)

Traveler Guidance (ND Tourism)

 

Ohio

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Data Dashboard

Ohio Reopening Plan

 State Travel Advisory (Ohio Department of Health)

 

Oklahoma

Travelers are requested to wear face masks and limit participation in indoor gatherings for 10 to 14 days, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance (Oklahoma Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Oklahoma City)

 

Oregon

Travelers are requested to self-quarantine for 14 days. Travelers are exempt if they are 14 days past their final vaccine dose and have no COVID-19 symptoms.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan and County Status

Travel Alerts (Travel Oregon)

 

Pennsylvania

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Hospital Data

Traveler information (Pennsylvania Department of Health)

 

Rhode Island

Domestic travelers from hot spots (the list is updated regularly) must provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival  or quarantine for 10 days.

International travelers must quarantine for 10 days, but If you have a negative result from a test taken at least 5 days after you arrived, you may shorten quarantine to 7 days.

Fully vaccinated travelers do not have to quarantine but are still encouraged to get a COVID-19 test between 5 and 10 days after out-of-state travel.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Tourism information (Visit Rhode Island)

Traveler Guidance and FAQs, including testing sites for visitors (RI Department of Health)

 

South Carolina

No travel restrictions for visitors, but anyone who has traveled is advised to stay home as much as possible and to wear a mask in public.

COVID-19 Information Hub

State Parks Information

Traveler Guidance (State government)

 

South Dakota

No state travel restrictions for visitors, but some tribal lands are closed to anyone without a permit for providing essential or emergency services. See more information about tribal checkpoints here.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Cases and Data Dashboard

Tourism information (Travel South Dakota)

 

Tennessee

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Tennessee Vacation)

 

Texas

No travel restrictions for visitors

Texas’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Travel updates (state government)

Traveler Guidance (Travel Texas)

 

Utah

No travel restrictions for visitors

Utah’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Utah State Parks Information

Utah National Parks Information

Traveler Guidance (Visit Utah)

 

Vermont

Domestic travelers do not have to quarantine, but unvaccinated visitors (including children and Vermont residents) must have a COVID-19 test within 3 days prior to arriving in Vermont (see rules here).

International travelers must follow CDC after-travel guidelines for testing and quarantine.

Visitors to Vermont must follow the same gathering rules as locals. See full details here.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Traveler requirements and FAQ (Vermont state government)

Traveler Guidance (Vermont Tourism)

 

Virginia

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data

FAQs about openings, restaurants, and more 

Traveler Information (Virginia Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Virginia Tourism)

 

Washington, D.C.

A negative test (taken within 72 hours of arrival) is required for travelers from jurisdictions with more than 10 cases per 100,000 people.  Any traveler staying in Washington, D.C. for more than 3 days must take another test within 3 to 5 days of arrival.

Exemptions:
-Those who are fully vaccinated (and do not have Covid symptoms)
-Those who have tested positive in the last 90 days and do not have symptoms.
-Visitors from Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Guam, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon and the Virgin Islands
-Visitors coming into D.C. for less than 24 hours

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance (Washington D.C. Tourism)

Open/Close Information on Museums, Restaurant, Festivals, and Attractions

 

Washington State

No travel restrictions for visitors, but they are advised to follow CDC guidelines.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler information (Washington state government)

 

West Virginia

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidances (West Virginia Tourism)

 

Wisconsin

No travel restrictions for visitors, but the Wisconsin Department of Health Services recommends residents cancel or postpone travel, even within the state, unless they are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data

Traveler Guidance (Wisconsin Department of Health Services)

 

Wyoming

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Travel updates (Wyoming Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Wyoming Tourism)

 

Additional Resources

CDC Guidelines for Domestic Travel (CDC)

CDC Guidelines for After International Travel (CDC)

COVID-19 cases by state (CDC)

Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by Country (CDC)

COVID-19 Risk Map for Every U.S. County (Harvard Global Health Institute)

Health departments by state (CDC)

Mask mandates and business restrictions by state (The New York Times)

Mask mandates by state (Pew Trusts)

National Park restrictions by state (National Park Service)

Restaurant restrictions by state (Open Table)

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel (WendyPerrin.com)

The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers With No 14-Day Quarantine and What You’ll Find There (WendyPerrin.com)

How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip During Covid (WendyPerrin.com)

Pandemic-Era Travel: The Trip Reviews That Matter Most Right Now (WendyPerrin.com)

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

3 women posing at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
Asilde, me, and Aurora
exterior shop view of La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
worker at work table at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
shoe molds on shelf at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
wall of shoes up to the ceiling at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
queue ticket numbers in shape of shoes at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona
photo of owners meeting pope in backroom at La Manual Alpargatera, oldest espadrilles shop in Barcelona

 

I’ve never been applauded in a store before. But that’s what happened about a minute after I walked into La Manual Alpargatera, the oldest espadrille shop in Barcelona. A few seconds into my broken-Spanish chit-chat with the clerk who’d come over to help me, she realized I was visiting from America…and a bright smile suddenly lit up her entire face. No mask could hide it.

She called out to her two colleagues who were busy making espadrilles by hand at the back table, pointed at me excitedly, and announced that I was here from the U.S. The next thing I know, they’re clapping, we’re all laughing, and my new BFF Aurora is introducing me to Asilde and Alberto, who tell me that it’s been more than a year since they’ve had a traveler from America in the shop.

Asilde is the owner’s wife, and she serves as my translator for the next hour as I talk to the trio about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic, learn a few fun facts about espadrille history and construction, and get a guided tour through the 80-year-old shop (which includes a large framed photo of Asilde’s father-in-law meeting the Pope, who bought a pair of their shoes).

Before the pandemic, Asilde explained, the store would be so busy that all 51 of the espadrille-shaped, numbered queue tickets would be taken—and they’d need even more. But during the hour I spent with them, only three other people came in. Fortunately, now that Spain is open to U.S. travelers and its Covid restrictions are easing (no quarantine or testing is required for vaccinated travelers; no masks are required outdoors as of June 26; indoor dining is permitted) it’s only a matter of time before travelers and cruise ships return to Barcelona and businesses like La Manual Alpargatera begin to recover.

Of course I bought a pair of espadrilles (with Aurora’s expert help and everyone’s feedback on styles), but the thing I’ll remember most about that afternoon is how uplifting and heartening it was. I laughed and bonded with three perfect strangers, simply because we had all just emerged from a difficult, shared global experience.

Turns out, something quite surprising and good is coming out of this pandemic—and it’s the dismantling of the wall between “tourist” and “local.” Everywhere I went on this trip, I had immediate common ground with the people I met, Equally surprising, what we had in common—a familiar tale of suffering and survival—wasn’t a downer.

Guides, shop keepers, ticket takers, even a baker in Madrid and a hotel maid in Paris, were eager to share their stories and hear mine. Regardless of whether we spoke the same language, we understood one another because we’ve all been through similar things—like when Olga, a maid at my Paris hotel, blanked on the name of a famous museum and then tapped her head three times, repeating the French for “Covid brain.” I’d never heard that term spoken in French before, but I knew exactly what she meant. We both burst out laughing.

Maybe you’d expect that all the mask mandates and social distancing rules would make it harder to forge any real human connections; maybe you’d think that if a person’s mouth and nose are hidden, you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation. But that was not my experience at all. In fact, it was the opposite. After being cooped up and isolated from one another for so long, most people I met seemed to crave and appreciate human connection more than ever. Bittersweetly, we now all have the past difficult year and the upcoming brighter one as common ground to build on. Travelers especially will get to understand more about this strange moment in time and the people around the world who are going through it. And, maybe if they walk into the right shop or take the time to look at the Paris skyline with a hotel housekeeper, they’ll also make a friend.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo

The Wonderful Thing the Pandemic Revealed About Madrid

In Madrid, locals were going about their daily lives as normal—going to work, eating at restaurants, and relaxing in parks.
Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo
Madrid has beautiful parks. Parque Madrid Rio runs along both sides of the Manzanares River and is criss-crossed by many pedestrian bridges, including Dominique Perrault Architecture's spiraling metal Arganzuel Footbridge.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro formal gardens
Retiro Park is the city's backyard; Wander through formal gardens, run along its paths, chill out in the many shaded quads, or take a boat out on the lake.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro glass house
The Glass Palace in Retiro Park was built in 1887.
Madrid Spain tapas at Casa Lucas
The tapas scene is alive and well. It looks a little different these days (you have to order from your table), but the goal is the same: good food and drink with good friends.
Madrid Spain Valor chocolate and porras
Hardest part of my job: testing out churros and chocolate. This is the offering at Valor, which serves my guide Pablo's favorite chocolate. Note that these fried dough sticks are actually porras, which are thicker than churros and smooth all around.
Madrid Spain San Gines chocolate and churros
These are the churros and chocolate at San Ginés.
front door to San Gines chocolate shop in Madrid
The shop has been serving this treat since 1894, and it usually has long lines of people waiting to give it a try.
Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol outdoor scene
Puerta del Sol is a city-center plaza near lots of shopping and food, but it was relaxed rather than mobbed.
Madrid Spain City Hall
The architecture in Madrid is beautiful. This is the city hall (Palacio de Cibeles), which also holds public events and exhibitions.
Madrid Spain National Library
The National Library of Spain is another stunner.
Don't forget to look up every once in a while as you walk through neighborhoods. The small residential buildings are charming too.
Madrid Spain Prado Museum
The Prado Museum had no line. I walked right up to the counter and bought my ticket to enter at the spur of the moment. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, so you can't see it, but the interior was crowd-free too. Other than in the first gallery when everyone enters, I was alone in many of the rooms.
Madrid Spain local market where I got GF bread
I trekked to a local indoor market after one of my tapas waiters told me about a gluten-free bakery I had to try. I got there first thing in the morning just as it opened.
Madrid Spain Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is usually a touristy square, ringed with not-so-great restaurants and filled with visitors and the hawkers trying to sell them stuff. Even this square was refreshingly empty.
Back at my hotel, the Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá, I had windows that opened to a quiet street below.
Madrid Spain hotel breakfast garden Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
I could eat breakfast in a leafy garden each morning.
Madrid Spain rooftop view from hotel Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
And get fresh air and great views from the rooftop lounge. From left to right, that's the Teatro Real (Royal Theater), Almudena Cathedral, and the Royal Palace.

 

 

Do not skip Madrid. The Spanish capital is buzzing, and the buzz is building, not just because of the easing of Covid restrictions—e.g., restaurants and bars are open until 1:00 am, and masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 26—but because this underrated, often overlooked city is on the verge of becoming the new It place. In the post-lockdown quiet of no tourists, you can get to know its people and experience its charms like never before.

I visited about a week after Spain opened to U.S. travelers in June, and this is what I learned:

It’s about the people

Madrid doesn’t have an iconic draw, like Barcelona and its Sagrada Familia. Nor does it have an aura around its name, like Paris. “People don’t have a mental image of what to expect, because we don’t have a monument like the Eiffel Tower,” says my local guide, Pablo, as we explore the city. In fact, he tells me, many visitors have admitted to him that they weren’t sure whether they should come to Madrid at all. “They think it’s just the business capital,” he says. “It is less obvious, it is less right in your face, it’s less monumental than other cities. But travelers who spend two or three days here start to see the way people live, and they understand that this is what makes Madrid special.” Even in my short visit, I can see what Pablo means. Madrid is real. Real people live here, doing real things, being their real selves, going about their real lives whether you’re there or not. It doesn’t feel like the tourist magnet that so many other famous European cities can feel like.

This is a remarkable kind of place to drop into as a traveler. In Madrid, it means there’s no barrier to seeing—and joining in—how residents get around and do their thing. They’re on the same streets as you are. And, especially now, there is no feeling of a tourist bubble in Madrid. One reason is that there are very few tourists. Another reason is that Madrid is Madrid. It is a cool city that doesn’t have an attitude about being cool.

“Madrid is very welcoming to people from everywhere, because it’s a city of people from everywhere, like New York,” Pablo explains. “No one is really from here, so it’s welcoming.” I ask him how a visitor might experience that feeling of welcome, especially if they’re only here for a few days. “You could talk to anyone, and no one would ever make you feel like you couldn’t go anywhere because you weren’t rich enough or local enough. Madrileños have a very welcoming and accepting nature.”

It’s about the food

A surge of four- and five-star hotel openings in the past few years has not only elevated the level of accommodations and service in Madrid—such as the brand-new Four Seasons Madrid and the Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques (a 19th-century palace where I stayed)—but it has helped draw attention to the city’s growing world-class culinary scene.

In addition to David Muñoz’s three-Michelin-star DiverXO, Madrid has four more restaurants with two stars, and another 14 that have earned one star. Of course you don’t have to seek out Michelin distinctions to eat well in Madrid—even the most casual tavernas can turn out a stellar tortilla de patatas (try several so that you can join the local debate of onions vs. no onions).

The tapas process has changed due to Covid, though. You’ll no longer have to elbow your way through a mob to reach the bar, nor will you be able to grab skewered snacks yourself (in most places they’re behind a barrier or not even lined up on the bar at all). Instead, for now, you have to sit down at a table (indoor dining is permitted in Spain), scan a QR code for the menu or look for a chalkboard posted on the wall, and order from a waiter. Although some tourists who’ve read guidebooks may be disappointed by the lack of a tapas-bar mosh pit, in my opinion that attitude misses the point of this tradition. Tapas isn’t a contact sport—it’s a lifestyle. It’s about hanging out with friends over good food and drink in your favorite local places.

And such hanging out is happening. Even on a Tuesday night, I ate my way through several tapas bars where groups of friends, and couples young and old, were enjoying small plates and small glasses of beer (order una caña so you don’t get too tipsy). What’s more, there’s a potential bonus to this new way of doing tapas, if you’re open to it. In my case, it was chatting with my waiter, who taught me a few key phrases so that I could order vegetarian tapas more easily, and who also told me about a gluten-free bakery run by his friend that I visited at a neighborhood market the next day (and where I got to chat with the baker too).

The other aspect of tapas crawls that Covid has changed is the hour they start. During the worst of the pandemic, when restrictions mandated that restaurants close early, they started to open earlier too. So, instead of dining at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, people started eating at 8:00 or 8:30. For now, that seems to be sticking. “Three years ago it would have been crazy to hear someone say they wanted to eat that early, but now it’s sensible,” Pablo says with a laugh. “You can eat early, then go for a drink later.”

Just as we want to go to the places that don’t have their usual long lines right now, so do the locals. So, a longtime Madrid resident who normally would not bother to battle the tourist mob at Chocolatería San Ginés (which has been written up in countless guidebooks for its chocolate and churros) is more inclined to revisit such popular spots now. “There were places I thought I’d never again go back to because of the crowds,” Pablo tells me. “But this is the type of thing that we Madrileños are starting to do more—we are taking advantage of this parentheses in history.” And, with that, he insists that I too take advantage of the lack of tourists at San Ginés—but that I must also sample the chocolate at Valor (his favorite) and report back with my opinion. My favorite kind of assignment.

It’s about the arts

As much as I love all the food and desserts, Madrid’s world-class art scene is worth the visit alone: The Prado is renowned for its collection of Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, and Bosch; the Museo Reina Sofía boasts Picasso’s Guernica along with other masterworks of contemporary art; and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza makes the third “point” of Madrid’s so-called Golden Triangle of art, with its impressive private collection of Western paintings. But there’s so much more: the Biblioteca Nacional de España (which has exhibits of works on paper, like one of illuminated manuscripts that I took in), the Museo de América, and the National Archaeological Museum; plus a slew of smaller galleries and hip cultural centers like the Matadero Madrid, a contemporary-arts hub in a converted slaughterhouse that presents exhibitions, events, and festivals across a wide range of disciplines. And right now is a great time to have these venues to yourself. For instance, there was no line at all to get into the Prado. I was able to walk right up and buy a ticket at the spur of the moment, and although there was an initial congregation of visitors in the first few galleries, I found myself blissfully alone in many of the rooms after that.

Madrid also has a big theater scene that offers Spanish-language versions of popular Broadway musicals and plays, plus a thriving “off Broadway” too. “Theaters were one of the first things to open,” Pablo points out to me, as evidence of how important they are to the lifestyle here. “On a weekend [pre-pandemic], there could be 100 to 140 performances around the city.” Theaters are currently open and operating at limited capacity, and more performances are in the works.

It’s about urban design

Madrid’s art isn’t just inside the buildings. It is the buildings. Take the time to stroll around: Grand palaces and frilly cake-like mansions are everywhere. I recommend a walk along Paseo del Prado toward the elaborate city hall and then down Calle de Alcalá toward Puerta del Sol, where, if you’re so inclined you might stop for a leches merengada ice cream at Palazzo or a cream pastry at La Mallorquina. Even the residential buildings are lined with petite iron-railed balconies that remind me of Paris.

Madrid’s green spaces are just as dramatic. Parque de El Retiro is a sprawling, sculpted green space on the east side, where a crystal palace glitters over a small lake at the top of the hill, and you can take rowboats out on a larger lake nearby. Even on a weekday, the park was alive: I saw a group exercise class, couples of all ages walking hand in hand, plenty of dog owners running their pets, and a surprising number of roller bladers. There are formal gardens and fountains and snack areas, but my favorite features of the park are the many shaded quads, perfect for picnics or just relaxing and reading up on what to do with the rest of your day.

On the west side of the city, there’s Casa de Campo, 16th-century royal hunting grounds that were converted into the city’s largest public park and forest preserve in the 1930s. If the trails, sports fields, and pool don’t provide enough outdoor activity for you, there’s also an amusement park on the grounds.

In between Retiro and Casa de Campo is the Parque Madrid Rio, a more recent addition that transformed the banks of the Manzanares River into a green space for biking, walking, and admiring the many pedestrian bridges that span the small waterway. Don’t miss the super-modern, spiraling-metal Arganzuel Footbridge or the 18th-century Baroque stone Puente de Toledo.

It’s the perfect time

This unusually quiet, post-lockdown moment has created an unexpected side effect: Being in Madrid now, when the city is remarkably free of tourists and when locals are seamlessly getting back to their normal lives, reveals what makes this place awesome. Tourists are going to realize it soon and descend in droves, so get here before it becomes a hot spot.

And give yourself enough days to dive in: Talk to people; stroll the streets; take in as many museums, galleries, theater, and dance performances as you can; and, of course, eat as much as you can too. The right travel fixer can spotlight the coolest experiences, open doors to more Madrileños than you could meet on your own, and connect you with a great local guide. Virginia Irurita, one of Wendy’s recommended travel specialists for Spain, matched me with Pablo, and it was like hanging out with an old friend who totally got me. I might just frame the piece of paper on which he wrote down all his favorite dinner and dessert spots.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for a half day of private guiding with Pablo.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Paris Louvre pyramid plaza empty right after Paris reopening after covid lockdown

Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It.

I arrived in Paris on the day that France opened to travelers from the U.S. (June 9).  My job: Find out what had changed and how it feels to be there now.  Short answer: Not much, and amazing. Walking around the city felt like the first day of spring when everyone emerges from a long snowy winter excited to socialize outdoors again. In the Latin Quarter on Friday night, I watched an impromptu dance party coalesce. I saw friends reconnect as they walked along the Seine.  In the Jardin des Tuileries, I saw a man on a bike literally stop to smell the flowers and coworkers and couples picnicking in the shade. I found the city flickering with moments like that—quiet in all the right places and busy in all the right places. As an added bonus, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm in June, so there’s even more time to take in the festive atmosphere.  In the few days since I visited, restrictions have been eased further:  Masks are no longer required outdoors as of today, and there will be no curfew starting June 20.

Paris is having a unique moment. Here’s what I found:

The feeling on the street

 

Paris was downright celebratory from June 9-13:  The curfew had just been extended from 9pm to 11pm—and those two hours made a world of difference. On the first night, I spoke to Parisians dining at the many jubilant patios along Rue Saint-​Honoré. “We have our lives back,” a woman told me as she sat outdoors with a friend who’d just returned to Paris. Nearby, I saw a young man carefully composing photographs with his prized old-school SLR camera; he explained that he wanted to capture the evening on film so that he could remember it. At another bustling restaurant, the owner gushed, “I opened five years ago, and this is the best Wednesday we’ve ever had!” And you can bet that the next few weeks will be even better: the curfew will be dropped completely on June 20.

Although indoor dining is now allowed with certain protocols, most people are still eating outdoors—not surprising, considering this is spring in Paris.

While eating, masks come off (except for the waitstaff), but anytime I walked into a store, hotel, gallery, or museum, people put their masks on and used the hand sanitizer dispensers placed prominently at the door. In fact, I saw so many people stop to use them that the etiquette seems rote by now. Masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 17.

What’s open and what’s closed

Cinemas are open, concerts are happening in small venues (indoor and out), the Opéra Bastille is open with a ballet of Romeo and Juliet, the Opéra Garnier is open for visits (performances are coming later), and most museums are open. The Eiffel Tower is the only big-ticket sight I encountered that was still closed, and it was scheduled to reopen on July 16. (In the meantime, an alternative for good city views is the Centre Pompidou’s Restaurant Georges.)

Shops are open all over the city, and the streets are full of people going about their lives. In Saint-Germain on a Saturday afternoon, the streets were bustling, the brunch spots were full, and there were lines at the boulangeries. Le Marais was hopping too. That night, I even stumbled on a champagne-filled art opening hidden in a courtyard.

Popular places that are crowd-free

Versailles
Versailles
Versailles
The Louvre
The Louvre
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when I visited June 11, 2021
crowd in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris France
The Louvre's Mona Lisa room when Wendy visited in 2012

 

While it seemed that the day-to-day venues of Parisian life were nearing normalcy, I did go to a few places that were definitely not back to their usual selves yet. And this was a very good thing.

Versailles was basically empty. On my Thursday mid-morning visit, there was no line to get in; in fact, there was barely anyone on the sprawling plaza at all. My guide Isabelle recalled that in 2019, a visitor could expect to wait two to three hours to enter the palace, even if they’d pre-purchased a ticket. Right now, we were able to walk right in, timed tickets in hand. The woman who took our passes said that in pre-pandemic times, Versailles saw 35,000 people a day. So far this season, the most she’d seen was 10,000—on the previous weekend.

Once we were inside the massive palace, I saw just how few people were there. In previous years, visitors would be so crammed together that they’d be jostling for personal space as well for views of the opulent rooms. But when we walked into the usually packed Queen’s bedroom, only two other guests were standing there. Isabelle whispered, “Oooh, this is incredible. I’ve never seen it like this.”

Outside the chateau, the gardens are so vast that it’s hard to believe they could be teeming with people. But they could. Yet they weren’t. We saw two busloads of students on a field trip, but those were the only big groups we encountered. Instead, I wandered manicured lanes of flowers, took the usual Instagram shots without worrying about random tourists walking through them, and shielded my eyes from the statues that had been re-gilded during the pandemic closure and were now so bright they hurt to look at. #VersaillesProblems.

“How long do you think this respite will last?” I asked Isabelle as we walked back to the train. “Months? Through the end of the year?”

“Weeks,” she said.

If you come after this unique window of post-lockdown calm, one way to ensure a less crowded visit is to leverage the connections of a local travel fixer. Jennifer Virgilio, a France specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts, can arrange for you to see areas that are off-limits to the general public, like the apartment of the mistresses and the horse stables.

The Louvre was similarly uncrowded. You can easily buy tickets online for a set time slot now, but I happened to be passing by when I saw a distinct lack of lines at the pyramid entrance, so I took my chances and tried to get a ticket on the spot. The guard at the empty rope queue was checking ticket times as a few people around me flashed their phones and walked in, but he didn’t hesitate to let me pass when I said that I wanted to go in and purchase a ticket for today. When I got to the ticket counter inside, there was only one family in line ahead of me, and then the clerk quickly sold me a ticket for the current time slot. The whole process took only a few minutes and was very simple, but I don’t know if buying tickets in person like that will continue to be possible as travelers return en masse. Note that if you do not have a pre-purchased ticket, you must enter through the Pyramid. The attendants at alternate entrances like the Pavilion de la Bibliothèque and Porte des Lions, the latter of which is a great secret for bypassing long lines, won’t let you in without one. (The door guards at the Musée d’Orsay were similarly strict: If you didn’t have a ticket on your phone, they would not let you pass. And that’s why I saw about a dozen people busily tapping at their phones to download tickets.)

Once inside the Louvre, I headed straight for the Mona Lisa. If there was any arbiter of how busy the museum really was, that was it. And my jaw dropped as I walked in. The long circuitous rope lines were empty, and only about a dozen people were milling about. I waited about two minutes while some teenagers took selfies in front of the painting, and then I had an unobstructed view. Remembering the photo that Wendy had taken of the same room jam-packed in 2012, I snapped a comparison. (See both photos in the slideshow above.)

The hottest ticket in town

Swiss artist Urs Fischer made giant wax sculptures that burn a little every day, like candles.
Urs Fischer's wax airplane seats, with candles
The building is the old commodities exchange, and it's a work of art itself.
I liked the shadows created by the glass dome.
Gallery view
Artist Bertrand Lavier placed artworks in 24 wood-and-glass cases built for the 1889 World Fair.

 

While I would never say someone should skip the Louvre or the d’Orsay, the museum that I most wanted to see on this trip was the Pinault Collection, Paris’s newest addition to the art scene.

This modern and contemporary art museum has moved into the historic, iron-and-glass-domed Bourse de Commerce, which was a commodities exchange for wheat, sugar, and other crops in the 1800s. Now it’s been repurposed as a home for the vast art collection of French billionaire businessman François Pinault, who restored the building to its peak glory, hired Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design the interior additions, and filled the galleries with some very interesting works (including a room of sculptures made from slowly melting wax). This kind of old-meets-new juxtaposition is exactly my thing, so it was at the top of my must-do list for Paris. But since it opened in May, it’s been the hottest ticket in town: Slots were being released in controlled batches and were selling out as soon as they were posted.  Jennifer, however, was able to get me in.

Local guides are even more valuable

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely already know the great value that private guides bring to a trip. Not only can they bring a place to life with their stories and introduce us to the most interesting people (artists, chefs, musicians, sommeliers, fashion designers, whatever your interest), but now they can provide fascinating insights into this new Covid era we all share. I had a hundred questions for Isabelle about what it was like to be in Paris during the pandemic, and she was able to give me personal insight I never could have understood from reading the news. As we walked through the city, she pointed out how different businesses and even whole streets were affected, she shared personal stories from lockdown, she illuminated aspects of city life and culture that the pandemic temporarily changed, and added context to what I was seeing all around me.

Where to stay

The view from my balcony at Le Meurice, over the Tuileries.
A suite at Le Meurice
A cute "attic" room at Le Meurice
The elaborate regal decor is dotted with contemporary art, like the glass sculpture over the fireplace and a standing panel of photography.
Relais Christine's entrance courtyard
Room 11, where I stayed.
It has a private backyard. Other rooms have outdoor patios as well, that open onto a shared lawn.
A leafy nook for sitting with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
The lobby at Relais Christine is more like a living room.
At Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, the furniture and artwork are replicas of 18th-century pieces.
One of the sitting rooms
The outdoor dining area looks onto the Orangerie.
The dishes, made by Limoges, are exact replicas of an 1833 set belonging to King Louis Philippe, the last king of France. He is the king who turned Versailles into a museum.

 

I tried out two very different types of hotels: a grand hotel that made me feel like I was living in a palace, and an intimate boutique relais that made me feel like I was living in a cozy mansion. Both had a few key things in common that made my trip feel safer and less stressful.

My first stay was at Le Meurice, an elegant palace built in 1835 with many distinctions: Queen Victoria stayed here in 1855, and it was the first hotel in Paris to have a telephone and, later, to have private bathrooms in each room. The amenities and service here continue to be as impressive as those, especially the views. Ask for a room facing the Tuileries garden directly across from the hotel; and open the French doors to let in fresh air and to see all the way from the Louvre to the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. (The fifth and sixth floors have balconies; floors one through four have windows.) But don’t forget to keep your eyes open inside, too: There are contemporary artworks placed throughout the public spaces.

The hotel is in a prime location in the 1st arondissement right on Rue de Rivoli, within walking distance of the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and plenty of restaurants and shops on both the Right and Left banks. Don’t miss the hotel’s own newly reopened eateries either: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant le Meurice has two Michelin stars.

My second stop was the Relais Christine, where the word charming might have been invented. You enter the hotel through a private courtyard rich with greenery; there’s even a little loveseat nook under a trellis where you can have drinks. Inside, the lobby and breakfast area are outfitted with gem-colored couches, textured wallpaper, and plush pillows. It is all very elegant, yet unstuffy and homey—like if you had a cool, down-to-earth duchess for a cousin and she invited you to stay for the weekend. Many of the 48 rooms have outdoor space, and #11 has its own private backyard. I loved how Relais Christine was right in the middle of the lively shops and restaurants of the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood, but tucked away just off the main roads on a small, quiet street.

At Versailles, there’s a new hotel that is getting a lot of buzz, the Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. It’s set in an 1861 palace building (called Le Grand Contrôle) originally used for schmoozing with ambassadors, artists, and other political and cultural bigwigs.  Each room is decorated differently with re-creations of period artwork and furniture, and the staff wear period-inspired uniforms as well. The entire venue has only 14 rooms, an Alain Ducasse restaurant, and exclusive guest perks such as access to areas of Versailles that are normally off-limits and after-hours tours of the palace.  The right local travel fixer, such as as the Paris specialist I used for my trip, can also plan these for you.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Paris on your behalf, Le Meurice and Relais Christine each provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations.  Jennifer Virgilio arranged for a day of private guiding with Isabelle, for which I paid 550 euros—and she was worth every cent!

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Paros Greece Prodromos Village (

The Time to Go to Paros is Now

Paros Greece Podromos Village (
I turned a corner in the little village of Prodromos and was surprised by these bright flowers.
Paros Greece Lefkes Village
Lefkes is another small village, with a few restaurants and art galleries.
Paros Greece Lefkes Village
I loved the experience of wandering through villages like Lefkes and finding nooks like this.
In Parikia, the restaurants looked like magic gardens, especially when lit up at night. This was Daphne, and the food was delicious.
In Parikia, the restaurants were lively and busy, but no one really eats until about 8pm so if you come to town before that it's quieter.
This is what raw marble looks like.
The stonecutter pointed out different marbles from different Greek islands, all on display here.
When the Venetians ruled in the 13th century, they stole marble columns from ancient temples to build their own towers. Can you spot them?
Parilio hotel opened in 2019 and has a kind of California-meets-Greek island feel.
Each of the rooms has its own private patio or terrace. This was mine.
Since the days are so hot, guests usually hit the pool in the late afternoon.

 

The Greek island of Paros is like the goldilocks of the Cyclades. It’s not too scene-y and it’s not too sleepy—it’s the just-right mix of serene and relaxed, with a dash of nightlife and glam. But now is the time to go. Cruise ships have yet to return en masse this summer, so there’s a unique window of opportunity now. When the airport starts to allow international flights in 2023, even more visitors will flock to this idyllic isle.

Paros (just an hour’s ferry ride from Naxos, where I started my island hopping) has two main towns and a bunch of small villages—and it’s worth visiting as many as you can, to get a feel for the different sides of Paros.

Parikia is the main town, and it’s where you’ll disembark from the ferry, but don’t be put off by the busy, taxi-lined port. Stroll a few streets in, and you’ll be happily lost in a maze of white-washed, stone-paved alleys, where bougainvillea spills around corners and over walls, and restaurants are tucked under trellises overflowing with greenery and lights. (Fun fact: The streets and homes in the Cyclades islands were originally painted white by dictatorial decree in the 1930s—the whitewash is limestone, which is antibacterial and was supposed to combat sickness.)

Both towns are buzzing at night, with plenty of restaurants and shops that stay open late. During my time there, I heard lots of English, French, German, and Greek conversations emanating from the tables. It’s not overly busy yet, especially in the smaller villages, but cruise ships will start to arrive around the third week of June.

Lefkes and Prodromos are smaller villages, a little more off the beaten path, but absolute must-visits. Both are tiny and quaint (Lefkes has one guy who sweeps the whole town to keep it clean, and the entrance to Prodromos has a covered walkway where the townspeople hang out in the evening), but there are great cultural gems to be found in each. A mini art scene is burgeoning in Lefkes, with new photography and ceramics galleries joining veteran artist studios; and in Prodromos, you can feast with the town’s old timers at Tsitsanis, where the Giannis family has been cooking dishes with the ingredients from their own garden since 1969.

There’s also an ancient art scene, of sorts, on Paros. Since antiquity, Parian marble has been famed as the most translucent, purest white, and finest-grained marble in the world. The Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace were carved from Parian marble, so that gives you an idea of how prized it was. The ancient quarries with that highest-quality marble are now closed for mining, but newer quarries are still excavating valuable stone that is used for houses as well as art. My guide took me to meet a stoneworker at his factory outside the village of Marathi, and he gave me a quick lesson in the different marbles from around the Greek islands and how it is quarried and carved.

Marble is everywhere on Paros, not just in the sculptures. Look for it in the door frames of the houses in Parikia (the Venetians added it to strengthen against earthquakes), and it even paves the Byzantine Road that connects Lefkes to Prodromos. You can hike the path, or any of Paros’s many other walking trails, and then finish with a strong Greek coffee at Tsitsanis.

While the island itself is beautiful, you should make time to get out on the water as well. Private and small-group boat tours will take you out for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and beach visits on Antiparos (where Tom Hanks has a house).

Or you may just want to laze by the pool at your hotel for the hot part of the day. I stayed at the serene, stylish Parilio, where every room is a suite with its own private patio or terrace, the pool is a work of art with boulders accenting each end, and the concierge staff is excellent. Not only did they provide restaurant, activity, and beach recommendations at all hours in person or via a WhatsApp number that they provide you at check-in, but they arranged a Covid test for me prior to my departure to France and then helped communicate with the doctor when my results were late.

Such good-natured service was not unique to the hotel. Every shop I entered, every restaurant I sat down in—really, every Greek person I encountered—was genuinely happy to see travelers coming back. Even through the masks, you could see—and feel—that they were smiling.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Naxos is the Greek Island You’ve Been Looking For

The island's long beaches are a big draw, but they're still not as crowded as on other islands.
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands, but it feels homey and small.
The Portata, an ancient entry gate to a temple for Apollo
Naxos is lauded for its cheeses. These are made by the Koufopoulos family, who've been producing cheeses for four generations.
Kyriakos Tziblakis runs the market his grandfather started. Every shelf is packed with local items, from honey and olives to spices and clay pots.
Kitron liqueur is only produced on Naxos, and Katerina Probonas's family has been distilling it for more than 100 years.
Kitron comes from the citron fruit, which looks like a big green lemon but is more sour. Katerina's shop sells candied slices, and they are delicious.
Naxos Town, the main town on the island, is lined with whitewashed buildings and splashes of colorful flowers.
In town, families and children were playing in the main plaza, and shops and restaurants were open late.
sunset over sailboats Naxos Town Greece
Sunset from the Naxos Town plaza rivals the Santorini experience—and with none of the same crowds.

 

The Greek island of Naxos is known for its beaches and turquoise water, but it should also be on your radar for the food specialities produced here, the hidden-in-plain-sight history, and the tranquil atmosphere.

Even though it’s the biggest island in the Cyclades, Naxos has dodged the overtourism challenges of neighboring Santorini and Mykonos so far, largely thanks to the absence of large cruise ships. When Greece opened to U.S. travelers in May, I talked to Mina Agnos, one of Wendy’s recommended travel fixers for Greece, about where I should go. I put Naxos on my itinerary in order to get off the beaten path, see its lauded beaches for myself, and investigate whether the pandemic has changed the island experience.

The scene: relaxed and comfortable

On Naxos, it is easy to feel like the pandemic doesn’t exist. Workers at shops, hotels, taxis, and restaurants do wear masks, wait staff also wear gloves, and hand sanitizer is everywhere, but since most of daily social life happens outdoors here, the rhythms and behaviors don’t feel different. Tavernas have lots of tables scattered down adorable stone alleys, historical sights are in the open air, and the Aegean sea breeze blows over the beaches. Even the communal areas at my hotel, the 18 Grapes, were outdoors: a pool with socially distanced lounges, an al fresco bar, a breakfast area with floor to ceiling doors that opened to the pool deck; plus, all the 18 rooms also have private terraces.

At night, the island’s main town (called Naxos Town or Chora Town), had many open restaurants along its narrow winding streets, but especially right by the water. Families and children were playing in the main plaza, and shops were open late, staffed by chatty, welcoming locals whose masks could not hide their happiness to have travelrs back. Don’t miss the sunset overlooking the harbor.

So in all the ways that mattered, my time here felt like a “normal” slice of Greek island life. If anything, time on Naxos feels even more slowed down than usual.

The food: fresh and farmed right here

Naxos is mostly known for its beaches and turquoise water, and those are indeed stunning, but it’s worth a visit for the agricultural products alone—they have a special character thanks to the island’s green mountains, mineral-rich soil, windy micro-climate, and tens of thousands of sheep, goats, and cows. Its potatoes are known throughout Greece, and you can try the rich, yellow spuds with dinner at any taverna on the island. Look for the option to get them with cheese and you’ll be adding Naxos’s other masterpiece.  I spent some delicious time sampling the island’s signature wheels with a fourth-generation cheesemaker from the Koufopoulos family, which has a farm on the island and a cute, stone-walled shop in town. Gloved and masked (and with no one else in the store), Maria handed me slices of two Naxian cheeses renowned throughout the Cyclades islands: arseniko (Greek for masculine), a hard, pungent cheese; and the milder, sweeter Graviera Naxou. Next she offered me a very unusual sour cheese called xinotyro and a delicious herbed variety made special by the family.

Naxos has yet another culinary distinction: It’s the only place that produces Kitron, a citrusy liqueur made from the citron fruit. I sipped a glass with Katerina Probonas, whose family has been distilling the drink for 106 years, and which also makes jams, candies, and other products from the fruit. I was surprised at how delicious the dried, candied slices were, because the fruit on its own can be sour.

In between, I stopped at a market run by the Tziblakis family for three generations, where you can buy herbs, honey, olives and olive oil, traditional cookware and clay pots (for baking my new favorite Cycladic chickpea-stew recipe), and cheese from small farms that don’t have their own shops. Kyriakos, the proprietor, let me try a few more slices, and explained that not only was everything in the shop made locally, the displays were even decorated with paintings by his wife.

My guide, Katia, was friends with everyone, and people waved and said hello even from the stores we didn’t stop in. For anyone interested in a deeper dive into the agricultural and culinary scene on Naxos, she can arrange an all-day, progressive-meal tour, where you can stop at several Naxian villages and farms and eat a different course at each one.

The beaches: beautiful and not too crowded

As for the beaches, they were peaceful, picturesque, and not too crowded at this point of the season (and only a few weeks after the country reopened to travelers). The sandy stretches here are longer than on the other popular islands so there’s more space to spread out and walk.  There are several beach areas around the island, so you can hop around and find your favorite. I was walked to the seaside village of Agios Prokopios from my hotel, where you can either rent one of the chaise lounges that various establishments have lined up on the sand (some farther apart than others) or bring your own blanket. And food can be ordered from shoreline restaurants and eaten al fresco.

The history: under your feet and at your fingertips

The iconic image of Naxos is the giant marble Portata, a gate standing 16 feet high over the port since 530 B.C. It is the entrance to what should have been a temple for Apollo but was never completed, and the structure is unusual because it doesn’t face east as most ancient Greek temples do, but rather toward the island of Delos, where Apollo was supposedly born. It’s also unusual because it’s just sitting there on the hill — there’s no entrance fee, there’s not even an entrance gate, it’s a literal open-air museum on a small hill that you can climb at any hour of the day (it’s a particularly beautiful sunset spot). This lack of walls and barriers is very Naxian. The island has several ancient treasures scattered around, including the unusually shaped Temple of Demeter and a sunken Mycenaean-era city, and the entire top of Naxos town is part of the 13th-century complex where the Venetians ruled their Duchy of the Archipelago. So just walking through the streets, you can see (and touch) remnants of the past if you know where to look: a cross of the Knights Templar hidden in a sone wall, a fabric-measuring mark used by the Duchess when tailors who came to the castle door, granite foundations of a church from the 6th century BC, and (my favorite) an ancient marble column that now stands nonchalantly next to a fruit stand.

“This is not a monument,” said my guide Katia as we wound through the old castle streets lined with houses. “People live here—you can see their laundry,” she said pointing. “This is what makes Naxos special.”



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Parthenon Acropolis Greece

What Athens is Like Right Now

Greece opened to U.S. travelers on May 15, and I flew there this week to see what it’s really like to be there now. First stop: Athens, where tourism had skyrocketed so high in 2019 that it caused concern about overcrowding. But as I peered out from the Acropolis, there was not a cruise ship to be seen in the port, and sights that would have been mobbed in pre-pandemic times were lively but comfortable. Here’s a tour through Athens and some insight into what has changed and what hasn’t.

The Acropolis

It’s the sight in Athens, of course, and it’s a good barometer for the tourism scene. As I walked up with my guide, Ifigenia, she remarked that, in pre-pandemic times, the wide path we were following would have been a sea of people. In fact, Greece had broken its own tourism records in 2019, topping 34 million visitors, and if you were at the Acropolis that summer, it would have felt like every single one of them was there (especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which were cruise ship arrival days). The Acropolis in June 2021 is a stark contrast: At 10:30 am on a Friday, the ticket area, main entrance, and trails around the monuments were only sparsely peppered with people. I never had to jostle with anyone to get a good view or worry about anyone accidentally walking into my photos. Ifigenia got a kick out of the fact that we could simply stop walking at certain spots so that she could point out architectural details; before the pandemic, the momentum of the crowd would not have allowed for standing in place like that.

Logistics were easy: You can walk up to the ticket office and just buy your ticket—no advance online purchase necessary, no timed entries, no limited capacity. I do wonder if all of that will stay the same as the crowds build up again in the future, but for now the only rules I saw were: (1) You had to be masked (keep your ears open for a whistle: that’s the cue that someone is getting scolded for not having one on). (2) There was a limit to the number of people who could be at one particular lookout point. (3) Group tours are supposed to be limited to 14 (but we saw one that numbered 16).

Empty path to the Acropolis Athens Greece
My guide and I walked this path from the street below to the ticket booth and entrance to the Acropolis site. On a busy pre-pandemic day, the ticket line could stretch down it.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis Athens Greece
At this point along the path through the Acropolis, there'd normally be a line of people taking photos of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
Acropolis Athens Greece small crowd at main entrance (1)
These stairs to enter the main area of the ruins are usually packed with people.
Parthenon Acropolis Greece
Without all the crowds, I had no trouble finding a shady bench to relax on while my guide told me stories of Athena and Poseidon. No way those benches would have been empty in 2019.
selfie of a woman wearing a mask in front of the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens Greece
Everyone had to wear masks as they toured the ruins at the Acropolis, even though we were outside. And everyone did.
A guard limited the number of people allowed on this lookout point.
The rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Grand Bretagne has a clear view to the Acropolis.
The rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Grand Bretagne has a clear view to the Acropolis.

 


The Acropolis Museum

This beautiful, modern-looking museum is a great compliment to the ruins on the Acropolis—it’s ingeniously built with glass floors overlooking excavations too—and it is open pretty much as usual. You can get tickets online or at the desk when you walk in. I felt comfortable being indoors, as masks are required and there is a capacity limit\\. Besides, the space is sprawling and the ceilings are high, so even when there were other people around me, we were able to keep plenty of distance, and most of the layout is open—no small galleries or low ceilings. The museum’s outdoor restaurant is open too. Just a few areas and amenities (audio guides, gallery talks, the kids corner, the reading room, etc.) were unavailable.

The modern architecture of the Acropolis Museum still manages to take its ancient artifacts into account.
The museum is built over excavations, and you can see down to them when you're outside…
…and when you're inside.

 


The Hotel Grande Bretagne

I stayed at this historic hotel located on Syntagma Square, right across from the Parliament building. Built as a mansion for a wealthy Greek in 1842, the hotel still has that old-world, regal charm, but it doesn’t feel stuffy or dated.  Cases in point: Internet is free and fast, there are enough outlets for all my devices (including a USB port), and there are Pringles in the mini bar.

The hotel is part of the Marriott family and follows the Covid-era cleaning protocols of that umbrella brand: e.g., the TV remote is sanitized between guests and then enclosed in a plastic bag; the mini bar is sealed with a sticker to show it’s been cleaned since the last guest (a QR code on the sticker takes you to a page with all the cleaning protocols); and, in addition to the usual robe-and-slippers amenities, there’s a gift-boxed “safety kit” with wipes, a mask, and hand sanitizer. But the best perk of all: a window that opens! Ask for a room facing the Parliament building; mine had the one big window, but some others have balconies. And if your room is well placed, you’ll be able to watch the changing of the guard (see below) without leaving your room.

You could also watch the changing of the guard from the rooftop garden (where breakfast is served), but you’ll probably be too busy looking up: from here, you’ve got a sweeping panorama of the Athens skyline, from the Acropolis to Panathenaic Stadium. It’s a gorgeous way to start the day, especially if you can nab one of the tables that’s fully outdoors (the rest of the space is sort of semi-indoors). Although you can order a la carte, which I did, I found it surprising that the hotel was still serving a breakfast buffet; most of the food was kept behind Plexiglas and guests could only be served by the staff, but there was one table (breads and pastries) that was DIY and not well covered. And since people were getting up to go back to the buffet for several rounds, they didn’t always put their masks back on.

The hotel’s restaurants, shop, pool, spa, and pool bar are also open, and a welcome video kiosk in the hotel’s main lobby ran through some of the safety upgrades for those (socially distanced pool chairs, e.g.). I didn’t have enough time to check out all of those areas, but I did notice that while the video stated that a maximum of two people were allowed per elevator, I never saw any staff person monitoring any elevator, and I ended up on several lifts with three to four people. I could have easily avoided this by waiting for the next elevator to ride alone or by taking the stairs, but since I’m vaccinated and I was always double-masked indoors (and the other guests were masked too), I didn’t mind too much.

Overall, the hotel was really lovely, very comfortable, and made for an easy, stress-free stay.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Billie Cohen (@billietravels)


The changing of the guard

The changing of the guard might be one of the most Instagrammed events in Athens. All day every day, two members of the Evzones (the Presidential guard) stand motionless in front of the Hellenic Parliament and watch over the monument to the Unknown Soldier. They don’t crack smiles and they barely blink, and they even have a helper to make sure the kilt, tassles, pom-poms, and hat of their unique uniforms are all exactly in place. Then, at the top of every hour, they swing into action. The guards and their replacements lift knees, kick out legs, flex toes adorned with pom-poms, spin their rifles, drag their shoes to make a scuffing sound, and stomp their heels to make a click. It’s mesmerizing to watch—and it helps that their uniforms are so remarkable. During the week, they wear skirted summer khakis, but on Sundays at 11am the ceremony gets kicked up a notch: There’s a band, and the guards switch to their traditional white uniform that dates to the guards’ creation in 1868 — it’s intricately handmade and every piece has a symbolic meaning. For instance, the white kilt has 400 pleats to symbolize Greece’s 400 years of freedom from the Ottoman empire; and a taxi driver (so often full of great information!) told me that the shoe pom-poms used to hide knives for sneak attacks during battle.

The mini-show happens 24 hours a day, and even if you choose to watch at a peak time rather than in the middle of the night, you won’t have to share the plaza with the pre-pandemic hordes of tourists all jostling to take photos. Since it was right across from my hotel, I passed by several times, and I saw maybe 50 people at most in the plaza (at sunset), but usually only about a dozen. Other than that, the only about this ceremony that has changed because of Covid is that the guards wear masks.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Billie Cohen (@billietravels)


Shopping, dining, and neighborhood life

Plaka is the shopping and eating district around the Acropolis. Lined with souvenir stands, I expected it to be overly touristy and garish, but somehow its village-y charm keeps it from veering too far in that direction. Normally these streets would be thronged with visitors on their way to or from the Parthenon (and plenty of cruisers), but right now there are just enough people to make it feel lively but not overrun. The adjacent neighborhood of Monastiraki—where you’ll find a flea market, antique shops, and cool artsy coffee houses and restaurants—was similarly crowd-free and pleasant to stroll around. And I found Syntagma Square to be a hopping little park, with a color-changing fountain that glowed in the evening, groups of friends hanging out, and at least two busking musicians. At night, shops in all three neighborhoods stayed open late and restaurants were buzzing; their outdoor areas were cheerful and bright as diners lingered over meals. It all felt…normal. And invigorating too. It was clear that Greek locals and international visitors alike were happy to be out and about.

In Plaka, a more touristy neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis, shops were open and people were browsing, but it never felt overcrowded.
In Plaka, a more touristy neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis, shops were open and people were browsing, but it never felt overcrowded.
In Plaka, people were sitting outside cafes for coffee and lunch.
For a few short weeks at the end of May and beginning of June, the purple jacaranda trees in the National Garden bloom. If you're in the city during this time, it's worth walking through the park.
Many restaurants in Syntagma, Plaka, and other central neighborhoods had adorable outdoor set-ups.
Syntagma Square, right across from the Parliament building and the Grande Bretagne hotel, felt festive and safe. People strolled and stopped to listen to musicians.

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Aerial view of Athens Greece from airplane June 4 2021

6 Things I Learned About Taking an International Flight to a Recently Reopened Country

I’ve just landed in Greece, after a nine-hour nonstop flight from New York. Here are five things I learned about taking an international flight to a recently reopened country.

Check the situation at the gate at least an hour before boarding—it is likely to be hectic.

When I arrived at JFK two hours before my flight to Athens, I passed through security in less than a minute (really!), but at the gate I found a scene that was a mess. For one thing, the flight was packed—it was a big plane (2-4-2 configuration in economy) and nearly every single seat was taken, which meant that there were a ton of people huddled around the gate. But what made it worse was that everyone was queued up in a very, very long line for a reason that few people seemed to understand. Some thought it was the usual pre-boarding lineup. Others thought we had to get verified for something before we’d be allowed to board. Still others weren’t sure if this was a verification line only for people who had to show their Covid test and if there was a separate line for vaccinated people.

Delta representatives were at the gate, but they were not using a PA system to make announcements, just shouting occasionally—so you couldn’t hear anything. We all waited, wondering what we were supposed to be doing. I got the feeling that the airline staff was feeling the same way. As rules change and solidify for the countries we’re traveling to, the airlines are tasked with a lot of the prep work—and they don’t yet have good systems in place. This is why boarding was scheduled to start an hour before departure, but it was still a confusing hour. So if you’re the kind of traveler who usually saunters to the gate right around boarding time, do yourself a favor and (a) get to the airport at minimum two hours ahead of your flight and (b) head to the gate as soon as you get through security so that you can evaluate the situation and find out whether you need to start queuing up early for any verification process that has suddenly popped up.

In my case, it turned out that the airline staff wanted to look at everyone’s passport, boarding pass, and official Passenger Locator Form—a contact-tracing form from the Greek government that had to be submitted online prior to departure. (To make things more complicated, when some passengers had filled out the form, me included, they got confirmation emails that the QR-coded, approved document wouldn’t arrive in their email inbox until midnight on the day of their arrival in Greece—and since our flight was an overnight flight that started the day before, we only had proof of submission but not the actual approved form. In the end, the frazzled single Delta staff member tasked with checking the documentation allowed this, but there was a lot of stress among my fellow passengers as to whether they’d be allowed to board.)

Print everything out.

If you keep all your documents on your phone (boarding pass, vaccine/test proof, and any government-required health forms), you’re going to have to shuffle through a bunch of apps when an official asks to see each one. If it’s allowed, you might want to go old-school and print everything out on paper so you can hand over the stack in one fell swoop rather than wrestling with your phone. In fact, the Delta attendant asked me for a paper boarding pass—maybe it makes their lives a little easier too.

Carry a scarf—it’s even more important now.

This is a classic tip, but there’s a new reason why a scarf is part of my essential plane gear. Delta put a blanket and pillow on every seat (yes, even in economy) for the overnight flight, but I couldn’t help but wonder: How clean are they? How are airplane pillows sanitized? The blanket came wrapped in plastic, which I guess indicates that it came from the cleaners. However, the pillows were not wrapped in anything—it was just a pillow in a pillowcase, and I couldn’t tell if the pillowcases were disposable or had been cleaned, as they were just sitting there on the seat on top of the blanket. So throwing a scarf or an extra shirt over the top can act as a personal pillowcase.

Eat at a different time than everyone else.

We took off at 5:15 pm NYC time, and dinner was served shortly after we boarded. Of course everyone took off their masks to eat (quick shout-out to all the passengers, because almost everyone wore their masks correctly; and kudos to the Delta flight crew, who politely nudged noncompliant passengers throughout the flight). Even though I’m vaccinated, and I know that airplanes are pretty safe environments, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable dining with a few hundred strangers with their masks off. So I decided to wait to have my meal until everyone around me had finished eating and put their masks back on. This had two additional perks: First, I was able to use the bathrooms before the inevitable post-meal rush left them nasty. Second, delaying my meal meant that I could go right to sleep after we took off and therefore get on Greece time more effectively (it was midnight in Greece when our flight took off, we landed at 10am, and I am writing this feeling well rested and ready to get on with my day). When I woke a few hours later, I could eat while everyone else was masked. (I had brought my own food, but if you prefer to eat what they’re handing out, ask a flight attendant to hold your meal.)

Look for open seats at the last minute.

On my way to the airport, I checked the seat plan on the Delta app to see if there were any open rows left on my flight. I already knew the plane was going to be packed, but I also knew there’d been a few of the paid “preferred” rows still available when I checked that morning, and I was considering using my miles to upgrade. But I wanted to wait until closer to the flight time because I also knew I’d be frustrated if I spent the miles expecting to have a two-seat row to myself only to have someone snatch up the other seat at the last second. It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off: I got the aisle spot in a two-seat row, and no one took the window. I don’t know why that row was considered “preferred”—it wasn’t an exit row, and the seats were the same size as the others—but my 9,500 SkyMiles points purchase ended up being worth it. I had more space for my own Covid-related comfort, and I could stretch out to sleep. If you don’t want to upgrade to a premium class or even a comfort-plus category seat (which was sold out on this flight), you could try this hack and see if you can get a little more space at the last minute.

Get the VIP fast-track pick-up for when you land at your destination.

Ironically, the entry process once I landed in Greece ran a lot smoother, and took a lot less time, than the boarding process in New York. That’s partly because the ground staff in the country you’re traveling to probably knows exactly what they need and how the process works. But it’s also because Mina Agnos, one of Wendy’s recommended travel fixers for Greece, booked a VIP fast-track pick-up service for me: A guide met me with a sign before I entered the passport control area and whisked me past the line of other passengers. First I flashed my CDC vaccine card and my Passenger Locator Form (as promised, the official version with the QR code was in my inbox when I landed, although no one ended up actually scanning the code). Then my fast-track fixer brought me to a special, no-line window to get my passport stamp. Several dozen people were on the regular line, and I expect there would be even more of a crowd as our plane continued to unload all its passengers. Not only did this whole process take just a few minutes, but it also alleviated the stress of dealing with the unfamiliar logistics of our Covid-travel era. With my fast-track fixer at my side, I knew that if I ran into a problem, she could communicate with whatever authorities might have questions, aid me in solving them, and help me get any additional support I needed.


We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

man at a cafe in Medellin Colombia

Dispatch from Colombia: It’s Open, and Open-Air

Colombia is just a three-hour flight from Miami and five hours from New York. So, if you’re ready to board a plane, the country’s diverse landscapes—Caribbean beaches, Amazon rainforest, lush jungle, snow-capped mountains—are within reach for a week-long or maybe even a long-weekend escape (or even a three-month trip, as one reader just experienced and reviewed). Those landscapes offer plenty of open-air experiences and space for social distancing, and entry requirements are pretty easy to tackle too: U.S. travelers just need proof of a negative Covid test taken within 96 hours of their departure from the U.S. (see How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel).

So we touched base with Marc Beale and Boris Seckovic, two Trusted Travel Experts for Colombia on Wendy’s WOW List who live in the Medellin area. Marc has remained in Colombia throughout the pandemic, and they’ve both been closely tracking travel rules and Covid safety protocols. We spoke to them to find out what it’s like to be in Colombia now, and what travelers can expect.

*This article is part of a series in which we are following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

Colombia - Colorful painted buildings in the town of Guatape

The town of Guatape is in a lake region not far from Medellin. Photo: Marc Beale

You live in Colombia. Where have you traveled within the country during the pandemic, and how was it different?

Marc: My wife and I were in Cartagena in the fall, and it was fun and enjoyable. To go to Café Del Mar and have a beer on the city walls, for example—we didn’t have to make a reservation. It’s a big, open, outdoor space, and normally you can just walk in and sit at a table. But now they have only one entrance, so you have to queue up, and they have to disinfect your table before seating you. But once you sit down, it’s the normal Café Del Mar experience.

My family has also spent time in a lake area called El Peñol and Guatapé, which is a day trip from Medellin. El Peñol and Guatapé is totally open to visitors. It’s a very outdoorsy area, so it’s pretty Covid-safe. One of the fun things to do is to climb this huge rock with 700 steps called El Peñón, and you get an amazing view over the countryside. The village itself is open, and it’s very pretty to walk around. So really, apart from having to wear a mask and go with a local guide, there’s no difference from pre-Covid. Face masks are mandatory in all public areas (even outside my house I have to wear a mask).

Where do travelers usually want to go in Colombia, and can you go there now?

Marc: Almost everyone goes to Bogotá, the coffee region, and Cartagena. Probably half come to Medellin, and half go to the Amazon or Tayrona National Park or one of the islands. All of these places are open now; there’s no region that has been shut off.

Boris: In the Amazon, though, we’re not taking travelers to visit the indigenous communities. If Covid were to get into a community there, it would be devastating because people there don’t have access to hospitals.

What’s worse than before the pandemic? What’s better?

Boris: Colombia is a lot about its people, and the Colombian smile goes a long way to make your trip stand out. One thing that’s different, with all the mask-wearing, is that a lot of social cues and warmth are harder to express. We wonder how that barrier will affect how guests experience Colombia. We tell this to travelers, but they’re so eager to come anyway.

Transportation is more challenging: The flights, the entry requirements, the forms… they’re changing all the time. But people are aware of the hurdles and they still want to come. We have travelers who are coming in February; they’ll be starting in the coffee region, then going to Cartagena, and then spending a few nights on an island. They have already taken a few trips during the pandemic, and they’re aware of the hurdles.

In terms of in-country experiences and activities, though, not that much has changed. In fact, it’s easier to get access to certain experiences and places now because there are fewer travelers around and people have more open schedules.

Whether it’s getting travelers into our favorite rooms at a hotel, or getting them our favorite slots to see a particular nature sight, or access to journalists or ranking officials to have lunch with, or musicians to meet—in the past, that has proven challenging during peak tourist periods. But now, that’s a lot easier to organize.

View of pool area from Luxury Room at Sofitel Legend Santa Clara

Hotels, like the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, have to meet protocols of bio-safety. Photo: Marc Beale

What are hotels like now, and how are they accommodating safety concerns?

Marc: In order for hotels to reopen, they need to meet protocols of bio-safety. When you enter, you are stopped in your tracks—you have to disinfect your shoes, then disinfect your hands with gel. Some have really fancy contraptions that you stand in front of and they take your temperature automatically. Every hotel has an in-room pack for you with antibacterial gel, a face-mask, and a reminder of protocols. They are not sending room cleaning regularly; you can schedule it for when you want, so you can monitor who comes in and out of your room.

When I was at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara in Cartagena, there were a lot fewer sun loungers around the pool. They have a very big pool area and normally it’s full, but they had removed loungers and spaced them out more, and you had to reserve them. Also, that hotel normally has one of the best breakfast spreads in Colombia: so much variety of fruits, hams, cheeses, pastries, coffees, teas, cooked stuff—it’s amazing. Now, though, you have to order from the menu (which is all QR code). There’s no spread. Hopefully it will come back at some point.

outdoor restaurant near Medellin Colombia with a wooden deck and chairs and pretty lights on the awning

Colombia’s mild weather lends itself to outdoor dining, like at this restaurant outside of Medellin. Photo: Marc Beale

What is it like to go to a restaurant?

Marc: Cartagena is an outdoor dining place anyway, but they’ve put even more tables and chairs outside. In Medellin, they’ve blocked off a popular thoroughfare with trees and made it a pedestrian area with a lot of outdoor seating. Tonight I’m going down for dinner made by one of our favorite chefs

You can’t go inside a restaurant here without protocols: Disinfect your shoes, step onto the mat, disinfect your hands, take your temperature. And you can’t walk in off the street; you need to make a reservation. The capacity has been reduced in order to space tables. And if you’re waiting in line, there are footpads on the ground showing you where to stand.

If you sit indoors and dine, there’s atmosphere—there will be other people. Yes, the tables are farther apart, and there are no physical menus, and the waiters are in masks 100% of the time, but you can take yours off. You’ll feel like it’s a relatively normal experience.

Travelers who are coming from a country where there’s a hard lockdown will find Colombia quite free. Here, everything is open.

Boris: Keep in mind as well that Colombia is a tropical country, so the weather doesn’t change much year-round. The temperature depends on the elevation. Bogotá is the highest and coldest city, but even that’s like a September day in New York, so they have outdoor seating anyway, and heaters if it gets colder. Medellin has spring weather that’s ideal for sitting outside. And Cartagena is the opposite of Bogotá: During the day it might be hot to sit outside comfortably, but in the evening it’s cooler and nice outdoors. Most restaurants are requiring a reservation, but cafes and bars not so much.

What Covid protocols have you and your staff put in place?

Marc: We’ve upgraded our vehicles to be bigger, so if you’re a family of four, you’re in your own vehicle that we previously would have used for a group of ten. We recommend opening windows for fresh air instead of using air-conditioning. Our local English-speaking guides wear masks all the time and stay two meters away from you, and we’ve spoken to each and every one of them about Covid safety.

What has the pandemic made surprisingly nice right now?

Marc: People will find the country quieter and more relaxed. It’s nicer to be in places where there’s just less people around.

Boris: Colombians are very grateful for visitors right now, and people will find how lovely and welcoming they are.



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

View of Hvar with green mountains and sea, Croatia

Croatia Is Open and This Couple Enjoyed It So Much, They’re Going Back

View of Hvar with green mountains and sea, Croatia
Hvar, where the Andrews spent a day with a winemaker
view of Hvar Croatia
Hvar
view of Rovinj Croatia
Rovinj, on Croatia's Istrian peninsula
stone pathway by the water in Rovinj Croatia Istrian peninsual
Walking around Rovinj
small alley and arched walkway in Split Old Town Croatia
The Old Town in Split, without its usual crowds
A spritz at the outdoor deck at the San Canzian hotel in Istria Croatia
A spritz at the outdoor deck at the San Canzian hotel in Istria.

 

When Jennifer Andrews wrote to Ask Wendy to find out who could best help her pull together a trip to Croatia during the pandemic (Croatia is open to U.S. travelers with a negative Covid test), we sent her to WOW List candidate Ala Osmond. Jennifer and her husband, David, traveled in October and were so impressed by Ala’s first-hand knowledge of the country, and the trip she designed, that they’ve already planned a second Croatia trip with her—for April. “She thought of absolutely everything and made it so easy for us,” Jennifer wrote in her trip review. Eager to learn more about what it’s like to travel in Croatia now, we called Jennifer at her home in Austin, Texas. Here’s what she said:

Why Croatia?

Because it was open and they would let us in. [Laughs] And because David had read that it felt like Italy.

Why now?

We were supposed to go Italy last spring, but that’s when the pandemic started raging. I get the WendyPerrin.com newsletter, and I kept reading different articles that seemed very well thought out, and that kind of took away my concerns. When Croatia came up, I thought: Let’s use Wendy Perrin because they know more than we do, and if anything goes wrong, they can help.

What were your concerns about traveling now?

My biggest concern was the timing of our pre-travel Covid tests. The minute you get swabbed for the required test, the clock starts ticking. We ended up getting a test two days before our flight, just to make sure we were okay, and then we got another one at 8 a.m. of the day we flew. By the time we landed in Frankfurt, we had the results and we were negative.

Your review said Ala was on top of Covid concerns and gave you options on how best to handle them. Can you explain that?

I’m the kind of person who can spend ten hours researching where to get a PCR test. I have the tenacity of a bulldog. But with this trip, I didn’t have to do anything. Every single detail was planned out. For example, at the airport, the fast track was just waiting for us, and that felt better because of the virus.

Also, at one point in the planning, we thought we couldn’t get a test in the right time frame before we left, so we’d have to take a test in Zagreb right when we landed and stay there until we got the results. Ala had a back-up plan for that: If, for example, we got to Zagreb and the lab was closed, she had four options fully thought out with all the steps. Or if we got the test back and it was positive, we would just call Ala and go to that back-up plan. It didn’t feel like we’d have to scramble if anything went wrong.

How was flying from Houston to Croatia?

It was three flights, but they went really smoothly. We flew United, and the flights were empty. There were only four of us in the business-class section. We had one problem: The couple in front of us were anti-maskers. The flight attendant kept yelling at them. I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me—you just signed a million waivers! Finally a guy turned around and yelled, just put your mask on!

You said in your review that the experiences Ala arranged were not things you could have found online and booked yourself. What was your favorite experience?

The wine experience we did on Hvar! We spent the entire day with a wine master who drove us all over the island. She’s been there for five years and started her own winery, and she’d tell us things like, “This is why I came here, this is why I like Croatia, this is how I started my company.” We got to taste wine at its different stages, so she could point out when it was bitter and how it would change over time. And then, at dinner, we had a different bottle of the finished wine with each course. We’ve been to a million wineries, but this was different.

Also, I’m vegan, and she had gone to the restaurant four different times to discuss the menu—she was so involved in making sure it was this really great day. She had so much knowledge.

This was the first time you used a trip designer recommended by Wendy Perrin. How did this differ from the way you usually travel?

The guides were really, really good. Everywhere we went, they knew our itinerary already. It sounds stupid, but not having to repeat everything you’ve already done is so nice. They said, “I see you went here. We heard you did this. Did you like this restaurant?” It was like traveling with a group of friends.

And they knew their stuff. We’ve been to Rome like 50 times, and on tours they take you by places but don’t take you in. By contrast, in Split, our guide would take us inside the stores, or she’d see her friend and we’d have a conversation with them. Her family is from Croatia, and she could talk about her family, the war, and her career as an attorney. So there was personal stuff along with the history. And then she’d say, “That’s where Anthony Hopkins just bought a house!” [Laughs] Our guides knew fun stuff like that too.

Before the pandemic, certain parts of Croatia were known for being crowded. Did you see a lot of tourists?

It was the tail end of the season. By the time we go to Rovinj, it was empty. A lot of restaurants were closed, but some really good ones were open, and people sat outside. We walked for miles because it was so pretty, and it was pretty empty.

In Split there were quite a few people walking around, but it was never crowded at all. Everyone was so nice, and everything was open. And when we went to see the Roman ruins, we were the only ones there; it was so empty that we could hear our echoes when we were talking.

Split had never hit my radar. I thought we’d just go to Dubrovnik. But when I talked to Ala, she said she liked Split better because it feels less touristy. And it was charming in every way: the cobblestones, and just sitting in the old city having a spritz. It struck me: It was so nice to feel normal, to sit outside and have a drink, and see people walking by, even with masks on.

Were people wearing masks?

When you’re outside, you don’t have to wear the mask but you keep your distance. Inside, you wear masks. In the car, we all wore masks. And guiding, because there were so few people, we could all stand back ten feet.

What about at restaurants?

At restaurants, every single server had on masks and gloves, which I have not seen here at home. I wasn’t worried anywhere. Everywhere we went, they said thank you so much for coming, we’re so happy to see Americans.

What were the hotels like?

That was another thing Ala was good at: She knew the hotels. She wasn’t just reading off the website; she knew them. I saw a hotel that looked good on the website, but Ala said no, it’s slipped, you don’t want go there. She knew it because she had been there.

What did the pandemic make easier or harder about your trip?

Not having the crowds made things easier. Flights were harder, but you just go through a few more hoops and then you appreciate it that much more when you get there.

When you enter Croatia and you have your negative test and you know that everyone else visiting has had a negative test too…I stopped worrying. I felt safer in Croatia than I do here. If every country required a negative test, I feel like we could travel. The weird thing is when you come back to the U.S., no one asks you anything.

What do you wish you knew beforehand?

I’m never going to do another trip without a Wendy Perrin specialist. It’s not even a question anymore. I know whatever I can do, y’all can do better.

Just having that conversation with the specialist—your relationship starts when you have that conversation and you tell them who you are and what you want to do. I get it completely now. You do need to talk to somebody. I used to say: Just email me. But now I get it.

 

UPDATE: Jennifer’s review of her return trip to Croatia in April, 2021

Our second trip to Croatia was even better than the first. Ala took what we loved about our last trip and made this one even more tailored to what we wanted to do. We did not have to worry about a single thing- Ala took care of everything including organizing our covid test for our flight home. All the restaurants we went to were informed of my no meat/no dairy so I didn’t have to explain it over and over. We had an amazing driver/guide who suggested several stops so we could walk around some different towns and we loved that—so much so that we are going to stay in one of the towns we asked about (Opatija). The Istrian Coast has had very few cases of covid but all the hotels and restaurants were very cautious and strict about following guidelines. We felt very comfortable everywhere. Ala really does plan the most perfect visit to Croatia and you have local numbers for anything that comes up during your trip so I never had to worry about anything. She knew the hotels really well and is really good about knowing what we would like or didn’t like. I cannot recommend her highly enough.



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Brando-Resort-Tahiti-OneTahi-motu.

You Can Go to Bora Bora Smartly During Covid: This Couple Did

Jet skiing around Bora Bora
The Gobles at the St. Regis Bora Bora
Lunch on the table, feet dangling in the ocean — at the St. Regis Bora Bora
Relaxing with a coconut by the crowd-free pool at the St. Regis
The Brando resort sits on the private Tahitian island of Tetiaroa, where Marlon Brando filmed Mutiny on the Bounty in the early 1960s.
The villa at The Brando felt very private.
An ocean view from The Brando resort
The Gobles spotted sharks on a snorkeling excursion at the St. Regis Bora Bora.
Brando Resort Tahiti aerial overview
The Brando resort, Tahiti. Photo: The Brando
Brando Resort Tahiti- villa at sunset
The Brando resort, Tahiti. Photo: The Brando
Brando-Resort-Tahiti-OneTahi-motu.
The Brando resort, Tahiti. Photo: The Brando
overwater bungalows at St. Regis Bora Bora with mountain in background
St. Regis Bora Bora. Photo: St. Regis

 


 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.

 

When longtime reader Jeff Goble and his wife escaped to French Polynesia in September 2020, they felt like they were in paradise.

Not only were they surrounded by the tropical beauty of the islands but they also had the reassurance that every traveler arrived coronavirus-free, thanks to the country’s requirement of two Covid tests: a pre-trip RT-PCR test conducted in person within three days of your flight, and another self-administered test four days after arrival.

In fact, Mr. Goble’s getaway to French Polynesia was the only international trip he didn’t have to cancel during the pandemic—his work trips to Zambia and a milestone birthday celebration in Italy were all on hold.

The couple planned the trip through Kleon Howe, a French Polynesia specialist on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. “Kleon prepared us so well. Any concern we might have had, he alleviated,” said Mr. Goble from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. They spent eight nights at the St. Regis Bora Bora (their pick) and another six at The Brando on the private island of Tetiaroa (Kleon’s suggestion). We couldn’t wait to hear about their experiences and live vicariously through their photos, especially because come May 1, the islands will reopen again to American travelers after a short pause for safety this winter.
.

Why did you pick French Polynesia?

We had been twice before, and we love it. It is also one of the few places that will admit Americans. We had five international trips scheduled this year, and all were canceled except this one.

Did you have any apprehension about taking this trip?

Friends of ours went shortly after the country reopened on July 15, so we had their recommendation that things were good. And we were reassured by the testing requirements: You realize that everyone on the plane with you has had a negative test within three days and will be tested again on day four of your visit. So it felt like a very safe environment as we were considering it. And it felt like a very safe environment when we got there.

How did Kleon help?

There were three areas where he provided super value.

First, I would have passed on The Brando if it wasn’t for Kleon, and that would have been a mistake. Why? The price—it’s expensive. But it was well worth it. Our friends who had been there the previous month said, I’m going to warn you, you’re never going to want to come home. And for the first time ever on a vacation, my wife looked at me and said, I don’t want to go home. And she meant it. Call the kids, tell the broker to sell everything, wire money to us, we’re not coming home. [Laughs]

Second, I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon. We actually had to fly to LAX the Saturday before our Tuesday departure because it was not possible to get a PCR test with a quick turnaround in Arizona. Kleon worked really hard to help manage this with us and found a testing location in L.A. [from French Polynesia’s list of approved manufacturers] that we were able to get access to and that would give our results back within 24 hours.

And third, not huge, but we made a decision while at The Brando that we wanted to visit a pearl market, and he made those arrangements for us on the fly and organized the transportation for us.

Without Kleon, the trip would have been a much less enjoyable experience—or we might not have been able to go at all. That’s because French Polynesia’s entry requirements changed while we were going through the planning process. At first they were allowing typical rapid Covid testing, but apparently some passengers arrived and tested positive, so that’s when French Polynesia changed to the PCR test and added some additional paperwork requirements too. Just having Kleon hold our hand through it and make sure we did it correctly was very reassuring.

Can you tell us what makes The Brando so special?

The Brando hadn’t been on our list until Kleon convinced me that we had to go. He said it was a not-miss, and he was so right. We’d previously been to the St. Regis, and I wasn’t sure where we were going to spend the second week until Kleon convinced me. And I’m so glad he did.

It’s the finest resort we’ve ever stayed at anywhere in the world, in terms of service, privacy, and attention to detail. In the backyard of your villa, there’s vegetation that separates you from other villas on either side of you, and we found the privacy really enjoyable, plus the staff was the best we’d ever experienced. Everybody knows your name, and they’re happy to customize for you. The quality of the facilities was outstanding too.

It feels like a bespoke experience when you’re there. You’re not spending time with many other people. We’d be at the pool, and maybe there’d be one other couple there. Part of that is Covid-related, but part is the design of The Brando. Even when they’re full, it’s a very private experience. You understand why they get a lot of celebrities there; you can enjoy the setting there and do so with privacy.

The site is an important part of it; it’s so unique that you can understand why Brando bought it. We’ve been to a lot of tropical islands around the world, but there’s nothing like it.

How did you spend your time in the islands?

At the St. Regis Bora Bora, we spent a few hours jet skiing all the way around the island, which is a fun experience. And then we spent a half-day snorkeling with sharks and rays, and they set up an amazing lunch at a picnic table with our feet in the water just off shore. Other than that, we relaxed and spent time at the beach and pool and spa.

At The Brando, the only activity we did was whale watching. It was a really special experience because it was just a boat captain, a naturalist guide, and the two of us. We had a three-hour private whale-watching tour and got to see a lot of whales up close. We really enjoyed that.

In French Polynesia you are permitted by law to get in the water with whales and to snorkel in their vicinity. Sadly for us, the whales were faster swimmers than us, and they did not find us interesting enough to stick around. The Brando has a lot of interactions with nature you can do, led by a member of the scientific team on the island.

For this trip, you flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles, and then on to Tahiti. How were those flights?

We’ve been flying a bit over the course of the summer, and since we were aware that the flight from LAX to Tahiti would be only about 50 percent full and that everyone had been tested, it was the safest flight we made this summer. I would fly a lot more if every time I got on an airplane everyone had been tested recently.

From Phoenix to LAX, we flew Southwest. It shouldn’t have come as much of a shock to me, but you could have fired a cannon through Bradley Terminal at LAX and not hit anybody. I’ve been through LAX dozens of time; it was safe.

What do you wish you’d known beforehand (and therefore would tell other people)?

My only tip would be that now is a good time to go and we felt safe. There’s nothing I wish I’d known beforehand because, frankly, Kleon prepared us so well—any concern we might have had, he alleviated—and also, we’d been to French Polynesia before. The only thing I wish is that I went to The Brando before. [Laughs]

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

beach lounges under a palapa on the beach looking out to the blue ocean with boats in the water at the Mandarin Oriental hotel Bodrum Turkey

Dispatch from Turkey: What Travelers Can Expect in Istanbul and Beyond

beach lounges under a palapa on the beach looking out to the blue ocean with boats in the water at the Mandarin Oriental hotel Bodrum Turkey
Turkey's seaside resort of Bodrum is filling in for travelers' European summer vacation plans. Photo: Mandarin Oriental Bodrum
exterior of Hagia Sophia mosque and surrounding park in Istanbul—with no crowds.
"At Hagia Sophia, the upstairs is closed, but now is a really good time to get in there because it’s not crowded and the renovation hasn’t started," Karen says. Photo: Sea Song Tours
Istanbul's Blue Mosque and the surrounding park without any tourists
Istanbul's Blue Mosque and the surrounding park are usually packed with tourists. Photo: Sea Song Tours
view over beach from restaurant at Mandarin Oriental hotel Bodrum Turkey
Travelers are extremely interested in beach escapes and private yacht or gulet trips. Photo: Mandarin Oriental Bodrum
Ephesus, Turkey
The maximum number of people allowed into Ephesus now is 650 at a time. Pre-pandemic, it could be 50,000.

 

Karen Fedorko Sefer lives in Istanbul, and she’s been there throughout the whole pandemic. When Turkey reopened its borders in June 2020, Karen closely monitored the situation to keep on top of how it was affecting travelers. In the months that followed, she organized trips for several Americans and WendyPerrin.com readers, and was able to deliver a safe and high-quality experience (you can read about one WOW trip here). Then in December, in order to curb rising coronavirus cases, the country reinstated some safety precautions, including a pause on indoor dining and weekend curfews for residents (not tourists). The good news is that while the country is maintaining vigilance, some precautions were recently eased for Covid-tested travelers—and they are eager to return.

We’ve talked to Karen repeatedly throughout the past year to get her first-hand insight into what it’s like to travel in Turkey, what visitors can expect to see and do, and how their trips will or won’t be affected by pandemic measures. This week, she gave us the latest.

*This article is part of a series in which we will be following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

What restrictions are in place now?

None when it comes to seeing the sights and touring. Citizens are locked down on the weekends (from Friday 9pm to Monday 5am) and, because of that, all the shops (besides grocery stores)—including the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar—are closed on weekends. But all other sights are open, and tourists do not have to stay in.

Who is coming to Turkey now?

People who have been vaccinated. Summer bookings are strong already, because we’re one of the few countries in the Mediterranean basin that is going to be open.

Where are they going?

The Bodrum seaside resort area was at 100% occupancy in July, August and September of last year, and the same is anticipated for this summer. Private yachts are also in high demand: We’ve booked a lot of gulet trips for this summer.

When Turkey first re-opened to tourism in June 2020, who was coming then, and what did they want?

I welcomed our first guests on July 20, and most were younger travelers. We booked a lot of last-minute gulets and yachts because families and friends living in separate countries wanted to come together and chose Turkey because it was one of the few places that was open to people from many countries. And since Turkey was doing Covid tests at the airport, we also had people staying over in Istanbul for a few days, getting their test, then flying on to the Maldives—for example, honeymooners.

A year later, have the types of trips they want changed?

Yes. Before, families and friends just wanted to come together and have a reunion. Now, they are vaccinated and looking for a summer beach vacation. Normally Americans don’t come to Turkey for the beach. They usually drive around the country sightseeing. They go to Bodrum for the historical sights, like the Bodrum Castle and Myndos Gate. But now they want beach and water and boating activities. Normally, the people who come to Turkey in summer are Europeans or Russians because they’re close by. Now, Americans who would have gone to the beach in other Mediterranean countries are coming to Turkey instead.

People are also coming for longer periods of time—usually 10 to 14 days. We have much larger bookings, and people are staying longer.

How does the popularity of gulet and yacht charters compare to pre-Covid?

Gulets are more popular than before, and it’s either groups of friends, groups of couples, or multigenerational families who book them. They like the idea of being on an isolated vacation together. And then they spend a couple of days before or after in Bodrum, where we have some of the most luxe hotels in the world.

What’s so special about Bodrum?

It’s the St. Tropez of Turkey. The people who usually go to St. Tropez, Mykonos, Capri, they’re coming here. There’s no mass tourism in Bodrum. And there are no cruise ships coming, so there are no cruise crowds.

If Bodrum is fully booked, how do they make it feel safe?

Everyone has to wear masks anywhere outdoors in Turkey, and social distancing is mandatory. In Istanbul, there are so many people that it can be hard to stay a meter apart. But at the beach, it’s easy. The beaches are allowed only a certain number of sunbeds, and the sunbeds are each one meter away from the next. So if the beach is full, you go to the pool or rent a cabana. And not everybody’s at the beach; they could be at the spa, on a yacht for the day, or in town. Plus, hotels in Bodrum are not big: The Mandarin-Oriental has 133 rooms, the Edition has 108 rooms, the Amanruya has only 36.

What else should travelers know about a beach vacation in Turkey?

People ask me, “Where can I go in Turkey where there’s a beach I can walk for miles?” I explain that in Turkey we don’t have a lot of long, sandy beaches (except in Antalya, but it’s not super-high-end there). We do have two hotels in Bodrum with sandy beaches (they brought in the sand from Egypt because Turkey has pebble beaches). Then people want to know how long the beach is in Bodrum, so I show them a picture so they can see where they’d be walking or how private it might be. They’re not familiar with Turkey at all—they’re used to going to Italy every year—and they’re trying to find a beach spot that’s similar to the one they like in Italy.

One traveler said, “We need to know the best places where we can get fried calamari because we always love that in Italy and we want to be able to get it in Turkey.” Well, of course they can get it in Turkey! Our calamari here is amazing. It’s fresh from the Aegean Sea! But they’re thinking about what they love about their summer vacation and how to get it in Turkey.

What does Istanbul look and feel like now? What has changed?

It’s business as usual, except that everyone is wearing masks. Hotels and sights are open, but there are restaurant restrictions (see below). Historic landmarks limit the number of visitors (it varies by site), but we offer a “fast track” to get our travelers to the front of the line.

At Topkapi Palace, it’s easier to move around, and the indoor restaurant has gotten much better: It used to be big buffets, but it’s now a la carte. They have a beautiful view of the Bosphorus, fewer tables, and the quality of the experience has really gone up.

At Hagia Sophia, the upstairs is closed, but now is a really good time to get in there because it’s not crowded and the renovation hasn’t started. The underground cistern is closed for renovation, but we have some other cisterns we are taking people to.

How about Ephesus? What’s it like with no cruise crowds there?

At Ephesus now, the maximum capacity is 650 people at one time, and generally there haven’t been more than 200. In normal times, there could be 50,000 people there at once! Everybody is just loving the fact that they’re the only ones there.

Can travelers still have special private experiences at historic sites, like you used to arrange for them?

We’re not permitted to open Hagia Sophia after-hours anymore, since it was turned back into a mosque. But we’ve made an agreement with an underground cistern and we are doing after-hour visits there. We can still do dinners and concerts and cocktails inside Ephesus, and we just worked out with the Ephesus museum to bring our guests in first thing in the morning before anybody gets there. We’re also working now with Virgin Mary’s house to try to bring people into the private chapel.

We still arrange special experiences like stopping in a village house in Cappadocia, or a great new cooking class in Istanbul, or day trips to wineries and new museums. Our savvy guides pull off a tremendous number of spontaneous experiences too.

What are the safety protocols for hotels?

They take your temperature upon arrival. If you have a fever, they won’t allow you to enter. The rooms are sanitized, and you must wear a mask in all common areas. When you sit down for dinner, you can take it off, but in all other cases, when you’re walking around in the hotel, you have to wear it.

What are the restaurant restrictions?

Restaurants are currently open from 7am to 7pm for everyone—travelers and citizens. After 7pm, the restaurants are only allowed to do takeout. Hotel restaurants are allowed to have outside guests visit from 7am to 7pm; after 7pm only hotel guests can dine in them. During Ramadan, however—which is from April 13 to May 14—the government has decided that all restaurants will be closed for in-person dining and offer only takeout. For travelers who are touring at that time, we will get lunch boxes from the hotel or takeout from the restaurants and find a nice outdoor spot for lunch.

When the restaurants are open, they are capped at 50% capacity, and there must be 1.5 meters between tables. You have to wear your mask into the restaurant and can take it off only when you sit. All of the waiters wear masks, and some are wearing face shields. The menus are all by QR code. It’s actually quite pleasant, because guests are not packed in.

Is now a good time to visit Turkey?

All the sights are open, the spring weather is beautiful, and after Ramadan ends on May 14 the restaurants will be open again, and it should be possible to eat virtually every meal outdoors. Plus, the U.S. dollar is really strong against the Turkish lira.

Summer will be a good opportunity to experience Turkey without the crowds because the mass-tourism groups with the big buses won’t be here. Pre-Covid it was packed, packed, packed in summertime: It would be an hour and a half to get into a sight if you didn’t have the fast track, and 50,000 people would be at Ephesus from the cruise ships. But now only 650 are allowed in there at once, and other sights are capped too.

During Covid, I’ve had people go to the ancient Roman site of Pergamon, and they are the only people there. You couldn’t get that experience before.

What safety steps are you taking for your travelers and staff?

In cars, the guide and driver sit in front of Plexiglas and speak to the travelers in the back seat via a microphone. We’re monitoring all the hotels; they must be certified for safety by the government and can’t open if they’re not inspected and approved to be following all protocols the government has put in place. Pools and spas are open in some hotels; they also have to be certified by the government so they’re not all open.

We have a chart where we keep track of what’s been certified and what hasn’t, and that informs our decisions about where to recommend. We monitor traveler feedback because they are telling us every detail about hotels and restaurants.

We are doing PCR tests on a regular basis for all our private guides, private drivers, and other staff, and the government has set up a system where all certified tourism staff can be vaccinated by the summer.

What about testing and vaccines for your travelers?

You must have a negative PCR test to get on the plane to Turkey, and you have to fill out the health form online. There are no protocols for vaccinated arrivals yet; they have to follow the same rules. Then when travelers are getting ready to go back to the U.S., we can handle getting their PCR test here, either at a private hospital or at the hotel, for between $35 and $50 dollars per person. We usually have the health workers come first thing in the morning before a guest’s tour, and when they come back to the hotel after their tour, the results are on their phone—same day.


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

View of Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.

Dispatch from Costa Rica: More Nature, Fewer People

View of Arenal volcano in Costa Rica
Arenal volcano (All photos: Richard and Irene Edwards)
sunset on the beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
Sunset on the Pacific Coast
deckchairs lined up overlooking the pool and ocean at Arenas Del Mar resort in Costa Rica
Arenas Del Mar resort
sunset over Arenal volcano in Costa Rica
Sunset over Arenal
Daytime view of Pacific Coast beach in Costa Rica
Pacific coast
Sunset at Nosara beach in Costa Rica
Nosara

 

A native Costa Rican, Irene Edwards has a local’s-eye view on how the country has been faring during the pandemic. What’s more, as one of Wendy’s recommended trip designers for Costa Rica (she’s been on The WOW List since 2014), she also has a traveler’s perspective on what it’s like to experience the country’s jungles, beaches, volcanoes, and hot springs right now.

Irene and her husband, Richard, who together co-founded Greenspot, have been living and working in-country throughout the pandemic. Travelers were allowed to return starting TK, with the completion of a health pass and proof of medical insurance that covers Covid-related bills (for more information on this, see “The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There.”)

Since then, Irene and Richard have been keeping close tabs on how the local tourism landscape is adapting—and also dreaming up new ways for visitors to connect with the culture. We called them at home in La Fortuna to find out more.

*This article is part of a series in which we are following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

You live in Costa Rica, so you have first-hand knowledge of what it’s been like this past year. Where have you traveled in the country during the pandemic?

Richard: Nearly everywhere. We’ve been out to the Pacific coast several times, where a big chunk of our travelers go for the beach: the Nosara area in the north and Corcovado National Park area on the southern coast. Irene just got back from Manuel Antonio. We have a condo near San Jose, but also spend time near Irene’s mom’s farm near Arenal in La Fortuna. So we’ve got a really good handle on the hot spots.

What activities were most popular pre-Covid, and are they still possible now?

Irene: Hanging bridges, canopy tours, rafting, hiking, exploring national parks (which are now open to the public), wildlife refuges, and cultural activities such as cooking classes—including making tortillas with my mom in her house—and school visits.  Because the pandemic has closed schools, school visits aren’t happening right now, but most of the tours in the country are operating. Local tour providers now have smaller groups. Before, they could handle up to about 15 people; now it’s perhaps eight. We actually book these experiences to be private (instead of a group). The only activity that we are a little hesitant on our part to recommend is the canopy tours because they need maintenance and some companies aren’t doing that. But most of the tours are open and running.

Richard: Costa Rica is intact. What you come here to do—the beach, the jungle, and all these outdoor activities—you can still do them. That’s the good news for everybody.

What about cultural and indoor experiences? How are those different?

Irene: Because of the pandemic, a lot of people have been forced to be creative and develop new travel experiences. For example, we met with a local señor here who needed an income; he wasn’t in tourism at all before, but now he is willing to show people, even locals, how he processes cinnamon; it’s outdoors, and you go with him to the trees and see how he harvests it. We have another guy who makes cheese; he’s who we get our own cheese from, so I asked him about his farm, and we’re thinking about making that an excursion for travelers. Things like that are possible, and we are trying to find more local people who are developing such experiences. My mom, too, has been making her own spices— mixing orange peels with herbs, for example. It’s happening more and more, all around the country.

Richard: In the end, it will be a win for travelers: They will have new and more authentic things to do. We needed a recalibration anyway, because Costa Rica was getting commercial. But we, and the people around us in the eco-travel sector, are realizing this is an opportunity to go back to basics and back to your origins.

That sounds great. But for now, what are you finding that travelers want to do when they visit? Are they ready for those interpersonal experiences?

Richard: Travelers are less inclined to do those activities right now. They’re more vegging out. They are trying to limit their exposure—so they’re eating in their hotels, for example— and they are doing fewer activities than before.

Irene: In the past, people wanted to come for a week and explore as many destinations as possible. Now, they are limiting themselves to the beach or two places max and just enjoying themselves. They are also waiting until they’re in Costa Rica to book activities, rather than booking them in advance. I think it’s related to them getting a sense of how things are when they arrive, and then feeling more secure. The activities they choose are focused on nature and being outdoors.

How are the hotels that you’re visiting?

Irene: We are re-inspecting the hotels we recommend, to make sure that the services and maintenance are still there. It’s been interesting to go back and re-evaluate their environment and ambience. We’ve all been having a break. Most of the hotels are not operating 100% and they don’t have a full staff. Arenas Del Mar is one of our preferred lodges, but the ambience is very different right now; they’re slowly getting back to what they are used to. It’s going to take time to really be normal. When I went to Manuel Antonio, it’s like they are in sort of a trance. That was my comment to the lodge managers: we can’t lose that chispa, that spark! We have to get it going again, because that’s what is attractive to the visitors who come to Costa Rica.

Also, we have seen a great interest in rental homes and villas. Right now, we are trying to be a villa specialist and building a database of very select rental homes. That has been my homework: finding unique rental homes, especially on the beach.

What protocols are hotels putting in place?

Irene: They are cleaning the rooms very well, disinfecting luggage, not allowing anyone into the room after check-in (except for the guest). The in-room snacks are touchless—they have created electronic menus, and you can scan the menu with your phone and order from your phone. Check-in is handled electronically. Some of the more remote hotels have limited internet access, so we do check-in for travelers before they get there; the only thing they have to do at the hotel is give their credit card.

What is it like to dine in a restaurant?

Irene: At hotel restaurants, the only thing on the table is the hand sanitizer. They bring plates and silverware afterward. The servers wear masks, but you can take yours off once you start eating. The tables are spaced 1.8 meters apart, because that’s six feet. Reservations must be made beforehand. They are also offering the option of having your meal outdoors..

Richard: They used to charge to set up tables on the beach and outside, but now that’s something you can just ask for.

What about non-hotel restaurants?

Irene: Local restaurants have certain protocols but, in general, they are not as elaborate as the ones that the hotels use. We are not going to say don’t eat at the local restaurants, because that is part of the whole experience of Costa Rica, but we have eaten at some of them, and our advice is to always wear your mask and wash your hands and keep your gel handy. Our customers always ask for restaurants, and we have a list of the best. Plus, when our travelers have a private guide, that’s very helpful because the guides know which places are safest.

What Covid protocols have you put in place yourself with your own staff and expert guides?

Irene: All of our drivers and guides are required to wear masks, which we provide, at all times. Even if the traveler doesn’t, our guides and drivers must. We keep hand sanitizer in the car. We provide refillable water bottles that are different colors, so everyone knows which is theirs. We offer Covid tests for staff upon client request.

Who is traveling to Costa Rica now, and where are they going?

Irene: We are seeing a lot of families with young kids traveling right now. They are sticking to the more usual routes, like Manuel Antonio, Arenal, and Monteverde, but mostly beach. Before the pandemic, we were seeing a lot of families with grandparents, but not now.

Richard: They’re not heading off the beaten path, and we’re not encouraging that anyway, because the beaten path is doing the best job of sticking to the protocols.

If it’s the beaten path, how do you make that special?

Richard: It is special! Before the pandemic, you had to work hard to make it special because there were too many people. So we spent all our time curating an uncrowded, relaxing experience. Now, though, that’s a given! [Laughs.] We can focus on the details even more than before—all the little things that would be special to individual members of the family. It’s not anything Irene wasn’t doing before, but we have the ability to spend more time on that now.

The one and only reason you come to Costa Rica is to be outdoors, so you’re here in the jungle or on the beach, and now you’ve got exponentially less people to share all that with. Last night, I was watching the local news, and a local guy was sitting in front of a family of four tapirs! I’ve seen maybe three tapirs in the 35 years I’ve been here, but he was just sitting in the stream, and the tapirs were just totally relaxed, plodding around behind him. Even on our farm, we are seeing great green macaws, which are endangered, flying all over. It’s like paradise.

 

 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Covid testing sign Newark Airport

Airport and Airline Covid Testing: What You Need to Know

UPDATE: Starting December 6, 2021, U.S. will require that all travelers entering the U.S. via air—regardless of vaccination status or citizenship—must show a negative Covid test taken within one day of their departure. You can read the CDC details for testing and vaccine requirements here.

As travelers make decisions about whether and where to travel in 2021, airports and airlines are announcing new Covid testing options to help passengers comply with the rules implemented by various countries and states.

Starting January 26, they will take their biggest role yet. On that date, the CDC is instituting a new policy that requires all travelers flying into the U.S. to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of arrival. Airlines will be responsible for vetting the proof—and denying boarding to those who don’t comply. They seem to be okay with this, since Airlines for America, the trade organization that represents all major U.S. airlines, recently sent a letter to Vice President Pence urging this kind of blanket testing program.

While we applaud these developments and wait to see how they play out, there are important caveats that travelers need to understand in order to smartly and safely plan their trips.

What you need to know about AIRPORT tests:

It may take a few days to get your results.
Various companies are partnering with airports to open on-site testing facilities. Already XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) has centers at EWR, JFK, Hartford and Logan, and JFK has additional facilities run by Adams Health. But there is a wide variety in the kinds of tests they offer, the prices, and the turnaround times. While some do offer rapid testing, in many cases, you’ll still have to wait two to five days to get your results, so it may not be worth it to go all the way to the airport for the test rather than visiting a clinic near home. Call ahead to find out what tests are available, and whether tests are limited to travelers en route to destinations that require them.

It may not be the right kind of test you need.
Xpress Check is offering 15-minute turnaround in some locations, but these are not PCR nasal swab tests, the kind usually required by destinations that ask for pre-trip tests. The reason is that rapid tests have been shown to be less reliable and have a higher rate of false negatives. Still it’s better than nothing, so these rapid tests can be useful for domestic travelers who want to be tested before going to visit Grandma, but not for most people who are crossing a border.

You will likely have to pay for it out of pocket.
The trend right now is that these in-airport testing sites charge travelers directly. The cost can run up to $250 or more depending on how fast you want results (if a rapid test is even available). There are some exceptions though. At Oakland Airport, Hawaii-approved testing partner CityHealth is offering tests to travelers flying to the islands, and their website says they accept “most insurance”. At New York City’s LaGuardia airport, testing is available for free but your results won’t come back for about 48 hours and are given only by phone—making this testing option useless for travelers who need immediate results or documented proof of their results in order to enter another state or country, or to bypass quarantine (including New York State).

Testing options by airport:

Alaska: Anchorage International Airport (ANC):  Alaska requires incoming travelers to arrive with proof of a negative test. If they do not have that, they will be required to test upon arrival and quarantine until the results come back. Nonresident testing is available at the airport for $250 (tests for residents are free).

Arizona: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX):  XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

California: Oakland International Airport (OAK): Travelers flying from OAK to Hawaii can make an appointment to be tested at one of two airport locations. Same-day appointments are not recommended.

California: San Francisco International Airport (SFO):  United Airlines passengers flying from SFO to Hawaii (and that route only) are eligible for a test at the airport. They can choose between taking a rapid test on the day of their flight inside the international terminal ($250; results in about 15 minutes), or taking a PCR test via a drive-through location at an airport parking lot ($105; results within 48 hours).

Connecticut: Bradley International Airport (BDL): Incoming travelers can get a test on the day their flight arrives—and that day only. The test is a PCR nasal swab, costs $125 without insurance, and results take up to 72 hours.

Florida: Tampa International Airport (TPA): Both PCR (three-day turnaround) and antigen tests (1-hour turnaround) are offered at cost to the traveler. Note that your destination may require a specific kind of test.

Massachusetts: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP): Free saliva tests are available to any traveler and are administered Vault Medical Health. Results are available in a few days.

New York: JFK Airport (JFK): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

New York: LaGuardia Airport (LGA): Testing is free to all passengers. Results are turned around within 48 hours but they are delivered by phone only — which the site acknowledges will not be acceptable proof to bypass quarantine for some places, including New York State.

New York/New Jersey: Newark Liberty Airport (EWR): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Texas: Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Testing is available for American Airlines passengers flying to Hawaii only. This is rapid test and it costs $249.

Vermont: Burlington International Airport (BTV): The airport offers PCR and rapid tests for Covid and rapid tests for the flu to anyone (including those not traveling), at the individual’s expense.

What you need to know about AIRLINE tests:

They may be offered for specific routes only.
But as of early November, domestic airlines are only offering testing options for flights to Hawaii (where a pre-trip Covid test is required), and the testing is available only from specific departure airports. As of now, airlines are not offering pre-flight tests to all of their travelers.

Airlines are partnering with labs to offer their passengers tests in different ways.
This does not mean you can get a test at check-in at the airport. Instead, it means you can maybe get a discount or preferred treatment at certain lab locations (or for mail-in kits) with stipulated proof of your flight.

In many cases, the tests may still take a few days to turn around results.
Just because a test is performed at an airport doesn’t mean you’ll get the results in time to take your flight—which makes these facilities less useful for travelers who are on their way to somewhere else.  These offerings are more useful for those who are arriving and want post-flight reassurance.  Where rapid testing is available, it may only be available from a specific airport. For example, United offers rapid testing for those flying from SFO to Hawaii; American has it at DFW.

The type of test offered may not be the one you need.
Many destinations require a PCR test (Hawaii doesn’t), so travelers need to check the type provided by the airline-lab partnership.

Testing options by airline:

As the holidays approach, here is a snapshot of what airlines are offering Covid test options right now, and what travelers need to know about them:

Alaska Airlines
Passengers of Alaska Airlines can show their Hawaii itinerary and get discounted tests from Carbon Health. The testing site in Seattle gives priority to Alaska Airlines passengers, and the Portland location is only for the airline’s passengers.

American
American Airlines has a few programs:

The airline has partnered with LetsGetChecked to sell at-home, mail-in testing kits to passengers flying to U.S. destinations that require testing, as well as to Belize, Grenada and St. Lucia. Tests cost $129, can be ordered online, and promise results within 48 hours of the specimen arriving to the lab.

Travelers on flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Hawaii have two options from American’s partnership with CareNow: They can book an in-person rapid test at a CareNow urgent care location, or at DFW on day of their flight.

American and British Airways
American is also partnering with British Airways and the oneworld airline alliance on a trial testing program. For select flights, eligible volunteers will take three different Covid tests for free: The alliance’s goal is to show that testing can prevent infection during air travel and to determine how many tests are recommended in order to ensure virus-free cabins. The trial will start with flights AA50 DFW-LHR, BA114 JFK-LHR, and BA268 LAX-LHR; at a time yet to be announced, the trial will also add the flight AA106 JFK-LRH.

Delta
Delta has launched a trial of what it calls “Covid-Tested flights” on two routes.  One route is between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Rome-Fiumicino International Airport (FCO), and for these trial flights, passengers departing from Atlanta must obtain a PCR test (at their own cost) within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time and show proof of negative results at check-in. Then passengers will be tested again before they board with a rapid antigen test provided by the airline at no additional cost; a negative result is required for boarding. Covid-Tested Italy flights are available on select flights through February 12, 2021.

Delta is also running this trial between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), but the rules are slightly different. For the Amsterdam flight, travelers must get a PRC test within 5 days of the scheduled arrival time in Amsterdam and self-isolate between when they take the test and when they board the plane. Then they will get a rapid test at the airport at no extra cost, and will need to test negative before they’re allowed to board. This trial runs on select flights through January 6, 2021.

Hawaiian Airlines
The airline has partnered with Worksite Labs for drive-through testing exclusively for their passengers in San Francisco. Passengers can opt for a 36-hour version or a more expensive same-day service.

They also offer their passengers expedited processing of and a slight discount on VaultHealth’s saliva test, which is taken at home and then mailed in.

JetBlue
JetBlue offers all of its travelers a discount for VaultHealth’s at-home testing kit.

United
Hawaii passengers whose flights originate at San Francisco airport can book one of two different tests: a test that they take at the airport on the day of their flight, or a drive-through test at the airport several days before their trip.

On November 16, United started a four-week rapid-testing trial for passengers flying from Newark Airport to London Heathrow. On select dates, all passengers over the age of two will be required to take a free rapid test before boarding and will receive results within 30 minutes.

Starting December 7, United passengers flying certain routes from Houston to Latin America and the Caribbean can order an at-home, self-collected, mail-in Covid test, which (if negative) will allow them to bypass quarantine restrictions. Two weeks before their flights, travelers going from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to specific airports in Aruba, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, the Bahamas, Panama, Honduras, or El Salvador will receive information on how to order the at-home testing kit for $119 via Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Galapagos sea lions and people in boats- covid CR Expedition Trips

Dispatch from a Galapagos Cruise: What It’s Like to Be on a Ship Now

Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos airport health checker Expedtiion Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinter greeter CR Expedtiion Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta Panga covid CR Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos lizard
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lions cuddling
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos finch
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lion and man staring at each other
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos cactus and landscape
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta ship
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta ship giving out wetsuits to passengers
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos tortoise
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos crab on sneaker Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lions and people in boats- covid CR Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton

 

“This was one of my favorite trips to the Galapagos Islands.” That’s what WOW List Trusted Travel Expert Ashton Palmer told us on the phone after returning from Ecuador’s famous islands two weeks ago. “I felt safe. In fact, in many ways, I’ve felt that I was in more precarious situations at home than I was on this trip.”

For Ashton’s first visit to the Galapagos since the pandemic began, he chose a five-day itinerary on the 48-passenger yacht La Pinta, one of only a few vessels currently sailing the area and visiting Galapagos National Park (which reopened July 13). Residents of the U.S. are welcome, with some documentation and a negative Covid test, and as travelers return to the area, a few more cruise ships are expected to start up in November and December.

Ashton experienced the ship, the shore excursions, the entire security process, and three Covid tests—prior, during, and after the trip, all negative—so that he could report back on what it’s like to travel in the Galapagos now and in the coming year. Here’s what he had to tell us.

*This article is part of a series in which we will be following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

What was the process of getting to the Galapagos, and what were your flights like?

You have to get a test within ten days of visiting the country, and I was leaving on a Sunday, so I went in on the Monday before to make sure I had enough time to get the results. I drove to a testing place here in Seattle, and it took five minutes. Then I got the results in about 36 hours.

I flew from Seattle to Houston on United. Going through security was a breeze; it was really no different than pre-Covid, other than that you’re wearing a mask and they have plastic screens for people checking your documents. The flight was about half full, with no blocked seats. When we got on, they handed everyone a heavy-duty industrial sanitizer wipe that was doused in alcohol so you could re-clean the seatbelt buckle and armrest. They served drinks and packaged cookies. Everyone was required to wear masks—and everyone did.

I then flew from Houston to Ecuador. This flight was full, with every seat taken. They issued those strong wipes again when we boarded, and they served a packaged food item with drinks.

Did the airline check to make sure everyone had the negative test certificate?

Not before boarding. The only time United asked us if we had proof of our Covid test was onboard the flight to Ecuador. If anyone said no, that person was given a form and had to go to a different intake area when we landed and get an in-airport test [at their own expense] that can deliver a result within 15 minutes.

What was the process when you landed in Ecuador?

When you arrive, they make you fill out a questionnaire asking if you’re sick. It’s a few yes/no questions, and I’m sure everyone always says no to everything. They had health workers in protective gear who took our temperature and inspected our results, stamped them, and sent us on our way to immigration. The whole process—from getting off the plane to getting outside with our bags—took 30 minutes. It was streamlined and efficient.

But you have to get another test to go the Galapagos. How did you manage that once you were in Ecuador?

You have to get a test within four days prior to arriving in the Galapagos. If you were flying directly to the islands, you could potentially get your test at home, spend the night in Guayaquil [the transit point for the islands], and then the next day fly to the Galapagos, without needing a second test. But we had been in Ecuador for a while, so the hotel I was staying at had a private company come to give us tests. We paid about $100 per person, and they emailed us results the next day.

After that flight to the Galapagos, then there’s another transit to the ship, right? Was there another round of safety protocols?

On arrival in the Galapagos airport, they make you walk through disinfectant trays to clean your shoes, and they also sprayed our bags—and us, which is kind of a bizarre experience. It was a guy with a backpack on and he had something that looked like a leaf blower that sprayed a very light misting on our clothing. There was no residue or wetness on our clothing, and no after-effects.

We then took a 10- to 15-minute bus ride on which every other seat was blocked off and everyone was wearing masks. Finally, about six to eight people got into each Zodiac—or panga, as they’re called in the Galapagos—with masks on and went to the ship. Before we boarded, they made us walk through something like an airlock of ozone. They gave us sanitizer, and checked us into our cabins.

One of the concerns scientists have is about being in enclosed spaces with other people for extended periods of time. How much open space is on the ship? Do the rooms have windows or balconies that open? Are you eating indoors? What steps were being taken to minimize risk?

The cabins are spacious and very comfortable. You can’t open the windows in them, but the cabins are electrostatically cleaned multiple times per day. The staff also sprays public areas and the seats in the dining room.

Normally the ship offers one seating at mealtimes, but they broke it into two seatings, to allow for greater social distancing. They also sat people only with their traveling group or family.

There is no buffet: Every meal is ordered beforehand and brought to you plated. So at breakfast you scan a QR code and tell the waiter what you want to have at lunch. Then at lunch, you select your dinner, and at dinner you select what you want for breakfast.

There’s also outdoor dining on that ship, so we had a couple of meals outside, and they had an evening cocktail hour outside too. There’s also outdoor deck space, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get fresh air.

“Within a day, I honestly felt very comfortable—and that’s because everyone onboard had been tested.”

How safe did you feel?

Within a day, I honestly felt very comfortable—and that’s because everyone onboard had been tested. Before they leave home, all of the crew and staff are tested; then they have to do a 14-day quarantine in the Galapagos, and they get a second Covid test before being permitted on the ship. And they were told: If you want to work, you have to commit to a three-month contract, and you can’t go into town or port or anywhere that isn’t part of an excursion. So the ship has created a bubble. And the passengers they bring into it have been tested as well. I actually felt safer on the ship than on my flight from Seattle to Houston. Had anyone been tested on that flight? Who knows?

All over Ecuador, you cannot go into a hotel without getting your temperature checked; you can’t go into a restaurant without them giving you sanitizer. I did not see one person in Ecuador without a mask on, and that includes in the countryside and on children. There’s a $100 fine if you don’t wear one, and for Ecuadorians that’s a lot of money. So they’re on the ball.

I came to the conclusion that, when I travel, I can take the same safety precautions that I take at home: I can wash my hands, wear a mask and do all of those same things.

What were the shore activities, and how did they compare to pre-pandemic?

They were the same activities. You’re walking around the different islands and seeing the animals and going to the beaches and swimming and snorkeling. There were just a few differences compared with before:

First, the gear that you’re issued is all fully sanitized, and they also issued us brand-new snorkel mouthpieces.

Second, you are required to wear a mask, even when outside on the islands.

Third, it felt like we had the Galapagos to ourselves—and that was really magical.

It’s very quiet, and the wildlife is really taking over the islands. There are animals everywhere on the hiking trails! It’s like: Excuse me, baby sea lion, I need to come through this way. [Laughs.]

We had more flexibility too, because there weren’t as many people or as many ships coming through—whereas in the past we might have had a window of time and we’d have to be out of a spot in two hours.

Did they also create a bubble for your shore excursions?

We were always with the same group of people for excursions. For us, that was for language reasons: The naturalist spoke to us in English. But I think they were generally organizing the groups according to who was traveling together.

You said this was your favorite of all your trips to the Galapagos. Why?

It was the privilege of being able to travel again. Being in nature is my jam anyway, but gosh if there’s anything to make you appreciate some normalcy and the gift of travel, it’s the pandemic. We’ve all been through the ringer for a while, and I think just being in a place of natural beauty, sitting on a beach and feeling the water and the sand or seeing these beautiful animals, and being fully present with it—it’s magical. Why should it take having travel taken away from you to make you appreciate it more? I don’t know, but it does. And that made the trip really special.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia coolest eagle hunter

Mongolia Blew My Mind. And I Can’t Wait to Go Back.

One of my last trips before the pandemic hit was to Mongolia. I’d been dreaming about going there ever since I met Jalsa Urubshurow at a work event about six or seven years ago. He spun me a vision of a night sky, stretching uninterrupted from horizon to horizon and filled with stars—one of the darkest places in the world, since Mongolia is one of the least populated countries. I’d studied Genghis and Kublai Khan in college, so the country already had a draw for me, but I’ve been fascinated by astronomy since I was a kid, and that conversation sealed the deal. When I finally made the trip this past October (planned by Jalsa, now on Wendy’s WOW List), I got my stars. I also got a lot more, including the 20th anniversary of the Golden Eagle Festival (a celebration of a centuries-old tradition), an education in Mongolian art (from ancient calligraphy to modern street art), and several delicious meals via Ulaanbaatar’s unexpected vegan restaurant scene (who knew??) and some very accommodating private chefs. Currently, Mongolia is closed to travelers, but Jalsa’s team has announced itineraries for 2021 and 2022, and while Mongolia is never exactly crowded to begin with, I can imagine that it will feel even more special and personalized to be in those first few rounds of visitors. It’s a unique place, with a culture that feels ancient and modern at the same time. I knew going in that I would love it there no matter what I encountered, but it still managed to surprise me on several occasions. These are some of my favorite moments:

 

Eagle Hunter smiling Mongolia CR Billie Cohen

At the 2019 Golden Eagle Festival in western Mongolia, 124 contestants entered the two-day fest of games that show off participants’ eagle-calling abilities, horsemanship, strength, and fashion sense. Ranging in age from 9 to 82, they came from both Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the only two countries where this centuries-old hunting tradition is practiced. It was the 20th anniversary of the festival when I visited. Jalsa cofounded it after realizing that the tradition was dying—there were only 20 or 30 families with eagles two decades ago. Now there are a few hundred.

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia -contestant in ring CR Billie Cohen

The field is a giant rectangle at the base of a small mountain. For the first game, every competitor rides their horse onto the field; one of their helpers has already climbed up the mountain with their eagle. The helper releases the bird and the hunter calls to the eagle, trying to entice it to land on his arm in the fastest amount of time. The birds are beautiful as they circle and then dive and swoop onto the hunter’s raised right arm (it’s always the right arm).

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia -youngest girl Aimulder

This is Aimulder. She’s 9 and was the youngest competitor; the oldest was 82. She told me that her grandfather and father are both eagle hunters so she wanted to be one too.

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia coolest eagle hunter

This is the world’s coolest eagle hunter, obviously. And this is an example of what was so special about this festival. There was no line between participants and spectators—either literal or figurative. You might be watching the latest round from the benches around the field and then look to your left and you’d see an eagle hunter and his horse just hanging out there with you—or just an eagle. We were all there together.

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia -boy and eagle staring at each other

A friend from my group put it like this, fondly: “It was less organized than I expected, and I loved that. It felt more like someone’s agricultural fair that we got to take part in. It was very welcoming as well.” In fact, everyone in my group used words like that: welcoming, open, inviting, authentic. For a festival that’s been the subject of a major motion picture, 2016’s The Eagle Huntress, I expected it to be a little more, well, “over.” It definitely was not.

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - teen girl eagle hunter Akhelik

I took an informal poll of English-speaking tourists and most had come to the festival after seeing or hearing about The Eagle Huntress. Even though the star of that film wasn’t there in 2019 (she’s in high school in Kazakhstan), rumors went through the crowd each day saying that she was, and confusing her with this girl, the talented 14-year-old Akhelik, who ended up coming in 4th place out of all the contestants.

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - nomad coffee shop

A makeshift marketplace with vendors, food, and games popped up around the fairgrounds. Families from the area arranged their wares and handmade crafts on the ground: tapestries, fur hats, felt slippers, wool bags. Others ran open-air food spots—in addition to a salted-yogurt-drink stand and lots of grilled meat, I passed a pizza shop in a ger (round mobile tents used by the nomad community). Still others set up boardwalk-style games, like throw-the-ring-over-the-post and dart-the-balloons. This was the Nomadic Coffee Shop, which by all accounts makes a damn good espresso. It will likely be a Starbucks in two years. Get to this festival now!

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - Chaimurat champion eagle hunter

The hunters are judged on a few criteria: how well their eagle responds to their calls, their horsemanship, the beauty/strength of the horse, and the impressiveness of their traditional costume (which Kazakhs still wear in their daily lives). They are also judged on the speed with which their eagle completes the task. The man on the right here is Chaimurat. He won the festival twice, and if he’d won in 2019 he would have had the most wins of anyone. But he didn’t. Instead, the winner was a man named Arman, thanks to his fast time when calling his eagle to his arm (less than a minute). I later found out that he and Chaimurat had earned the same number of points from the judges, but Arman’s time was better, so he took first place while Chaimurat came in second. They both got medals—and so did the eagles.

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - woman holding eagle

Jalsa’s work as a co-creator of the festival means that he has developed professional and personal friendships with various interesting people in the area. As a result, we got to meet Chaimurat and other eagle hunters before the competition even began. As they rode their horses over the mountains on their way to the fairground, we waited for them on the “road” one morning. When they arrived, they let us hold their birds (eagles are heavy!) and ask questions about their lives and work. The personal interaction provided context for what we’d see at the festival over the next two days, and made me feel like I had a personal connection to the people out there on the field. Plus, I felt super cool that I knew the champion. He’s a celebrity, after all. (Bonus connection: The young man who drove my 4×4 to the festival was the same guy who announced the Mongolian-to-English translations during the judges’ presentations, so I got to talk to him about the points system, how eagle hunters are evaluated, and how Arman edged out Chaimurat!)

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - bonfire

This is what happens the night after the Golden Eagle Festival, if you know the right people. You get a bonfire cocktail party by the river with Mongolian beer, a performance by a three-generation family of dombra players, impromptu folk songs around the fire with a fun-loving bunch of locals (including the former champion eagle hunter and his beribboned eagle), and dancing!

 

Golden Eagle Festival Mongolia - throat singer

Jalsa also arranged (and joined us for) a private concert by a Mongolian throat singer. Yes, you can go to public concerts of this kind of thing in Ulaanbaatar, but our singer sang just for the 12 of us, in our cozy dinner ger, and then spent as much time as we wanted answering our questions. “Jalsa’s appearance on our trip and his role in the country—and what that has brought [to our experience]—is special,” said one of my fellow tour group members. Her husband added, “We’ve never been with someone where the head of the travel company is so integrated into the culture.”

 

Mongolia ger traditional snacks-table

I was amazed at how a family welcomes unexpected guests in Mongolia: with warmth, smiles, tea and snacks. Our guide, Bugina, just knocked on the door of their ger out of the blue one afternoon and asked if 12 American strangers could come in—and they said yes! They asked us if people would welcome unexpected guests the same way in America…

Once inside, the gracious multigenerational family (a grandma, a married couple, and three young children) were quick to offer us hot tea and snacks. The rectangles here are fried bread, a staple for nomadic herding families. The family had a giant flour bag full of them and just dumped them out on the table. They were delicious, like donuts but not oily or sweet. At the 3 o’clock position is a bowl of fresh butter from their own cows, who were milling around outside. You smear butter on the bread and top it with a sugar cube. The other four bowls are varieties of dried milk curd; it’s chewy and bland and leaves a fatty film on your tongue. At the top is a kettle of salted milk tea, which we drank out of bowls, toasting with our hosts.

 

Mongolia street art Genghis Khan

I am no expert, but I love art, design, and architecture. So no matter where I travel, I find a few tours or experiences on those topics. In UB (what locals call Ulaanbaatar), I signed up for a street-art tour through AirBnB Experiences, and spent a wonderful sunny morning walking through the city with a university student who had a personal love for murals and painting. Not only did he show me street art I never would have found or understood on my own (such as a portrait of Mongolian poet Choinom who was persecuted by the Communists, and a timeline of UB that depicts today’s skyline and goes all the way back to Genghis Khan and the country’s early clans and herders; see more photos in my Instagram post), but I got to hear about his own life as a teenager, find out the coolest coffee shops to hang out in, and learn about his volunteer efforts and his family filled with artists. After that adventure in the punk/DIY art scene, I got to dip my toe into the city’s art-gallery world as well, when Jalsa arranged for a painter to lead a personal tour of his current exhibition, and topped it off with an interactive presentation by a calligraphy artist.

 

2 women on the mountainop at Tuvhken Monastery overlooking forest in Mongolia

Before I arrived, I’d seen pictures of eagle hunters galloping through Mongolia’s steppe, and of camels trekking through the Gobi Desert. But I didn’t realize there’d be sprawling forests too. So when Bugina led me to a mountaintop temple near Karakorum (the 13th-century capital of the Mongolian Empire), I was in awe of the country’s diverse landscapes. The most memorable part of the hike, though, was the time she and I spent becoming friends.  Bugina made sure I understood the cultural and spiritual significance of the site, but as we walked, we also started to understand each other: our lives, our loves, our work, our play, our successes, our challenges, our favorite music and karaoke songs, what it was like to live in Ulaanbaatar, what it was like to live in New York. We ended up so engrossed in conversation that we veered off the trail at some point and ended up having to blaze our own path down through the trees. I’m still laughing about it, and I’m still regularly in touch with Bugina. In fact, we have a video call this week.

 

Photo: Three Camel Lodge/Steinberg

As I said, the stars are one of the reasons that Mongolia had taken over my imagination. And when we got to his Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert, I was not disappointed. Jalsa likes to joke that it’s a “5-billion star hotel,” and despite that groan-worthy pun, he’s so right. The lodge is a collection of gers, Mongolia’s ingenious mobile homes built out of a lattice fence formed in a circle, topped off by peaked rods, and entirely covered with wool and canvas. A support pole in the center doubles as a chimney for a wood stove that heats the tent so thoroughly that I occasionally had to crack my door open at night and let in some of the 30-degree air. These gers are luxurious, with private stone bathrooms and comfy big beds, and the grounds offer a few common areas to hang out in, including a small movie theater and a living room/bar with fluffy couches and a telescope. The whole lodge is eco-friendly (solar-powered, equipped with compost and recycling, and nearly plastic-free), and has won awards for its sustainability. The lodge’s mission also includes community integration, so there’s a well on the property where herders come to water their animals (and we guests get to observe the natural rhythms of life out in the desert). There’s also a program to support a local school and artists (so we were treated to a few special concerts and performances), and everyone who works at Three Camel is Mongolian (so we had a chance to overcome that tourist-local barrier in yet another way). The best part is that the lodge feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere—just clean air and clear skies as far as the eye can see. And at night…sigh. This is the only photo that I didn’t take myself, because my phone could not capture it. I got this one from Jalsa’s team, and it’s close to what I experienced, but it still doesn’t really convey the full beauty of all those stars. You’ll just have to go to Mongolia for yourself.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

 

Full Disclosure: Nomadic Expeditions provided this reporter with a discounted group trip. WendyPerrin.com did not promise any editorial coverage, and there was no quid pro quo. Our policy when accepting discounted or complimentary trips is to use the opportunity to test out experiences; if they meet our standards and we feel there is value for our readers, we will cover them. For further input about Mongolia trips arranged by WOW List Trusted Travel Expert Jalsa Urubshruow, read these reviews of Jalsa’s trips written by WOW List travelers.

Dispatch from Kenya: What a Safari Looks Like Now

As countries around the world start to reopen to travelers—some even to U.S. residents—we want you to know how travel experiences in those places will differ from before and how to make them as Covid-safe as possible. So, in a new article series, we will be following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

First up: Julian Harrison, an African safari specialist who’s just back from an adventure in Kenya with his son Christian.  Because Julian felt his experience in Kenya was safe and delivered unexpected perks, he will be leading an exclusive, small-group trip back there in December, using his favorites of the camps and lodges he just road-tested. (If you’re interested in joining this trip, contact Julian via his WOW List page to ensure you’re recognized as a VIP. Here’s why.)

Julian Harrison just returned from Kenya, which is open to U.S. travelers.
zebras in Kenya savanna
“The benefit of being in Kenya right now: It’s just big, wide-open natural space without the tourists and the vehicles.”
infinity pool overlooking the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
One of the camps Julian checked out was the Sirikoi Lodge in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where he caught this sunset view over the infinity pool.
The seats at Doha airport were blocked off for social distancing, and passengers were required to wear face masks and shields for boarding and deplaning.
"Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature."
Julian and his son were the only people scheduled on their Air Kenya flight to the Lewa Wildlife conservancy.
Safari lodges, like the ones at Mahali Mzuri Camp, are socially distanced by design, and all camps give guests temperature checks every day.
Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri Camp had a cute take on Covid signage.
Every building in Kenya is required by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside.
“During our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.”

Did you get a Covid test before the trip?

Yes, travelers to Kenya must bring proof of a negative result from a Covid test taken within 96 hours of arrival. We also needed to fill out a health declaration form online and undergo a health screening upon landing.

How did you get to Kenya, and what should we know about the flight?

Christian and I chose to fly over on Qatar Airways via Doha. Their health and safety protocols made us feel very safe:  Every passenger was given a face shield to wear when boarding and disembarking the plane, and the flight attendants wore protective gear over their uniforms with masks and safety glasses. The business-class cabin from JFK to Doha was perfect for social distancing, since it offered individual cabins with doors to shut. The cabins are not foolproof—because the walls don’t go as high as the ceiling—but you’re still not having that direct line of sight with other passengers.  For the most part, everybody stuck to the rules, wearing masks throughout the flight except when drinking or eating.

Did the airports feel safe?

JFK Airport was deserted, with virtually nothing open. In the lounge at JFK, there was no service at all: no food, no drinks being served, nothing. You just had the ability to sit in a comfortable chair (and every other seat was blocked off).

Doha was a little more happening, in terms of shops being open, but all public seating had a banner across every other seat that said “Do not use this seat.” They were good about that throughout, with middle seats blocked everywhere, including on the plane.

How did the health screening go when you landed in Kenya?

We lined up at a lean-to outside the terminal, where they checked our Covid-negative certificate; asked for the QR code we’d been given when we filled out the online health form; and took our temperatures. Once that was done, they let us into the building to go to immigrations and customs.

If you arrive without a QR code, you have to fill out the form and get that code while you wait in line. And if anyone were to show up with no test or a positive test, I assume they would need to go into quarantine. It’s unlikely that someone would have shown up without a test, though, because when we were checking in for the flight in New York, they confirmed our results.

What safety protocols did you find on safari?

Every safari camp and lodge—in fact, every building or structure, such as a supermarket—is bound by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside the premises, and you must use them before entering and have a temperature check. And even while you’re staying at a camp, they check your temperature every morning. Safari vehicles are equipped with temperature checks too.

Also the staff and guides all get Covid tests and temperature checks on a regular basis. Meals at camps are taken in separate locations, to avoid being close to others.

How safe did it feel, compared to back home?

I actually felt safer in Kenya than in the U.S.  In the U.S. you can go anywhere as long as you’re wearing a mask, but in Kenya you can’t go unless you’ve washed your hands and had a temperature check.

And the level of infection is extremely low; it’s not huge numbers of people who have died from Covid. I think part of the reason the rate of infection in most African countries has been low is that the governments there are used to this stuff, because of viruses like Ebola. So as soon as Covid reared its head, they went into lockdown. They got on with it as soon as possible, to get rid of it.

Even South Africa, for years and years before Covid, every time you entered the country, you got a thermal scan and they checked your temperature.

Were you able to stay socially distanced on the game drives?  How?

Pretty much all camps have limited the number of people per vehicle, going from six people to four people. And wherever possible, they are giving individual groups their own vehicles, so they’re not with strangers.

All the vehicles I rode in were open-air—and that’s because of the properties I chose. (You usually get closed vehicles at lower-end properties or when you’re doing an overland circuit where you take the vehicle from Nairobi, visit several properties and then go back to Nairobi, because you don’t want to be in an open vehicle when you’re out on the road.)

How does the wildlife now compare to before the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say you’re seeing more wildlife but that you’re seeing it pretty much all to yourself.  Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature.

For instance, in the Maasai Mara, at Mahali Mzuri Camp (owned by Sir Richard Branson), during our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.

Later in the trip, we did a full day into Tsavo East National Park and did not see one other vehicle the entire day. That is the benefit of being there right now: You’re experiencing those parks like the early pioneers did, before tourism even happened.

What has the pandemic made harder?

Having to get the Covid test ahead of time is harder, I guess. And it’s harder that people are perhaps more nervous to travel because of the unknown. But that’s one of the reasons I went on this trip—to check it out for myself. And I felt pretty comfortable.

The general consensus I hear from travelers is that they are not all that concerned about being in Africa. It’s getting there—the airports and flights—that concerns them. But I think the airlines’ filtration systems are equipped that if everyone wears their masks and does the right thing, it’s pretty safe.

The other concern I hear is: What if I get Covid in Africa? What medical facilities are available? We automatically sign up all our clients for the Amref Flying Doctors service, so if anybody gets sick, we cover them, on top of their own insurance, for getting from a camp to a hospital in Nairobi. And the government has insisted that all the counties in Kenya must have a minimum of 300 safe Covid beds.

What did you learn from your own trip that has helped you build the small-group adventure you’re planning in December?

First and foremost, I learned that it’s a safe country to visit. Nobody can guarantee that somebody’s not going to end up with Covid, but in my opinion, if you do all the right things, I think it’s a low-risk, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel like a pioneer and see these landscapes and animals without tourists.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

laptop computer open on picnic table on beach, work from vacation concept

Working and Schooling Remotely? You Don’t Have to Stay at Home

For families with kids in school, the holiday season will look different this year. Many schools that students travel to get to—private schools, boarding schools, colleges—have decided to end on-campus instruction by Thanksgiving, thereby preventing the spread of coronavirus infection that could result from students traveling en masse back to campus after Thanksgiving and home again for Christmas only three weeks later. Of course, many children have been remote-schooling since August or September anyway and will continue to do so through the end of the year. This is leading some parents—those who are working remotely and can do so from anywhere—to consider a change of scene with their families for an extended time.

Some families are trading in their homebase not just for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for the entire six to eight weeks from mid-November through mid-January. They are seeking beautiful resorts, ranches, and wilderness lodges with private villas, cabins, and cottages in outdoorsy locations—and with strong Wi-Fi, good office and educational resources, and a ton of after-school options that will ensure everyone can get away from their screens to be outside, breathe fresh air, and enjoy new activities. And if they work with an expert, they can arrange special location-specific experiences too, such as snorkeling with a marine biologist or learning a second language with a native speaker.

Meg Austin, a trip-planning specialist on The WOW List who lives in Vail, Colorado, and specializes in ski, dive, and Caribbean vacations, has a name for these multi-week escapes: “Zoom Aways.” She has been helping families pull together safe and satisfying extended getaways, allowing for both work and play, mainly in beautiful settings around the United States. As someone who raised two daughters while working from home and who knows how taxing it can be to juggle multiple jobs at once, Meg is full of ideas. “Kids are going crazy,” she says. “At those ages, without the social aspect of school and the opportunity to get your wiggles out, there’s got to be a better way.”

Where to go for a “schoolcation”

Meg has been collaborating with beach and ski resorts in North America and the Caribbean to make these extended “schoolcations” rewarding. For example, Auberge Resorts Collection can provide tutors and dedicated caregiver services at their mountain properties in the American West. In Mexico, the Four Seasons Punta Mita offers a study buddy program, a tech hotline, and after-school sports classes. And if you book a two-bedroom suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park City, Utah, Meg can get you a free upgrade to a three-bedroom and turn the third room into an office.

Zachary Rabinor, a Mexico specialist on The WOW List who lives in Puerto Vallarta with his two young sons, is seeing a similar trend: Families wanting to rent private homes and villas in charming beach locales, some for months at a time. Since Mexico never closed to air traffic during the pandemic, he’s been doing this for a while now. “They’re more like relocations,” he says of this type of extended stay. “People are thinking, instead of going for a week between Christmas and New Year’s, why not go for a month? The working-from-home and virtual-schooling have removed any fetters of physical location.”

A state-of-the-art set-up

In addition to finding accommodations that support long-term stays—whether they be resorts, all-inclusives, or private homes or villas—the right trip planner can ensure that everyone in the family has what they need to do their jobs remotely. That can mean arranging for tech upgrades so that the Wi-Fi can support multiple Zooms, Google classrooms, and video conferences at once. “There’s intensive use of the internet now,” says Zach, “and the bandwidth needs to be different than what people would accept if they’re just on vacation.” To that end, it’s enormously helpful to use a travel specialist who, like Zach, knows which local internet companies to call, speaks the language, and can have someone on hand to make sure the work is completed to the families’ requirements.

A school support network

The work/school hardware is only part of the puzzle for a long-term trip; kids may need tutors, parents may need nannies—and often they need a combination of both.

The right trip designer can source that too, from a reliable pool of candidates; for example, a helper to get the kids ready for school in the morning and then take them out to the slopes for a few hours afterward, a babysitter to keep the family occupied while mom finishes a late-night meeting, or a Spanish speaker to teach everyone the local language.

Indeed, if the kids need local tutors in any subject, a travel specialist who is plugged into the area’s schools and the education community is a life saver. In Mexico, Zach says, “As you can imagine there are a lot of teachers who, because of the Covid situation, are on reduced hours; they’re looking for work and we’ve got it, so we are getting education professionals.”

Most important is to make sure that whoever you’re bringing into your vacation bubble is safe and following recommend hygiene protocols—and maybe even getting tested before they join you.

Extracurricular activities

On an extended school/work-cation, there are many opportunities for adventures outside of the classroom (or hotel room). The best ones won’t feel like school, but they may be just as valuable, or moreso. Because in addition to providing everyone a chance to get away from their computer screens and move around, these kinds of activities can give kids and grown-ups the chance to rebuild some of the social and recreational fabric that’s been missing after long months of lockdown culture. For example, lifelong skier and diver Meg can hook kids up with ski guides and SCUBA trainers; she can arrange for flora and fauna specialists to take them hiking, or a marine biologist to take them diving. Zach, a surfer, can set up surf lessons and find ways to integrate with local kids or sports teams. They can all do much more, of course: Hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, bird-watching, fishing, snowshoeing—all kinds of activities are available, and they can be enjoyed safely and privately.

Peace of mind and unexpected perks

In addition to helping families fulfill pre-travel requirements, such as Covid testing or health paperwork, ace trip designers assist with unusual logistics based on the latest rules, restrictions, and services of the countries or states their travelers are visiting. (For example, the Dominican Republic is providing all hotel guests with a free “travel assistance plan” of emergency Covid-related coverage through December 2020, whereas Costa Rica requires that travelers arrive with proof of their own medical insurance that covers Covid-related bills; see more in The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers.) And they will know if you’ll need an extended visa for a long-term stay and how to get one.

They’ll think of the day-to-day needs too, such as grocery delivery and safe housekeeping services. Want to bring your dog, but need a pet sitter for when you hit the slopes? No problem. Want a list of the best local doctors? Done. Meg is even arranging to have a Christmas tree in place for one family who will be spending the holiday out West. “If you dream it, I can make it happen,” she says.

As for pricing, WOW Listers can often negotiate lower prices even during peak holiday season. And they can secure free or discounted amenities that easily add up if you’re staying somewhere for a month or longer—daily breakfasts, for instance.

 

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

hiker on boardwalk trail surrounded by green rainforest Olympic National Park Washington state

One Family’s Island Vacation: Socially Distanced in Washington State

 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

Kathy Gardner and her family managed to get a world away from their city lives this August. Based in San Francisco, she and her husband and their two teenagers had endured months working and learning from home; by the middle of summer, they needed time outdoors. So Kathy wrote to Ask Wendy, asking about the San Juan Islands, which had always been on her bucket list. We recommended that she consult with Sheri Doyle, trip-planning specialist for the Pacific Northwest. Sheri designed a two-week itinerary in Washington State, split between Olympic National Park and the San Juan Islands—an itinerary focused on hiking, biking, kayaking, and the enjoyment of nature. “It was stunningly, stunningly beautiful,” Kathy told us on the phone soon after their return. We thank her for taking the time to tell us about her family’s trip and for sharing information that we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why made you decide to travel now and to Washington State?

Our daughter is getting ready to go to college next year, so we really wanted to take this time to get away in a safe, socially distant way. We’d never been to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands, and the more we looked into it, the more it seemed it would be easy to stay away from other people and enjoy the beauty of that part of the country. Also, we wanted a short flight. [Editor’s note: The flight from San Francisco to Seattle is only two hours.]

Did you get tested pre-travel?

Yes, we are fortunate in San Francisco to have relatively easy access to Covid-19 testing, and so were able to have the test and see the negative results both before our vacation and then immediately after we returned.

How did the flight go? What precautions did you take?

We took Wendy’s advice seriously about how to fly in a pandemic, and we incorporated that advice with other advice from the CDC. We felt we were following all the rules. We chose Alaska Airlines, which I had read was doing well during Covid, and we thought they were fantastic. The plane was clean and spacious, and they kept to their word of keeping an empty middle seat and giving us the seats we asked for. Everyone was wearing masks the entire flight—we were hoping they would, and they did.

I had read Wendy’s article about picking seats and staying safe. And we did the whole thing: We got masks and goggles and gloves and had Clorox wipes, and we just tried to be really pragmatic about things. Having a short flight makes a difference too.

Where did you stay?

We rented a house close to Olympic National Park, but not in it. It was on the water, super pretty and an easy drive into the park. Then we spent three days on San Juan Island in another rental home, and a week on Lopez Island in another.

Lopez is low-key and a really nice community and awesome for biking. It feels like a place people go if they know about it, if that makes sense. We did one day trip to Orcas Island, which is fantastic as well. We loved it. We had really beautiful weather, and it was easy to be completely by ourselves.

We were never in a situation where we needed to be around other people, except on the plane, and even the airports were not full.

So you rented three different homes over two weeks?

Yes. Renting our own places was a criterion for us and, interestingly, hard to do. Houses were very booked up. So Sheri was hugely helpful in piecing together our places to stay.

The three homes were all very clean, and we were all by ourselves. We went to the farmers’ market to shop, like we would at home. We ate outside a few times at restaurants. We did a lot of hiking. Our main activities were hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddle boarding. The Olympic Peninsula is such a huge national park; we had just a couple days and barely scratched the surface.

How else did Sheri help?

Sheri was incredible—just so on top of things. She knows that anyone who wants to travel right now needs to be careful, so she has great ideas. Before we could even ask our questions, she gave us great advice about how to navigate the process.

I almost didn’t have to ask. She was like, “I know the questions you’re going to ask,” and she had the answers about socially distancing, about the ferries, about where to stay. Sheri could not have been better.

Now that you’re back, is there anything you wish you’d known before?

I’m just happy we went. Life is short, and our kids are growing. We made a really nice choice for our family. Our kids are going back to distance learning, and they were in distance learning since March 17, so it was so nice to be outdoors in a beautiful place and have some freedom and just drink it in.

We ended up getting a national parks membership this year. I feel like it’s a good thing to support our parks, and you can use it anywhere you go.

A note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now.

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

covered gazebo dock stretching into lake in tennessee at Blackberry Farm resort

How One Family Is Doing Multigenerational Travel During Covid

This traveler got this trip by starting with The WOW List. For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

In pre-Covid times, Susan and David Nethero traveled about once a month, both for pleasure and for work. They’d usually fly: India, Africa, the Caribbean. But in these times, the Atlanta-based couple has switched to locations reachable by car, as a safer alternative and so that they can spend time outside the stress of the city with their grown children and young grandkids. Until now, Mrs. Nethero told us over the phone, “The number of times we’ve taken road trips in the last ten years is maybe four or five—not many.” That M.O. has changed this summer. She and her extended family recently returned from two getaways that they tried to make as safe as possible. We were curious how they did it and what their experience was like.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to Susan Nethero for talking to us about her family trips and sharing information we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why did you want to travel now?

Eight of us were supposed to go skiing in March in Salt Lake, and that had to be canceled. Then we were supposed to go to the Turks and Caicos in May, and that had to be canceled too. So everyone was chomping at the bit to go somewhere. That’s why we went to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee in June. They had just opened back up again, so there were a few restrictions on services, but it was a great experience, and they accommodated us in every way. [Editor’s note: In fact, the Netheros enjoyed it so much that Susan and David are headed to its sister property, Blackberry Mountain, at the end of August.]

What did you enjoy most at Blackberry Farm?

I thought this was extraordinary: They arranged for private counselors for our grandkids because their usual camp was suspended—and they did that for free. The kids made tie-dye shirts and milkshakes and did really fun things. And at night, Blackberry Farm arranged for babysitters so the kids didn’t have to sit through a long dinner and drive their parents crazy. The babysitter took them out in a golf cart, introduced them to the cooks and everyone in the kitchen, and they made cookies.

And we did two experiences. First, we did a farm experience where we fed the goats and lambs and picked eggs out of the chicken hut. Blackberry Farm raises high-end dogs too, and they had a whole litter, so we got see these amazing puppies. We also did a nature experience, and that was even more fun: We put on tennis shoes and went in a stream with a naturalist. We saw baby trout and had little nets to catch crawdads and fish. Then we walked up the stream and they showed us wildlife all around the stream. Those kinds of nature experiences are always really illuminating.

They kept surprising us. For instance, when they brought our car back to us, it was washed and all vacuumed out.

When we came back from that trip, we thought: What are we going to do for Fourth of July?

Were you looking for another place you could drive to?

Yes. We reached out to a travel specialist whom Wendy had recommended to us to see if there were some attractive driving trips we could take on the Southeast Coast.

Within minutes we received about five different ideas. They recommended a place in the Florida Panhandle, but we had been seeing pictures of all these kids on the beach and we thought that looked scary. We wanted privacy. Another option was Sea Island in Georgia, but we’d been there before. Another idea was The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, in South Carolina, but they didn’t have our dates available, housekeeping won’t come into the room to clean during your stay, and they were giving people time slots at the pool.

Then we remembered we had stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, one time, so we asked about it. And even though it was Fourth of July and it was last minute, they were able to get us an oceanfront suite.

Were you worried about going to Florida?

If you looked at where the coronavirus issues were in Florida, it was more in the south, west coast, and Panhandle, so we were isolating ourselves a bit.

Who traveled with you to Florida?

Eight total: David and me; David’s brother and his wife; our adult children; and two grandchildren (ages 5 and 1).

“The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you,” said Susan Nethero. Photo: The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

What was the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island like?

You would have thought the whole place would be filled, given it was Fourth of July weekend, but it was not full.

At the hotel everybody wore masks. We felt completely safe, even though we were using the elevators. They had a spa and we walked in one morning and they were able to accommodate us, and we had one of the best facials we’ve ever had. Their adult hot tub and sauna were not open, but we understood that. They were just trying to be safe.

They had activities for the kids that were really cute, and overall we felt like the social distancing was pretty good, except it was hard at the pool. At the pool there were tons of kids and dogs—a lot of dogs; we were surprised. We used the beach quite a bit, and if we said we needed five lounge chairs, they’d have it all set up waiting for us, and they put a good amount of distance between groups. Even when we went in the water, we had space. They did room service and the rooms were immaculate. We did bike rides and there was no extra charge for the bikes.

They have a five-star restaurant, and it had a limited schedule, but they were able to get us in for a five-course tasting meal that felt like ten courses because they kept bringing us more stuff.

We had chocolate on our pillow every night, and another time the GM came over and talked to us about what it’s been like for them. The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you. There wasn’t anything we asked where they weren’t like, “Sure, we can work that out.”

Did the dining and social-distancing measures feel safe?

For breakfast, they had a buffet set out, but they had people serving it to you, so that was a nice way to do it. They opened up an area so that more people could sit outside. On the Fourth of July, they attempted an outdoor BBQ, but when they got some weather reports and thought they might not be able to manage the flow of traffic, they canceled that. Instead, they set up a BBQ you could order from the table.

Every night they had s’mores down at the beach. It was not very crowded. There were a lot of children there too. I will say—and we experienced this at Blackberry too—that guests moved up the time of their eating because they ran out of things to do.

Guests wore masks at the Ritz. At Blackberry Farm they didn’t, but that was back in June, and we were outside and distanced so much there. At Blackberry, they had a family pool and spa pool. And whenever you walked into a building you put on a mask. The rooms at Blackberry are cottages—not attached to anything. So we took two side-by-side cottages that were joined in the middle for our daughters, and my husband and I took a separate cottage.

What are you thinking about next?

We did ask our WOW List specialist if she could look into the new Aman resort in Nevada. My husband and I are not worried about flying—although we certainly wouldn’t go to a hot spot like Los Angeles—but the Aman is another three-hour drive from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.

We would be glad to travel to the Caribbean islands, but they have restrictions and testing, and God forbid you end up there and you get tested and it turns out you have it. Do we want to get quarantined and stuck there? But it’s problematic in the U.S. too. Like, we even thought, let’s drive to New York—but it’s a long way, and they’re clamping down on visitors.

 

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

dad with kids on bikes in a RV campground

A Safe East Coast RV Family Trip During Covid

dad with kids on bikes in a RV campground
Ready for a bike ride at our campsite
Looking for wild ponies from our pontoon boat in Chincoteague
Looking for wild ponies from our pontoon boat in Chincoteague.
wild ponies in Chincoteague virginia
Wild Chincoteague ponies
kids playing in sand at beach in Chincoteague Virginia
Searching for treasures on the beach in Chincoteague
Chincoteague ponies at sunset in Virginia
Chincoteague ponies at sunset
young boy Building sandcastles on the beach in Cape Cod
Building sandcastles on the beach in Cape Cod
kids and dog in masks at MacMillan Pier Provincetown Massachussetts
Our crew on MacMillan Pier in Provincetown
whale breaching ocean in Provincetown MA
Whale off the coast of Provincetown
dad and kids playing in a park in Provincetown
Playing in a park in Provincetown (the stone on the left is a memorial to those who have died and treated victims of AIDS).
toddler digging in the sand on a beach in Cape Cod
Summer school: learning about the snails we found on the beach on the bay side of Cape Cod.
Seals in Chatham Harbour Massachusetts
Seals in Chatham Harbour (they congregate here to stay safe from sharks and to catch scraps the fishermen toss overboard).

 

RV rentals are way up this summer, thanks to their built-in social-distancing solutions to Covid-era stresses such as airplanes, hotels, dining, and public bathrooms. If you want a self-contained getaway, an RV adventure looks like an attractive option to a lot of travelers. That’s how the Mathis family felt too, and mom Andrea recently emailed us to share the how-to and where-to details of their summer road trip with their young kids, ages 2 and 5.

To avoid some of the pitfalls that novice RVers might encounter this summer, they steered clear of popular national parks where social-distancing enforcement varies greatly and where campgrounds might be too crowded for comfort (or sold out) and instead kept their itinerary simple and close to their home in Washington, D.C. They also found creative ways to enjoy their destinations while keeping themselves safe. Here’s what Andrea had to say:

“After debating the safest way to travel this summer, we came up with renting an Airstream trailer and driving to Chincoteague in Virginia and Cape Cod from our home in Washington, D.C. We have effectively been quarantining since March, so we moved our bubble into the trailer, which was self-contained and I could feasibly completely disinfect, unlike a house or hotel room.

We rented both the trailer and the truck we used to haul it. There were a few advantages to this (for us) over an [all-in-one] RV: we could park the trailer and just drive the truck around on day trips, and the ability to install car seats properly in RVs seemed iffy at best based on my research; hence our decision to go with a truck/trailer combo.

We spent tons of time outside riding bikes and playing on sparsely populated beaches (we were near the end of the Cape in North Truro). The towns we visited like Provincetown and Chatham were quite crowded, though mask compliance was mandatory and quite high, so we mostly stayed in our car when sightseeing there for safety. In Virginia, we found mask compliance much lower.

We were able to see a great deal of wildlife (wild horses in Chincoteague, whales and seals in Cape Cod), by chartering private boat tours (all of which were dog-friendly). It was just our family and the captain, who was masked and 10-plus feet away from us. We used Instacart to fully stock the fridge and pantry before we left, so we never had to go inside a grocery store; used the trailer restroom instead of rest stops, so we never had to use a public restroom; and found restaurant take-out procedures very safe and distant. We even found an old-school drive-in movie theater on the Cape, so we went to the movies in a safe way.

Our two little children and our dog absolutely loved living in the trailer. It was small but quite comfortable; better suited for more resourceful travelers, as we had hiccups like our dog getting sick on the long drive north and very iffy electrical power at our campsite on the Cape (a/c would cut off if too many lights were on, etc.). Like most of our family trips, I’d file it under ‘adventure travel,’ not ‘vacation.’  Wonderful just the same if you bring the right mindset!”

A note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter.  While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to Andrea Mathis for taking the time to share her experience with our readers; we know it will be useful to other travelers.

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

a couple kayaks through the ice in Alaska

An Alaska Anniversary Trip During Covid

a couple kayaks through the ice in Alaska
Kayaking, a bucket-list activity for Janette
couple fishing off back of boat in Alaska
Fishing at Whale Pass
couple on boat dock in alaska posing with fish from fishing trip
Our catch at Whale Pass
Covid testing tent at Petersburg airport Alaska
Covid testing tent at Petersburg airport
Coronavirus safety signs at Petersburg airport Alaska
Signage at Petersburg airport
traveler couple wearing masks in a float plane in Alaska
Wearing masks in the float plane
aerial view from airplane when Landing at Tutka Bay Lodge Alaska
Landing at Tutka Bay Lodge
a couple poses in the woods by a waterfall in Alaska
A waterfall hike
couuple in masks with luggage at airport
Before (leaving Houston)
couple posing on a boat in front of a glacier in Alaska
After (boating to a glacier)

 


 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

What do you do when you planned a 25th anniversary trip for May of 2020, and then a global pandemic hits? You postpone it and, when the remote Alaskan lodges you’ve got your heart set on begin to reopen, and the state starts to admit travelers with proof of a negative Covid test, you finalize the date, call in the experts, get your Covid test, and go. That’s what frequent WOW List travelers Janette and James Gill of Houston did. They made their special milestone trip in July, capitalizing on Alaska’s prime time for weather and wildlife viewing.

You might remember that we spoke to Mrs. Gill back in March, at the start of the pandemic. At that time, she was visiting her daughter, who was studying abroad in Rome. The family was supposed to take a trip through Italy, but as the country’s caseload soared and Lombardy went on lockdown, they had to divert their itinerary. A few months later, the coronavirus forced them to change their plans once again—and yet they still had a great time on their anniversary trip and can’t wait to return to Alaska. We called Mrs. Gill shortly after they got home from their adventure, to find out all about it.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. Thank you to the Gill family for talking to us about their trip and sharing information we know will be useful to other travelers.

Why did you choose Alaska?

We’d been there before and loved the open spaces, and the wildlife is amazing. The lodges are just so unique. We had stayed in the Winter Lake Lodge and this time we wanted to try its sister property, Tutka Bay Lodge.

Judith reached out to me a month or two into the pandemic to gauge how I was feeling. I said if the plane is flying and the resort is open and we’re not sick, we’re going—just because this is an expensive trip and something we’d been looking forward to all year.

What was the process of getting into Alaska, with the testing requirements?

Judith made sure I understood what was required. She let us know that we had to have a negative Covid test within 72 hours of travel. She sent me information on where I could go in Houston for the Covid test and walked me through the worst-case scenario if we didn’t get our results. This is the exact reason why we use travel specialists from WendyPerrin.com—for situations like this.

It ended up not being a problem because I was able to find someone [in Houston] to give a nasal swab test and results within two days, so we got the results during our Seattle stopover en route to Alaska. We were proceeding as if we were negative—and we were.

The Alaskans are very serious that no one who comes into their state is positive: They had Covid testing at several airports we went to. As long as the flight didn’t come from out of state, we didn’t have to keep showing the test, but we did carry the negative test with us.

You stayed in two lodges. Can you tell us about them?

We flew from Seattle to Ketchikan and took a float plane into the Lodge at Whale Pass, an amazing remote upscale adventure lodge. Mainly the focus there for us was fishing. We wanted to get remote because I love remote Alaska, away from cruise-ship passengers. Judith recommended it for the food too.

Only one other family was there when we were, and for dining we sat spaced out, but we had just gotten our negative test results and the other family obviously had too, so our masks came off the minute we arrived. We fished, went to see the beautiful glacier, and kayaked through the icebergs because that was on my bucket list. The lodge owners’ son was our boat captain, and they were both there. It’s a very cozy, family-run business. We stayed for three nights, and except for meals we were outside the entire time.

What was the second lodge and what activities were you able to do there?

Tutka Bay Lodge in Homer. To get there, we took Alaska Airlines to Anchorage. We had to spend one night in Anchorage, so we had made a reservation for dinner at one of our favorite places we’d been to before. Everyone around town had masks on; of course, we didn’t while we were eating. And then we had an early morning float plane out to Tutka.

We arrived fairly early in the morning. The weather was beautiful, the lodge was everything I imagined it would be, and I can’t wait to go back. They wore masks inside the common area, and there was another family that was leaving as we were arriving, so we were the only family there.

After lunch we hiked with a guide around the beautiful property and then went on a boat ride. The captain wore a mask, and we sat in the back in the open air so we didn’t wear any. Then we hiked, and that night we had a fantastic meal outside. The next morning, at about 6 a.m., we headed out on a bear-viewing adventure. We saw seven bears, a mom with her cubs, a red fox, and a couple of eagles in their nests with babies inside. It was just a fantastic day.

But that was the day you got the news about the restaurant you’d dined at in Anchorage, right?

We got back to Homer at about 2:30 in the afternoon and there was somebody waiting for us. They said, There’s some bad news: There’s an issue with the restaurant you dined at Sunday night: It has shut down because an employee has tested positive. They didn’t yet know which employee or whether that employee was even working when we were there. But the lodge made the safety decision that we would not be returning.

Kirsten, the owner of the lodge, got on the phone with us, and since they were unable to find a rental car for us, she very graciously offered to lend us her vehicle for the four-and-a-half-hour drive from Homer back to Anchorage. They packed all our stuff for us, along with lunch and snacks for the car, and brought it over by boat.

How did you feel?

I was very disappointed but, when you travel in a pandemic, you take that risk that things may change. Alaska is very clear about what happens if you get Covid while traveling: You have to quarantine on your own dime. It turned out, though, that the employee who had tested positive was a dishwasher who wasn’t even working on the day that we were there. So, rather than stay in Anchorage, we opted to head on home.

Tutka Bay Lodge very graciously offered to let us come back later for the unused portion of our stay, and Judith credited us back for the unused portion of the chartered flight that we didn’t use on the return to Anchorage.

[Editor’s note: To be clear, Mr. and Mrs. Gill were not exposed to the virus at the restaurant. They returned home more than two weeks ago and did not get sick.]

Despite the restaurant scare, was the trip worth it?

Absolutely, just for being able to be out in the fresh air and do all the activities we had planned. Everything other than sleeping and eating, you’re outdoors—and some of the meals were outside too. I felt a lot more comfortable being outdoors, but also I’m one who is going to live my life. I’m not going to live in fear.

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

outdoor porch dining area of a vacation villa at Chable resort in Mexico with green trees around

A Mexico Family Vacation During Covid

 


 

This traveler got this trip by starting with this questionnaire.  For a safe, smart, extraordinary trip, go to The WOW List, find the best destination specialist for you, then click his/her CONTACT button to reach Wendy’s questionnaire.


 

Charlie Myers and his family wanted to get away. But they had a few challenges facing them: First, they live in Florida, so they were likely to run into travel bans and quarantines in some U.S. states. Second, they didn’t want to be on an airplane for too long. Because of their location, they were able to look internationally—to Mexico.

We checked in with Mr. Myers after he, his wife, and their two school-age kids returned from their week-long excursion to Merida and the Riviera Maya, where they stayed in two different resorts, planned with the help of WOW List travel specialist for Mexico, Zach Rabinor. As a frequent traveler, a veteran user of Wendy’s WOW List, and a professional who works in the fever-screening technology industry, Mr. Myers had a lot of insight into what it’s like to take a family trip now.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter. While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. We are grateful to Mr. Myers for sharing his family’s experience with us and with you.

Why Mexico?

We were considering going on a trip internally in the U.S., but at that moment—the start of July—there were so many state regulations changing so quickly that it became unclear whether we’d have to quarantine for 14 days when we arrived in the places we were considering.

We are very well traveled, and Mexico seemed like a very simple trip from Miami, mainly based on the one-hour flight time. We didn’t want to sit in masks for many hours, so flying somewhere where you’re off the plane before you know it was appealing.

How did you narrow in on Merida and the Riviera Maya?

We were very nervous about flying and I’d recently been to the Cancun airport, and it was busy and I wanted to avoid that. Flying into Merida instead was a great recommendation from Zach. It was quiet and easy.

I’d been to the area, and I knew that it was going to be the right place for my family. If anything, it was slightly disappointing because a lot of the attractions that are fun for kids were closed. But we still managed to do day trips that felt adventurous and that the kids loved. We did quite a few excursions organized by Zach’s team that felt 100% safe.

What kind of activities did you do?

My family doesn’t really love beach trips; we live in Miami, so the beach is nothing special. My kids are really nerdy. They love museums and history and archaeology and cities. I thought the Mayan ruins would fascinate them—but, as it turns out, we weren’t able to see them. The cenotes were closed too. But Zach found us things that were open that we could go and see, like a fantastic trip into caves. Normally that would have been a touristy experience that I wouldn’t have enjoyed, but because of the restrictions, we were able to do a private trip.

How were the resorts?

Merida was a little underwhelming, if I’m honest, because everything was closed. The hotel itself, Chablé, had several experiences for the kids to enjoy, like chocolate making and a little farm with deer, and they spent some time doing local Mayan cultural immersions. They were simple and quick but still felt special, even though they were on-property. I can’t say enough good things about Chablé. We stayed in a private family villa. The staff were wonderful, the resort was beautiful, and they upgraded us. It was quiet, and there were only a handful of other people staying there.

Then we rented a car and drove to the Riviera Maya. I’m not as passionate about the Rosewood Mayakoba, but I chose it because it seemed right for the children.

In every resort, all of the staff was wearing masks. Not all of the guests were, because there was enough social distance, but the staff did. It was never an issue because Zach’s team helped select resorts that were spacious.

What were your concerns about the trip?

The concerns were obvious: Will my family be safe? Are we taking unnecessary risks by traveling? Will we be in certain situations that will be beyond our control? In terms of meeting those concerns, the recommendations that the travel specialists made helped—especially the first resort, Chablé, because it’s such a large property and the accommodations were stand-alone villas. It felt 100% safe. The safety protocols at both resorts and both airports, and even with the car rental, made me feel like they were taking it very seriously.

How did WOW List travel specialists Zach those concerns?

In non-Covid times, I probably would have done this trip without using a travel planner because it was a very simple trip. I’ve had a number of trips planned with WendyPerrin.com travel specialists, but a week in Mexico—I would normally do it myself.

But I am very glad I picked up the phone and spoke to these guys because their recommendations, especially Chablé, were not on my radar and made the trip.

In your trip review, you mentioned that they messaged with you while you were traveling?

They were super-professional, particularly during such a scary moment, and they checked in with us during the trip. We had a little bit of an issue with the car rental; it was a benefit to be able to text somebody who was immediately on the phone with the car rental agency to get it resolved very quickly.

This was one of the more simple trips that somebody could have planned for a family, but I still felt the benefit of having somebody there in case we ran into unknowns. We didn’t know what to expect. And when we were planning the trip there were some questions we had and some concerns whether the border would remain open; without their involvement, it might have led me to postpone the trip, but they were very reassuring that they had the correct information. And they were right.

What did you observe in terms of safety protocols as you traveled?

We found the safety protocols in Mexico were well in advance of anything we’d seen in Miami. They seemed much more together and on it than the U.S.

I’m in the fever-screening technology business, so I was very aware of it. At the airport they have fever-detection cameras, and they are checking temperatures everywhere you go, whenever we entered a property or the car rental place—and the car rental would only allow me to go into the building. It was more the consistency of every single place doing the same things to keep people safe. And all of that led to a layer of feeling confident that we weren’t going to get sick.

What was it like driving?

It was not the recommendation of Zach’s team to rent a car, but I wanted to do it. The health and safety precautions were present and consistent and felt appropriate.

We drove about four hours, and even at the gas stations they have the same protocols as elsewhere, so you couldn’t go into a gas station without somebody taking your temperature or asking you to sanitize. That made you feel very comfortable, and it wasn’t intrusive in any way.

What do you wish you knew beforehand (and therefore would tell other people)?

When we got to the beach at Rosewood Mayakoba, the kids’ club was actually open. There was a level of normality on vacation that caused a little bit of stress because we weren’t quite emotionally prepared for it and weren’t sure how to navigate it. Our kids made friends, and it felt fantastic to see them playing normally, but I think we were under the impression that all of these touch points were closed. So it was kind of challenging to navigate those moments on the spot, to try and understand what the appropriate thing to do was. I think everyone is facing these kinds of challenges we’re not really programmed to make. So that is something to consider: If you go to a resort, there will be situations that may not be compliant with social distancing, and they will be almost impossible to control. All that being said, I felt everyone who worked at the resorts went above and beyond to ensure that protocols were being met.

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Grand Prismatic Spring view at Yellowstone National Park

A Family Road Trip to National Parks During Coronavirus

Due to her hospital work schedule, Dr. Amy Evers, a frequent WOW List traveler, usually takes big family trips in the fall. But this year, when she came by some last-minute time off in July, a summer getaway suddenly became an option—and she and her husband and two kids felt that they needed it. They decided on a national-parks road trip from their home in St. Louis to Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. When she wrote to Ask Wendy to find out who could best help her pull together the details and arrangements for this July trip, we sent her to WOW Lister Melissa Ladvala. Then, when the 11-day itinerary was nearly settled, Dr. Evers’s sister and two nieces announced that they wanted to come too. With Melissa’s help and Dr. Evers’s own ideas (Wolves! Paragliding! Biking!), they ended up with a trip they’ll all remember. We spoke on the phone with Dr. Evers to hear all about their experience—and what it was like to road trip in the national parks during Covid-19.

First, a note: While we at WendyPerrin.com do not encourage travel at this time, we believe it is possible to travel responsibly during this pandemic. We have done so ourselves—and we trust our community of global citizens to make smart choices for themselves and the people they’ll encounter While most travelers want to wait until there is a vaccine for their next trip, some have asked us to help them travel safely and responsibly now—and we are happy to provide the intel and support they seek. We answer their questions every day at Ask Wendy. And we request their post-trip feedback as part of our effort to provide you with a realistic and useful view of the travel landscape right now. We are grateful to Dr. Evers for sharing her family’s experience with us and with you.

What kind of trip was it, and what transportation did you use?

I wanted it to feel more like an independent road trip than a 100% guided itinerary. We had two days with a guide in South Dakota, one with a guide in Yellowstone, and a lot of activities scheduled in Jackson Hole, but they were all separate entities.

My husband and kids drove back, but I flew [because of work]. I got an email from American Airlines saying it looked like it was going to be a full flight and if I was flexible I could change. But I couldn’t. And it was full.

The airport in Jackson was pretty busy, but in Chicago I had a three-hour layover, and the airport was not very full: I was easily able to find a gate not being used. The flight from Chicago to St. Louis was not full. I felt like almost everybody legitimately had their mask on. I didn’t eat or drink on the plane; I left my mask on the entire time. I ate in Chicago, but I had brought food with me, so I didn’t get anything at the airport. For me, the fact that everyone wore masks—I was happy.

Why did you choose these national parks for a family trip?

Firstly, I was thinking about where hot spots were and were not. Secondly, my family doesn’t really ever have a chance to do national parks because we almost always do family trips in November [because of my work schedule]. So this was the time to capitalize on going to parks that are farther north and are not hot spots.

What activities did you do, and how did you feel about their Covid-related safety?

During our guided days in Rushmore and Badlands, the van we were in had Plexiglas between us and the driver, and the guide used a microphone so we could hear.

In Jackson Hole, we did the alpine slide at Snow King. Everyone in line had masks on, for the most part.

At Teton Village, we went paragliding. They gave us a buff and had us wear it the whole time, even while paragliding. To ride up [to the launch point], the pilots don’t go in the gondola with you;, they ride a different one. Of course, when you’re going tandem with someone, they are literally right behind you, but we all had masks on—and there’s clearly good airflow when you’re flying through the sky [laughs]. Everyone loved it.

For white-water rafting, we had to have our masks on in the bus; it wasn’t packed, and the windows were open. On the rafts, people didn’t have their masks on, but we were outside and moving. There was one other family in the raft with us. The company used only their bigger rafts. Ours could have comfortably fit three people in a row but placed only two people in the row so you could be farther away from each other. We were far enough apart and outside, so I felt fine about that.

For horseback riding, it was only our family, so we did not wear masks. We were never really close to anybody other than when I went into the office (where I wore a mask, and the people in the office wore masks too).

When we went rock climbing [just with the family], we had two guides with us. We all wore masks while we were trying stuff on and when we were near the guides, but not when we were climbing because no one was nearby. We used a lot of Purell that day, and the guides were good about reminding us to do it because the ropes are used by other people. I’m not as worried about getting the virus from someone touching something than from someone coughing in my face or talking a lot. So I feel like it was pretty good. So far, knock on wood, everybody’s asymptomatic.

Apart from that, anytime there was downtime in Jackson, we took our bikes out on the many pathways and trails.

What were the accommodations like?

I wasn’t too terribly worried about staying in a hotel: Getting the virus from someone via droplets is more risky than being in a hotel and touching something.

Apart from the hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota, all of the accommodations were strict about wearing a mask. After South Dakota, we stayed in Cook City, Montana, a little town just outside the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, which is the least used entrance but the one closest to the Lamar Valley, where you can see wolves. And we saw wolves! Woo! I was so happy.

In Yellowstone we stayed at Under Canvas because we thought it would be fun to try glamping. Each family stayed in a separate tent.. It was a big hit with the kids. We brought four bikes so my kids could tool around and go to the common tent and get a hot chocolate and come back. They thought it was the best thing ever. At the restaurant, you used a menu from the clean pile and then put it in the dirty pile, and you had to order through Plexiglas, so it was a little more of a self-service feel, but it was fine. It was to minimize the number of servers coming to your table, and the servers all wore masks. For breakfast, you just picked up a grab-and-go baggie.

At our hotel in Teton Village, we had our own kitchen, and I felt totally fine.

What did you notice about how other states were handling the coronavirus situation?

In Wyoming, they were very strict in most locations. Most had masks available to use if you didn’t have one, and they allowed only one family in the elevator at one time.

In South Dakota, they definitely don’t seem to be taking Covid seriously. We experienced that before we even got to Rapid City (our base for Rushmore and Badlands). As we were driving to Rapid City, I ordered from a restaurant for pick-up. They didn’t have curbside pick-up, so I went into the restaurant to wait for the food. I was the only person in the entire restaurant with a mask on, and there was an older gentleman who straight-up harassed me: [Imitating the man with a tough taunting voice] “What are you a police officer?” Outside of that, no one harassed us for wearing masks, and in the hotel the staff wore masks—though the lobby of the hotel was busy. But I would say South Dakota as a state seemed to take it less seriously.

 

We can help you figure out how to safely plan your own trip and direct you to the right travel specialist for your needs. Write to us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

view out of airplane window of Cancun Mexico with jet engine in bottom corner

4 Things to Know About Airline Miles Now

The coronavirus pandemic has raised a lot of questions about air travel: routes, rules, restrictions, refunds, how much to spend, where to sit, when to book. And not least of all: What about my miles? Frequent travelers want to know what the current airline industry landscape means for all those points and miles they’ve been racking up or have had to re-deposit back into their accounts due to canceled travel plans.

We invited miles-and-points expert Gary Leff to speak in our Zoom chat last week about air travel in 2020 and 2021. Gary reports on this topic every day at his View From the Wing blog, and he works directly with travelers at his Book Your Award flight-planning service.

Here are the four things he wants to make sure travelers know about airline miles now, in his own words:

1. Your miles are generally safe, unless the airline goes out of business.

“Even if an airline goes into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the frequent-flier programs are incredibly valuable. They’re often the most valuable part of the airline. United Airlines was just able to raise private funds for an airline at the $5 billion level now, backing the loans with its frequent-flier program. People were willing to put up $5 billion knowing that there’s substantial revenue there. American, for its part, is expected to put up its frequent-flier programs as collateral for a $4.75 billion CARES Act loan. The Treasury Department considers it to be pretty good as well. So your miles are generally going to be safe, as long as the airline itself remains in business.”

2. It’s going to be a pretty good time for frequent fliers in the near- and medium term—until airlines recover and fill their planes again.

“For paid tickets, up until now, there haven’t been a ton of great offers. That’s largely because there hasn’t been an opportunity to really incentivize travel. The airlines haven’t been using their loyalty programs to really drive business. Concern for health is a binding constraint. Restrictions on international travel are binding constraints. Once the circumstances of the world change, we’ll really start to see deals and mileage offers. The fact that there are empty seats will lead airlines to use their primary marketing programs to encourage filling those seats.

I think that award availability will be pretty good for a while too. As the airlines recover and print more and more miles (and eventually they will, and seats will begin to fill up), those points that we’re all earning very quickly will probably become worth less in the future. So I think it’s a good idea to earn and burn miles within roughly the same time period—meaning, earn those miles and then use them in the near term, rather than saving them for the future.”

3. For travel in the distant future, it’s generally better to use miles or points than to pay money, unless it’s for the most exclusive accommodations or remote flights.

“One of the things that I really like about miles is their flexibility. Certainly ticketing policies have been more flexible recently than they have been in the past, but mileage bookings have long been very flexible. If you need to cancel, you can put the miles back in your account, usually for a modest fee. Hotel bookings with points are also often very cancel-able as well, so they give you a lot of flexibility and peace of mind. You make a booking, and then if things don’t work out the way that you want, you can change often at the very last minute. (But always check the cancellation rules when making a reservation.)

I like taking a wait-and-see approach on booking paid flights right now. To folks who may have booked far in advance in the past, I’m saying to them: Wait, hang on to your cash. Except for flights to the most remote places, planes aren’t completely selling out. Holding off is often a good idea.

For mileage tickets, though, you may want to book the best available flights you see today. Because planes are empty, you might find your ideal seat. If you find a good but not ideal seat, you can keep checking for availability to improve and then pay a modest fee later to improve your trip.

4. Schedules will change, and that could be to your advantage.

“Schedules are going to change, so don’t assume that the flight that you book today is going to operate exactly the same way ten months from now.

Because the schedules aren’t real, the one advantage of a schedule change is that you may book a sub-optimal schedule with miles, and most airlines—certainly U.S. airlines—will be pretty darn flexible in terms of giving you an alternative. I’ve often used schedule changes to improve my itinerary.

Mileage tickets are very low-risk. They often aren’t exactly what you want the first time out, but if what you booked has changed, the airline will usually open up revenue inventory. At that point, you won’t be limited to what was available as an award, and then you can kind of get the schedule that you would have wanted.”

 

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Flying in 2020 and 2021: How Airlines Are Adapting and How Passengers Can Stay Safe

Air travel is a big stressful question mark for a lot of us right now. How safe is it? What steps are airlines and airports taking to ensure passenger health? How are airfares affected? And what about miles? We invited two air travel experts to answer all these questions and more during a recent Zoom chat.

Many of you may know our two speakers because Wendy has been recommending them for years. Brett Snyder is the founder of Cranky Concierge, a service that not only helps people find and book the best flight options, but also monitors those flights for schedule changes and subsequent refund/credit options. Brett also writes and hosts a podcast about the airline industry at Cranky Flier.

Gary Leff covers miles and points at his blog View From the Wing and also started Book Your Award, the go-to service for whenever you want to know how to get the best value for your miles and points. He understands the nitty-gritty of all the programs, so he knows how to move points from one program to another, who the partners are, and how to access hard-to-find award seats.

Below, we’ve excerpted their answers to help travelers figure out how to approach flight planning in 2020 and 2021.

Stay in the know about our future Zoom chats through our weekly newsletter; and if you have questions about how to approach your own trips during the time of COVID-19, write to Ask Wendy.

How can I find out which airports in my area are safe? And, once in the airport, what can I do to stay safe?

Brett Snyder: The airport experience is one that’s naturally going to be a challenge. You have a lot of people in a small indoor space, and so that’s where mask wearing becomes really important and hand sanitizer and all the stuff they tell you to do. But if you live in a city with multiple airports, a secondary airport might make you feel comfortable.

In the gate area, we have seen in some places they’ll block every other seat. As for boarding, they’re trying to do it in smaller group numbers, or back-to-front. But they still let the premium cabin and elite members board earlier, so it’s not true back-to-front.

Gary Leff: And do as much self-service as you can: Use the airline’s app to check in, so you have the boarding pass on your phone. Scan that yourself at the TSA line, scan it yourself at the gate. Airlines in many cases will let you print your own baggage tags and drop the bags off yourself, instead of involving someone else in the transaction. Your bag is still ultimately going to be touched by somebody else who moves it. But when you get your bag back at the other end, you’ve got your sanitizer. Self-service minimizes the touch points.

I feel more comfortable on the plane itself, where you have circulating outside air with HEPA air filtration, than I do inside the terminal. The interesting thing is that we really haven’t seen aircraft as vectors of significant spread. United CEO Scott Kirby may make the case more boldly than I would when he says that the aircraft is about the safest indoor environment that you could possibly have, but it is absolutely the case that we haven’t tracked a lot of spread to being on planes.

Which airlines are taking the most stringent and well-executed safety precautions?

Gary: I think all of the airlines are taking safety incredibly seriously. They’re doing more cleaning than they’ve ever done, with newer and more innovative technologies then they’ve ever used before. The differentiator is that middle seat. Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska continue to limit the number of people onboard so that they don’t have to fill middle seats, whereas United and American do not. It’s a uniquely U.S. thing, this idea of blocking middle seats. On airlines worldwide. this is not something that you’re going to find.

Brett: Most of the airlines are now doing questionnaires asking if you’ve had any symptoms. Of course, it’s very easy for someone to lie about that unless it’s something that a gate agent can actually see. The questionnaire doesn’t help with pre-symptomatic transmission, of course, but it still does help, as does the wearing of masks.

Another thing to consider is that the smallest airplanes—50-seat regional jets like the ERJ-145s or the CRJ-200s—don’t have HEPA filters. Now, that doesn’t mean all regional aircraft. The planes with 70 or 76 seats—those do have HEPA filters. So, if you are concerned, you might want to avoid those really small airplanes.

What can I do if I book the flight and then discover that it’s packed?

Brett: Some airlines will block middle seats. But on American or United, you could walk on and find that the airplane is full. Those airlines are telling people ahead of time if their flight will be relatively full, and they’re letting people change without penalty if they want to.

Gary: Airlines that are blocking middle seats or capping load factors—they’re offering more value to customers, so I would choose one of them. Although I would not choose to take a connecting flight on one of them versus a nonstop on American or United.

Is there a difference in safety if I’m on a three-hour flight vs. a ten-hour flight?

Brett: Well, I’m not a doctor, but the longer the flight, the longer your potential exposure to the virus. So I would assume if you’re sitting next to someone for three hours and that person’s nose is sticking out of his mask, ten hours of that is worse than three hours of that. Also, if you think about meal services—because that’s when you’re allowed to take your mask off: On a longer flight, you’ll have more food or drink. But again, as Gary mentioned, there just haven’t been many examples of transmission in an airplane.

Gary: Worldwide, there is really only one flight where there’s a consensus that the virus might have spread on the plane—but it also could have been in the gate area or on the jetway. It was the March 1st London–Hanoi flight on Vietnam Airlines, where several people were exposed during that trip and developed symptoms of the virus afterward. Again, it may not even have been on the plane itself.

This is why I was so concerned early on when the U.S. was placing restrictions on arrivals. It was a mess where people were standing body-to-body in arrivals holds for hours. The plane is where I am not super-concerned. But there are a lot of other elements of the trip that you have to watch out for.

Will airfare increase dramatically?

Gary: At some point in the future. But in the near term, I think that we’re going to see a lot of deals because airlines have added more flights to their schedules than the number of passengers has grown, and so there are empty seats.

The only thing that I think would fundamentally drive higher fares is if there were a law, say, that required blocking middle seats, and it took a third of capacity out of the market. Then, all of a sudden, you would have so many fewer seats that customers would be bidding up to get access to.

That doesn’t seem to be in the cards, though, so I wouldn’t expect much higher fares, except if you’re going to some place that’s really difficult to get to right now. Like, right now, if you have to go to Australia, they’re only letting in a certain number of people every day.

What are the odds of getting reimbursed for unused tickets if we don’t travel in 2020?

Brett: The answer is: It depends, because every airline has a different policy. If it’s a refundable fare, great, go ahead and get a refund. But for the most part, fares are not refundable—or, if they are, there’s a hefty penalty that goes along with it. So the best thing you can do is just wait and hope for a schedule change. A schedule change would potentially allow a refund, and your chances are pretty good at this point that there will be a schedule change.

Where it gets tricky is with international carriers. The rules that govern what happens to the value of a ticket are based on which airline issued the ticket, even if you have multiple airlines on that ticket.

Gary: If you are not able to travel because of circumstances on the ground, you might think: Because it’s a force majeure event and they closed the border, contracts are void. But that’s generally not how it works. If the airline operates the flight—if the flight takes off and you’re not on it—you can get a credit for canceling, but they’re likely not going to give you back your money. So if you choose not to go or circumstances mean it’s obvious you shouldn’t go, but the flight travels, you’re far more likely to get a credit than a refund.

Are there any advantages to booking now for 2021 trips?

Gary: The reason to book now is if you see an incredible deal. By incredible, I don’t just mean a good price—I mean orders of magnitude better than what you usually see.

One reason to wait is that we don’t know what the world is going to look like. Places that look pretty good now in terms of COVID-19 may not look great many months from now, and places that look bad now might look much better many months from now. So my inclination is to wait where possible, and only jump at either an outstanding deal or because that particular flight is really important to you.

But schedules will change, so if you book a flight for ten months from now, don’t assume that it will still operate exactly the same way. The options are going to be different.

Brett: Also, if there’s decent mileage availability and you see a flight you like, there’s not that much risk in booking it. Be sure what the rules are with your program, but worst case, you can get your miles re-deposited for a relatively small fee.

But you can’t book for most of next summer yet. The general rule of thumb is about 330 days in advance of travel—that’s when schedules open up. As Gary said, though, none of those are real schedules for the most part—they will change.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

stock photo of toy airplane on stack of masks and passport with a globe signifying travel during Covid

Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly

Now that some countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, and require international flights to get there, we’ve asked health experts to outline the most important steps travelers can take to limit their chances of contracting or spreading the coronavirus when they fly.

Starting with how you transport yourself to the airport, and ending with how you exit it at your destination, there are many tricky touch points to plan for. One factor in your favor, though, is that you’re not likely to encounter crowds at the airport or on the plane right away. According to Airlines for America, the trade association and lobby group for the U.S. airline industry, U.S. airline passenger volumes are down nearly 90%, and the TSA is screening 88% fewer travelers compared to this time last year.

That could change with time, however: Your airport could see a wave of restless travelers, or your particular flight may be the unexpectedly popular one. So it’s smart to be prepared.

Making the decision to fly

First, we want to be clear that the CDC and the U.S. State Department are still advising Americans to avoid all nonessential international travel. The CDC has this advice about the risks of contracting COVID-19 when traveling by planes specifically: “Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.” It also notes the difficulty of social distancing. So thinking carefully about whether to even take a trip is your first line of protection.

“The decision is important,” says Dr. Petra Illig, an aerospace-medicine physician based in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Illig was a CDC quarantine medical officer during the Ebola, H1N1, and MERS outbreaks, worked as regional medical director for major airlines, and currently serves as secretary of the International Airline Medical Association. “You have to decide: Do I really need to make this trip and are there other alternatives?” If the answer is yes, you do need to make the trip, then plan for potential pitfalls, like getting stuck at your destination, requiring hospitalization there, needing prescription refills, or not being allowed in when you come back home. Consider your contingency options and make sure you have all the necessary items with you in your carry-on: not just your medications (and enough to last in case you do get stuck), but also information about your medical status, physicians, allergies, insurance, and an emergency contact. “Plan for not coming back when you want to,” she says.

Getting to/from the airport

The best way to minimize your risk of exposure is to drive yourself to the airport and park there, says Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician based in California who also serves as vice chair of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s Global Health Committee and who served as medical director of an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone during the 2014 outbreak. “The next best option would be to see if someone you know (preferably someone that you live with and have been around frequently—i.e. someone in your bubble) can drive you. Even if you do this, I would recommend wearing masks and practicing good hand hygiene, since being in the car is an enclosed space that potentially places you at risk.” If you have to take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, she recommends “wearing a mask, using good hand hygiene, and if possible having the windows down for air circulation.”

Checking in

Check in online whenever possible so that you don’t have to interact with any people or touch any kiosk screens. The same goes for checking luggage: Try not to.

When you do have to check in at the airport, be conscious of the things you touch and that other people have touched. “At the counter, don’t give your ID to the person: Try to handle it yourself,” says Dr. Illig. “Same with credit cards—try not to let people hold your card.” If you have to use a kiosk screen, wipe it down first, and then wipe your hands (or gloves) right after. “I already have my gloves on when I’m going into a place where I have to handle things,” she continues, “because I find it a lot easier to sanitize my hands if I’m wearing gloves rather than constantly washing my hands, which you can’t always do. I can vigorously use Lysol wipes on the gloves.”

Dr. Illig’s trick: Keep a Ziploc bag of wipes with you at all times. “But make sure it’s well sealed,” she cautions, “because the alcohol on them will evaporate quicker than the water in them. Just because the wipe is wet doesn’t mean it’s effective.”

TSA screening/baggage handling

Since you’ll be interacting with people, Dr. Kuppalli advises wearing a mask when you go through TSA screening. “Going through the Whole Body Image scanner should not pose any additional risk to people,” she adds. “However, if the screener has to do a pat-down or any additional screening, they may get close to you. The best thing you can do is protect yourself with your mask, and you have the right to ask the agent to wear clean fresh gloves and to wear a mask.”

What about all those shared surfaces you’ll have to put your bags on—conveyor belts, screening bins, and, at the other end of your journey, baggage-claim carousels? How much should we stress about those? “I wouldn’t worry about it,” says Dr. Illig. “You’re not going to lick your bag, so even if it comes into contact with something, it’s unlikely it will have enough particles attached to the handles of your bag [to transfer if you] pick it up and then touch your nose.” She explains that while we’ve all heard the reports about how the virus can be detected on certain surfaces for hours or days, that detection does not necessarily mean the virus is alive. “The testing we do now is for the genetic fingerprint of that virus on the surface. That doesn’t mean the virus was alive or can be infectious; it just means the RNA is still evident but the virus is most likely not capable of infecting a living cell. Plus it requires a certain amount of virus [to start an infection].”

Still, Dr. Kuppalli says she usually wipes down the outside of her bags after going through security, and then she washes her hands—because when touching luggage, that should be your main concern. “The most important thing to remember is that after handling your items, your hands will be dirty, so you don’t want to touch your mask, mouth, eyes, or nose,” she explains. “You want to make sure to clean your hands with hand sanitizer or soap/water first. As long as you do that, you will be fine.” And remember: The TSA now allows you to bring 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in your carry-on, so don’t be stingy.

Waiting in the airport

The time when you’re waiting in the airport for your flight to take off seems riddled with traps. Should you avoid hanging around the gate? Is it safe to buy snacks or drinks? And what about using the bathrooms?

“I would avoid the crowded gate and food courts,” says Dr. Kuppalli. Instead, she suggests looking for an empty gate close to yours and camping out there until it’s time to board. She adds that buying food or drinks is probably fine, but be sure to wash or sanitize your hands before you eat anything.

“The place I get most nervous are the bathrooms: There you have to be ultra cautious,” says Dr. Illig, who suggests looking for one that’s not crowded and getting in and out as quickly as possible. “You want to think about everything you might touch, and try not to touch it.”

Dr. Kuppalli agrees: “The main concern are the high-touch surfaces that may not be cleaned as often or as well as one would hope. Wash your hands completely with soap and water for at least 20 seconds while scrubbing between the webs of fingers, under nails, and on both sides of hands.”

On the airplane

Let’s clear up a common myth first: The air on a plane is not a big cloud of germs; it’s not what makes people sick. U.S. airlines use HEPA filtration systems to generate hospital-quality air, and that air is cycled so frequently that infection risk is low.

“According to the WHO, research shows there is little risk of any infectious disease being transmitted onboard an aircraft because the aircraft cabin air is carefully controlled. Ventilation provides a total change of air 20 to 30 times per hour,” says Dr. Kuppalli. Even the CDC is trying to set the record straight with this information on its page about air travel: “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.”

In a recent essay for the Washington Post, Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained that airplanes are rarely the source of disease outbreaks. He pointed to a study on the risk of infection posed by a person with tuberculosis to 169 other passengers. The answer: between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million. And that’s without everyone wearing masks.

Nevertheless, the airline industry is still trying to better understand how coronavirus and other pathogens behave in cabin air—and what they can do about it. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Boeing and Airbus have started conversations with the FAA, the CDC, and a few universities to figure out and address in-flight risk factors. Those discussions could lead to academic research grants and studies that would inform the way airplanes are designed, maintained, and ventilated.

In the meantime, the air nozzle above your airline seat blasts purified air, so turn it on and position it toward you throughout your flight.

Other passengers

The air is not the problem. People are. “The greatest risk is really your distance to the next passenger,” says Dr. Illig.

Airlines are attempting to address that problem. Members of Airlines for America (A4A)—which include Delta, JetBlue, American, United, Southwest, Hawaiian, and Alaskan airlines, and which require passengers and staff to wear masks all the way through from check-in to de-planing—are trying out tactics such as back-to-front boarding, staggering passengers, and not selling middle seats. (Update: Several airlines have recently announced they’ll end this policy and sell planes to full capacity, including American, United, Spirt, Air Canada, and WestJet). Still, as Dr. Illig points out, even if the middle seat next to you is open, you’re still not a full six feet from the person in front of or behind you. “Therefore, it’s even more important to have everyone wearing a mask,” she says.

At this point, though, so few people are flying that crowded planes are unlikely to be an issue. If you feel uncomfortable because you’re seated close to another passenger, talk to the flight attendant about switching. If the passenger count is very low, the flight attendants might have to strategically space out the seating arrangements to keep the plane balanced (this happened on my own last flight, back in March).

There are reports that suggest that choosing a window seat provides a little extra safety, because it limits the number of people surrounding you. Window passengers are also less likely to get up during the flight to go to the bathroom or walk the aisle—times when you’d be exposing yourself to other people’s germs.

Wendy has been hearing from travelers who’ve decided to splurge on business- or first-class seats in order to reduce the number of passengers within their six-foot radius. They’ve assigned themselves window seats in order to reduce contact with people passing through the aisles (their specific airlines have blocked off the aisle seats next to them for now). These travelers have also assigned themselves seats in the last row of the upfront cabin, figuring that if other passengers in the cabin sneeze or cough, they’d rather be sitting behind those passengers than in front of them. Plus, in the last row (or the first), there are fewer people seated close to you.

Your seat area

Airlines are already upping their hygiene efforts (for example, member airlines of A4A are using electrostatic foggers for sanitization), but it’s a good idea to wipe down your seat area anyway: buckles and seatbelts, trays, screens, windows and window shades, armrests, overhead lights and fans, call buttons, and the overhead bin.

“I would mostly recommend that passengers do the things we have been recommending since the outset of the pandemic,,” says Dr. Kuppalli, “wear their masks on board so in case they are sick they don’t spread their infectious droplets to others; if possible, maintain their distance from others; wipe down their seats, seat buckles, tray tables and other surrounding high-touch surfaces with disinfectant wipes prior to takeoff; and use hand sanitizer before eating/drinking or touching their face mask.”

The bathroom

If it’s a long flight, you might have to face your biggest challenge yet: the tiny airplane lavatory. “The bathroom is definitely a place of concern just because it is a small, confined space,” says Dr. Kuppalli. “As the flight goes on, I would be increasingly concerned about it.” She and Dr. Illig have the same advice: Exercise caution, don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch, and wash your hands. “Whatever you touch is possibly contaminated, so I would wear gloves,” says Dr. Illig. “And if you can’t [use gloves], use a towel or something to touch any surface. Then after you leave the bathroom, don’t touch your face, and when you get to your seat, decontaminate your hands whether you’re wearing gloves or not.”

Arriving and exiting the destination airport

Depending on where you’ve traveled to, you might have to navigate passport control, customs, and baggage claim when you land. Follow the same precautions as you did when you departed from your home airport: Wear a mask, wear gloves, limit your interactions with people and shared items, maintain social distance (maybe wait for the impatient crowd around the baggage carousel to dissipate before you grab your bag), don’t touch your face, and—as always—wash your hands.

“I wish I had some cool secret or magic, but it’s just sticking with a pattern,” says Dr. Illig. “The problem is when people break the pattern, then they’re at risk for contaminating themselves. Follow the same steps, ingrain them into your brain.”

This article was originally published May 30, 2020. It has been updated.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

A village street of Santorini is bright white and blue, with pops of pink bougainvillea flowers

Portugal, Iceland, Greece Will Not Open to U.S. Travelers Just Yet

A few weeks ago, we published this story with the news that three European countries—Portugal, Iceland, and Greece—would be opening their borders to U.S. travelers in June. Then one by one, each of the three countries reneged on those plans, citing safety concerns. As it stands today, U.S. travelers are not yet able to travel to Portugal, Greece, or Iceland. We will continue to watch and update as details develop.

Please note that the CDC still advises against all non-essential travel and the U.S. State Department maintains a global level 4 “do not travel” alert.

Greece

Until July 1, open to EU citizens and residents only. For dates beyond July 1, the Greek government has not yet decided which countries’ travelers will be admitted and under what restrictions. 

For more information, check with the U.S. Embassy in Greece and Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Portugal

Open to EU and Schengen state citizens and residents only. U.S. arrivals were originally supposed to be welcome starting June 6, but that date has been postponed, possibly to July 1. 

Continental Portugal: No quarantine required

Madeira: 14-day quarantine required

Azores: arrivals have choice of showing proof of negative test within past 72 hours, taking a test upon arrival and quarantining until a negative result is returned, or a 14-day quarantine.

If you were able to land in Portugal now, you’d see that certain safety measures and restrictions are in place across the country. Face masks and six-foot social distancing will be mandatory, and restaurant payment must be contactless, but museums, monuments, palaces, churches, bookshops, libraries, and beauty salons will all be open, along with restaurants, cafés, patisseries, esplanades, and shopping centers that are smaller than 4,300 square feet. Beaches are with restrictions. Taxis and rental cars will be available (as well as some public transportation options).

Look for the national tourism board’s “Clean & Safe” certification at hotels and tourist sites. To earn the validation, a company must sign a Declaration of Commitment to certain hygiene and cleaning processes informed by the country’s Directorate-General of Health. Participation is free and optional, and Turismo de Portugal will carry out audits of those who opt in.

Flights:

TAP Air Portugal, a Star Alliance airline, is running nonstop flights from Newark to Lisbon; later in July, flights to Lisbon from Boston, Miami, and Toronto are due to start up again. In an optimistic turn, the airline also plans to launch new flights later this summer from Boston and Toronto to the Azores, and from Montreal to Lisbon.

Iceland

Open to EU and Schengen state citizens and residents only.

Testing upon arrival or 14-day self-quarantine

Thanks to its small population (the lowest population density in Europe), Iceland was able to keep its COVID-19 count in check. As a result, Prime Minister KatrÍn Jakobsdóttir recently announced that the country reopened to travelers from with the Schengen area on June 15—with some rules in place:

Before arrival, travelers must fill out a pre-registration form, which includes a declaration of health, recent travel history, personal details, in-country contact info, and coronavirus status and possible exposure. At arrival, they can choose between 14-day quarantine and a covid test (no tests are required for children born in 2005 or earlier). Starting July 1, the test will cost each traveler ISK 15,000 (about $115), but in the two weeks before that they will be free.

Results from the test will be delivered in about 24 hours.  If a traveler tests positive, they will be required to self-quarantine; if they do not have a place to do so, the government will provide a location at no cost. The government will also cover medical examination and treatment. There is one big question that is still unanswered: how many tests will be available each day. Early reports suggest it may be as low as 500.

Flights:

Icelandair will resume its flights from the U.S. No other airline is flying to Iceland from the U.S. this year.

This article was originally published on May 29. It has been updated.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

St Lucia beach with Pitons mountains in the background

These Caribbean Islands Are Reopening to Travelers in June

The U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia will reopen to U.S. travelers during the first few days of June, followed later this summer by Aruba and possibly the Bahamas. While large swaths of the world struggled with coronavirus outbreaks, many Caribbean islands were able to limit their number of COVID-19 cases and quickly contain community spread. Now, a few are preparing to get their tourism businesses back on track, with plenty of additional safety measures, of course.

Below are the opening plans, but keep in mind that the CDC still advises against all non-essential travel, and the U.S. State Department maintains a global level 4 “do not travel” alert. Also, flights to these islands are highly subject to change, warns Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge.

Antigua and Barbuda

Open to travelers June 1

Status:

As of May 1, the islands of Antigua and Barbuda had seen only 25 cases between them and three deaths.

Travel requirements:

V.C. Bird International Airport on Antigua will reopen for international and regional flights on June 1. (The first flight scheduled flight from the U.S. so far is American Airline’s Miami–Antigua on June 4.)

When visitors land at the airport, they must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 48 hours, complete a health declaration, and undergo temperature checks. They must also have their own masks to wear in all public areas during their stay. Anyone arriving without a certified negative test result must either quarantine at their hotel for 14 days or pay to have an approved test administered locally. Read the government’s full travel advisory.

Hotels and activities:

All accommodations (hotels, resorts, rentals, villas) and transportation operators must meet cleaning and safety protocols and be certified by the islands’ health authorities in order to resume service. For example, hotel employees have to live on-property in order to limit their possible exposure to the virus, and taxi drivers will be given time to wash their hands at hotels between passengers. Government updates are posted here.

Flights:

American: from Miami (June 4)
JetBlue: from JFK (July 1)
Delta: from Atlanta (July 4)
United: from Newark (July 11)

U.S. Virgin Islands

Open to travelers June 1

Status:

As of May 28, the US Virgin Islands had 69 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. About two dozen more tests were in progress on that date.

Travel requirements:

Visitors to any of the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas) will undergo temperature screenings and may be asked to take a COVID-19 test. No quarantine is mandated, but they are asked to monitor their health for 14 days.

Hotels and activities:

The USVI government is keeping a list of open hotels, and all accommodations (including rentals) are required to follow sanitization procedures.

Restaurants and bars will be open with seating restrictions (so call ahead), beaches are open with social distancing rules, and taxis will be available but operating at 50 percent seating capacity. A document outlining info for leisure travelers is being kept up-to-date on the USVI governor’s website.

Flights:

American: from Charlotte (starts June 4) and Miami (ongoing) to St. Thomas; from Miami to St. Croix (ongoing)
Delta: from Atlanta to St. Thomas (ongoing)
United: from Houston to St. Thomas (ongoing)

St. Lucia

Opens on June 4 to U.S. travelers arriving by air only

Status:

St. Lucia suffered only 18 cases of COVID-19, and all of them recovered. As a result, it’s ready to get back to tourism on June 4. The opening applies to air travel only (seaports remain closed) and to U.S. travelers only.

Travel requirements:

Travelers must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken with 48 hours of boarding their flight. On arrival at the St. Lucia airport, there will be temperature screenings and luggage sanitization.

Hotels and activities:

About 1,500 hotel rooms are expected to be available, and each property must earn a COVID-19 certificate from the government before it can open. The process requires that they meet safety criteria in areas such as sanitization and social-distancing protocols. Guests can expect temperature screenings at meal times, limited-contact check-in/check-out, on-site nurse stations, physical distancing, limited services and activities, and they’ll only be able to use taxis booked by the hotel. Restaurants on the island will be open for take-out and delivery only, and your hotel can offer information on what activities are available. Once they’re on the island, visitors must wear masks in public, even in public areas of their accommodations. For a full explanation of all of St. Lucia’s rules and preparations, read the government’s helpful FAQ.

Flights:

American: from Miami (June 4)
JetBlue: from JFK (June 11)
Delta: from Atlanta (July 2)
United: from Newark (July 11)

Aruba

Tentative reopening expected between June 15 and July 1

Status:

As of May 29, Aruba has reported 101 cases, three deaths.

What we know:

Aruba’s government recently announced an intention to open sometime between June 15 and July 1. Once that date is finalized, they’ll provide more specifics about entry requirements, health-screening plans, and on-island safety protocols.

In the meantime, the Aruba Tourism Authority and the Department of Public Health have unveiled the Aruba Health & Happiness Code, a cleanliness-and-safety certification for tourism-related businesses and accommodations.

Flights:

Since the island’s official opening date is not yet set, this flight information is all tentative.

American: from Charlotte and Miami (July 7)
JetBlue: from Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, and JFK (July 1)
Delta: from Atlanta (July 5)
United: from Newark (July 6); from Chicago/O’Hare, Washington-Dulles and Houston-Intercontinental (July 11)

Bahamas

Possible opening July 1, according to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis

Flights to Nassau:

JetBlue: from Ft Lauderdale (June 11); from JFK and Orlando (July 1)
Delta: from Atlanta (July 1)
Southwest: from Baltimore (July 1)
American: from Charlotte and Miami (July 7)
United: from Newark and Houston (July 6); from Chicago and Denver (July 11)

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Hotels Adapt to the Covid-19 World with New Cleanliness Campaigns

Hotels around the world are introducing myriad branded campaigns to reassure guests that they’re taking steps to protect them from the coronavirus outbreak. Some are testing out robots as housekeeping staff or creating rooms that clean themselves. Most, though, are doubling down on the basics. From international five-star boutique brands to near-ubiquitous domestic chains, many hotels and resorts are announcing inspiringly-named plans to expand their cleaning procedures and re-evaluate guest interactions.

While opening dates, guest limits, and legal regulations vary by country and state, there are many similarities among these plans, such as more frequent overhauls of public areas, wipes and sanitizer stations throughout properties, sealed plated meals, digital check-ins, and the removal of pens, remotes, and other shared items from rooms. But the most notable commonality is that hotels want them to be highly visible to guests. The hope is that if visitors can see proof of cleanliness—and understand the steps being taken by staff members in that vein—they’ll feel reassured. That’s why most have branded their protocols with a strong-sounding name, partnered with globally respected public-heath advisers, and publicly detailed their plans on their websites.

Below, we’ve compiled many of the safety and sanitization programs introduced by major accommodation brands around the world. As of yet, there is no global certification process for cleanliness; however, some countries have introduced voluntary certification programs, and we’ve listed those too.

It remains to be seen how well any of these plans will actually be carried out at each individual hotel—so please let us know in the comments what you’re finding at these properties if you stay at any of them.

HOTELS AND RESORTS

Accor (which includes Banyan Tree, Delano, Fairmont, Orient-Express, Raffles, and Sofitel)

Th Accor group unveiled its newly branded ALLSAFE standard, developed in conjunction with Bureau Veritas (a 200-year-old international company that specializes in testing, inspection, and certification). A detailed description of the ALLSAFE standards are available on Accor’s website; they include measures such as providing guests with sanitizer, wipes, and masks; guest temperature checks; front-desk partitions; contactless check-ins; capacity limits in bars and restaurants when re-opened; and mandatory staff training at each property. Accor has also partnered with AXA insurance to provide telemedicine consultations and access to AXA’s network of medical professionals.

Aman Resorts

Aman has partnered with Diversey (a company that specializes in sanitation and maintenance products and services) to enhance its cleaning procedures based on guidelines from the World Health Organization, as well as from the local authorities at each location of their 37 international properties. The company promises increased staff training and thorough sanitization, although specific protocols may vary from property to property based on a country’s rules and guidelines.

Anantara

Anantara resorts are one brand in the Minor Hotels company based in Thailand, where the Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched a certification process (see below). These plush properties vow to up their sanitization efforts, social distancing plans, and contactless services (including airport transfers, check-in, dining, and fitness), and are consulting with Ecolab, a U.S.-based water, energy, and hygiene technology services company, on new procedures. In keeping with the culinary experiences and cooking classes that have long been a signature part of the Anantara brand, properties are also focusing on immunity-boosting cuisine.

Avani

Avani, like Anantara above, is part of the Minor Hotels group. In addition to digital check-in and check-out, Avani is setting up sanitization processes for luggage and incoming supplies. It’s also looking into sanitization technologies, such as UV sterilization and copper anti-viral coating for keys and other high-touch items, and HEPA-grade air purifiers. After room-turnover cleaning, each room will be sealed for a 24-hour waiting period before the next guest can check in. Avani has also said it will review its third-party partners (transport, tour services, etc.) to make sure they meet the brand’s standards. The number of guests at gyms will be limited and socially distanced, and there will be a mandatory waiting period between groups. As for staff, the procedures vary by country when it comes to frequency of temperature checks; in general, masks are required. In a lighthearted twist, Avani is encouraging its workers to decorate and personalize their masks, an initiative it is calling “Smile Through the Heart.” You can download a PDF of all the new rules in this AvaniSHIELD program here.

Cleaning of Canopy Hilton Hotel, Friday, April 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo by Will Newton

Some hotels, like Hilton will provide post-housekeeping seals on doors and the ability for guests to open their rooms with their own phones. Photo: Will Newton/Hilton

Best Western

Best Western says it has been using UV sterilization wands to clean high-touch items in rooms since 2012, as part of its I Care Clean program. The COVID-19 upgrade to this plan is called We Care Clean. In addition to increasing social distancing in public areas and at check-in, the program outlines specifics such as: Removing unnecessary items like decorative pillows and bed scarves from guest rooms and instituting a waiting period of 24 to 72 hours between guests during which the room (and even its hangers) will be disinfected. Read the full plan from Best Western. Best Western is also one of several hotel brands that has agreed to follow the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s (AHLA) new initiative for best practices in the U.S. hotel industry (see USA, below).

Four Seasons

After repurposing the Four Seasons New York into accommodations for healthcare workers, the brand is implementing changes across its properties via the introduction of its Lead With Care program, with input from Johns Hopkins Medicine International. The details include a hygiene officer at each property, hourly cleaning of public areas, rooms disinfected daily, a-la-carte restaurant service with digital menus, health-focused employee training, and in-room amenities kits with masks, sanitizer, and wipes. The program is overseen by a special COVID-19 Advisory Board, made up of hotel leadership and representatives from Johns Hopkins Medicine International.

Hilton (which includes Conrad, Curio, Embassy Suites, and Waldorf Astoria)

Launching in June, Hilton’s program is called CleanStay with Lysol protection. As the name implies, the effort is in partnership with the makers of Lysol and Dettol (a company called RB). Staff from the Mayo Clinic’s Infection Prevention and Control team will serve as consultants on quality assurance, training, and new approaches. In addition to what’s becoming the standard safety upgrades (e.g. contactless check-in, guest-accessible disinfecting wipes in elevators and other high-traffic spots, more frequent cleaning of public spaces), Hilton will also introduce its CleanStay Room Seal on guest-room doors, to indicate to guests that no one has entered the room since it was cleaned. That cleaning is said to be upgraded too, with a focus on ten high-touch areas for disinfection (remote controls, handles, light switches, etc.) and the removal of amenities such as pens, paper, and guest directories. Hilton is made up of 18 brands, which have a total of more than 6,100 properties.

Hyatt (which includes Andaz and Park Hyatt)

Hyatt’s plan, called the Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, sees the chain working with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council to earn GBAC Star accreditation. This quality mark—overseen by a branch of ISSA, the cleaning industry’s global association—denotes facilities (hotels, medical facilities, planes and trains, schools, and more) that meet high standards for cleaning, disease prevention, professional training, and public safety. By September 2020, every Hyatt property is supposed to have at least one trained Hygiene Manager onsite to enforce these new protocols, which will include enhanced and more frequent sanitization, hospital-grade cleaning supplies, protective masks worn by staff, and social-distancing guides in public areas.

Langham

The Langham Hospitality Group’s list of safety steps includes more frequent disinfecting of public areas (especially elevator buttons, door handles, and handrails) and sanitizer dispensers or bottles added to high-traffic areas. They’ll also be taking temperature readings of all staff before each shift and requiring guests to fill out a form detailing their recent travels. In restaurants and bars, chefs will wear face masks and single-use disposable gloves, tables will be disinfected between diners, and all public surfaces (e.g., door handles, reception desk, credit card machines) will be sterilized every 30 minutes. Spas and fitness centers will implement disinfection every half hour, sterilization of spa equipment after each guest and again overnight, and temperature readings for all spa guests (along with a health declaration form), and there will be no more hot or cold towels handed out.

worker using electrostatic sprayer to clean hotel escalator for coronavirus covid safety

Marriott is one of several hotel brands introducing the use of electrostatic sprayers to disinfect high-touch surfaces. Photo: Marriott

Marriott (which includes Edition, Le Meridien, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, and Westin)

At its more than 7,300 properties around the world, Marriott says it will be using electrostatic sprayers to disperse CDC- and WHO- recommended disinfectants on high-touch surfaces and public areas, testing UV light technology to sanitize room keys, increasing social distancing by removing or rearranging furniture in lobbies, adding hand-sanitizer stations throughout properties, providing staff with gloves and masks, and offering contactless check-in and room service via guests’ phones. The initiatives will be overseen by the new Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, comprised of hotel staff and various experts, including an infectious disease specialist, a food microbiologist, a food-and-water-safety specialist, and the head of Purdue University’s School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

MGM

After closing its domestic properties in March, MGM Resorts will begin reopening on June 4 with the Bellagio, New York-New York, and MGM Grand and the Signature. The brand’s strategy is simply called the Seven-Point Safety Plan, and it outlines employee temperature checks and health screenings (and self-screening for guests); mandatory masks and PPE for employees and a request that guests wear masks in public spaces (provided free of charge); physical distancing through floor guides, Plexiglas partitions, and signage; heightened cleaning procedures, sanitization of high-touch surfaces, and the addition of hand washing stations; reviews of heating and air conditioning systems to ensure air quality; new response protocols if a guest or staff member is sick (in addition to medical personnel on staff); and digital amenities such as contactless check-in and digital food menus for guests’ personal phones. When it comes to how to keep guests safe in MGM’s casinos, they’ll be asked to limit their drinking and completely avoid eating—in order to minimize the time when they’re not wearing masks. You can read the full details of the plan on the MGM website.

handwashing stations at MGM Resorts hotels for coronavirus safety

MGM Resorts will install hand-washing stations like these mock-ups. Photo: MGM Resorts

Montage International

Montage announced a two-pronged approach to easing any covid-related stress a hotel guest might feel. In terms of housekeeping, they say they’re increasing the frequency of sanitization and deep cleaning for high-touch areas; incorporating electrostatic sprayers and UV wands into that effort; introducing social distancing design in restaurants, bars, lounges, gyms, pool areas, and other public areas; and providing hand sanitizer and facial coverings to all guests. The other prong is virtual medical care: Montage has partnered with One Medical to provide each guest with a 30-day membership to One Medical’s digital health services via video chats, messaging, and an app. (The hotel group’s U.S.-based staff will each receive a year-long membership.)

Omni 

The “Omni Safe & Clean” initiative follows CDC guidelines and American Hotel & Lodging Association recommendations (see USA, below). Those include contactless services, single-use room amenities, plated and individually sealed foods, public areas (including pools and spas) marked and re-arranged for social distancing, and housekeeping seals placed on rooms after each cleaning. Each of the brand’s properties is also supposed to adhere to local and/or federal mandates as required.

Rosewood

Partnering with Ecolab and Diversey, and following guidance from the CDC, WHO, and local authorities, Rosewood has rolled out its Commitment to Care Global Health and Safety Program. Lobbies, public bathrooms, elevators, and other public spots should see increased cleaning and disinfecting, and air filters and air conditioning systems should get more frequent treatment too. Rosewood is exploring new sanitization technologies such as electrostatic sprayers, foggers, and ultraviolet-UVC light. When legally allowed, guests and staff will have their temperatures screened when they enter the hotel. On the inside, guests will benefit from contactless services (check-in/check-out, in-room dining) and receive amenity kits with face masks, wipes, and sanitizer.

Sandals

Sandals beach resorts have instituted Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, an 18-point plan that starts when guests land at the airport: The usual Sandals and Beaches private arrival lounge will now have hand sanitizer and complimentary mask, and the private-vehicle transfer will be stocked with more PPE and sanitized between trips. When they get to the resort, guests will have their temperatures checked (anything 99.5 degrees or less gets you the green light). From there, they will see assurances of cleanliness such as daily replacement of all linens, post-cleaning seals on the doors, and bellmen/butlers who spray disinfectant on both sides of door handles when leaving the room. Bathrooms will be cleaned every half hour, restaurants will have hand sanitizer at entrances, pool chairs will be sanitized daily and separated by six feet or more, and guest temperatures will be checked again before they can use the spa or fitness centers. If anyone is not feeling well, there are medical personnel onsite.

Shangri-La

Following recommendations from the CDC, Shangri-La has posted a list of the ways it is approaching COVID-19 safety. Some examples: Each guest’s laundry will be handled in individual packaging, public washrooms are cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectants, guests are asked to fill out health and travel-plan forms, incoming luggage is disinfected, temperature screenings take place at entry points, limos are disinfected between each use, special disinfectant floor mats are placed at entries to clean people’s shoes, and all pools, whirlpool baths, saunas and steam rooms are closed.

Wyndham

Wyndham is one of several hotel brands working with the ALHA (see USA, below) to create and follow best practices for the U.S. hotel industry. Specifically, they have drawn on the expertise of Ecolab, a US-based water, energy, and hygiene technology services company, and the CDC to launch its Count on Us program. This means that all of Wyndham’s 6,000 U.S. properties should be introducing measures such as handing out wipes with room keys at check-in, placing complimentary travel-size hand sanitizer in each room, providing more frequent cleanings, and increasing social distancing in public areas.

VACATION RENTALS

Airbnb

In April, the home-sharing service announced it would be launching two tools that hosts can use to safeguard their rentals for guests. Both are optional. One is the Airbnb Cleaning Protocol, a learning and certification process for hosts that recommends enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Guests will eventually be able to identify the listings enrolled in this program via a call-out on the website. Hosts who don’t opt into the Cleaning Protocol can use the Booking Buffer, which enables them to block out a 24- to 72-hour waiting period between guests. (The CDC recommends a 24-hour waiting period between guests.)

VRBO

Similar to Airbnb, the vacation-home-rental service VRBO is trusting its hosts to provide safe environments for their guests. To make that easier, VRBO (which is owned by the Expedia Group) is providing hosts with info on cleaning and disinfecting based on information from the WHO and CDC and created in consultation with the Vacation Rental Management Association (a trade association) and Cristal International Standards (a quality-control company for the hotel industry). Hosts can then showcase their cleaning processes and safety measures on their listings pages (e.g. if they use disinfectant to clean or if check-in and check-out is contactless).

GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS BY COUNTRY

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism just announced a “safe and clean certification program” for tourism businesses including hotels, malls, and more. The specifics and standards of the process have not yet been released, but hotels will be the first group to undergo certification, followed by other tourism attractions and organizations.

Britain

Although Britain isn’t ready for travelers yet (and Prime Minister Johnson recently announced a 14-day quarantine for incoming visitors), its national tourism arm, Visit Britain, has already announced it is developing a quality mark to denote hotels and other tourism sites that adhere to certain COVID-19-related safety standards. What those standards will be has not yet been decided.

Portugal

The national tourism board of Portugal, Turismo de Portugal, launched a “Clean & Safe” certification for hotels and tourist sites on April 24. To earn the validation, the hotel (or other company) must sign a Declaration of Commitment to certain hygiene and cleaning processes informed by the country’s Directorate-General of Health. Participation is free and optional, and Turismo de Portugal will carry out audits of those who opt in.

Singapore

The Singaporean government has created the SG Clean certification. Hotels, restaurants, hawker centers, shopping malls, and cruise terminals that adhere to a list of criteria will earn the quality mark, and many already have. You can see a full list of all certified establishments at sgclean.gov.sg.

Thailand

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has announced a certification plan called “Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA.” To earn the certification, establishments must adhere to COVID-19 safety standards set by the Ministry of Health and other official public-health institutions. The process and criteria are currently being established and will focus on ensuring hygiene and sanitation while also maintaining local culture and interaction between communities and tourists.

USA

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) is the industry trade group for hotels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotel management companies. Based on input from the CDC, the hotel industry, and experts in medicine, science, and public health, the organization launched the Safe Stay initiative, a set of suggested standards aimed at making U.S. hotels safe for guests. The best practices include enhanced cleaning methods, social-distancing policies, and the use of approved sanitization supplies. Although Stay Safe is a voluntary program for now, you can check the AHLA website to see which hotels are choosing to adopt it. The ALHA’s goal is to change U.S. hotel industry norms and create an official certification process.

 

This article was originally published May 22.

Be a smarter, safer traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

empty beach and pier at Sandals Montego Bay

Is This Hotel Safe? Smart Things to Ask About Before Making Plans

By this point in the coronavirus lockdown, the thought of getting out of your house for longer than the time it takes to go to the socially distanced supermarket probably sounds like pure heaven. But the prospect of checking into a hotel may not be exactly the Eden you’re dreaming of. The good news is that all over the world, hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals are starting to roll out concrete plans and procedures for making their properties as safe as possible, and we expect these efforts to set a new standard for the industry…eventually.

In the meantime, if you are starting to think about a future trip, whether it’s for this summer or next year, there are questions you’ll want to ask the hotels you’re considering so that you can make an informed decision about how comfortable you’ll feel during a stay. Here are five areas to investigate before making any hotel plans:

Rooms that open to fresh air

When Wendy had to take an essential road trip from New Jersey to Georgia (as detailed in “What a Road Trip During Coronavirus Is Really Like”), she looked for hotels where fresh air could flow freely through the rooms. “Your best bet may be older hotels that have either freestanding cottages or rooms with balconies where you can leave the balcony door open, letting in fresh air throughout the night,” she wrote. “Look in areas where you might find historic inns or sprawling old-fashioned resorts with individual bungalows.”

Contactless guest services

Check-in. Room service. Requests for more towels. During any hotel stay, there are so many points of interaction between guests and staff—so make sure the hotel you’re choosing has options for avoiding or limiting these. Some, like Marriott, are going so far as to enable all of these services via your own phone. Others, like MGM Resorts and Accor hotels, are installing partitions at the front desk.

Masks, gloves, wipes, and sanitizer

Not only should you check if the hotel staff are required to wear masks and gloves (and whether they are provided with that equipment), but also check if these items are available to guests too. Four Seasons is introducing in-room amenities kits with masks, sanitizer and wipes. Wyndham hotels are handing out wipes at check-in with your key and stashing complimentary travel-size hand sanitizers in each room. Still others will make masks available for free when guests ask for them; so find out the policy and whether that equipment is actually in stock before you arrive.

Public areas

You’re likely to see more hand sanitizer and wipe-dispensing stations in hotels’ public areas (MGM Resorts properties are even adding hand-washing stations)—and that’s what you want. It not only shows that the company is making an effort and following established public-health recommendations, but it makes it easy for guests and staff to comply—and that keeps everyone healthier. You’ll also want to find out how your hotel is handling potentially crowded areas, such as the front desk (Are there partitions? Social-distancing signs and marks on the floor?), fitness centers or spas (Are they open? If so, are guests being temperature-checked before entering? What is the disinfecting process between users?), and elevators and public washrooms (How frequently are they being cleaned, and with what materials?). Don’t forget to ask about shared cars that are being set out for airport transfers and other guest chauffeur services. Shangri-La hotels disinfects limos between each use and limits the guests who can share a ride. What is your hotel (or the third-party service they use) doing in that regard?

Guest-room cleaning

Your hotel room will truly become your sanctuary in a group environment like a hotel, so find out how it’s being safeguarded for you. How often will it be cleaned? With what type of materials and technology? Hilton has started using a CleanStay Room Seal on room doors, to reassure guests that no one has entered the room since it was cleaned. In many hotels, the whole cleaning process has been upgraded too, with a focus on sanitizing high-touch areas and items (remote controls, handles, light switches etc.); the removal of amenities like pens, paper, and guest directories; full changes of linens every day; the testing of UV sterilization wands; and possibly even electrostatic sprayers to disperse disinfectant. Ask for details about what your hotel’s cleaning staff will do in your room.

Restaurants and bars

Depending on the country and state, a hotel’s restaurants and bars may or may not be open—so that’s your first question. If they are open, how is the hotel handling food safety? Four Seasons, MGM, and many other hotels now have digital menus accessible from your own phone. If a restaurant is open, it will likely have capacity limits, and you’ll want to ask how that will work and whether they’ve rearranged furniture to keep people apart. Ask about the kitchen staff too: What protective gear are they required to wear, and what new safety procedures have been implemented to keep food safe? We’ve heard of properties offering plated meals in sealed packaging, more packaged to-go options, and expanded room service menus and timing. Keep in mind that not all hotels are closing their buffets and breakfast rooms, and that while they are likely reconfiguring how those communal dining areas work, the decisions will vary by location because of local, state, and country regulations.

Pools and beaches

Pools and beaches are two of the biggest draws for a warm-weather getaway, especially if you’re traveling with kids. And the good news is that the current CDC advice says, “There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.”

So first things first: Find out if they’re even open, because some hotels are keeping those public areas off limits. If the water areas are open to guests, inquire about the safety precautions being taken. For instance, at Sandals resorts, beach and pool chairs are being placed six feet apart and sanitized every morning, and again after guest changeovers. Will the hotel you’re considering do something similar? Ask them about their plans to handle social distancing, the sanitization of chairs, and interactions with pool/beach attendants. Are they limiting the number of guests who can use pool or beach areas at one time? And if so, how will reservations work for those slots? Keep in mind that access to public beaches, and whether you can actually sunbathe or linger on them, is dictated by state, county, and local directives, so research the latest info on state and locality websites.

Be a smarter, safer traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Closeup of passports and white airplane background the sea

Flight Deals Abound For Fall and Winter Travel, But Is It Smart to Buy Now?

It seems like airfare deals are everywhere these days, but so are the uncertainties about air travel. Refund and cancellation policies are changing all the time, routes and services are being cut left and right, and some airlines may not even exist when we finally make it through the pandemic and economic crisis. And on top of all that, there are big questions about how and when airplane travel will even be safe again.

Still, the good news is that (a) airlines are indeed offering some lower pricing, and (b) there are experts who follow this complicated industry closely and can help the rest of us navigate the mess. One of them is Brett Snyder, whom Wendy often recommends to her WOW List travelers for help booking and monitoring their flights. As founder of Cranky Concierge, Brett specializes in finding the smartest routes and fares and in solving flight delays and cancellations. We called Brett at home in California to talk about current airfare deals and what travelers need to know before taking advantage. If you’re even considering purchasing airline tickets for the future, read this first.

There seem to be airfare deals for travel at the end of this year and going into next year. Should I be buying tickets now?

There are deals to be had if you’re comparing to previous years. For travel around the holidays, you might not find the cheapest of the deals, but fares are still much cheaper than they would be in another year. But the big question is whether you’ll be able to get there.

Are the deals better for economy or business class?

It seems much easier to find cheaper fares in coach. Some airlines have cut business-class prices a little bit, but the deals are not as widespread across the board.

So is this a good time to splurge on premium-class fares?

It can be. In regular times, premium fares can be really low if you book far enough in advance, and in many European/Asian markets fares look to be pretty consistent with what we’ve seen in the past.  The one place we’ve seen great deals is South America.  There are fares under $1,000 in a premium cabin to some spots right now, and that’s amazing.  So you just need to look around and see what’s out there.

Are mileage-award flights discounted too?

They are not discounted, but there is more availability than you would normally expect to see, especially in coach. And for international flights, there are more seats available at the lower-point options. For airlines where the awards are tied to the dollar amount of fares, like with JetBlue or Southwest, then if the fares are cheaper, the point equivalent is also lower.

Is it better to buy a ticket for a domestic flight than international?

You have a safer chance of a flight happening if it’s within the U.S. The issue with international flights is that you don’t know what other countries—or what our country, for that matter—will allow in terms of quarantine and rules. So I would be hesitant to buy an international ticket right now. For domestic flights, airlines pretty much across the board are allowing you to change any ticket you buy without a fee.

Is it better to buy tickets for far in the future?

With most airlines you can’t buy tickets more than 330 days to a year in advance, so for the most part, you can’t buy any tickets beyond February or March 2021 at this point. There are always schedule changes when you book any flight far ahead, and the volatility is higher at this point because nobody has any clue what the landscape will look like in two months, let alone a year. So find out the refund or credit rules when you buy.

If I see a good deal should I jump on it or wait?

Once things stabilize, I expect we’ll see good deals to coax people out into the world again. So I don’t really see a reason to buy a ticket now, unless you find a particularly good deal.

But there’s nothing wrong with looking around right now. My wife’s parents always fly to us in California for Christmas, and I found some airfares that were pretty cheap, so we’ve been thinking about buying them.  Worst case, we can use the credit for flights to somewhere else. But a trip like that has a little more certainty to it in that you’re not relying on a destination or resort to be open. You’re really just relying on the ability to leave your house. So, visiting friends and family—that’s probably the best type of trip to plan right now because there are fewer variables.

In the meantime, if someone does want to book a flight, what are the most important things they need to be aware of?

There are a few things I would point out:

For the most part, if your flight is not canceled, you can’t get your money back, if you have a non-refundable ticket. A lot of people just assume, Oh, there’s a virus I should be able to get my money back. That’s not how it works. There are some exceptions, but for the most part it’s not.

What they are doing is allowing you to make changes and waiving the change fee. Obviously, if you had a ticket to Florida and now you want to go to Europe, you have to pay the fare difference—but at least you can make the change.

They’ve also extended how long those credits are valid for. You might be able to travel into next year or the following year, depending on the airline. That’s a nice perk for people who don’t want to travel, even if their flights are still going.

If your flight is canceled or the schedule changes, you really need to check with the airline because the rules vary greatly. For example, Delta will give you your money back if the schedule changed more than 90 minutes; United requires six hours. Worst case, you’ll be able to use the credit in the future, so it’s not like you’re going to lose the money entirely.

Finally, if you bought through a third party, do your own research on what you’re entitled to. Things are changing quickly, and some places we’ve dealt with have had no real interest in doing what they’re required to do. They may say you can’t get a refund, when in reality you can. So if you’re not getting the answer that you like, you can do your own research. Or you can sign up for the Cranky Concierge Refund Hunter and we’ll figure out and track your options, no matter where you bought the ticket.

snowy landscape of mountains and lake in Torres Del Paine National Park Chile

The Trips We’re Dreaming About to Get Us Through

It’s a proven fact that the anticipation of a pleasure trip does wonders for a person’s sense of well-being. Not only is this boost of happiness backed up by nearly every person who has ever looked forward to a vacation, but it’s also confirmed by scientific studies. Isn’t it nice when the thing you love to do turns out to be good for you?

For now, though, the thing that’s good for all of us is to stay home—and yet we can still simultaneously benefit from some much-needed optimism about the months to come. That’s why we’re inspired by these frequent travelers who are planning adventures for the future, tapping into the joy that travel brings them in order to give themselves something wonderful to daydream about during this difficult stretch. (And, at the same time, they’re making an investment in the locations, the locals, and the small local businesses that will need so much of our support to recover.)

What about you? What places and people are you eager to visit, near or far, when the world is ready for us again?

A Month in Uganda and Ethiopia, January 2021

Ethiopia - bleeding-heart baboon

A gelada, or “bleeding heart” baboon, in Ethiopia. Photo: Paul Callcutt

“My wife and I are retired and live in the Hamptons full time. We like to go away for a month or two every winter to get away from the cold weather. Over the past few winters we’ve traveled to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Myanmar, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. We were in Kenya and the UAE last year, and we wanted to go back and see more of the real Africa, not just the safari type of Africa. Plus we’ve always wanted to see the gorillas and chimps. Having just returned from Antarctica this February, we needed to book our next winter trip. So we looked on Wendy’s WOW List, contacted Cherri and started planning two weeks in Ethiopia and two weeks in Uganda for January 2021. Coronavirus kept getting bigger and bigger, but we thought: It’ll be gone by next winter, and if it isn’t, we’ll postpone it. Will we lose some of our deposit? Maybe? But we have to have something to look forward to. I’m optimistic. I have to be planning something or else I’m just wasting time waiting. I can’t just wait; I have to be moving forward.

When we firmed things up on our itinerary, and Cherri asked for a deposit, I asked if the on-sites would consider taking a reduction in the deposit because I do still have some concern. She said, let me ask—and yes, they were willing to take less. I like supporting them and keeping them going, but I also would like to have some consideration back on this end because I may end up losing my deposit.

What do I mean by “seeing the real Africa”? To me, it means meeting different people, eating their food, sharing activities together, learning about how they live so I can learn from them and enrich my life, and hopefully, give the local people a little something of myself as well. On our itinerary, we’re going to meet with local tribal people several times, we’re going to have lunch with the chief rabbi of Uganda, and I’m hoping to arrange with Cherri to do some charitable work with schools as well. I’m hoping and expecting that coronavirus is going to be history by the time we’re ready to go. Is that wishful thinking? Well, I’m an optimist. Will I travel if coronavirus is still rampant? No, I’m not going to put myself or my wife in jeopardy. I’m pretty risk-averse although my wife and I like to travel off the beaten path. I remember going to the Soviet Union in 1980 when nobody traveled there at that time, Bhutan just after it opened to tourism, Sri Lanka just after the war ended, and most recently to the Rakhine province in Myanmar. People would always ask why are you going there? I said for fun. They thought I was crazy. Am I?”

—Ron Klausner, Southhampton, NY

Journey to Antarctica over New Year’s

National Geographic Explorer ship in Neko Harbor, Antarctic. Photo: Aabby Suplizio

National Geographic Explorer ship in Neko Harbor, Antarctic. Photo: Aabby Suplizio

“I thought, I’m going to look around for what I’m going to do when this turns around, and Antarctica has always been on my list. I had seen in The New York Times in January about how to do Antarctica either by cruise or by fly-cruise. I was intrigued by the fly-cruise option, so I naturally went to The WOW List and found Ashton, and I set up a call with him to sort out my bias that flying and getting over the Drake Passage and avoiding the turbulent water is a more comfortable way to do it. I learned from him that yes, it is, but that those ships sell out immediately because there’s a very small window when the seas are okay to go, so you have to book this 18 months in advance—and I wanted to do it for this coming Christmas. [Laughs.] So that instilled great urgency in me, because there was scarcity.

I felt bad about talking to Ashton, who’s in the hot zone of Seattle, while he had customers he had to help get home. But he immediately called his contacts and found one cabin available and had them hold it until he and I had our conversation a couple days later. I wanted to do the trip when there was a prime possibility for calm waters and best conditions, and so in the midst of this pandemic, Ashton was able to make this happen. His extreme knowledge from having been there more than 50 times, and his knowledge of the ships and suppliers, just cut through it super fast. So in a conversation with him for maybe an hour, I came away with great confidence that I was in the hands of someone who knows his market. And because of that, I was able to say, Let’s book it. And obviously you can’t do anything about flights because who knows what airlines will be left. But I have a great faith that by December there will be some level of normalcy, and we’ll have this amazing trip to look forward to. And the clincher was that payment isn’t due until July. That made it easy to decide to book and hold the spots.”

—Barbara Schoenfeld, Providence, RI

25th 26th Anniversary Trip to Greece

Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean sea

Oia town, on Santorini, is famous for its blue-domed churches and white houses overlooking the caldera. Photo: Shutterstock

“I actually had a trip planned for early April. It was supposed to a celebratory vacation in Greece for my 25th wedding anniversary, and we were taking our children with us. We didn’t want to cancel and have instead postponed the trip to spring 2021. Now, it’ll be my 26th anniversary trip! If you have the option to postpone a trip rather than cancelling, seriously consider postponing it. I know that cash is becoming dearer and most people would prefer a refund, but if it’s possible, try getting a full credit to apply at another point. This will help keep travel specialists and agencies afloat and it will give you something to look forward to. For example, Mina and Faye have given us a lot of flexibility about when we want to reschedule our trip, and this has been comforting.

As to when will I begin to travel again? I am already starting to make travel plans for July/August. Given the state of affairs, I am mainly considering local trips— potentially a region we are curious about or even a national park. Regardless of how far I wish to roam, the goal is to not stop planning to travel and to think out farther than just a few months.

Planning a trip reminds you that there is life after COVID-19. It gives us something to look forward to and reminds us that there are still beautiful places to go, new people to meet, and meaningful experiences ahead. Even if you aren’t planning on putting down a deposit, just thinking about a trip and doing some initial research provides a good escape.

If we think beyond COVID-19, there are two ways to consider what travel may be like in the not-too-distant future. Travel will revitalize many local economies dependent on tourism, but there is also an opportunity to consider sustainable tourism in general. There have been many news stories about how smog levels are lower and how wildlife is more easily seen. In a post-COVID world, is there an opportunity for us to consider how travel considerations may better balance what’s an acceptable number of people traveling to one place at one time vs. simply trying to recoup to pre-COVID economic conditions? As a frequent traveler, I’m trying to be sensitive about this balance.

I do think it is still worthwhile to research and plan trips for the future. We should remember that this stressful time period is not just simply about staying safe and well, but also about staying sane. Using some time to think and learn more about places we would like to go may be helpful for our mental state and mood.”

—Yin Ho, New York City

Seeing the Solar Eclipse in Chile

the red sand of Chile's Atacama desert with tall mountains in the distance

The Atacama Desert of Chile. Photo: Awasi

Robert: “In December we’re going to Chile to see the solar eclipse. We’ve been to Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil, and we want to add Chile. Two years ago we went with our son to see the eclipse in Nashville, but just a few minutes before totality, the cloud cover came over, and we didn’t see it. So we have been talking about this Chile trip with him for close to two years, and hopefully it will pan out. We also want to go to the Atacama Desert, Easter Island, and to the Chilean side of Patagonia—we’ve seen it from the Argentine side. That’s the plan.”

Patrice: “I think having this trip helps my mental health.  It’s something to look forward to, to help look beyond the moment where there’s so much that’s unknown and uncontrollable—the belief that there will be something better in the future.”

—Robert and Patrice Reiss, Hermosa Beach, CA

Two Cruises to Two Different Continents

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo: Jennifer Santoyo

“We are currently booked on two cruises, both on Seabourn. The first is in January 2021 to Antarctica. The second is a replacement for a cruise we had planned in Spain and Portugal this May (which we canceled, of course). We moved that to a cruise in October 2021 along the western European coastline. The May cruise we had to cancel was to have been when we received our WOW Moment benefit. It’s disappointing to have to wait for another trip to experience that, but still another thing to look forward to in the future.

We’re both in our seventies, so why risk it? Especially a cruise. I know Seabourn does a very good job, though you still have to realize that it’s a petri dish. But Antarctica has been on our bucket list for a long time. The polar ice caps are melting, and we want to see them before they go away and you can’t go there anymore. Also, there are penguins! [Laughs.] Our granddaughter, from the moment she could recognize things, has had a total fascination with penguins. She’s not going, but we’re going to load our cameras with penguins for her.

Seabourn has done a nice job of refunding and giving credits. We were in a category where we were entitled to a 50% refund, and the day we decided to cancel the Spain/Portugal cruise, Seabourn came out with the announcement that the other 50% could be applied to a future cruise. I don’t know what the policy will be as we draw closer to the cruise date, but I will be very aware of our cancellation deadlines, and we’ll have travel insurance with Cancel For Any Reason coverage, so those sorts of things are sustaining my thoughts. Mary Jean’s staff did a very good job; I can’t say enough good about them. They do onboard benefits for us and adjustments or other perks sometimes, but the best thing is that they work on their clients’ behalf to handle this well.

As far as concerns about cruise ships, I have some comfort in knowing the first cruise isn’t happening until January. If we come to feel that it’s problematic, we probably will not go. But we’re optimistic. I mean, why not? We want to get on with our lives and exploring the world, and this is part of our goal as we take more personal time for ourselves. Once a traveler, you’d like to always be a traveler. We realize there’s uncertainty about what comes next and what changes there will be that impact us as travelers and which cruise lines will survive. But even if we have to give up travel because this doesn’t go away for two or three years, we’ll still be booking!”

—Susan Bland, Seattle

A Nature and Hiking Getaway to Colombia

A view from the beginning of the hike towards Cocora Valley which is famous for its tall wax palm trees in Colombia

A view from the beginning of the hike towards Cocora Valley. Photo: Shutterstock

“I recently put a deposit down on a trip to Colombia for next February. We do a yearly trip, and I always make plans a year in advance in order to take advantage of my frequent-flier miles. After finalizing my itinerary with Marc and Boris’s team, I was asked to put down a nonrefundable 50% deposit. I was hesitant to do so, especially given the current pandemic. The agency got back to me and suggested a 25% deposit and also said that if I had to cancel, they would hold the credit for 12 months. I felt this was reasonable. My husband and I love to travel, but given that we had done a ‘big trip’ this past November to Japan, we felt we wanted to go somewhere closer to home. We have discussed Colombia as a destination for a few years, having heard it is now safe. We also have friends who recently went and had a wonderful trip. In addition, the JetBlue nonstop flight to New York from Cartagena (under 5 hours) is a real plus. We will be in Bogota for two nights , then three nights in the coffee region where we will hike, go birding, and enjoy nature in a beautiful setting. We will then travel to Cartagena for three nights.”

—Judith Luskin, Westchester County, New York

A Burgundy Barge Cruise, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar

Barge Elisabeth in Burgundy. Photo courtesy Barge Elisabeth.

“I’m hoping beyond hope that our barge cruise in Burgundy happens in July. A group of friends did a Scotland barge trip last year, and I just loved it. I also have a big trip that I organized through Wendy’s List for November. I’ve pulled together eight friends, and we’re going to Thailand and Cambodia. We’ve been planning it for a couple years, and I’m optimistic that things will be fine. I think we’re going to have a WOW Moment, and Kae [from Daniel Fraser’s team] is amazing; I’ve been loving working with her. We have a whole itinerary, and when I read it, I get all excited. The most exciting two things for me are the floating market and the elephant hospital in Lampang. As for 2021, the I-can’t-wait-to-do-it trip is hopefully Madagascar. I love Africa so much (I’ve been there five times) because, for me, it’s wildlife and water—that’s the stuff that gets me way more interested than cities.

I think that having these trips in the works helps by putting a boundary on what we’re going through. I’ve seen people get really panicked that it could be this way for years. So my scope of looking at it is controlled by when the next trip is. And for me, at least in my head, as soon as I know that we’ll be okay for November, it’ll be fine. If I have to delay the July barge trip, I’ll be somewhat concerned, but I’ve already thought through the mechanics of that, so I’m already adjusting. The future trips put the scope of what I’m looking at into something reasonable. It really helps.”

—Helene Bard, Washington, D.C. metro area

Natural Wonders in the American West and the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The clear blue water of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family is spending quality time together during this pandemic talking about where we’d like to go for our next big family trip and why. Tim and I like the idea of river rafting out West: It would get the kids off their electronic devices completely—which would be a huge relief after all the time they’re having to spend on their devices now, what with online schooling and musical rehearsals via Zoom and having to connect with friends virtually, usually through computer games. Honestly, moving stress-free at the pace of the river, through wilderness areas with plenty of fresh air, and with almost no surfaces to worry about touching, sounds like what the doctor ordered.

We’re also talking about the Galapagos Islands. They’re so remote—practically in the middle of nowhere—and the animals and beaches and landscapes won’t have been affected by the coronavirus. Also, the Galapagos is one of Earth’s fragile ecosystems that must be seen sooner rather than later (I was actually there 25 years ago, but Tim and the kids haven’t been), and I think this pandemic is reinforcing the importance of seeing the world’s must-see places when you can because you never know when they will suddenly be closed off. Normally a trip to the Galapagos needs to be planned at least a year ahead anyway—especially if you want to travel during a school-break period—so planning a trip there now for 2021 actually seems perfectly reasonable.”

—Wendy Perrin, Short Hills, NJ

taj mahal in india

Culture for the Self-Quarantined: Virtual Museums, Historic Landmarks, Concerts, and More

Just because we have to be socially distanced, it doesn’t mean we have to be bored. Many cultural institutions have long offered virtual tours for those who can’t make the trek, and more legendary landmarks are adding those kinds of activities now. Whether you’re an opera buff, a museum aficionado, or a history lover, these online experiences can help satisfy your traveler’s curiosity for now—and give you ideas about spots to visit in person later. Know of any other cool virtual tours to keep us travelers happy? Tell us about them in the comments. And don’t miss our guide to virtual outdoor adventures too.

Historic Landmarks

The best part of all this virtual touring may just be the lack of crowds. Set your alarm for sunrise and head to the Taj Mahal, or into Angkor Archeological Park — you’ll have Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and other temples to yourself. Bonus: no heat and humidity. (That said, there is a way to visit Angkor without the hordes in real life too.)

Machu Picchu’s virtual tour should hold you over until you can get to Peru in real life. Click on the map to get a glimpse of the Inca Trail or of the surrounding mountains from the Intiwatana, an ancient stone structure used as an astronomical clock of sorts.

Stonehenge’s website re-creates the mysterious ring of stones, and if you click on one of the image’s marked hot spots, info cards or videos pop up with deeper information.

Atop the Acropolis in Athens, armchair travelers can scramble over ancient rocks to take in the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and other notable spots, or zoom in on details they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get close to. The 360-degree views alone are worth the “trip.”

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower should also be on your virtual travel list—especially since no stairs are required. You can walk fully around the observation deck and see Paris from on high.

Museums

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre is one of many museums you can tour virtually. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

Google has been teaming up with museums around the world for years to create virtual walk-throughs via its Arts & Culture hub (also available as an app on both Android and iPhone), using the same technology as its “street view” option on Google Maps. By now the options number more than 500. You can climb the famous circular ramp of the Guggenheim, zoom in to admire the artist’s thick brush strokes at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, skip the lines to admire Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, or wander the rich galleries of the Palace of Versailles (if you have a VR headset you can visit Versailles that way too). And since Google’s catalog of partner museums is extensive, you can also discover lesser-known museums and the gems they house, such as South Korea’s Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art and the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum.

Many museums have cool digital features on their own websites too. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has been upping its online game for the past few years by making more and more of its collection visible online, introducing behind-the-scenes videos and creating special stories, themes, and social media projects. The Tate also displays a lot of its collection online and presents multimedia features like video interviews with artists and audio descriptions of notable works. TheLouvrehas its own walk-through tours of various galleries. In Italy, the Vatican Museum offers virtual walk-throughs—and, yes, we know everyone would rather gape at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in person, but at least this way, there’s no stiff neck.

Concerts, Theater, Talks, and Books

NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is presenting videos of its full performances, including Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia

NYC’s Metropolitan Opera is presenting videos of its full performances, including Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Photo: Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera has shut its doors for now, but every night at 7:30 pm, it will stream free performances from its Live in HD series. Just show up at the opera’s homepage at 7:30 pm to see a previously recorded masterpiece (invite some friends; you can Zoom for drinks during intermission). Each show will be available for 23 hours, and the lineup includes Puccini’s La Bohème, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Similarly, the Berlin Philharmonic is making its archive of previously recorded live performances free through March 31. Check the orchestra’s website for instructions on how to use the voucher code BERLINPHIL to register and get complimentary access. For a full list of streaming classical music performances, bookmark this page from WKAR, Michigan State University’s public broadcasting station.

As the global lockdown continues, more and more cultural organizations are offering online diversions. The Vienna State Opera is presenting some of its performances, and the Jewish Museum Vienna has created Spotify playlists of music from the 1920s and 30s

There are plenty of ways to catch shows outside the classical genre too. StageIt is a website that showcases live, intimate performances by artists. Viewers buy tickets (prices are set by the artists), then tune in to watch the musician play from wherever they happen to be—at home, backstage, in the studio.  In the past they have streamed sets by VIPs like Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffet, you’re more likely to discover names that are completely new to you.

New York’s 92nd Street Y is a respected arts and learning destination, known for its classes as well as its top-notch series of talks with artists, writers, thinkers, actors, and musicians. Now man talks from its archives are free online. Highlights include James Gandolfini reading a Maurice Sendak story, Neil deGrasse Tyson in conversation with Bill Nye, plus talks with Kirk Douglas, Malcolm Gladwell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the Bon Appetite Test Kitchen staff.

Many theaters around the world are also providing online entertainment. For instance, on the Public Theater’s website, you can watch a recording of last summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing, as well as past musical performances from its Joe’s Pub Live series. They’re even issuing fun social media challenges, like asking everyone to record and share their interpretation of Shakespeare passages.

Today Tix, a discount ticket app that operates in many cities, put together great lists of where to stream musicals and how to watch theater around the world, including London’s Royal National Theatre, which is uploading a past performance to YouTube every Thursday and Broadway World’s Living Room Concerts.

Broadway fans can also tune into YouTube for “Stars In The House”, a concert/interview show hosted by theater maven Seth Rudetsky and his producer husband James Wesley. It features a variety of stage stars and airs every day at 2 pm ET and 8 pm ET, a nod to traditional curtain times.

Attention, Andrew Lloyd Webber fans! Every Friday starting April 3,  he is streaming one of his musicals for free on the new YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On! The series starts off with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond and Richard Attenborough)) and, as Weber says in this intro video, will include his flop By Jeeves.

Theater fans can also subscribe to Broadway HD, a Netflix-like subscription service that’s $9/month, with a free seven-day trial. The site’s library includes a mix of recent hits and classics, such as Cats, Kinky Boots, Patrick Stewart’s MacBeth, and Angela Lansbury’s Driving Miss Daisy.

To host your own movie night with friends, you can use NetflixParty It’s an easy-to-install browser extension for Chrome that allows viewers to sync whatever they’re watching and make the night more social. It was developed by an Airbnb engineer back in 2015, and is not surprisingly a lot more popular lately.

If you’re a reader, the Kindle store always has a selection of free classic books.  For more academic types, Cambridge Publishing is offering 700 online editions of books. The free reading period is until the end of May, and includes some Christian and theological works. Audible is offering free kids audio books as long as schools are closed, and some authors of children’s books are reading their works and doing literary activities with kids online.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

A doctor's hand saving the patient holding his hand in a glove on blue background. Concept of salvation, donorship, helping hand, coronavirus, COVID 19

Things You Can Do to Help Others During the Coronavirus Outbreak

One of the side effects of all this social distancing and quarantining is that it’s difficult to volunteer to help others. But ways of assistance are emerging. On the large scale, companies are coming up with methods to provide products and support. Travel companies are too; for instance, cruise lines are offering their vessels as hospital ships. And on the small scale, individuals are inventing creative ideas for working together. I’ve gathered a bunch of both below. Keep in mind that I’m based in New York City, which is an epicenter of the crisis, so I’m pointing out several NYC-based efforts, but I’m sure other communities are pursuing such actions too, and I’ve tried to include local efforts when I found them. If you know of others in your own area, please share them in the comments. And if they’re not happening in your community yet, perhaps you might even be inspired to start such a project?

Donate blood

The Red Cross reports that there is a severe shortage . If you meet the health criteria and are able to donate blood, platelets or AB plasma, contact the Red Cross about making an appointment in your area.

Contribute to the production and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

•Sew masks: In a creative response to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs), some healthcare workers have put out calls for volunteers to sew CDC-compliant face masks, which are then sterilized before use. Deaconess in Evanston, Illinois, was one of the hospitals that tried this, and it was so successful that they were inundated with masks. They suggest that people reach out to healthcare facilities in other areas to see if the same project would be helpful to them.

•Support a group making face shields: In a similar effort to the homemade mask project, but with a focus on face shields, a group of  New Yorkers (made up of engineers, healthcare professionals, professors, researchers, students and makers) is collaborating to create and distribute protective face shields for healthcare workers. The project has a crowdfunding page, as well as designs that can be shared with other makers.

•Donate to a grass-roots PPE manufacturing effort: A WendyPerrin.com reader just told us about another group of helpers with backgrounds in medicine, technology, and academia who have banded together to form 3DCorps, a nonprofit initiative using 3D printing to make reusable and sanitizable PPEs. You can learn more and/or donate to their crowdfunding campaign here.

•Donate your own or your school’s equipment: And of course if you happen to have any masks or gloves to share—or if you have connections to a school that has available PPE gear from its lab programs—see if any of your local facilities are accepting donations.

•Since 1948, Direct Relief has been working in the U.S. and overseas to equip healthcare workers with medical resources during natural disasters, and to help anyone affected recover from the experiences. Their COVID-19 efforts include distributing masks, gowns, and gloves to American medical facilities with confirmed cases, and coordinating with regional response agencies in South America and the Caribbean. The website includes in-depth information on their coronavirus work, as well as information on how to donate or become a strategic partner.

Donate to a food bank or relief organization

Even now, many of these are still finding ways to deliver services and meals to shut-ins, homeless people, the elderly, you name it. And when quarantine restrictions are lifted they will require all the resources possible to catch up.  The big-name ones are easy to find (United Way, Red Cross, etc.), but think about local groups in your areas too: Food Bank for New York City, Feeding Tampa Bay, and Gods Love We Deliver are still providing and delivering meals and supplies, to name a few. Feeding America has a tool to help find your local food bank.

Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen is doing a lot of good work too. They have been providing meals in disaster-hit areas for more than a decade, though his work started to get more attention after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and he served millions of meals to residents. Now, his volunteers are preparing and distributing grab-and-go meals to families and school children in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Madrid, and other places.

Low-income and homeless families are being particularly hard hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout. In Philadelphia, childhood-poverty nonprofit Cradles to Crayons has created a special Emergency Essentials fund to collect and distribute things like diapers and hygiene items. You can donate here.

Volunteer

Both remote and in-real-life volunteering options are emerging, and we’ve listed a few here as inspiration and ideas for what might be available near you. We would love to know of more, so please leave any suggestions in the comments below.

  • As mentioned above, many local food banks are still operating and need people to package food for delivery or even make the deliveries (using safety procedures, of course). Including Gods Love We Deliver and the Food Bank for New York City (which also needs volunteer tax preparers). In the capital, DC Food Project has put together a long list of varied organizations that need volunteers or supplies (scroll down to the “How to Help in Your Community” section).
  • The elderly need additional help during this crisis; this article list service providers in New York, but it should give you an idea of what’s available elsewhere too.
  • Lawyers may be able to use their skills remotely. The Volunteer Lawyers Project is accepting participants for its free legal advice service, and those interested in immigration rights might contact organizations like Al Otro Lado, which is looking for attorneys, law students, law professors, bilingual translators.
  • Help the blind via the Be My Eyes app. Install the app, and then get live video calls from sight-impaired members who may ask you to read label instructions, check expiration dates, distinguish colors, or navigate surroundings.
  • New York Cares, which is a clearinghouse organization that connects volunteers with a wide variety of projects across the city, has suspended its work for now, but is collaborating with city agencies to figure out next steps and is collecting emails from interested volunteers so that projects can be fully staffed once they’re ready to go.
  • Meals on Wheels is another great organization that delivers meals to the elderly and shut-ins. Now that their vulnerable population is dealing with the pandemic too, the organization needs more support in various ways. The need for volunteers varies depending on the local situation, but donations are welcome. Check the website to find out about the national organization and the local chapters.
  • Invisible Hands is a free volunteer-run delivery service that’s in NYC right now, but there are similar organizations popping up around the country. Sign up and you will be contacted to carry out simple tasks as needed, like picking up groceries or prescriptions for neighbors and then leave them outside the recipient’s door to limit interactions.

Buy gift cards

Purchase gift cards from local restaurants so that you can support them now while they need the money, and eat there later when restaurants re-open. It’s a helpful solution that requires very little effort, and it translates easily to other industries a well: salons, handymen, cleaning services, tutors, etc. As you can imagine, travel businesses that rely on people actually traveling are also having trouble taking care of their staff right now. For instance, Cranky Concierge is selling gift cards for its booking, flight monitoring, and emergency assistance services.

Shop local

If you need something from the grocery store, pharmacy or hardware store, think about whether there’s an independent, mom-and-pop shop that might need your support in order to make it through. Some are even offering delivery options so you can stay inside if you prefer. And if you’re a regular at a coffee shop and are missing your daily visit, find out if they have set up a virtual tip jar. A few cafes in New York have done that via Venmo, and it’s a thoughtful, simply way to support the baristas and servers who have helped get your mornings off to a good start.

Think global

As travelers, we’ve all made deep connections with the people and places we’ve been lucky enough to visit. Are there ways we can offer support to them now? A simple gesture is to send a message or make a phone call. Maybe there was a guide or driver you bonded with on a trip years ago. Why not send an email or a text to say hello and see how they’re doing. Or maybe you volunteered on a past trip, visited a nonprofit organization, or met an inspiring community leader. If so, reach out and ask whether they need donations now, or how you can help later when travel is restored.

Postpone trips instead of cancelling

If you have any trips booked in the next few months, postpone them instead of canceling them outright. The de