Tag Archives: covid-19

Woman holding passport and boarding pass waiting in transit area in the airport, standing by for the next schedule traveling, late delay of the arrival departure, missing checking in

“Cancel For Any Reason” CFAR Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It Works

As a result of Covid, travelers have become more interested in travel insurance than ever. Trip cancellation is a common benefit—but only pays out if you cancel for a covered reason. Additional “Cancel For Any Reason” (CFAR) coverage allows you to cancel your trip without requiring that you justify your reasoning. It may give you the peace of mind you need to book a trip—but there are caveats. Here are the main points travelers need to know about buying and using CFAR insurance.

Cancel For Any Reason coverage is expensive.

Pre-pandemic, CFAR coverage typically added 40% to your insurance premium—but as both interest in and claims against CFAR policies have increased, in many cases their price has too. We looked at six insurance quotes in August 2023 and found that a CFAR clause increased the premiums on five of those products by 50% to 113%. To put this in dollar figures: Standard travel insurance for trip cancellation/interruption and medical expenses on a $20,000 trip may cost $1,000; adding CFAR could bump that up to $1,500 or more.

Don’t expect to get all your money back.

Specifics vary by policy and based on your state of residence, but most plans reimburse 50% to 75% of your nonrefundable, prepaid trip costs. Some have a maximum amount that you can insure (e.g., $10,000 per person).

You can’t add CFAR at the last minute.

To be eligible for CFAR coverage, you must purchase it soon after you make your first trip payment, usually within 14 to 21 days (and in some cases, within just 24 hours of your deposit).

You can’t cancel at the last minute, either.

You’re out of luck if you find out a day before your trip that you must cancel. In order to be reimbursed via a CFAR clause, you must call off your trip at least 48 hours prior to departure.

Covid has impacted the availability of CFAR coverage.

Before Covid, CFAR policies were unavailable to residents of New York State due to state insurance regulations; back in March 2020, in light of Covid, New York’s governor announced that travel insurance companies could sell CFAR policies in the state. While several providers saw Covid as a reason to discontinue offering CFAR coverage entirely, others—including Travelex Insurance Services—have added optional CFAR upgrades.

Is it right for you?

CFAR is an option that can provide some peace of mind, at a price. Whether it’s enough peace to be worth the cost is a personal choice.

Which insurance company should I choose? 

There are many providers, and in our article How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It, you can learn more about what to look for, what to avoid, and how to choose the right one for your specific needs.

 

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.

globe with airplane flying around it and a first aid kit on the plane - concept for travel insurance

What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?

They are the nightmare scenarios you’d rather not consider, but still want to prepare for: maybe it’s breaking a leg while biking through Tuscany, or having a heart attack on a remote island with no decent hospital. The good news is that with the right evacuation coverage, you can avoid the $200,000 bill for emergency medical transport to the best regional medical facility, or even home to a hospital you trust. Here’s what you need to know about how to get home if disaster strikes—and how to protect yourself from the financial repercussions.

What kind of medical transportation does conventional travel insurance offer?

Some travel insurance policies will pay for transportation to a medical facility, should you become sick or injured—but they will usually only take you to the nearest facility that they deem appropriate. If you’re traveling internationally, that probably means a clinic or hospital in the country you’re visiting, where you’ll be treated until you’re well enough to take a commercial flight home. At a bare minimum, you should make sure that your insurance provides at least $100,000 in coverage for medical evacuation to the nearest adequate medical center.

What if I want to be flown to a hospital near my home for treatment?

If you’ve been hospitalized away from home but you want to be treated near family and friends, you need a second layer of protection. Specialized medical-evacuation programs such as Medjet, Global Rescue, AirMed International, and Global Guardian will transport members to the hospital of their choice once they are medically stable. You can purchase a short-term membership from one of these programs to cover a single trip, or an annual membership for an entire year’s worth of travel. The cost of medical evacuation to a hospital back home can easily reach $150,000 or more, so this benefit is important on both international and domestic trips. A few travel insurance providers, including Travel Guard and Ripcord, include transport to your “hospital of choice” in some of their plans.

What if I get Covid during my trip?

Only a few medical evacuation programs will transport Covid-positive patients. Medjet will transport members who are hospitalized with Covid while traveling globally (subject to the local safety situation—State Department Level 3/4 advisories prompted by extreme violence may preclude evacuations); their individual memberships start at $99 for eight days of coverage. Covac Global will evacuate Covid-positive members who are not hospitalized, but only if it is deemed “medically prudent to avoid hospitalization”; those not evacuated receive a $500 stipend for each day they spend in quarantine. Individual Covac Global memberships that cover medical evacuations, including for Covid, start at $765 for 15 days.

Which medical evacuation program do you recommend?

Wendy personally has a MedjetHorizon membership covering her and her family, partly because it offers crisis protection too: If during a trip you feel that your safety and security may be threatened—because of a political incident, terror attack, or other crisis—Medjet will come to the rescue. As for travel insurance to get you as far as the nearest medical facility that the insurance company deems appropriate, the policy that Wendy purchases for her and her family members always depends on the circumstances of the trip, but she often chooses and recommends Travelex Insurance Services. That’s because its Travel Select policy is the policy she’s received the best feedback about from travelers, when it comes to reliability, generosity, and customer care. Transparency disclosure: Medjet and Travelex are both sponsors of WendyPerrin.com. But that’s because Wendy believes in them and uses them herself. (Travelex Insurance Services is not related in any way to the defunct currency-exchange business Travelex.)

 

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.

World globe ball on the white background

The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How to Get In

Which countries are open and relatively safe?
The Menu below lists the smartest places where U.S. residents can go now and what the entry requirements are. Note that requirements may be different for children; follow each country’s links for more details.

Are you curious what travel looks like now?
Read these reviews from travelers just back from international trips. They got safe, easy trips because they used the right local fixers to design their itineraries and book their arrangements.

Use the black buttons below to contact the best local expert for arranging a safe, smart, WOW trip. Using Wendy’s questionnaire is the only way to get the priority treatment and WOW perks that the travelers in these trip reviews got.

 


Menu

Europe
Mediterranean:  Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Turkey
Northern and Scandinavia: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom
Central:  Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland
Eastern: Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia

Atlantic Islands
Bahamas, Bermuda

Caribbean Islands

The Americas (North, Central, South)
Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay

Asia
Cambodia, China, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Pacific Region
Australia, Bora Bora and Tahiti (French Polynesia), Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea

Africa: Safaris and Islands
Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Cradle of Civilization, Ancient Lands, Arabian Peninsula
Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Republic of Georgia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi), Uzbekistan (Silk Road)

 


Countries Open to U.S. Travelers With No Quarantine

Argentina

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ARGENTINA


 

Australia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT AUSTRALIA


 

Austria

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT AUSTRIA


Bahamas

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE BAHAMAS


 

Belgium

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BELGIUM

 


 

Belize

boy jumping in to ocean from a high dock in Belize

Tourism businesses need to earn a Gold Standard Certificate to operate in Belize. Photo: Wendy Perrin

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BELIZE

 


 

Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda.

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BERMUDA

 


 

Bhutan

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BHUTAN

 


Bolivia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOLIVIA

 


 

Bora Bora, Tahiti (French Polynesia)

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT TAHITI + FRENCH POLYNESIA

 


 

Bosnia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOSNIA

 


 

Botswana

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOTSWANA

 


 

Brazil

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BRAZIL

 


 

Bulgaria

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BULGARIA

 


 

Cambodia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CAMBODIA

 


 

Canada

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT CANADA

 


 

Caribbean islands

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

Caribbean islands are opening with various rules and restrictions. Photo: Shutterstock

Entry requirements:

  • Vary by island. See Caribbean Tourism Organization for details

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE CARIBBEAN

 


 

Chile

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CHILE

 


 

China

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CHINA

 


 

colorfully painted walls on a block of Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia, is colorful, almost like New Orleans. Photo: Shutterstock

Colombia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT COLOMBIA

 


 

Cook Islands

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE COOK ISLANDS

 


 

Costa Rica

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT COSTA RICA

 


 

Croatia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CROATIA

 


 

Czech Republic

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 


 

Denmark

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT DENMARK

 


 

Dubai and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

Photo: Timothy Baker

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT DUBAI

 


 

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ECUADOR AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

 


 

Egypt

 

 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT EGYPT

 


 

Estonia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ESTONIA

 


 

Fiji

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FIJI

 


 

Finland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FINLAND

 


 

France

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FRANCE

 


 

Georgia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT GEORGIA

 


Germany

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT GERMANY

 


Greece

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT GREECE

 


 

Hungary

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT HUNGARY

 


 

Iceland waterfall Skogafoss in Icelandic nature landscape. Famous tourist attractions and landmarks destination in Icelandic nature landscape on South Iceland. Aerial drone view of top waterfall. -

Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

Iceland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT ICELAND

 


 

India

Entry requirements: 

  • Random testing on arrival

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT INDIA

 


 

Indonesia 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT INDONESIA

 


 

Ireland

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT IRELAND

 


 

Israel

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT ISRAEL

 


 

Italy

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ITALY

 


 

Japan

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT JAPAN

 


 

Jordan

Entry requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT JORDAN

 


 

Kenya

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT KENYA

 


 

Laos

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LAOS

 


Latvia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LATVIA

 


 

Lithuania

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LITHUANIA

 


 

Luxembourg

Entry Requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LUXEMBOURG

 


 

Madagascar

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MADAGASCAR

 


 

Malaysia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

 

ASK US ABOUT MALAYSIA

 


The Maldives

private villa in the Maldives on a spit of land surrounded by turquoise water

Photo: Soneva Fushi

Entry Requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE MALDIVES

 


 

Malta

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MALTA

 


 

Mauritius

Entry requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MAURITIUS

 


 

Mexico

Tulum Riviera Maya, Mexico

Photo: Journey Mexico.

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MEXICO

 


 

Monaco

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MONACO

 


 

Mongolia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

Montenegro

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MONTENEGRO


 

Fez Morocco ceramic studio Art d'Argile

The ceramic studio Art d’Argile in Fez Morocco. Photo: Tim Baker

Morocco

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MOROCCO

 


 

Mozambique

Entry requirements:

  • Full vaccination, or PCR test conducted within 72 hours of departure

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MOZAMBIQUE

 


 

Namibia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

Ask us about Namibia

 


 

Nepal

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT NEPAL

 


 

The Netherlands

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE NETHERLANDS

 



New Zealand

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT NEW ZEALAND

 


Norway

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT NORWAY

 


 

Oman

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT OMAN

 


 

Panama

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT PANAMA

 


 

Papua New Guinea

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PAPUA NEW GUINEA

 


 

Peru

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PERU

 


 

Poland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT POLAND

 


 

Portugal

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PORTUGAL

 


 

Qatar

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT QATAR

 


 

Romania

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ROMANIA

 


 

Rwanda

gorilla standing in the jungle in Rwanda

 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT RWANDA

 


 

Saudi Arabia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA

 


 

Serbia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SERBIA

 


 

The Seychelles

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE SEYCHELLES

 


 

Singapore

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SINGAPORE

 


 

Slovakia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SLOVAKIA

 


 

Slovenia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

 

ASK US ABOUT SLOVENIA

 


 

South Africa

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

 


 

South Korea

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SOUTH KOREA

 


 

Spain

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SPAIN

 


 

Sri Lanka

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SRI LANKA

 


 

 

Sweden

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SWEDEN

 


 

 

Switzerland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SWITZERLAND

 


 

Taiwan

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TAIWAN

 


 

Tanzania

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TANZANIA

 


 

Thailand

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THAILAND

 


 

Turkey

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TURKEY

 


 

Uganda

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT UGANDA

 


 

United Kingdom

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE UNITED KINGDOM

 


 

Uruguay

Entry requirements:

  • Medical insurance covering Covid-related expenses

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT URUGUAY

 


 

Uzbekistan

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT UZBEKISTAN

 


 

Vietnam

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT VIETNAM

 


 

Zambia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ZAMBIA

 


 

Zimbabwe

Entry requirements:

  • Full vaccination or PCR test done within 48 hours of departure

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT 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.

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

In summer 2021, when many travelers were making their first trip back to Europe since the pandemic hit, Wendy chose the perfect vacation for her family: a private-yacht sail on the Turquoise Coast.  They spent almost all day, every day, in the open air, luxuriating on the plush shaded deck, enjoying delicious coast-to-table food, sightseeing privately on shore where they were almost the only tourists, and jumping in the water if it ever got too hot.  The whole family agrees this was one of their best vacations ever and plans to do it again.  Here’s the article Wendy wrote at the time:

My husband says I chose “the perfect anti-pandemic vacation.”  We’re on a private boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey, in a Covid-safe bubble. When we anchor in a new harbor each day to check out a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, our exploration is always in the open air, and social distancing is easy.   Enjoy photos from my trip on a gulet along the Turquoise Coast. It’s a “cruise” option you may not have thought of, and it’s safe, easy, and spectacular.

We love the Turquoise Coast!

Here we are in Turkey, fighting off jet lag with sea breezes and reinvigorating dips in the (surprisingly not too chilly) water, and spending virtually all day, every day, in the open air.  And trying out Tim’s new drone; check out the aerial shots!

 

A family milestone

Today the boys did their first-ever Open Water dive together (now that all three are PADI-certified). The water in this part of the Mediterranean is surprisingly clean and clear.

 

Discovering under-the-radar villages

Each time we anchor at a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, we’re the only Americans there. Sometimes we’re the only tourists there. We anchored in Bozburun and took the dinghy into town for sightseeing and again for dinner at the Bozburun Yacht Club. We made a lot of friends there, probably because there was a piano for Doug to play. (He’s played many a piano in many a country, and it’s always a great way to meet the local people.) Here’s what else we found in Bozburun, on Turkey’s Aegean Coast.

 

 

On a gulet, the market comes to you!

They row up to your boat, make small talk (“Where are you from?”), toss you their wares so you can try them on, reduce their price even though it didn’t occur to you to bargain, then wish you well and row off to the next boat. They’re polite and respectful—none of the hard sell you might find in a touristy spot.

 

Special private access to a “museum hotel”

This Ottoman mansion and “museum hotel” is Mehmet Ali Aga Konagi. It’s been closed because of the pandemic, but the WOW List specialist for Turkey who arranged my trip, Karen Fedorko Sefer, was able to get us in!  Deniz Ikizler showed us its treasures and treated us to “plum sorbet” in the garden, and Doug found another piano to play—an historic C.J. Quandt, Berlin.

 

Exploring the historic ruins of Knidos

In the ancient Greek city of Knidos on Turkey’s southwestern coast, there were more goats than people.  We also were not far from the wildfires. We’re lucky to have a boat to go back to where cooling off is easy: Just jump in the water. If you’d like to contribute to the relief effort, I’m told good places to donate to are Türk Kızılayı (Turkish Red Crescent) or Turkish Philanthropy Funds.

 

A beach town almost entirely to ourselves

Sailing into a new harbor is like waiting for a gift to be unwrapped: What will we find? In Datca we found a beach lined with restaurant tables almost up to the water’s edge for toes-in-the-sand dining; streets of boutiques and bakeries and artisan gift shops; an Old Town of winding cobblestone alleys, car-free and dotted with outdoor cafes for coffee and ice cream; Ottoman mansions and olive farms a short drive away; and barely anybody there to enjoy any of it. Datca has everything except tourists. It’s also the biggest beach town in my memory where there are no American chains—no Pizza Hut, no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.

 

Bodrum good-byes

Because Turkey is considered a safe, smart destination choice during the pandemic, so many yachts are converging on Bodrum that berths at the marina are hard to come by. Check out the narrow slot our boat squeezed into, right in front of Bodrum Castle. It’s hard to say goodbye to our trusty captain and crew, but it’s time to fly to Istanbul. Görüsürüz, dear new friends!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Read reviews of more private yacht trips in Turkey.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Turkey’s Aegean Coast on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for a reduced rate on a gulet.  Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Karen via my WOW questionnaire.  Thanks to my WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler. 

 


 

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 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.

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Where to Go for the 2022-23 Holidays

Time is running out to book a trip over the December/January holidays. We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout the pandemic—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for Christmas or New Year’s vacations. These are places where they can still find you charming hotel rooms and savvy private guides and can put together a high-caliber trip.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Italy

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Florence lights up for the holidays. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy was incredibly crowded and pricey this summer. For a true taste of the country, the answer is to go in winter, when the weather is mild and the cities and countryside have a more local flavor. Ride a Vespa around Rome; learn how to row a gondola in Venice; gather with your family at a private villa on Sicily or Lake Como; take in an opera at La Scala in Milan; or stroll holiday markets in the Dolomites.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN ITALY

France

The Champs-Élysées at Christmas time, Paris, France

The Champs-Élysées at Christmas time, Paris. Photo: Paris Perfect

If you got shut out of France this summer, now is your chance to book a December trip. The light in Provence in winter is why so many famous artists moved there, and this month is prime time for the region’s acclaimed truffles. Of course, Paris is fabulous for Christmas and New Year’s—the City of Lights gets even more dressed up for the holidays. France’s best Christmas markets are in Strasbourg and run until December 24. If your trip dates include December 25 or 31, don’t worry that everything will be closed: The right expert can arrange a private cooking class on Christmas, or concert tickets on New Year’s Eve.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN FRANCE

Costa Rica

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

Carrillo and Samara Beaches, Costa Rica.

From beach to cloud forest to volcanoes, Costa Rica packs a lot of highlights in a small country. The skies are generally dry in December, but the land is lush and green from the recent rainy season. If you’re having trouble finding hotel rooms for your family over the holidays, our experts can help: They’ve blocked rooms at their favorite properties expressly for you last-minute planners.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN COSTA RICA

Belize

Tiny island with coconut trees and boat in Belize

Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive as Wendy’s son did, fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters. Accommodations range from beach resorts to overwater bungalows to remote jungle tree houses. If you’re traveling the week leading up to Christmas, you can even charter your own private yacht to enjoy fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and endless horizons.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN BELIZE

Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise Canada in winter

Lake Louise. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Rockies are absolutely gorgeous when covered with snow, making it a winter wonderland that is perfect for the active family…think snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and ice canyons. You can go dogsledding near Lake Louise, cross-country skiing near Jasper, and snowmobiling outside Banff. Wind down your day in a cozy private cabin or a cushy resort with spa treatments to ease any sore spots from your snowy adventures.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

London

London skyline with Nelson's Column and Big Ben at dusk

London skyline. Photo: Julian Love/London and Partners – Visit London

Enjoy a Dickensian Christmas in London, which puts on a display of spectacular lights and holiday markets. A knowledgeable local guide can make the city’s stories come alive, whether via an after-hours tour of the Tower of London, an exploration of the city’s street-art scene, or a pub crawl to the best local watering holes.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN LONDON

A castle in the English countryside

Broughton Hall Christmas

Broughton Hall, in the Yorkshire Dales, at Christmastime.

Looking for a place to gather with extended family? Consider a stately home—even your very own castle—that suits a group of 16 or more in England. These houses are tastefully decorated throughout, tree and all, and come fully staffed, so you need not worry about cooking or cleaning over the holidays. Nearby you’ll often find Christmas markets to stroll, but you can just as easily stay on property and enjoy plenty of activities that bring your family together and put you in the Christmas spirit: wreath-making workshops, cocktail masterclasses, even a brass band recital.

ASK ABOUT A MANOR HOME IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

Panama

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast. Photo: Costa Travel

Under-the-radar Panama has hotels and private villas on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines—which deserve to be better known for their diverse marine life and prime surfing spots—not to mention verdant highland landscapes, VIP Panama Canal tours for would-be engineers, and coffee and chocolate fincas that will welcome you for tours and tastes.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN PANAMA

Colombia

A view from the beginning of the hike towards Cocora Valley which is famous for its tall wax palm trees in Colombia

Cocora Valley, Colombia.

Colombia’s charms range from Bogota, sitting 8,000 feet up in the Andes, to Cartagena, with its charming walled Old City on the Caribbean coast. In between you’ll find boutique haciendas in the coffee regions, cable cars to scale the mountains around Medellin, and a rich diversity of wildlife. The interior cities are quieter over the holidays—a plus when it comes to exploring museums and navigating traffic—while places along the coast often demand multi-night stays. Not all of Cartagena’s beaches are alike; work with an expert to find the right strand for you.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN COLOMBIA

Norway

Northern lights in Norway.

Enjoy a cozy holiday with your family in Norway: Ride a sled pulled by reindeer in search of the northern lights, go snowmobiling above the Arctic Circle, learn about the indigenous Sami culture, enjoy locally sourced meals inside your timber lodge or ice hotel, and warm up between outdoor pursuits in a wood-fired sauna.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN NORWAY

The Maldives

Beautiful beach landscape with overwater bungalows Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

What better tropical getaway than jetting off to these idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean? Most are home to just a single resort, where you can spend your days snorkeling with manta rays, digging your toes into the sand at beachside restaurants, and relaxing in your private overwater bungalow. Pure bliss.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE MALDIVES

The Alps

Ski Resort of Corvara at Night, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy

Corvara ski resort, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Wintertime Alpine fun comes in many flavors, from rustic huts on the Italian slopes to chic French ski towns to Zermatt’s après-ski scene. Whether you’re after a private guide to take you off-piste skiing, a hut-to-hut adventure, or a more civilized locale with options for non-skiiers, we can probably connect you with the right expert. Deciding between the Alps or a ski trip out west? You’ll pay more for the flights to Europe, but lift tickets there are considerably more affordable.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE ALPS

Mexico

Gorgeous view of Teotihuacan, The Sun´s Pyramid surrounded by hot air balloons, shot take at the dawn.

Mexico City is vibrant with arts, restaurants, and parks—and the historic Teotihuacan pyramid is nearby too. Photo: Shutterstock

Our southern neighbor is a perennial favorite for the winter holidays, but several corners of the country still have good availability in December. Head to the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, or to Los Cabos for gorgeous beaches and great dining options. For an urban experience without the crowds (because the locals are all at the beach), try Mexico City, where the springlike weather brings warm days and cool evenings. Southeast of the capital is Puebla, known for its colonial history, colorful architecture, and culinary and art scenes. And on the Yucatán Peninsula there’s Mérida, a hotspot during both the Mayan and colonial eras, today rich in history and culture.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN MEXICO

Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo: Hacienda Zuleta

Options are dwindling in the Galapagos for the holiday weeks, but availability is easier to come by at Galapagos hotels than for boat-based journeys. In mainland Ecuador, where December temperatures are in the 70s, it’s easy to combine Quito’s Old Town with a historic hacienda in the nearby Andean highlands, where you can explore craft villages, hike in ecological reserves, and horseback ride among quilt-like pastures.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE GALAPAGOS AND ECUADOR

 

Peru

machu picchu ruins

The ruins at Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo: Aracari

Imagine spending the holidays at Machu Picchu, or riding the rails in luxury on the Andean Explorer train line from Cusco to Lake Titicaca to Arequipa. There can be afternoon showers in Peru at this time of year, but smart planning can focus your outdoor activities on the mornings—you can even hike the last few miles of the Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which has a spectacular, panoramic view of the ruins.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN PERU

Safari in Botswana or Zimbabwe

Rhino-spotting on safari in Botswana. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

South Africa and Kenya may be booked up, but there’s still availability in Botswana and Zimbabwe, where December falls during the green season. In return for the possibility of an afternoon or evening rain shower you get lush vegetation (which makes for great photos), more prolific predators (because the grazing species are having their babies), and significantly lower rates at many camps and lodges.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY SAFARI

Antarctica Cruises

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

If seeing wildlife is your goal, the latter half of December is the very best time to cruise to Antarctica. By then, thousands of penguins, including their fluffy chicks, have made their home along the coastline, the sea ice has usually broken up enough to allow great access, and the weather is generally better than earlier or later in the season.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY ANTARCTICA CRUISE

Southeast Asia

Sri Panwa, Phuket, Thailand hotel pool

Sri Panwa, Phuket, Thailand.

2023 is Southeast Asia’s moment: Nonstop flights are coming back, and the crowds that descended on Europe this summer haven’t yet arrived. With so many great new hotels opening in Bangkok, it won’t be hard to find room over the holidays; there are still rooms aplenty in Hanoi and Saigon too. Flight options into Cambodia are more limited, but the reward is wide hotel availability in Siem Reap, and far fewer tourists at Angkor Wat than you’d have seen there in December 2019.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

Bora Bora and Tahiti (French Polynesia)

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The Aranui 5.

Many resorts are booked up for the period between Christmas and New Year’s, but you can still snag an idyllic overwater bungalow for the week leading up to Christmas. You can also still book a cabin on the Aranui 5, a supply boat that doubles as a passenger ship and sails 12-day itineraries through the remote Marquesas archipelago.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

Europe’s Christmas Markets

Christmas tree and projected snowflake lights on a building at the Warsaw Christmas market in Warsaw Poland

Warsaw’s Christmas market. Photo: Polish Tourist Board

Many of Europe’s charming Christmas markets close on December 24, but a growing number are staying open past the holiday. That’s true at many markets in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Belgium; in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Light Festival runs all the way until January 22. A savvy specialist will work your itinerary to hit the markets that still have a truly local feel.

ASK ABOUT A CHRISTMAS MARKETS TRIP

Sri Lanka

sigiriya rock Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka. Photo: Pixabay

Last year’s political unrest is over, but Sri Lanka has yet to see tourism bounce back. That’s great news for intrepid travelers: Many hotels aren’t charging peak rates, and the dollar is very strong against the rupee. Combine the country’s cultural landmarks with a scenic train ride through tea plantations in the hill country, then overnight in a tented “cocoon” near a national park that abuts the ocean and offers frequent leopard sightings.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN SRI LANKA

 



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.

hammock between palm trees on a beach in Fiji with turquoise ocean in background

Solutions to the Most Common Covid Travel Concerns

Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about travel during Covid:

Do I need to get tested before leaving the U.S., and how do I do it?

To enter certain countries, you need to show negative results from a Covid test taken within anywhere from 24 hours to a few days of your arrival. Check our list of entry rules by country for testing requirements and time frames. Then review your options (home-testing kits, in-person clinics, etc.) in How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel.

Do I need to get tested to return to the U.S.?

As of June 12, 2022, the CDC no longer requires a negative test to board a flight to the U.S.

If I should test positive during my trip, how long would I have to isolate?

The length of isolation depends on the country, so it’s a good idea to discuss this with your WOW List trip planner (and your insurance provider; see below).

In some places, you may be able to exit isolation early after getting a designated number of negative tests; in others, you’ll still have to complete the full term.

Where would I isolate?

It varies from country to country, but it’s often your hotel.  WendyPerrin.com travelers have even received free stays or room upgrades during their isolation.

Who pays the quarantine expenses?

It varies by location and also depends on whether and what travel insurance you bought. See more below about insurance, but also talk to your trip planner because they will know if the local government covers any of the costs.

If I test positive, can my travel companions fly home without me?

It depends on the rules in your destination; they may also need to self-certify with the airline that they haven’t been exposed.

What insurance do I get to protect myself?  Will it cover health care costs overseas, the hotel for quarantine, and getting me back home?

Each travel insurance provider is handling Covid differently. Many policies will cover Covid-related medical bills; some will reimburse a portion of quarantine-related expenses under their “Trip Delay” coverage.

We lay out all the big questions (and answers) in How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It. But we recommend asking your WOW List expert if there’s a particular insurance they recommend: They will know if their country has specific requirements for insurance (as, for instance, Argentina and the Seychelles do), and they may also know of a policy that is better tailored for their location.

When it comes to medical evacuation, only a few services will transport travelers with Covid. To learn more about your options for that, read What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?.

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel

Many of us would like to ensure we’re coronavirus-free before we travel. Pre-trip Covid tests are required by some foreign countries, with the test administered anywhere from 24 hours to a few days before your arrival.

Thankfully, it’s become much easier to get quick Covid test results, whether you are seeking a mail-in option that eliminates having to visit a public-health clinic or testing site, or you require an in-person or video-proctored test on a short timeline.

Below are several of your best options for a test with the last-minute results you need for some destinations: We’ve listed in-person options for PCR tests in select U.S. cities, mail-in PCR test kits that you can do from home (note that some places will not accept results from mail-in tests), and proctored, self-administered antigen tests that you can take in a foreign country. If you’re looking for a PCR test in a location not listed below, do a search for quick Covid test—not “rapid,” as that is the term commonly used for antigen tests—and your desired location. In my reporting, I’ve found that urgent-care centers are a good bet for quick Covid tests.

Jump to: In-Person Tests

Jump to: Mail-In Tests

Jump to: Tests That Can Be Self-Administered Abroad

In-Person Tests

Nationwide

  • ARCpoint Labs offers tests at dozens of labs across the country. The cost is $150 for same-day results.
  • Curative conducts saliva-based tests at pop-up sites across the country. There is no out-of-pocket cost, and results are usually available (but not guaranteed) in 1-2 days.
  • DM Covid-19 Test will send a clinician to your home almost anywhere in the Lower 48 states to conduct a curbside test, with 3-4 days’ advance notice. Results are available the same day in Orlando, Philadelphia, northern Virginia, central Maryland, Washington, D.C., and New York for $349, or the next day at any location that they cover for $299.
  • CVS has drive-through testing—as well as walk-up testing in some locations—and reports that the average turnaround time is 1-2 days. Tests are free for those who meet certain criteria related to symptoms and exposure, and $139 otherwise. (Note: Pharmacies’ turnaround times are not as reliable as testing centers that guarantee results in time for travel.)
  • Walgreens offers drive-through tests at select locations; turnaround time varies by location and by the lab used to obtain results. There is no cost for most individuals. (Note: Pharmacies’ turnaround times are not as reliable as testing centers that guarantee results in time for travel.)
  • Passport Health is offering tests at some of their clinics at a cost of $200, with results in 72 hours.

Arizona

  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Phoenix; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, $150 for results in 12 hours, or $250 for results in 90 minutes.
  • Saguaro Bloom sells test kits with a self-administered swab at their Scottsdale location; the cost is $149 for results in 24 hours, or $279 for same-day results.

California

  • Covid Check Today will send a clinician to your home (or any other location) in Los Angeles, San Diego, or Orange County to conduct a test. The cost is $199 for results in 24 hours ($149 with insurance), or $349 for results in 6 hours.
  • Cosmos Health Solutions offers tests in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Tustin. Tests are free with insurance, with results in 24-48 hours; you can pay $75 for results in less than 24 hours, or $150 for results in 1 hour.
  • Good Life Medical Services has drive-through testing in Los Angeles that is free if you have insurance, or they will send a clinician to your home for $250. Results are returned in 48-72 hours; 24- to 48-hour turnaround is available for an additional $250-$350.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, and Los Angeles; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, $150 for results in 12 hours, or $250 for results in 90 minutes.
  • Reliant Urgent Care conducts tests at locations across Los Angeles county; the cost is $175 for same-day results.
  • OnSite Safe conducts drive-up testing in Van Nuys and Sacramento, using saliva samples. The cost is $164-$215 for results by midnight 2 days after your test; in Van Nuys, you can pay an additional $24.75 for results by midnight the next day.
  • US Specialty Labs does drive-through testing with documentation for travel in San Diego for $135, with results in under 24 hours.
  • McCampbell Analytical offers self-collected test kits, which you pick up and drop off at their lab about an hour outside San Francisco in Pittsburg. Options range from results the next day for $99, to results in 3 hours for $699.
  • IGeneX offers testing in Milpitas, next door to San Jose; their staff will assist as you collect your own sample using a nasal swab. It is $250 for results in 24 hours, and $400 for same-day results.
  • Wellness 4 Humanity conducts saliva tests in San Jose, with results in 24-48 hours for $189, or guaranteed the next day for $439.
  • CityHealth conducts tests in Sacramento and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, with costs billed to your insurance and results in 48 hours; you can pay $120 for results in 24 hours.
  • Med2u Inc. does home/office visits in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The cost is $200, plus a travel fee of $100 or more; results are available late the next day.
  • OpenClear is a concierge service that brings a clinician to your home or office in the Los Angeles area for Covid testing. Costs range from $499 for results in 48-72 hours to $899 for results in 12-24 hours.

Colorado

  • Covid Check Today will send a clinician to your home (or any other location) in the Denver area to conduct a test. The cost is $199 for results in 24 hours ($149 with insurance), or $349 for results in 6 hours.

Delaware

  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Middletown; it’s $219 for next-day results.

Florida

  • Get Result Today performs tests at several locations throughout Florida. The cost is $139 for results within 24 hours, or $249 for results in 30-60 minutes. At-home testing is available in some locations for an additional fee.
  • Covid Check Today will send a clinician to your home (or any other location) in the Miami area to conduct a test. The cost is $199 for results in 24 hours ($149 with insurance), or $349 for results in 6 hours.
  • Covid Testing LLC does testing at several locations in Orlando and Central Florida. Testing is free with insurance, plus a $35 charge for next-day results or $75 for same-day results.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Atlantis; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours.
  • LAB Doctor offers tests in Ft. Lauderdale for $179, with results the next day.
  • BayCare is conducting tests at the Tampa airport for $150, with results typically returned in 48 hours.
  • OnSite Safe conducts drive-up testing in Tampa, using saliva samples. The cost is $164 for results by midnight 2 days after your test; you can pay an additional $24.75 for results by midnight the next business day.
  • Med2u Inc. conducts tests at their Hollywood office, and will do home or office visits in the surrounding region. The cost is $200, plus a travel fee of $100 or more; results are available by late evening of the next business day.
  • Physician Partners of America will come to clients in the Tampa and Orlando areas to conduct a test for $300, with results in 24 hours.
  • OpenClear is a concierge service that brings a clinician to your home or office in the Miami area for Covid testing. Costs range from $499 for results in 48-72 hours to $899 for results in 12-24 hours.
  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Daytona Beach; it’s $219 for next-day results, or $299 for same-day results.

Georgia

  • Viral Solutions offers drive-up testing in several locations around Atlanta at no cost. Results are typically available in 2 days.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Atlanta; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours.
  • Wellness 4 Humanity conducts saliva and throat-swab tests in Atlanta, with results in 24-48 hours for $169, or guaranteed by 2:00 a.m. for $209. They will also come to your home or office for an additional $249.
  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Atlanta; it’s $219 for next-day results, or $299 for same-day results.

Hawaii

  • Wellness 4 Humanity conducts saliva and throat-swab tests in Honolulu, with results in 24-48 hours for $199.

Illinois

  • Prime Care Physicians offers drive-up tests at their clinic in Schaumburg with results in 15-48 hours; they accept some insurance or charge $125 out of pocket. They also do in-home or in-office tests for an additional $100-$150 fee.

Maryland

  • Brookville Pharmacy conducts tests in Chevy Chase; the cost is $200 for results in 48 hours, or $250 for results in 24 hours.
  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests at their Columbia office; it’s $219 for same-day results, or $299 for results in one hour.

Massachusetts

  • Tufts Medical Center conducts tests in Boston, with results in 48-72 hours. If your insurance does not cover the test, the cost is $135.
  • Veritas offers tests at locations in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Ipswich, Andover, Beverly, and Newton Center. The cost is $120; results are available the same day if your sample is collected before noon, or the next day for afternoon tests.

Nevada

  • Covid Check Today will send a clinician to your home (or any other location) in the Las Vegas area to conduct a test. The cost is $199 for results in 24 hours ($149 with insurance), or $349 for results in 6 hours.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Las Vegas; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, or $150 for results in 12 hours.
  • Phamatech, Inc. conducts shallow-nasal-swab tests in Las Vegas. The cost is $120 for results in 24-48 hours.

New Jersey

  • LabQ offers walk-up testing at various locations in New Jersey. The testing is free, with results in 24 hours.
  • Urgent Medical Care & MRI in Jersey City conducts tests with a 30-minute turnaround at a cost of $250.

New York

  • Get Result Today performs tests in Manhattan, Glen Cove, and Merrick. The cost is $139 for results within 24 hours, or $249 for results in 30-60 minutes. At-home testing is available for an additional fee.
  • LabQ offers walk-up testing at various locations in New York City. The testing is free, with results in 24 hours.
  • Bloom Labs sells test kits with a self-administered swab at their Manhattan location; the cost is $299 for results in 3-4 hours.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests near JFK airport; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours.
  • CareCube offers tests at their locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. The cost is $100-$150 with insurance, or $225 without, with results in 4-6 hours.
  • The Medical Offices of Manhattan performs tests at their three locations in Manhattan, with results in 1 hour. The office visit costs $199 (your insurance may cover this), and the test costs $225.
  • Venistat will send a clinician to your home anywhere in New York’s five boroughs or on Long Island. The cost is $115 with insurance, or $185 without. Results are guaranteed in 24 hours; the average turnaround time is 14 hours.
  • OnSite Safe conducts drive-up testing in Manhattan, using saliva samples. The cost is $184 for results by midnight 2 days after your test, or $208.75 for results by midnight the next business day.
  • The New York Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine offers tests with same-day results in Manhattan; the test costs $395, an official certificate for travel an additional $35.
  • Urgent Care of New York performs drive-up tests at its four locations in Westchester and Rockland counties for $75 (they accept most insurance for the $120 cost of the visit), with results in about 20 minutes.
  • Med2u Inc. does home/office visits in New York City. The cost is $200, plus a $100-$200 travel fee; results are available in 24 hours.
  • OpenClear is a concierge service that brings a clinician to your home or office in the New York area (including Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) for Covid testing. Costs range from $499 for results in 48-72 hours to $899 for results in 12-24 hours.

North Carolina

  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Wilmington; it’s $219 for next-day results.

Oregon

  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Portland; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, $150 for results in 12 hours, or $250 for results in 90 minutes.
  • AFC Urgent Care Center offers tests at their 5 locations in the Portland area. The cost is $139 for results in 24-72 hours, or $199 for results in 15-60 minutes.

Pennsylvania

  • AFC Urgent Care Center conducts tests in South Philadelphia. They bill insurance for a standard test with results typically returned in 1-3 days; same-day results are available for $150.
  • Frontage Lab does testing at its Exton facility. The cost is $200 for same-day results.
  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Philadelphia and East Falls; it’s $219 for next-day results, or $299 for same-day results.

South Carolina

  • Phlebo on the Go offers mobile testing in Hilton Head and the surrounding area; the cost is $165 for results in 24 hours.
  • DM Covid-19 Test conducts curbside tests in Fort Mill; it’s $219 for next-day results.

Tennessee

  • At their two locations in Nashville, Complete Health Partners offers a package that includes a medical exam and a Covid test for $250, with results in 30-45 minutes.

Texas

  • APC Health offers drive-through tests in Pearland. The cost is $60 for results in 24 hours.
  • DevLab bio conducts tests at their lab near Dallas-Fort Worth. The cost is $115 for next-day results, $215 for same-day results, or $290 for results in 30-45 minutes.
  • BioExcel Diagnostics performs saliva tests at their lab in Houston. The cost is $60 for results within 48 hours.
  • OpenClear is a concierge service that brings a clinician to your home or office in the Houston area for Covid testing. Costs range from $499 for results in 48-72 hours to $899 for results in 12-24 hours.
  • iGenomeDx conducts drive-up tests at its San Antonio lab for $125. Results are available by 6 p.m. for tests done before 10:30 a.m.; otherwise, results are available in 24-48 hours.
  • ADL Health conducts drive-through tests at its San Antonio testing center; the cost is $169 for results in 24-48 hours.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Austin; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, $150 for results in 12 hours, or $250 for results in 90 minutes.

Virginia

Washington

  • The City of Seattle offers free tests with results in 48-72 hours.
  • Worksite Labs conducts tests in Seattle; the cost is $90 for results in 24 hours, $150 for results in 12 hours, or $250 for results in 90 minutes.
  • Discovery Health MD conducts test at the Seattle Airport and at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton nearby. The cost is $176 for next-day results or $349 for results in 1 hour.

Washington, D.C.

Mail-In Tests for the U.S.

ADL Health

  • The price: $119 for travelers flying on United; $169 for all others
  • The promise: Results are typically available 24-48 hours after the lab begins processing your sample.
  • The process: Order a kit online; when you’re ready to conduct your home test, return to ADL’s website to activate your kit. Collect your sample via a shallow nasal swab, then send it to the lab using the enclosed, prepaid UPS Next Day Air shipping label.
  • Get more info on ADL Health.

APC Health

  • The price: $100
  • The promise: Results are available within 24 hours of your sample arriving at their lab.
  • The process: When you request a kit from APC, you can choose to collect your saliva sample independently, or during a video call. (Some countries require that you be supervised while taking the Covid test necessary for entry.) Return your specimen via the prepaid UPS materials. Results include a QR code.
  • Get more info on APC Health.

Azova

  • The price: $114.99
  • The promise: Results are expected 12-36 hours after the lab receives your sample.
  • The process: Choose from a nasal-swab or saliva test kit. Once you receive your kit, you can schedule a video observation to collect your sample. Return it via the prepaid next-day air shipping materials.
  • Get more info on Azova.

Carbon Health

  • The price: $145
  • The promise: Results are expected within 72 hours of shipping your sample to the lab.
  • The process: Order online and your testing kit will be shipped to you via FedEx overnight delivery. Collect your saliva sample and return it in the overnight packaging provided.
  • Get more info on Carbon Health.

The COVID Consultants

  • The price: $199 (+$25 if you need a Saturday delivery label)
  • The promise: Results are guaranteed within 24 hours of your sample arriving at the lab.
  • The process: Fill out their form and The COVID Consultants will immediately send you a kit (you can choose between a sputum test or nasal swab) and an invoice. Collect your sample and send it to their lab via the included packaging for overnight shipping.
  • Get more info on The COVID Consultants.

empowerDX

  • The price: free with insurance, or $99
  • The promise: Results are normally available with 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample.
  • The process: Order a kit online and you will receive it within 2 business days. Collect your sample with the shallow nasal swab, then return it via the enclosed FedEx next-day packaging.
  • Get more info on empowerDX.

Everlywell

  • The price: $109
  • The promise: Results are reported within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample. The stated time of your sample collection may default to midnight. You must be 18 or older to use the test.
  • The process: Order a kit online and it will arrive within 2-8 business days, depending on the shipping method you choose. Once the kit arrives, insert a swab about one inch into each nostril, then return your sample to the lab via the prepaid UPS next-day service label.
  • Get more info on Everlywell.

ImmunitiRx

  • The price: $225, with a 10% discount on orders of 4 or more kits (+$15 if you need a Saturday delivery label)
  • The promise: Results are reported 24-36 hours after their lab receives your sample.
  • The process: Order a kit online and ImmunitiRx will send it out via FedEx two-day shipping. Spit three to four times into the supplied cup, then deliver it to a FedEx DropBox for overnight shipping to the lab (box and shipping label provided).
  • Get more info on ImmunitiRx.

LetsGetChecked

  • The price: $109
  • The promise: Results are usually available 24-72 hours after the lab receives your sample.
  • The process: Order a test online, then activate the kit via the company’s website when you’re ready to use it: Collect your sample with a shallow nasal swab, then mail it to the lab via the enclosed express UPS shipping label.
  • Get more info on LetsGetChecked.

Med2u Inc.

  • The price: $200, plus $39 shipping fee per order (+$10 if you need a Saturday delivery label)
  • The promise: Results are available 12-14 hours after the lab receives your sample.
  • The process: Order either a nasal-swab or sputum testing kit and collect your sample. Return it to the lab via the prepaid overnight shipping label.
  • Get more info on Med2u Inc.

Quest Diagnostics

  • The price: $135
  • The promise: Results are typically available 1 to 3 days after your sample arrives at the lab. You must be 18 or older to use this test.
  • The process: Quest’s kit includes materials to collect an upper respiratory nasal sample and a prepaid overnight Fedex shipping label. (Quest also offers drive-through testing at a number of Walmart locations across the country for $125.)
  • Get more info on QuestDiagnostics.

Reliant Health Services

  • The price: $129
  • The promise: Results are usually available 24-48 hours after your sample arrives at the lab.
  • The process: The kit includes materials to collect a saliva sample and a box to return it to the lab via prepaid Fedex overnight shipping. When you’re ready to take the test, register it online, indicating that you are using it for travel. If your destination requires video observation, you will be connected to a practitioner for a telehealth visit.
  • Get more info on Reliant Health Services.

VaultHealth

  • The price: $90
  • The promise: Results are returned 24-48 hours after your sample arrives at their lab. The provided documentation lists the date of the sample collection, but not the time.
  • The process: Receive your testing kit in the mail (or via Doordash delivery in select cities), then do a Zoom video call with a test supervisor, who will guide you through the process of saliva collection. The kit includes prepaid materials for overnight shipping.
  • Get more info on VaultHealth.

Tests That Can Be Self-Administered Abroad

Note: These kits are antigen tests, which many countries now also accept for entry (typically within a shorter window prior to arrival than PCR tests). Internet access suitable for a video call is essential. 

Abbott BinaxNOW + eMed 

  • The price: $150 for a pack of 6 tests via eMed; $70 for a pack of 2 via Optum
  • The promise: eMed sells Abbott’s BinaxNOW test kits that you can self-administer anywhere you have broadband internet access and a device with a camera. Results are determined in 15 minutes during your guided testing session.
  • The process: Order the kits online and you can self-administer them via a video visit with an eMed Certified Guide. The test involves a shallow nasal swab. You must download the NAVICA app before departing the U.S. and bring two tests per person.
  • Get more info on eMed.

Ellume + Azova

  • The price: $26-$45 for test kit, $15 for video observation visit
  • The promise: Ellume’s test kit meets the testing requirement to enter the U.S. only when conducted under video observation, which Azova provides. Results are sent via SMS and email within 24 hours.
  • The process: Purchase an Ellume kit online or in a pharmacy, then go to Azova’s website to schedule a video visit during which you will take the test. Video observations are available 24/7, but it is recommended that you schedule your session as soon as you have booked your flight back to the U.S.
  • Get more info on Ellume.
  • Get more info on Azova.

Lucira + Azova

  • The price: $89 for test kit and video observation
  • The promise: Results in 30 minutes.
  • The process: Order a kit online, then schedule your video observation. Results are available via QR code and pdf.
  • Get more info on Lucira + Azova.

On/Go + Azova

  • The price: $55 for test kit and video observation
  • The promise: Results in 15 minutes.
  • The process: Order a kit online, which includes two tests. Take the first test 24-48 hours prior to your scheduled video observation, during which you will be instructed to take the second test. Results are available via QR code and pdf.
  • Get more info on On/Go + Azova.

Qured

  • The price: $45
  • The promise: Take a kit during a telehealth visit and receive results in 2 hours.
  • The process: Order a kit online, schedule your video consultation, and at the appointed time one of Qured’s health advisors will walk you through the testing process. The kit includes a second test, which users are advised to take 24-36 hours later to confirm the result.
  • Get more info on Qured.

Reliant Health Services

  • The price: $69; discounts for boxes of 2, 6, and 10 tests
  • The promise: Results are typically available within 15 minutes of your telehealth session .
  • The process: Order a kit online. When you’re ready to take the test, register your kit on the website during operating hours (9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Sunday); you will be sent a link to access a video-observation session.
  • Get more info on Reliant Health Services.

 

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 yacht in the blue ocean with text over it for WendyPerrin.com WOW Week of travel talks

Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2022 May 2–6 at 6pm EDT

 

UPDATE: WOW Week is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter


 

More than two years of pent-up travel demand has suddenly been unleashed, and the result is that May and June are nearly sold out in some parts of the world. Prices are soaring, the global travel landscape is still changing weekly because of Covid, war, and other current events—and travelers who want a safe trip of the highest caliber need new strategies and tools to navigate the when, where, and how.

That’s why we’re gathering plugged-in experts for WOW Week 2022, our annual virtual get-together, which, this year, will focus on intel to help you ace 2022 and winter 2023 specifically.

At 6:00 p.m. EDT each evening, May 2–6, we’ll host a live Zoom happy hour with insiders from different parts of the travel world—including airline, insurance, and on-the-ground destination experts—who will share what you need to know, and answer your burning questions, on the timely topics below. These chats are open to all—and they are free, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Medjet, the global medical transport, travel security, and crisis response company—so tell your friends!

Registration is open now by clicking the link for each Q&A that interests you.

We can’t wait to see you there!

—Wendy and the team

 


 

Unique Travel Opportunities For 2022 And Beyond

Monday May 2 at 6pm EDT

The shift in the pandemic and other current global circumstances have led to a unique travel landscape this year, from which unusual opportunities are emerging. Join us to learn about how and where to get a better travel experience in 2022.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

How to Protect Yourself and Have Peace of Mind

Tuesday May 3 at 6pm EDT

It may feel like the pandemic is over, but if you are planning a trip, there are specific things you need to do in order to protect yourself. In this talk, experts from the fields of health, travel insurance, and emergency assistance tell you how to prepare.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Solutions for Summer

Wednesday May 4 at 6pm EDT

It seems like everyone in the world is flooding back to Italy, France, and Greece this summer. Given the sold-out hotels and soaring prices in many dream locations, where can you still get a Covid-safe and iconic experience this summer? We’ll discuss your smartest options.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

Winter Travel: The holidays and beyond

Thursday May 5 at 6pm EDT

Did you get shut out of France and Italy this summer? Consider those countries’ festive holiday spots for Thanksgiving or Christmas instead. We’ll talk about smart and unexpected winter options—from tropical beaches to European Christmas markets to Antarctica cruises to seeing the northern lights—for this year’s winter holidays all the way through to 2023’s spring break.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Smart Airline Travel in 2022: Best flights, seats, and fares

Friday May 6 at 6pm EDT

Is there any affordable airfare anywhere in the world this year? And, if so, where? Air travel watchdogs Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff, founder of View From the Wing and Book Your Award, reveal what you can expect from airlines and airfares in 2022: when to buy your tickets, how to choose the safest flights, where to find business-class bargains, how to get the most value for your miles, and much more.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet.

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Billie, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you.

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.

stock photo of toy airplane on stack of masks and passport with a globe signifying travel during Covid

Your Biggest Covid Travel Questions Answered

I’ve spoken with many of you over the past few weeks as you’ve wrestled with whether to go forward with your winter travel plans and, if so, how to smarten them up, given Covid surges and current global events. Most of you are bound and determined to forge ahead with your trips—to Italy, Egypt, Tahiti, the Galapagos Islands, France, Panama, Iceland, Portugal, Belize, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya, Rwanda, the Maldives, Antarctica, and more.  I can understand why.  We’re not back in March of 2020:  There are many more tools now for traveling safely and responsibly. And I’m not just talking about the availability of vaccines, boosters, and N95 masks for the airport and plane. Unlike at the start of this pandemic, we’ve also now got at-home test kits for use pre-trip and before boarding your return flight. There’s now evacuation coverage so that, if your worry is the possibility of testing positive overseas and being quarantined, there’s a way you can avoid that and get home. There are also guardian angels who have proven they can keep travelers away from crowds, privately cocooned, and in the open air as much as possible throughout a trip. The proof?  It’s in your trip reviews. Below find the information you need for safe travel now. —Wendy

Wendy’s Travel Advice for 2022

Wendy’s Travel Advice for 2022: Based on everything we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, if you’re looking for the best travel experiences in 2022, here’s my advice.

Covid Testing

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for TravelWe’ve rounded up several of your best options Covid tests with the last-minute results you need for many destinations: We’ve listed in-person options in select U.S. cities, mail-in test kits that you can do from home (note that some places will not accept results from mail-in tests), and self-administered tests that you can take in a foreign country.

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. But it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Here’s how to make it easier.

Getting a Covid Test Abroad is EasyDon’t let fear of a required Covid test outside the U.S.—either for a return flight to the U.S. or to cross borders during a multi-country trip—scare you away from overseas travel.

What Happens If I Test Positive on a Trip? We Answer Travelers’ Biggest Concerns About Testing, Quarantine, and InsuranceThe biggest concerns we hear from travelers these days are about how to get tested before and during a trip, what happens if they test positive while overseas, and what quarantine rules will apply there. In this FAQ, we answer all of those questions and more.

Travel Insurance

How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need ItTravel insurance can be confusing, especially during Covid. So we’ve created this FAQ that lays out everything from what you can expect it to cover (even now) to when you need it and when you don’t.

“Cancel For Any Reason” CFAR Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It WorksIf you’re concerned about traveling during the time of COVID-19, regular travel insurance won’t help you. CFAR coverage is the only way to be protected.

What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?In years past, we purchased medical-evacuation coverage in case we broke a leg while hiking in the Alps or had a heart attack on a remote island with no decent hospital. Nowadays, though, the nightmare scenario in our minds as we try to plan travel is the possibility of ending up quarantined—or even hospitalized—with Covid-19 far from home. Here’s what you need to know about how to get flown home, and how to protect yourself from a financial disaster.

Where You Can Go and Entry Requirements

The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How to Get InThis is your one-stop resource for all the important details about which countries are opening to U.S. travelers and what their entry requirements are.

Countries With No Covid Entry Requirements: These are the countries where WOW Listers can plan safe, smart trips don’t require any vaccination or pre-trip testing.

Where You Can Travel with No Pre-Trip Test RequiredWe’re also keeping a list of countries that are open to vaccinated travelers—with no testing or quarantine requirements.

Air Travel Tips

New Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2022Many airlines are planning to launch long-awaited routes next year, and some have already announced new flights that weren’t even on their minds back in 2020. To help you find inspiration, Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge rounds up the airline routes to keep your eyes on.

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.

When and Where to Use Your Airline Miles This Year: Frequent travelers want to know the best time to start tapping into that stockpile of credit card points and miles they’ve been racking up during the pandemic, plus the destinations and airlines where those awards will stretch the furthest. We’ve got answers.

The Best Credit Cards for Travelers: Whether you’re actually traveling or working your way toward a trip, the right credit card can be a big help in getting you there. We break down which cards are best for travelers in 2022.

Current Travelers’ Experiences

WOW Travel During Covid: The Trip Reviews That Matter Most Right NowFind out what travel is like from real people who’ve just been on trips in the past few weeks. These trip reviews show what it’s really like to travel now in specific places, and how the right destination expert can make it work.

The Trip Planners You’ve Approved

The WOW List: Top Local Fixers in Countries WorldwideThe WOW List is a collection of exceptionally knowledgeable and well-connected trip planners around the world. They have been rigorously road-tested, based on my decades of experience as a travel journalist and based on the most recent trip reviews from travelers who have used my WOW approach to ensure an extraordinary trip. During the pandemic, I have been watching these Trusted Travel Experts like a hawk, closely monitoring our travelers’ pandemic trip reviews and updating The List accordingly.



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.

Wendy’s Travel Advice for 2022

Of the thousands of you who arranged international trips via our WOW system last year during Covid, many of you said in your trip reviews that it was the best trip of your life and that you felt safer overseas than you do back home. This was not just dumb luck. It was the result of careful orchestration of the pandemic-travel experience by people with the expertise and connections for navigating the new international travel landscape. Based on everything we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, if you’re looking for the best travel experiences in 2022, here’s my advice:

Let your timing dictate where you go. Flexibility regarding choice of your travel destination is key. Smart windows for travel will differ by country, as the factors that help determine a destination’s Covid-safeness (e.g., local vaccination rate and type, availability of open-air dining, optimal conditions for outdoor activities, etc.) fluctuate. When you know when you’ll be able to travel, write to Ask Wendy, and we can recommend where you’re likely to have the best experience during that window.

Embrace last-minute opportunities. Given how quickly the travel landscape keeps changing, the next smart opportunity may come sooner than you think, so be ready to jump. (My family, for instance, is ready to jump because we’ve already ordered, and received, the mail-in PCR tests and at-home antigen tests we’ll need for our next international flight, even though we haven’t chosen our destination yet.) Fair warning, though:  Last-minute arrangements are a bad idea for popular countries such as France, Greece, and Italy that are seeing sky-high demand (and consequent sky-high pricing) for spring/summer/fall 2022.

Favor travel to countries that require vaccination and/or a negative test for entry. So many of your trip reviews mention you felt safer in the foreign country than you do back home, thanks to local protocols and private, Covid-safe arrangements. Even the international flight feels safer because everybody onboard is vaccinated, or has just tested negative, or both. If you choose the right country at the right time, you’ll get better service, fewer tourists, and a more rewarding experience than in crowded, understaffed resort areas in the mainland U.S.

Stick to one country per trip. With entry requirements in constant flux, every border crossing introduces the possibility that something could go wrong and ruin the rest of your trip.

Fly nonstop, if possible, to reduce time in airports and avoid more requirements.

Don’t discount a country because you’ve already been there: It’s easy to get a trip that’s completely different from your last trip to that place if you use a WOW List local expert. Just ask your fellow travelers who made return trips in 2021 to Belize or Croatia or Morocco or Italy or Tahiti or Greece or….

Give yourself something to look forward to. Anticipation of a trip helps your mental health. If prepaying for a trip, protect yourself financially by using the right WOW Lister and/or buying the right travel insurance (and using a credit card to purchase your trip; here’s more on that). A WOW Moment is something to look forward to as well, so if you’ve traveled with us recently, don’t forget to submit your trip review within three months of your return date so you’ll earn WOW Moment credit for that trip. Here’s how to get a WOW Moment.

Remember that you must test negative before boarding your flight back to the U.S…
Especially if you’re traveling with kids, you will want all family members to test negative the day before your return flight.  So, even if sickness caused by Covid is not a concern for you, it’s still critical to travel in a way that avoids infection. See 5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return to the U.S.

…and for that reason, make your last hotel a good one.
On the off chance that you test positive at the end of your trip, make sure you’re staying somewhere comfortable, ideally with private outdoor space that you could access while isolating.

Keep checking back, and reading our newsletter, for smart trip ideas now (you’ll find more here) plus answers to your most pressing Covid-related travel questions. There are a ton of would-be travelers out there who could use our help de-complicating the new international travel landscape, so please share our newsletter with your friends. Billie, Brook, Kristine, and I wish you safe and extraordinary travels this year! —Wendy


 

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. —Wendy

LEARN HOW WE HELP

 

 

This article was originally published January 2, 2022. It has been updated.

palapa with two beach chairs on a beach with turquoise ocean and palm trees

Last-Minute Tips For Traveling During Covid

Wherever you’re headed, a little pre-trip preparation will help you have peace of mind while traveling these days. Here are Wendy’s last-minute tips, ideas, and solutions for travel during Covid—covering Covid tests, packing, travel insurance, flying, and more. Most are for international trips, but many are useful for domestic travel too.

Testing / Covid-Related Prep For International Flights

  • It’s the airline’s employees who will be verifying your paperwork when you check in, so reconfirm with your airline(s) the entry requirements for all countries on your itinerary.  That includes countries you’re only transiting through.
  • If a pre-trip test is required, here’s how to get it. Use a lab that specializes in tests for travel. (A local drugstore’s test may be cheaper, but be sure it guarantees your results in time.)
  • Complete any forms or paperwork required by your destination, and download any required apps. These could include an entry form, contact tracing information, or health affirmations. Argentina, for example, requires that you fill out an online affidavit.
  • Even if it’s not required, take a PCR test before you go. You can do it quickly and easily by mail or at numerous locations across the country. A negative result will give you peace of mind that is important, especially if you’re flying to a foreign country.
  • Have a plan to get tested at the end of your trip.  All travelers entering the U.S. via air must show a negative Covid test (either PCR or antigen) taken within one day of their departure. A WOW List trip planner can arrange for a fast and convenient in-person test at your destination, and/or there are official, video-monitored self-test kits that you can pack in your luggage. You might want to pack an extra self-test: Many manufacturers include two tests per kit or recommend that each traveler bring two tests.
  • Consider taking extra precautions to avoid infection in these last days before you depart. The more careful you are now, the less likely a positive test could cancel your trip.

Remember to Pack

  • Vaccination card if traveling internationally. (For domestic trips, a photo of your card usually suffices.)
  • A print-out of your negative Covid test result. Carry a printed copy of your results and any other necessary paperwork (and keep electronic back-up copies securely in the cloud or on your phone).
  • N95 or KN95 (medical-grade) masks. For a long flight, for ear relief, you might want a mask-strap extender or a N95 that straps around the back of your head instead of around your ears. On my flights, I bring both types of N95s.
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes.  The TSA allows air travelers to bring one liquid hand-sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in their carry-ons now. It’s helpful to pack a smaller bottle also, to carry with you in your day bag at your destination, or in case international airports have different liquid allowances.
  • Snacks you can eat when masked.  Some airports and airlines are limited in the food they are providing nowadays. Be prepared with an energy bar or similar.
  • A Covid self-test, so you’ve got one handy in case you need it.

Optimize Safety on Your Flight

  • Mask up. Even though masks are no longer required on domestic flights—rules on international flights depend on the arrival country’s requirements and the airline’s policy—health experts say it’s still wise to mask in airports and on planes.
  • Sit as far as possible from the nearest stranger. If you see on your airline’s website that a stranger is occupying a seat next to you, try to move to a seat with adjacent empty seats. At the airport gate before your flight, reconfirm with the gate agent whether you are still next to an empty seat; if not, ask about moving.
  • For ventilation, turn on the air nozzle above you and keep it at full blast throughout the flight. Studies have shown that it does work to scatter viral particles. Since that might make you cold, bring a sweater.
  • The airplane bathroom is the most germ-filled place on the plane, so use an airport bathroom right before you board, to increase the chance that you can avoid the airplane lavatory entirely or at least minimize the number of visits.
  • If you’re seated next to a stranger, don’t remove your mask to eat or drink while your seatmate’s mask is removed. Wait until your seatmate’s mask is back on.

Consider Travel Insurance

 


 

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. —Wendy

LEARN HOW WE HELP

 

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.

family of travelers in Egypt at Hatshupset Temple

Egypt During Omicron: A Family Trip

Hi everyone, Billie here. As you know, I went to Egypt this past October. Omicron hadn’t arrived yet, nor had the peak winter tourist season, so when I saw that several families were venturing there over New Year’s, I wanted to check in to see what the experience is like now.

Christa Sullivan is one of those travelers. Based in Florida, her family of six (her husband, and four children ages 12, 19, 21, and 25) just returned from two weeks in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and on a Nile cruise. Some of their experiences were different than mine—for instance, she found some places crowded that were empty when I visited—but, like me, they felt safe and comfortable and loved sailing the Nile on a dahabiya!

Why she chose Egypt

“I looked at the list you put out of the places that were open to Americans and didn’t have a lot of restrictions. Egypt was on the list, and I already knew that Egypt was on my husband’s bucket list. I’ve always thought it was so dangerous so I wasn’t interested in going. But I asked my kids for their top three places in the world and Egypt was on their list too. Then I saw an article about traveling on the boat on the Nile and I thought, oh it’s not just some dusty pyramids, this could be a really cool trip.”

family of travelers at Egyptian temple at sunset

Pre-trip, her concerns (shared on the phone)

“I worry about safety as an American abroad more than I worry about the virus. When I called Jim [WOW List Egypt expert Jim Berkeley], I said I’m going with four kids—I don’t want to be left on our own. And he reassured me: ‘You’ll never be on your own. We’ll always be with you, we’ll take you everywhere.’ That took away the fear factor.”

Mid-trip, her impressions (shared by email)

“The trip is very different from what I expected. As you know, I wasn’t the one excited about going, but I have loved it. I was surprised at how warm, welcoming and kind most of the people have been. I have enjoyed the food and the culture a great deal, and having an Egyptologist with us every day has made all the difference in adding meaning to the temples, tombs and hieroglyphics we are seeing.”

Cairo was crowded, but she wouldn’t recommend skipping it

“Cairo was a bit overwhelming due to the number of people and the traffic.  You took your life into your hands when you crossed the streets.  Our guide Ahmed was amazing—he was very assertive and made us feel more comfortable maneuvering the city.  We did not like the number of vendors that have accosted us at each place as we walk through on our way to a monument.  They were too aggressive and made us very uncomfortable.  Ahmed was the best at keeping them away, and also keeping away the schoolchildren that wanted to take our picture.… “

They loved the dahabiya boat

“The Nile cruise has been a highlight!  It was a great break after the busy days in Cairo and Luxor to relax on the deck and watch the river and the scenery. Our kids have really, really enjoyed the boat (as have we).

Last night on the boat, we stopped at an island and our captain and Egyptologist took us to a little town back through the woods and we went inside one of the mud brick houses and met the owners and were served tea.  It was so neat to see what’s inside one of their houses.  We also had a bonfire on the banks and they brought a table out and we had our dinner on the shore.  After dinner they danced and sang us some traditional songs.”

family lounging on a boat on the Nile

Her advice to other travelers

“For anyone concerned about Covid, I would avoid going inside the Great Pyramid.  It was tight and hot with zero ventilation. I would also be wary of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor—they were very crowded with no ventilation.  The Valley of the Queens was not crowded…. Outside of Cairo, we haven’t had any safety concerns at all.”

 


 

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. —Wendy

LEARN HOW WE HELP

palapa with two beach chairs on a beach with turquoise ocean and palm trees

The New Travel Checklist

Vaccine or no vaccine, the coronavirus pandemic will affect how we travel for a long time to come. New protocols mean that, to prepare smartly and safely for a big trip, there are new tasks to attend to, new questions to ask, and a whole new packing list.

So we’ve compiled a checklist of important items to address long before heading to the airport.

To Do:

  • Check the entry requirements and restrictions for all destinations on your itinerary, even if you’re merely transiting through them. Consult our lists of the Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and How to Get In and Every State’s Coronavirus and Travel Information.
  • Complete any forms or paperwork required by your destination, and download any required apps. These could include an entry form, contact tracing information, or health affirmations. Hawaii, for example, requires that you fill out an “online safe travels form.”
  • Get a Covid test—which you can now do quickly and easily by mail—for your own peace of mind, even if it’s not mandated by the destination. By getting tested as close as possible to your departure date and getting a negative result, you lessen the chance that you might unknowingly spread the virus. Proof of your negative status can also be useful just in case the rules change at your location, or a company or hotel decides they want it, or some other emergency happens. Here’s how to get a fast Covid test, with results reliably delivered shortly before your travel date.
  • Make a plan to get tested at the end of your trip. As of December 6, 2021, 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. There are self-test kits that you can pack in your luggage, or your trip planner can arrange for an in-person test at your destination.
  • Consider self-isolating for 14 days before you travel.  It’s another way to minimize the chance of unknowingly spreading the virus. Of course, you might live in a place that requires quarantining for 14 days after your return—as these states do—to avoid potentially bringing the virus back to your home community.
  • Make sure your passport is valid for at least three or six months past your travel date (depending on the country’s rules).  If you need to renew it, do it now; there are delays.
  • If you are making a large non-refundable advance payment for your trip, research travel insurance—including medical evacuation coverage and Cancel For Any Reason options—before or at the time you book. That’s because you need to purchase your policy very soon after making your first trip payment: Insurance that includes the Cancel For Any Reason option and coverage for preexisting medical conditions requires purchase within 21 days of your first trip payment (or deposit). Most travel insurance policies were written before the pandemic and thus are not an ideal fit for pandemic travel, so your research may be time-consuming. Which is just one reason why it pays to…
  • Book through a vetted and reviewed Trusted Travel Expert from Wendy’s WOW List. These are the destination experts and local fixers who know everything you don’t about what’s really happening where you’re headed. They can ensure you will get the up-to-date guidance and on-the-ground assistance you need. They will also assure you end up with the safest, smartest hotel choices. If you’re not certain which trip-planning specialist is right for your trip, or you’re not even sure where you’d like to go, talk to us directly via Ask Wendy and get a personalized recommendation.

To Ask:

  • Rules and requirements are changing quickly nowadays—they may even change while you are en route—so ask your WOW List trip designer what your contingency plans should be. What are the most likely changes to occur at your destination, and how might your plans change as a result? Know your Plan B.
  • Share your specific concerns about Covid-era travel with your WOW List trip designer because he or she will have solutions you have not thought of. Ask, for instance, about hygiene and social-distancing protocols at hotels; how private vehicles are made safe; how museums, monuments, and restaurants are operating, etc.
  • Get the details of your trip planner’s cancellation and refund policy in writing. You’ll want to understand how you are protected, and policies are more flexible than they were pre-pandemic.
  • As your travel date approaches, ask your airline how full your flight is. You might want to change to a less full flight (which often can be done for no fee). Here’s how to choose a smart seat on the plane.

To Pack/Carry:

  • Proof of Covid-19 test results (even if not specifically required by the destination, it’s smart to carry at all times).
  • Masks. And, since cloth masks should be washed often, travel-size packets of Woolite or detergent for hand-washing them at night in your hotel-room sink.
  • Gloves. Try to avoid airline bathrooms; when you must use them, wear gloves. Keep extra pairs of gloves in your day bag for any situations that may arise.
  • Sanitizer and wipes. The TSA allows air travelers to bring 12 ounces in carry-ons now. It’s helpful to pack smaller bottles also, to carry with you in your day bag at your destination, or in case international airports have different liquid allowances.
  • Face Shield for the flight.
  • Snacks. Airlines vary in what food they’re now providing in flight, so be prepared with your own favorites.
  • Comfort accessories, such as a blanket, pillow, and sweater for your flight. The flight you’re on might not offer pillows or blankets, even for sale. And if you keep the air nozzle turned on above you the whole time to help circulate the air, it might get chilly.
  • Passport, travel insurance info, test results, and other travel documents. Print everything out, and keep back-up copies securely in the cloud or on your phone.

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.

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.

Getting a Covid Test Abroad is Easy

Don’t let fear of a required Covid test outside the U.S.—either for a return flight to the U.S. or to cross borders during a multi-country trip—scare you away from overseas travel.

First, all you need for re-entering the U.S. is an antigen test—and that means you can carry an at-home kit with you. If you use one of the international test kits described in How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel, you can self-administer the test from anywhere you can make a video call, and you’ll receive results within one hour. We recommend doing this as early as your flight home allows, so that if you encounter any issues connecting to the telemed visit or obtaining negative results, you have time to test again.

Second, if your trip is being arranged by a local expert, such as those on The WOW List, they know the easiest, fastest ways to get tested locally and will organize it for you. Typically, they’ll arrange for a health-care technician to administer the test at your hotel in the morning, with the results delivered to your mobile phone a few hours later. WOW Listers have been doing this for travelers for a year now—since long before the U.S. even started requiring a test for re-entering. We know this from the trip reviews we receive….

Croatia: “We did not have to worry about a single thing—Ala took care of everything including organizing our covid test for our flight home.” — Jennifer Andrews

Costa Rica: “Pierre and Michael ensured that our trip was stress-free by arranging everything – private transportation, wonderful activities, professional guides, and beautiful lodging. They even arranged for our Covid tests to be taken in San Jose the night before returning to the US.” —Daena Craven

Ecuador: “The details on one of the PCR tests for our US return was incorrect — Allie was able to immediately contact the lab and get a corrected report emailed to us.” —Julie Heimark

Mexico: “We weren’t comfortable going elsewhere to get a COVID test to travel. Our agent was able to easily organize health techs to come to the house to administer the test.” —Garrett Bandy

Kenya: “Even though a negative Covid-19 test was not required for my return trip to Georgia, Julian assisted me and was able to schedule a Covid-19 test prior to leaving Kenya so that I could have a high degree of assurance that I was not infected prior to returning home.” —Jeremy Lynch

Here’s how the WendyPerrin.com team has been handling overseas Covid testing on our own trips this summer:

On Wendy’s August trip to Turkey, the Trusted Travel Expert who arranged her trip could have made things super-easy by having someone come to her hotel one morning before sightseeing to give her the test. But Wendy wanted to try the Abbott BinaxNOW at-home test kits she’d packed. This nasal-swab antigen test took less than 25 minutes. She and her family received the results by email (and a QR code to their apps) immediately, and the hotel’s front desk printed them out so they’d have paper copies.

Billie’s trip to Europe in June required two tests—the first in Greece, so that she could enter France, and the second in Spain, so she could re-enter the U.S. “Both experiences were easy and stress-free,” Billie reports, “although I can’t say it was painless, because no matter how many times I do it, that Q-tip up the nose still smarts.”

Billie’s first test occurred on the Greek island of Paros on June 7. The Greece specialist on The WOW List who booked her trip, Mina Agnos, arranged for a doctor to come to Billie’s hotel before she headed out for a day of touring. He administered the test and emailed the results when they were ready. (The cost: 100 euros.) Billie printed out the results at her hotel, showed the print-out to the attendants at the Air France check-in desk at the Santorini airport, and flew to Paris with no problem.

Billie’s second test was in Madrid on June 15, two days before her flight back to the U.S. “Delta offered a test at the Madrid airport that wasn’t convenient for me, but there was another clinic that was right near my hotel. It had a website in English, simple online booking, and cost only 50 euros. It could not have been easier. The staff spoke English, and I was in and out in less than five minutes. About 20 minutes later, I had the results in my inbox. Again, I asked my hotel to print out the results for me (the lab had, helpfully, returned them in both Spanish and English). I showed the document to the Delta check-in agent at Madrid’s airport. Interestingly, no one at JFK asked to see it.”

Don’t assume that getting a Covid test is harder in remote areas… if those remote areas depend on attracting luxury travelers. When Brook traveled to a private island in the Maldives last October, she needed a test in order to be allowed to stop in Dubai on her way home. Her resort, JOALI Maldives, had a medical clinic where she was swabbed; her sample was picked up by boat and sent across the atoll, and she had her results the next day. The test came to about $250.

In July, Brook headed to Africa on safari. For the required test to enter Zimbabwe, a clinician traveled to the private reserve in Botswana where Brook was staying and carried her sample (along with 19 others she collected that day) back to a lab in the city of Maun. The cost was $330, which included both the clinician’s travel and the test itself. The test didn’t take away one moment of game viewing, as the helicopter touched down right where Brook was having breakfast during her morning game drive.

 



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.

Staying Safe in a Global City: Wendy’s Trip to Istanbul

I’m just back from Istanbul, where I checked out how an iconic global crossroads has learned to manage Covid for the throngs of travelers who have continued coming here almost throughout the pandemic. Unlike the great majority of countries, Turkey has been welcoming international travelers for more than a year now, and when it got ready to vaccinate its citizens, it chose to vaccinate everyone in its travel industry first. This means that everyone who has regular contact with tourists is double-vaccinated. Turkey’s caseload is lower than the caseload back home (Turkey is currently averaging 23 cases per 100,000 people, vs. 47 cases per 100,000 in the U.S.), and its vaccination rate is catching up to that of the United States (57% of Turkey’s population has received one shot, vs. 61% in the US).

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to eat every meal outdoors—in the spring, summer, or fall—and to focus your sightseeing outside too, as the country is an outdoor museum. The first portion of this family trip—our sail in a private boat along the Turquoise Coast—was a Covid-safe experience from start to finish. Istanbul was more challenging: It’s a big, bustling city full of museums, mosques, and other indoor spaces that are tourist magnets, some with single-entry points. Since this was my fifth trip to Turkey, I’ve got a good sense of what’s normal for travelers in Istanbul, which helped as I investigated what’s changed, what hasn’t, what’s open, what’s closed, what’s safe, what’s not, what’s easy, what’s hard, and how to enjoy one of the world’s most vibrant and exotic cities to the max while staying safe. If you’d like to take a trip like mine, or plan one anywhere else in the world, contact us via the black buttons on The WOW List. In the meantime, enjoy my photos!

My number-one hotel tip

Book hotel rooms with balconies (or at least windows that open) for ventilation and where you can eat your breakfast (typically included in your hotel price) outdoors.  It’s easy to eat all your meals outdoors in the spring, summer, or fall. And, of course, spend time in neighborhoods where the throngs of tourists aren’t.  Check out these scenes from our stroll through Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. When there wasn’t enough space on the sidewalks to stay socially distanced, people just walked in the street (which were empty enough for it). Check out our lunch too: We ate indoors, but next to a big window with a strong breeze, at Ismet Baba Fish Restaurant.

At night, we watched sunset turn to night from Mikla restaurant on the roof of The Marmara Pera. In how many restaurants can you sit in Europe and overlook Asia?!

The one indoor thing you do not want to miss

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to do most things in the open air—including dining and sightseeing—but there’s one indoor thing you do not want to miss: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. When we went to the Grand Bazaar, it was mid-afternoon, and the main passageways were crowded, with about 20% of the people not wearing their masks. It was ventilated, though—the windows were open, and cool air was blowing through—and it was pretty easy to quickly access offshoot passageways that were nearly empty and the occasional open-air courtyard (both pictured). My advice:  Go to the Grand Bazaar at 9 am, when the shops start to open and there are the fewest people.

 

And if it gets too crowded…

If the Grand Bazaar gets too crowded, head to safe havens nearby. One block away sits Orient Handmade, a clean, spacious, professional, trusted carpet emporium where we acquired a little souvenir.

 

How to see the Spice Bazaar safely

Thanks to Covid protocols in place, Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar feels safe to me. It wasn’t at all crowded when we went at 10 am. (Go when the shops open in the morning, instead of in the busier afternoons.) The bazaar’s windows were open, and cool air was blowing through. At the entrances are hand disinfectant dispensers, and they check the temperature of every person entering (see demonstration by yours truly). Plus the shops we purchased tea and spices from served us out of sanitized bins in the back, rather than from the display areas up front.

 

 

How to visit Hagia Sophia safely

Hagia Sophia means “holy wisdom,” but when we visited, there were a lot of unwise people inside not wearing masks (about 20%). The mosque was closed for disinfection when we first arrived—apparently they disinfect every couple of hours—and we were told to come back in half an hour. At about 1:00 pm when we returned, it was impossible to stay 1.5 meters away from other people (1.5 meters = 4.9 feet = the social distancing that Turkish signs advise). This was on a Monday in August, so it was a peak day and month. Lesson learned: Go when it’s least crowded, which is first thing in the morning—8 or 9 am—and not on a Friday. (And, given how many people are removing their shoes, remember which shelf you left yours on!)

 

My favorite mosque in Istanbul

The Sülimaniye Mosque has always been my favorite mosque in Istanbul: It’s bright and pretty and peaceful, with panoramic views and airy gardens. When we visited at a peak time for sightseers (midday on a weekday in August), it was uncrowded and well ventilated and felt Covid-safe. By contrast, the Blue Mosque was the most jam-packed and stuffy place we visited in Istanbul, with no social distancing—AND it’s under restoration, so there’s little to see. So, during Covid, you might skip the Blue Mosque in favor of Sülimaniye.

 

What it’s like at Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace! Social distancing wasn’t really possible in the security line, which is the single entry point to the Palace, but it’s a quick line and outdoors. It was better than an airport security line!  After that, the crowd disperses. The arms and relics rooms were hopping, but the Harem and the Sultan’s bedroom were empty. Check out the Topkapi Dagger!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Istanbul on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for complimentary accommodations and transportation in Istanbul. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Karen via my WOW questionnaire. Thanks to my WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers. 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.

What Vaccinated Travelers Do and Do Not Need to Worry About

If you’re vaccinated, what do and don’t you need to worry about when traveling internationally during Covid?  We interviewed Dr. Timothy Triche on this topic on May 4, 2021, during WOW Week, our series of virtual get-togethers addressing today’s most pressing travel questions.  Unlike some of the talking heads we see in the media, Dr. Triche is an experienced world traveler who is able to assess and explain Covid risk in the context of the type of international travel that our sophisticated readers do.  Fast forward the video to 6:45 if you’d like to skip the intros and get straight to the meat and potatoes of our interview.

Dr. Triche is a Professor of Pathology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. He is the Co-Director for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Center for Personalized Medicine and, before that, headed its Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine for 20 years. He has been working on coronavirus solutions since the start of the pandemic. He was responsible for developing the DNA-sequencing-based Covid-testing program at Children’s Hospital/USC Keck School of Medicine, and he is actively engaged in vaccine development efforts designed for use in places like Africa that lack ready access to health care. 

In our conversation, Dr. Triche explained—in clear and understandable language—many topics of concern to travelers, including:

•What variants are, how they spread
•How vaccines offer protection and to what degree
•How to gauge risk in various locations around the world
•Interpreting CDC and State Department warnings
•Air travel risk, including long-haul vs. short flights and airports
•Traveling with unvaccinated children
•Traveling between the first and second dose of vaccine
•The risk factor of cruises

Dr. Triche answered many additional questions, and shared his own travel plans, so be sure to watch the video.

Updates emailed to us by Dr. Triche since his talk:

  • July 28This study helps explain why the Delta variant has become so prevalent: Infected individuals produce far more virus than they would when infected with the original version, making it more transmissible. Dr. Triche points out that “99% of the cases are occurring in unvaccinated persons,” and advises that “the prudent traveler will check before departure and look for adverse trends like rapidly increasing case numbers.”
  • May 26: This study found that people who have been infected with Covid possess long-term immunity that lasts many years.  “If we are lucky, vaccinated individuals will show the same pattern,” says Dr. Triche.  He points out that people who contracted the original SARS virus—the coronavirus identified in 2003—remain immune to it today.  “I’m getting optimistic that this may be like the original SARS story, where people remain immune 18 years later,” says Dr. Triche.
  • May 21:  People in Los Angeles County who have been fully vaccinated have only a 0.03% chance of getting coronavirus.  Of those who become infected after vaccination, the vast majority have no symptoms.  “This is by no means unique to L.A.,” writes Dr. Triche.  “This is what happens in any country with widespread vaccinations.”  A vaccinated traveler’s chance of dying from Covid is about one chance in a million, he adds.
  • May 14:  People in Illinois who have been fully vaccinated have a 0.06% chance of contracting the virus.
  • May 6These numbers show that mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are highly effective against the most worrisome coronavirus variants.
  • May 5These data about long-term immunity help answer the question:  How long will I be protected after vaccination?  No one knows yet, says Dr. Triche, but likely at least the better part of a year or more.  These findings show that even if your antibody levels fall, you are still protected.

Excerpts from the video, edited for clarity and length:

Variants

Q: A lot of people are worried about traveling to a place where there is a variant.  They think, oh my gosh, there’s a new variant in that city—I’d better avoid that entire continent. Which variants do we need to worry about? 

DR. TRICHE:  People keep talking about variants. But they’re confusing two things. There’s lineage—in other words, something that spreads from Person A to Person B—and lineage is also often called a variant. That doesn’t mean nearly as much as the particular constellation of mutations in that lineage or variant. And unfortunately, the variants pick up new mutations over time, and they still call it the same variant. What matters most is the group of mutations in any variant.

The reason this happens is that mutations are like roulette. It’s like going to Las Vegas: Every time that virus makes a copy of itself, there’s a chance it will pick up one of these mutations. If [the mutation] makes it work better from the virus’s viewpoint, it’s going to become common in that population. And so, unfortunately, these mutations are going to happen around the world, over and over, as long as this pandemic goes on.  All that really matters is:  Does it make a difference for your immunity?  And the answer is:  Some mutations diminish your immunity, but they don’t make you non-immune.… Let’s just pretend that it takes 10 million viruses to infect you, even if you were not immune, with a normal strain.… With a bad mutant strain, it might take less than that. Even so, if you’re vaccinated, the chance you would encounter enough viral particles to overcome your immunity is very low, probably less than one chance in 10,000. So, unless you’re in extraordinary circumstances, you’re going to be immune to all the variants in the world right now.

Vaccines, India, Brazil, and South Africa

Q: Are there countries that we should avoid because of a variant?  How comfortable can we be that current vaccines are going to protect us against the variants out there?

DR. TRICHE:  I wouldn’t worry so much about the variants.  Remember, you’re likely immune against all the current variants if you’ve been vaccinated.  It’s just the level of your immunity: Let’s say that your immunity could be measured as five-plus, four-plus, three-plus, two-plus, one-plus. Your immunity for the original variant that the vaccine was made against is five-plus; your immunity for the nastiest variants might be three-plus. However, in this scheme, it takes one-plus to be immune. So you’re covered—it’s just that the coverage is less assured, less guaranteed for some of the nasty variants, depending on your immune system and the magnitude of your exposure. What worries me most is going into an area with a high prevalence of the nasty variants of the virus. Remember, I said earlier, there’s no such thing as an absolute guarantee of immunity for anybody at any time, because it is possible to overwhelm your immune system. I mean, if you drink a quart of viral isolates, you’re probably going to get the disease, regardless of how immune you are, because you’re going to overwhelm your immune system.  What worries me is going into an area where the virus is endemic, everywhere you turn, and you’re getting exposed to it over and over again. I fear that there’s a chance that you’re simply going to overwhelm your immunity. And so I worry less about variants than I do about the local prevalence of the disease. So, back to your first question: Personally, I would not be traveling to Brazil or to India right now. In contrast, South Africa has improved dramatically.

Q: Have they almost reached herd immunity now in South Africa?

DR. TRICHE:  That’s what it looks like, yeah, because the rate of decline in South Africa now is extraordinary and unprecedented. I would never have dreamed this would happen. And there’s really only one explanation. It’s not that suddenly everybody got vaccinated. It’s because they got vaccinated and also so many people got the virus and they are testing and social distancing. I mean, it was rampant, as you know, out in the Cape Town area, and then eventually, throughout South Africa—it just tore through the population. And now it’s in a precipitous decline, which is what you see when you reach herd immunity. So it sure looks like they are, yes.

Q:  As for India, you say that the problem in India was really caused not by the viral strains or mutations, but by human behavior. I mean, isn’t the spread of this virus really, in the end, all about human behavior?

DR. TRICHE:  Absolutely. To be fair, I would say it’s like 95% human behavior and 5% strain. The reason the strain is relevant is because if one version of the virus is more transmissible than the other, that would mean nothing until you pack them into some sort of religious festival with 100,000 people standing next to one another. Guess what happens with the more transmissible variant?  More people will get sick, and it’ll spread through the population more successfully and efficiently. But if the crowd never occurred in the first place, the virus has no place to go. So the combination of a more transmissible virus and a lot of people hanging around together is a real bad combination. And that’s what happened in India:  They had a bunch of religious festivals and political gatherings. And, of course, then it went absolutely exponential.

Air travel

Q: So you want to avoid masses of people. Do you consider airports to be masses of people?

DR. TRICHE:  Not like what we saw in India or Brazil or South Africa.  In an airport, presumably, there are so many safeguards. One of the reasons I think things are going so well in South Africa now is that now they have many, many safeguards in place: You get tested at the airport for positivity, you get tested for symptoms.  Everybody arriving gets tested, everybody leaving gets tested.  When you put those types of measures in place, you limit the possibility of spread. And, let’s be honest, most of the pandemic has been driven by so called “super-spreader events.”  So what you don’t want is the so-called Typhoid Mary—the person who doesn’t know that they are about to come down with it, and they go have dinner with 100,000 people. Guess what happens? 100,000 people now get the virus.…  An airport’s not like that. It is transient exposure, and many people have been cleared. So the probability of there being a problem in a place like an airport is minuscule, compared to a religious festival or political rally.

Q: When people worry about the airplane flight, a big factor they consider is the length of the flight.  Are they right? What are the most important things to consider about an airplane flight to minimize your risk?

DR. TRICHE:  [Worrying about the length of the flight] is like saying, The longer I live on this planet, the greater my probability of getting hit by an asteroid. We don’t spend a lot of time worried about getting hit by an asteroid, do we?  So yes, a longer airplane flight is, by definition, statistically speaking, greater risk, but if the risk is so minuscule — I mean, think about everything you do in life:  If you get in your car and you pull out of the driveway, you are taking a defined risk. If you pull out of your driveway twice, you’re doubling your risk. Do you not drive because of that? No, you drive despite it, right?  Because your perception of risk for driving your car is very low, but, statistically speaking, it’s probably worse than getting on an airplane and taking a four-hour or an eight-hour or ten-hour flight. I mean, people get killed in cars every day, but not that many people have developed COVID from air travel. Relatively speaking, it’s relatively safe.

There have been some exceptions—and that’s what worries everybody—but the exceptions are not the rule. Personally, what I worry about much more is the off-chance that the guy sitting next to me in the middle seat is a Covid carrier, doesn’t know it, and is breathing all over me for the entire flight.  In that case, the fact that I’m wearing my mask, except when I’m eating or drinking, ought to provide adequate protection.  The difference between a four-hour flight and a ten-hour flight is probably minuscule, as opposed to not wearing your face mask…. But again, I emphasize, the odds are very, very low. Because the airlines have obviously gone to extraordinary lengths to clean up the air in the airplanes. It’s far cleaner now than it was pre-COVID, by the way.

Dr. Triche’s own travel plans

Q:  A viewer wants to know when and where is your next international trip?

DR. TRICHE:  My problem right now is our planned trip included a young grandchild who’s not vaccinated. So we are in a bit of a bind right now, because I really don’t want to take her on an international trip until she gets vaccinated.  It looks like that’s going to happen anytime now, so that makes me feel a lot better. For myself, personally, I would not be averse to traveling anytime soon. Again, with all the caveats we said earlier. I’m not going to India or Brazil. And until I know a little bit more about the on-the-ground situation in South Africa—I mean, the numbers are falling precipitously, but I would certainly not want to accidentally land in a hotspot that I didn’t know about.  But, you know, from what I’m hearing and reading, even that’s fair game. And certainly once you get out of the cities—and this would be true of most of Africa—you’re in a situation where, particularly in the lodges (where, from what I understand, all the staff is being tested), that’s an extremely safe environment. So, in situations where you know your destination is being tested, and people are unlikely to be spewing virus all over your dinner plate, I would feel very comfortable. The airplane travel is, I think, far less risky than being exposed to that little minibus ride from the airport with a whole bunch of people in it and you’re wondering if everybody in this bus has been vaccinated and if anybody is a carrier. Those are the scenarios that I would worry more about. I don’t want to be in an enclosed environment that’s not controlled—as opposed to an airplane, for example—for prolonged periods of time, when I don’t know the status of the other people in the vehicle with me. Same reason we’re not eating inside in restaurants right now. Because this virus is spread from person to person. And the only efficient mode of transmission is in a closed environment. If you’re outside, it’s not going to happen. Surface contamination is extraordinarily unlikely. Stay inside in a room with a few people, one of whom is exhaling the virus, and you’ve got a potential problem.

 


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.

white woman traveler portrait Botswana Africa Safari with animals in background

Why 2021 Is the Year to Go on Safari

As we dip our toes back into international travel, you might assume you’re better off avoiding a place like Africa: The variants sound scary, after all, and vaccination rates are low. The local medical infrastructure is stretched thin. And 15 hours is an awfully long time to wear a mask on the flight over. You might also assume you can always take a safari next year or the year after instead.

I weighed all those factors myself this past spring—and then decided to go on safari anyway. Why? I am fully vaccinated with a shot that’s proven to be reasonably effective against current variants (so even if I did get Covid, current medical thinking is that I would most likely not need hospitalization). I’d be spending the bulk of my time outdoors, at remote camps where the staff is regularly tested and has little contact with the cities that host the great majority of Africa’s Covid cases. And I could use the same masking and distancing strategies there that have kept me safe for the past year. For me, the benefits far outweighed the risks.

I’m so glad to have taken advantage of this highly unusual opportunity to go on safari now, while the camps aren’t full but the animals are abundant, and before pent-up demand pushes the cost of a safari even higher than it was before Covid. Every single traveler I met during my time in Botswana and Zimbabwe was grateful to have made the same decision, with any anxiety they might have felt beforehand evaporating on that first game drive.

In fact, I returned home convinced that anyone who has a safari on their bucket list should go this year. Here’s why:

You’re outdoors the whole time.

On safari, almost everything you do is outdoors. Meals…
Sundowners...
Game drives.
Even the vehicles are open-air.
Baboon behavior is fascinating to watch—and so reminiscent of human interactions.
Botswana's birdlife is varied and numerous; here, a saddle-billed stork takes flight.
This white rhino is a benefactor of Great Plains Conservation's relocation project, which aims to protect the animals from poachers. (That's why its horns have been cut.)
It felt like I had the bush all to myself—and I very nearly did.

 

Aside from airports and a few van rides, every moment I spent with others during my time in Africa was in the open air—much of it on glorious game drives and breezy boating safaris. I stayed at Duba Plains Camp and Selinda Camp in Botswana, and at the Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe; in each, the main lounge area had a canvas or thatch roof and no walls, allowing for excellent air circulation. Meals were all outdoors too; in Botswana, dinners were even brought to my private deck to get around the country’s ban on public alcohol consumption. (Rest assured, the safari guides are still happy to serve sundowners in the bush to cap off your afternoon game drive.)

There is no crowding of safari vehicles.

Before Covid, many of Africa’s most popular places and experiences were being pushed to their limits. But this year, in places like the Ngorongoro Crater or the Masai Mara—particularly during the Great Migration in August and September—it will be far easier to see the animals without other vehicles invading your view. I even met travelers who got their own private trek to see the gorillas in Rwanda. Such exclusivity would normally cost $15,000 but was theirs for free, simply because not all the permits had been sold the day they trekked.

You can book something at the last minute.

At Victoria Falls, I had this natural wonder of the world nearly all to myself too.
The paths and viewpoints that are usually packed with tourists were almost completely empty. I saw only 10 other people in the hour that I spent there.
I also made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buzz the falls by helicopter!
In any other year, I’d have had to reserve rooms at the small camps I visited at least a year in advance. But everywhere I went there were available rooms. At Selinda Camp in northern Botswana, I arrived by boat.
Common spaces at the camps I visited were all open-air; here is the library at Duba Plains Camp.
My tent at Duba Plains Camp had a plunge pool that overlooked the Okavango Delta.
My "tent" at Selinda Camp had hardwood floors and a copper bathtub.

 

I’d been captivated by the reviews we’ve received over the past year of safaris planned by WOW Lister Julian Harrison. So once I was fully vaccinated, I enlisted Julian’s help to plan my own trip. After hearing that he’d soon be heading to Botswana himself and could scope out the situation on the ground, I made that my main destination. In any other year, I’d have had to reserve rooms at the small camps I visited at least a year in advance. But everywhere I went, there were empty rooms.

Availability for 2022 is already hard to come by at many safari camps and lodges, since so many 2020 and 2021 bookings have been postponed. Right now may be your only chance to plan a safari and not have to wait years to actually travel. (And with camps eager to attract guests, you may also be able to strike a deal and get an extra night or a helicopter ride for free; that certainly won’t be the case next year.)

The local staff are so happy to see you.

Everyone from safari guides to airport workers told me how grateful they were to see travel picking up again.

Some travelers who are thinking about a safari worry that their presence at a lodge could increase the health risk to local staff, by bringing them into closer contact with coworkers and travelers. Every time I brought this up with the people I encountered during my trip, the response was the same: For them, the ability to earn a living greatly outweighed the risk of getting sick. Everyone from safari guides to airport workers told me how grateful they were to see travel picking up again. Many are supporting not just themselves but also extended family—and bringing the strict health protocols followed in camps back to their local villages.

The animals are not skittish.

I wondered if the animals would be more skittish right now, with so few vehicles around in the last year. Clearly they are not—the lions weren't bothered by us at all.
That's a white rhino in the middle of the road.
We watched a lion pup eat its lunch (zebra tartare).
This elephant pulled plants up from the roots, then swished them around in the water to clean off any dirt before eating them.
These oxpeckers are feasting on insects they find in the zebra's coat.
African wild dogs are one of the world's most endangered mammals. My safari guide knew where one pack's den was, so we got to spend more than an hour with them.
The common warthog—so ugly it's cute.
A lone wildebeest at sunset.

 

I wondered whether, after more than a year without vehicles around, the animals might be shy. They weren’t. I’ve never been as close to African wildlife as I was on this trip. While it was easy to socially distance from the few other guests at my camps, my six-foot bubble was frequently tested by lions, elephants, and even endangered wild dogs. One reason for this? The camps Julian chose for me are located in private concessions, where the animals have never been spooked by erratic, inexperienced drivers or great clusters of vehicles.

You’re keeping the poachers away.

When the world shut down in spring 2020, conservationists worried that poachers would seize the opportunity to get their hands on rhino horns and elephant tusks. The best-run camps developed systems to maintain a presence on their lands—but I also heard stories of interlopers taking up residence at camps that were left empty during the lockdown. As places reopen and game drives become a daily routine once again, the presence of travelers among the animals is essential to driving those poachers away.

The required Covid tests are easy.

tourist and safari guide in Botswana plain with helicopter landing to administer covid test on game drive

Selinda Camp arranged for a nurse to fly to me during my game drive to administer my Covid test.

For the test I needed before my trip, I made an appointment at a local clinic that promised same-day results. A mail-in kit would have been easier, but I wanted to take a single test with a quick enough turnaround time that I could use it for both my overnight layover in Johannesburg, and for entry into Botswana the next day. You can find both in-person and at-home options here.

Botswana also requires a free rapid test on arrival. Julian made sure I was seated in the first row of economy on my flight from Joburg, so that when I arrived at the Maun airport, I was among the first to be tested. About 10 minutes later, I had my negative result and was on my way.

To enter Zimbabwe (and to later get back into the U.S.) I needed a third test, which Julian assured me would be arranged by my camp’s staff. In Botswana, a nurse flies from camp to camp, testing travelers and bringing the swabs back to a lab in Maun. At some camps, that could mean missing a morning game drive while you await the nurse’s arrival—but not at Selinda Camp, where Julian had me stay. Not wanting to diminish their guests’ experience, the managers there have arranged for the helicopter to land at a designated spot deep in the bush. When I headed out on my morning game drive the morning of my test, my safari guide planned the route so that we were having breakfast right where and when the helicopter touched down. A nurse hopped out and took samples from my nose and throat; the results were emailed to my airline the following morning. The test cost $330—but considering what people pay for a WOW-worthy safari, it’s money well spent not to miss a moment with the animals you came all this way to see.

The airports are empty.

tourist woman standing in Johannesburg South Africa airport with no crowds around during pandemic

There were no crowds in the Johannesburg airport.

If you’ve flown domestically this summer, you’ve probably noticed that U.S. airports are a zoo: long check-in lines, big TSA queues, packed gate areas. But at all four African airports I flew through, social distancing was a breeze, with wide-open terminals and more employees than travelers.

Ready to plan your own 2021 trip to Africa?

There are a number of safari specialists whose strengths you can read about on The WOW List; all of those experts are following entry requirements and camp operations closely so that their traveler’s trips are low-hassle. If you’re not sure which one will be the right fit for you, click the black button before for a personalized recommendation.

Ask us for a safari recommendation

 

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Southern Africa on your behalf, WOW Lister Julian Harrison arranged for complimentary stays at Duba Plains Camp and Selinda Camp in Botswana, and at Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe.

 

View of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Places to See in 2021—Before The Tour Groups Return

We’re all trying to choose travel destinations that are Covid-safe, relatively easy, and well worth it. But some of us are looking for something even more: places that will deliver a better experience and greater value this year than next.  We travel opportunists are focused on those locales that are uncrowded and affordable now, relative to what they will be in 2022 and 2023 once millions more prospective tourists have been vaccinated and the bus tours and cruise groups return. Such locales include many popular Mediterranean coastlines and islands, as well as certain European cultural capitals and iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you’re comfortable with international travel this year, here are ten of our top picks for locales we think you’re better off experiencing now rather than waiting.

ASK WENDY TO RECOMMEND THE BEST TRIP FOR YOU

 

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

To experience the Amalfi Coast properly is to drive it without tour buses blocking your views and jamming traffic on the hairpin turns, to awaken each morning to breakfast on your own private balcony with panoramic sea views, and even to have your own dock so you can get around the traditional way—by boat.  Normally it’s not possible to get all that for less than 1,000 euros per night, so go while you can.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

As it has grown into a hub for European river cruises that start and end there, Amsterdam has gotten more and more absurdly crowded. Go when you’re not shut out of tickets to the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and every charming boutique hotel.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is normally a major gateway for Mediterranean cruises, with tens of thousands of passengers embarking and disembarking daily. But here’s what Billie found when she was there in June: Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships. She was rewarded with rare experiences like this.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

This tiny, walled, medieval city is normally inundated in summertime with cruise-ship crowds. Since Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar, and virtually all of Croatia is one big outdoor museum, it feels Covid-safe in addition to being cruise-free right now, and that’s why travelers are loving it this year.

Egypt

The pyramids and tombs along the Nile are usually jam-packed with tour groups from around the globe who’ve come to see the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.  Billie is planning to get there before the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, now expected in late 2021 and sure to draw a big international crowd.

Greece

Santorini and other iconic Greek islands are blissfully peaceful this summer without the usual flotilla of cruise ships. Billie was there in June and also in Athens, where logistics at the Acropolis are much easier than usual. Read her article What Athens Is Like Right Now, as well as The Time to Go to Paros is Now and Naxos is the Greek Island You’ve Been Looking For. For more ideas, read recent Greece trip reviews.

Paris

Normally you’ll find tourists from around the world standing in line for hours at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. Today, such lines don’t exist. Read Billie’s article Paris Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss It and check out recent traveler reviews describing how uncrowded the city’s sights are now.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The ancient Incan citadel is currently seeing 900 visitors per day, versus 2,500 pre-pandemic (it’s at 40% capacity).  I personally know three very well-traveled people who have enjoyed spectacular trips to Peru in 2021 and felt safe throughout. Contact us at Ask Wendy for information on how to do it.

Venice, Italy

The sinking island city is the place in Italy that is most threatened by masses of tourists all disgorged at once from cruise ships. The good news is that large cruise ships have been banned. Tour groups are likely to come in droves again in 2022, though, and space in Venice is always at a premium, so carpe diem!

 


 

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.

teenager at airport at night wearing mask and looking at 2 phones

Tips for Surviving This Summer’s Flight Delays

After my fifth flight this summer, I wanted to share some tips for other people flying in the U.S. now because U.S. airports and airplanes are like the wild west. Anything can happen, and you may need to fend for yourself. Expect long waits, lines, closed services, and staff shortages.

Every flight I’ve taken during Covid (including my first one back in June 2020) has been delayed at least an hour and a half, and multiple times we’ve been on a six-hour flight for nine or ten hours. They may not serve drinks or food on the plane, and many shops and restaurants in the airports are closed, which means you might be thirsty or hungry for long periods of time. I’ve seen long lines for lost luggage, so do not pack anything with significant value. On a flight from San Francisco to New York, we were diverted to Cleveland and stuck on the tarmac for two hours in the middle of the night because there was nobody in the airport who had the proper certification to operate the gate. They had to go wake someone up at their house. The next morning, we had to stand in line for a paper boarding pass to get back onto our flight, since none of the check-in machines worked and we had to see an agent (who spent 25 minutes trying to get a dog ticketed for another flight). Our TSAPre didn’t work with the paper ticket either. In addition, boarding was alphabetical because they didn’t have a scanner at the gate.

Based on the flight problems I’ve seen and experienced this summer, here is my advice for families headed to the airport:

1. Bring two different types of masks that sit on your face differently. Because you could be in your mask for a very long time. From entering the airport to exiting your destination airport, it may be many hours before you can get outside again.

2. Pack for any climate. You could land in a place where the climate is completely different from where you expected to land. The air temperature on the plane can vary greatly too. So, if you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt, bring long pants and a hoodie. And always have a spare toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on.

3. You might not have access to food when you want it, so bring enough snacks to last you. We were stuck on a plane for more than nine hours (on a five-hour flight) with basic snacks served early in the flight. A lot of airport shops aren’t open yet or are closed when you’re there. Especially if you need special foods like gluten-free or vegan, bring it with you!

4. Expect your flight time to change at the last minute. It could likely change multiple times. Make sure you’re getting notifications from your airline to your phone. We were getting updates on the phone while the pilot said she was getting none.

5. For long delays in the gate area, quickly find a spot off the floor where you can lie flat. Quickly because you may find yourself in competition with 250 other passengers. We found a very wide padded windowsill where we could sleep. Or at least lie flat and keep our carry-ons with us.

6. Use the restroom right before you get on the plane. Because of delays on the tarmac, you may not be able to get up from your seat for a long time after takeoff. You may be stuck in your seat for a while after landing too, because they’re trying to find a gate for your plane. So use it again before the landing process starts and the seatbelt sign goes on.

7. If you land in a different location than expected, don’t rely on the airline for anything. Be prepared to find your own hotel room and transportation to it. We were on the last plane to divert from Newark, so the other planes had gotten all the hotel rooms near the airport. The airline made an announcement that we all had to figure it out for ourselves because every room near the airport was booked. (They gave us a paper that stated their reimbursement policy of approx. $200 per passenger.) My older brother Charlie managed to find us a room in Cleveland at 1:00 a.m. because he searched for one downtown, farther away. He got us an Uber to get there. At the hotel, he had to explain our situation to the night manager so that she would waive the two-night minimum stay.

8. Don’t assume you’re getting back on the same plane you took off on. When you leave a plane, take everything with you. And make sure your bags have your mobile phone number on them, in case they get lost.

9. Fly nonstop when you can. On each delayed flight, the only thing that made it better was that we didn’t have to catch a connecting flight. A lot of people missed their connecting flights. So take nonstop flights when you can. And if you’re flying to an event you can’t miss—like a wedding or boarding a cruise ship—you might want to fly a day early.

As for our night in Cleveland, we wish we’d had either much more time there (to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or a Cleveland Indians game) or much less.

 


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers. 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.

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.

castle on green hill overlooking Douro River in Portugal with text Europe's Latest Reopening Where You can go and what it will be like

Europe’s Latest Reopenings: Where You Can Go and What It Will Be Like

Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Malta, Germany, the Czech Republic—so many countries in Europe have just opened or are about to. If you’re vaccinated, right now is a uniquely enjoyable and fun moment for experiencing these places without the usual tourist crowds and with a warm welcome from virtually everyone you meet. In this live Q&A, we talked about how to make your Europe trip easy and special.

You can watch the full Q&A above.

These were the over-arching takeaways:

  • Covid-related logistics—such as testing requirements, flight schedule changes, hotel availability, car rental—are much easier to handle than you might imagine. Based on what Wendy’s hearing from travelers, logistics and service levels are much better in Europe than in the U.S. this summer so far. Of course, such logistics are hugely diminished, or eliminated entirely, if you use the right local fixer who has the knowledge and resources on the ground. Just ask your fellow travelers.
  • Countries that are usually packed are experiencing a unique crowd-free moment.
  • There is value to be had if you travel now. In Portugal, for example, prices have dropped for 2021, but not for 2022.

You can read about Billie’s experiences in Greece, France, and Spain this month here:

As journalists, it’s our job to review and road-test trip designers—that’s how we curate The WOW List, and it’s how we make recommendations to you. You can reach out to the right local fixer for your needs by using Wendy’s WOW List of road-tested trip planners around the world. If you contact them this way, they’ll know you’re a VIP sent by Wendy, you’ll get all the benefits that come with that, and you can start your way to earning a WOW Moment from Wendy (a complimentary, exclusive, insider travel experience).

The travel specialists featured in our talk were:

•Portugal – Gonçalo Correia
Read reviews of Goncalo, and contact him through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Switzerland – Nina Müller
Read reviews of Nina, and contact her through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Malta – Damon Camilleri Allan
Read reviews of Damon, and contact him through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

•Italy – Jennifer Virgilio
Read reviews of Jennifer, and contact her through The WOW List to be marked as a VIP

Covid-era travel intel and articles:

Many of you also had questions about other topics, and you can find answers in the following videos and articles, as well as in our special Covid-19 section of WendyPerrin.​com where all this intel is collected.

Thanks again to all who joined us and to all of you who are watching now. Sign up for our newsletter for info on our next talk, and please share our videos and articles with a friend who loves travel. Together we can figure out how to do it as smartly, safely, and meaningfully as possible. —Wendy, Brook, Billie, and Kristine

 


 

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.

 



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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.

 



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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.”



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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 



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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.

plain open ocean looking out to the horizon

Cruises: When Can We Sail Again? How Will It Be Different?

This summer ships will be sailing again—in the Caribbean, in the Greek Islands, on European rivers, on Alaska’s coast—and maybe out of other U.S. ports too. In this live Q&A, cruise specialists on The WOW List and cruise journalist Carolyn Spencer Brown told us how cruise lines, both large and small, are wooing travelers back onboard, putting new safety standards in place, and changing both onboard and shoreside experiences.

Our conversation touched on so many interesting aspects of what travelers can expect from the cruise experience, including:

•How cruise lines are wooing travelers back

•New safety measures on large and small ships and river cruises

•How limited capacity and fewer ships will affect availability

•How the onboard experience is changing on large and small ships

•What shore excursions will be like going forward

•Covid logistics for multi-country cruises

•Onboard testing

•Cruise lines’ vaccination and documentation requirements

•Mask requirements onboard and on shore excursions

•When to cruise

•Where to cruise

•Christmas market cruises

•Alaska cruises and whether they can make stops in Canada

•Small expedition cruises

•The cruises that are already operating in the U.S.

•How the pandemic has created opportunities for the cruise industry as a whole to improve

The panelists:

Carolyn Spencer Brown, former editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com who’s now at Carolynspencerbrown.com

Tom Baker, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises, including Large Ships, Luxury Ships, and River Cruises. (Read reviews of Tom here.)

Ashton Palmer, WOW List Trusted Travel Expert for Small-Ship Expedition Cruises, Antarctica, and the Arctic. (Read reviews of Ashton here.)

More Q&A videos:

You’ll find the Zoom recordings of our previous travel Q&As in our new Travel Talk Videos section, including Q&As on last-minute trips, what vaccinated travelers do and don’t need to worry about, and understanding travel insurance in this new era. And, if you’d like to travel this summer while minimizing your risk and maximizing your experience, you’ll find wise solutions via Ask Wendy. We know which places are safest and smartest, and which local fixers can ensure an easy and extraordinary trip. Check out these recent international trip reviews to understand the huge difference that this makes


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.

Understanding Travel Insurance in the Covid Era: What you need and where to get it


We’ve gotten so many questions about travel insurance during Covid that we devoted one of our WOW Week travel talks to the topic. The WendyPerrin.com team was joined by three experts on travel insurance and evacuation assistance: Stan Sandberg of travelinsurance.com, Meghan Walch of insuremytrip.com, and Sheri Howell of Medjet. Below are the top six takeaways from our talk, and you can watch the full video above.

Many travel insurance plans have added coverage for pandemics.

Before Covid, it was standard for insurance plans to exclude coverage due to an epidemic or pandemic. Now, some plans—but not all of them—are treating Covid like any other medical illness; they will cover trip cancellation or interruption due to Covid, or medical bills if you are diagnosed with it during your trip. To confirm your policy’s particular coverage, read the disclosures or speak with an agent before you purchase.

Standalone medical coverage is cheap.

Most travelers are looking for a “comprehensive” travel insurance policy: one that covers their nonrefundable trip payments plus any medical expenses that arise during travel. If your main concern is covering illness or injury, you can save hundreds of dollars by foregoing coverage for trip cancellation or interruption. (Annual policies generally only provide medical coverage, and are a good option if you take more than four trips per year.)

For insurance that covers preexisting medical conditions or allows you to “cancel for any reason,” act quickly.

These pieces of coverage are time-sensitive, which means that you’re only eligible for them if you purchase your policy within 10 to 21 days (depending on the carrier) of making your first trip deposit. For more details on “cancel for any reason” insurance, see “Cancel For Any Reason” CFAR Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It Works.
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Travel insurance typically covers default of a hotel or other supplier, but not of a travel agency.

Say you put down a deposit for a reservation at a hotel that subsequently goes out of business. Many plans will cover you for financial default of a hotel. However, if your deposit is being held by a travel agency or other intermediary that goes under, your insurance might not reimburse you. To confirm that your financial investment is protected, speak with a representative of the insurance provider whose policy you plan to purchase and explain your specific situation. Click here to read more about travel insurance coverage for financial default.

If travel insurance is the cake, evacuation assistance that gets you back home is the icing.

If you have a medical emergency, most policies will cover your transportation to the nearest acceptable medical facility. If you fall off a horse at a ranch in Argentina, that could mean an ambulance ride to Buenos Aires. If you want to be transported back home, you need additional coverage from a program such as Medjet: Once you are hospitalized, they will transport you back home to the hospital of your choice. See also What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?

Don’t buy the insurance your airline tries to sell you when you book your flights.

Travel insurance is not one-size-fits-all. Use a comparison site such as travelinsurance.com or insuremytrip.com to search for the most cost-effective policies that best fit your particular needs, with the coverage limits you want.

There was a lot more great info shared by our travel-insurance experts; watch the video above to hear it all. And for a primer on the basics of travel insurance, read this article.

 

 

 

Close-up on a red closed sign in the window of a shop displaying the message "Closed due to Covid-19".

How to Protect Yourself in Case a Travel Company You Pay Goes Out of Business

Travel planning these days often requires that you make a large, non-refundable, advance payment. Here’s how to protect your investment:

Does travel insurance protect me if a travel company ceases operations?

Some comprehensive travel insurance policies will reimburse you for trip cancellation or interruption due to bankruptcy or financial default of your travel supplier: an airline, cruise line, or tour operator, for example. Many such policies will not cover you, however, if the company you used to book your trip—a travel agency or other intermediary—goes out of business. This is one area where policies differ widely, so to confirm that your financial investment is protected, speak with a representative of the insurance provider whose policy you plan to purchase and explain your specific situation.

When do I need to purchase this insurance?

Within a couple of weeks after putting down your deposit toward a trip. One reason why is that coverage for financial default may be activated only if you buy insurance within 10 to 21 days (depending on the policy) after making your initial trip payment. You also usually can’t file a claim for cancellation due to financial default until 10 to 14 days after you’ve purchased the policy. Note that you may not be covered if your trip is years out: Some policies limit financial-default claims to trips taken within 12 or 15 months of purchasing your insurance.

Will the policy offered by my cruise line protect me if the cruise line goes out of business?

No. Some travel companies—cruise lines, tour operators, and such—sell their own insurance or “protection” policies. The premiums may seem attractive, but you will not be covered if that company financially defaults. Instead, you need the protection of third-party insurance—meaning, a policy written by someone other than the travel company that is operating your trip.

Am I protected if I pay by credit card?

If you don’t receive an item or service that you paid for by credit card, you can dispute that particular charge. But what if your airline goes under the day before your trip and you can’t find another way to get to your destination, so you’re out the $5,000 you spent on nonrefundable hotel reservations? In that case, your credit card provider will credit you the cost of the flights, but it won’t help with the hotel stays (because the hotels are still operating). A travel insurance policy with a financial-default clause, however, will cover all of your losses because you were forced to cancel your entire trip.

For more guidance on the right insurance for your particular needs, read How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It.

 

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.

 

coastal town Vieste Italy with text that says Italy's reopening what travelers can expect

Italy’s Reopening: What Travelers Can Expect

 

Everyone loves Italy, but what will it really be like now that it’s reopening to travelers? We gathered  Italy trip-planning specialists who live and work there for a live Q&A on May 12, 2021.  The event was part of our series of live travel talks. (You can watch previous talks here, and find out about upcoming talks by signing up here. For full details about Italy’s opening plans and “Covid-tested” quarantine-free flights, see “The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There“).

The big takeaways: Travelers can still do the things they love, they can cook outdoors, they can visit wineries and olive groves, they can go to Capri and the islands, they can rent a villa, they can explore the historical sights and museums, they will likely even be able to see the opera. But all five of our guests emphasized that the minute U.S. travelers are allowed in, the most charming hotels and in-demand experiences for summer will fill up fast, given the capacity restrictions in place for safety. So if you’re thinking of going, stop thinking and start planning.

You can reach out to any of the travel specialists featured in our talk by using Wendy’s WOW List of road-tested trip planners around the world. If you contact them this way, they’ll know you’re a VIP sent by Wendy, you’ll get all the benefits that come with that, and you can start your way to earning a WOW Moment from Wendy (a complimentary, exclusive, insider travel experience).

Here’s how you can reach them. If you’re not sure who will be the right planner for your trip, write to us at Ask Wendy. As journalists, it’s our job to review and road-test trip designers—that’s how we curate The WOW List, and it’s how we make recommendations to you.

WOW List–recommended Italy specialists

Andrea Grisdale  — Italy
Read reviews of Andrea, and contact her through The WOW List

Jennifer Virgilio – Italy and France
Read reviews of Jennifer, and contact her through The WOW List

Maria Landers + Brian Dore – Italy and Switzerland
Read reviews of Maria and Brian, and contact them through The WOW List

Marcello Baglioni  – Sicily
Read reviews of Marcello, and contact him through The WOW List

Your Italy questions, answered

  • Will tourist sites require a vaccine? 4:54
  • How do travelers get the required covid test before they come back to the US? 5:57
  • Are the country’s trains running normally? 6:45 (also 55:25)
  • Andrea’s summer pick 8:32
  • How is the situation on Capri? 8:48
  • What is it like in Rome? Are sights, restaurants, and museums open? 9:47
  • Jennifer’s summer pick 15:53
  • How have Umbria and Tuscany been affected? 17:54
  • What is the outlook for cultural events, such as festivals and concerts? 21:29
  • Are culinary experiences and cooking trips still possible? 23:42
  • Villa vacation rentals: where do you recommend, is everything already booked? 27:07
  • What are the pros and cons of renting a villa in Tuscany at this moment? 28:45
  • Is it possible to stay in a castle in Italy? 30:50
  • The benefits of renting a villa in the wintertime for the holidays 32:39
  • What it the best time this year to visit Sicily? 34:23
  • What would it be like to take a boat and visit the Aeolian Islands now? 37:55
  • Are the restrictions the same on Sicily as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • The dates for Italy’s expected opening 40:15  (for the latest updates, check The Countries That Are Open to U.S. Travelers and What You’ll Find There)
  • What will be accepted as proof of vaccination? 41:49
  • What are the mask rules in Italy? 43:41
  • What do you know about traveling from other EU countries to Italy? 44:40
  • Can you explain the “Covid-free flight” to Italy? 46:10
  • How is the vaccination program going in Italy? 50:19
  • Would you recommend Puglia, Sicily, or the Lakes region as less crowded (but equally or more interesting in terms of food and culture) than Florence, Rome, or Naples? 51:10
  • Are the restrictions in Italy the same as they are on the mainland? 54:28
  • Is it realistic to expect the authentic Italian experience in 2021? 56:26
  • New hotels and renovations 1:02:01
  • What happens if someone gets sick on a trip, will tourists have difficulties receiving medical care if necessary? 1:05:57
  • Recommendations for Italian winter holiday trips 1:08:03

 


Learn about our upcoming live Q&A travel talks

We will be doing more travel talks on specific destinations as they open and other timely topics, and our newsletter is where you’ll hear about them, so be sure to sign up. We send it 1-2/week and it’s always personally written by Wendy, Brook, or Billie — no spam. You can find our already published Zoom recordings here.


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.

Where to Travel in 2021: What’s open, what’s worth it

Every week more countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, but which will deliver a Covid-era experience you’ll be happy with?  We asked our WOW Listers based around the world to share on-the-ground intelligence in a live conversation and Q&A on May 3, 2021. During this WOW Week talk, they shared smart options for travelers and weighed in on whether you’re better off going soon, or later this year, or next year instead.

The hour was packed with valuable trip-planning insights, which we’ve outlined here for quick reference.  Watch the video above for the full conversation (start at 3:25, which is when viewers had arrived and we got started in earnest.)  For a complete list of the countries that are open to U.S. travelers now, click here.  And for a list of the countries where vaccinated U.S. travelers can go with no pre-trip testing required, click here.

North America

The most popular U.S. national parks will be packed this summer. Forward the video to 10:40 to learn about lesser-known yet spectacular national parks.  Read reviews of superb national-park trips that our readers have taken during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to ensure your own national-parks trip is extraordinary.

To hear about Colorado ski resorts in summertime (where you’ll find 5-star hotels at 3-star prices) and Hawaii specials, skip to 13:10. Read reviews of exciting ski-resort and tropical-resort vacations during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a five-star mountain or beach vacation.

To learn how to visit Disney World safely, skipping the lines and enjoying private experiences, forward the video to 16:10.  Read reviews of Disney trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward Disney trip.

For Alaska by small expedition ship (think Glacier Bay all to yourself, with no large cruise ships and everyone on your ship vaccinated), skip to 17:45.  Use our questionnaire for a low-risk Alaska adventure.

To learn about safe travel to Mexico, with no pre-trip Covid testing required, skip to 20:47.  Read reviews of successful Mexico trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Tropical Islands

Think Belize for Caribbean beaches, coral reefs, and boating adventures, and forward the video to 25:00. Read reviews of Belize trips during the pandemic so you can understand why we’re recommending it so highly, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, low-hassle trip there.

If your dream is a private overwater bungalow in Tahiti or Bora Bora, skip to 28:30 to learn how French Polynesia has kept Covid cases low. Read reviews of these islands during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to get your own extraordinary experience of French Polynesia.

To learn about safe sailing in the Galapagos Islands, with few other boats around, skip to 32:00. Read reviews of Galapagos trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

Pre-Covid-style private-island idylls in the Maldives are addressed at 36:14. Read about Brook’s trip to the Maldives during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

“Outdoor Museums”: A Unique Moment for Iconic Sights Without the Crowds

Soak up Croatia‘s medieval walled towns and charming islands, minus the tour groups and cruise hordes that normally pack the streets in summertime.  Learn more at 48:06.  Read reviews of carefully planned Croatia trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Turkey‘s legendary archaeological sites are all but empty, no tour groups or cruise crowds in sight.  Watch the video at 50:42, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Turkey trip.

In Morocco,  you can stroll the winding alleyways in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez with few people around and enjoy private, plush, well-ventilated villas, with external entrances off charming courtyards, at a great value. Watch at 1:16:08, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Morocco trip.

Egypt has few visitors at its tombs and temples now, and you can spend most of your time outdoors, sailing in feluccas along the Nile and dining al fresco. Skip to 1:13:10 to learn more, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Egypt trip.

African Safaris: If You’re Vaccinated, an Optimal Moment is Actually Right Now

A well-constructed Kenya safari can be safe from start to finish, with physical distancing, private vehicles, standalone accommodations, and abundant wildlife throughout.  Local infections are low in much of Africa, and in Victoria Falls, the gateway to Zimbabwe, the entire local population has been vaccinated.  Watch at 1:03:18 and read reviews of safe safaris during the pandemic. Then use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, extraordinary safari.

In Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, private and socially-distanced experiences are easily had now, and you will pay much less this year than next. (As we learned from professor of pathology Dr. Timothy Triche in our to-be-published-soon WOW Week Zoom talk on May 4, the situation in South Africa has improved dramatically, it looks like herd immunity has been reached there, and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the South Africa variant.)  Watch at 1:05:50, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward safari.

Western Europe: Summer and Fall Possibilities

Consider France in the fall, once the summer crowds from other European countries have dissipated.  Forward the video to 41:20, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to France.

Italy’s iconic museums and monuments, as well as transportation around the country, are all operating at reduced capacity, so book ahead to get the timing you want. A WOW trip should be feasible starting in July. Watch at 56:10, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to Italy.

Fall is a lovely time for Italy’s many outdoor delights, from ancient ruins to village-to-village hikes to cooking experiences on farms and in vineyards. Skip to 59:00 and use our questionnaire for safe itineraries in Italy’s countryside this fall.

Thanks to the success of the vaccination roll-outs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, travel without quarantine could resume between the two countries as early as this summer. Watch at 1:01:17, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to the U.K.



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.

Smarter Airline Travel in 2021: Best flights, seats, and fares

 

In one of our travel talks for WOW Week 2021, air travel watchdogs Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff , founder of View From the Wing and Book Your Award, revealed what you can expect from airlines and airfares this year, when to buy your tickets, how to choose the safest flights, where to find business-class bargains, how to get the most value for your miles, and much more.

Our conversation included:

• Airfare pricing trends
• Domestic airfare vs. international airfare
• Business-class deals
• How frequent-flier programs have changed
• Airlines’ change fees and refund policies
• Health and safety while flying
• Airfare predictions for holiday travel in 2021
• Buying tickets through an online service vs. the airline or a travel agent

Here are excerpts from our talk; answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Airfare price predictions

Brett Snyder: It’s been an interesting roller coaster over the last year, to say the least. What we’re seeing with airfare now is that, as demand is starting to get a lot stronger domestically, a lot of those deals that we saw just a few months ago aren’t there anymore. There are still deals to be had, of course, depending on when you’re flying, but for the most part, fares are rising domestically.  Internationally, it’s a bit more of a crapshoot. I would say that, to some places that we know Americans can visit this year, it’s unlikely you’re going to find these amazing deals right now, and the airlines know that—they know where you can go.  But what we have seen a lot of is refundable fares that are much lower than they used to be in a lot of places. And that is really a nice option for people. The difference between non-refundable and refundable used to be so ridiculous that it just wasn’t worth considering. But that’s something that’s changed a lot. So, on the whole, if you see a hot destination where people are going, the chances are less that you’re going to get a better deal than if you’re going to somewhere else.

Gary Leff:  The general principle is the same that it’s always been: Where the price of airfare is driven by supply and demand, and where there are a lot of people wanting to travel somewhere, it’s going to cost more to get there. Back in March, I was able to buy $31 tickets from Austin, where I live, to Miami.  I’m not able to do anything like that anymore.  Airlines are going to scale back up their capacity—they’re beginning to do that over the next few weeks.  If the return of travel continues, as it seems highly likely to, we’re going to see airfares rise as well.

To Brett’s point about refundable tickets being cheaper:  There are deals on business-class tickets, but it varies by destination.  One of the things that’s changed is who’s traveling: The people who used to buy refundable tickets aren’t the ones who are traveling now or they’re not the ones buying the tickets for work. The people who were buying long-haul business class don’t have employers paying for it for business travel. And so there’s a compression as well to some extent. About a week ago, there were $900 roundtrips on TAP Air Portugal business class between the US and Europe. Now, that was a deal worth jumping on. It was before we saw some of the latest news about Europe’s opening.  United shared during their earnings call that, as soon as the word came out that Americans could visit Greece, the number of searches on their website skyrocketed, and the number of ticket purchases on their Athens flights skyrocketed. So, if you’re going where everyone else is going and searching where everyone else is searching, then it’s going to be more expensive, but not necessarily more expensive than it was before the pandemic. So we sort of need to attenuate our expectations. It’s not the $13 cross-country fares that we saw a year ago. But it is not outsized expense, relative to the past.

Bargain-hunting for international flights

Brett: It all goes back to supply and demand again, for the most part, but sometimes foreign airlines have mandates and just decide to do things that are less market-based than you’ll find from U.S. airlines. If China ever opens again, I would expect there would be a flood of low fares on the Chinese carriers. … Europe is a little bit tougher.

Gary: If you’re buying tickets now, you’re making a bet on the future. And certainly things have not always played out the way they’ve been expected to play out over the last year. And in COVID, we think we know what direction things are going,…but you’re making a bet on reopening and staying open. So it is certainly the case that you would be more inclined to have tickets on a carrier with some flexibility, and that you trust is going to, you know, be there. … I think there are going to be deals, and to Brett’s point, I think some of those deals will be on foreign carriers as they restart service, or as they attempt to gain traffic for the flights that they’re operating.

Frequent-flier programs in the Covid-travel era

Gary:  In some ways, they haven’t changed very much, although a couple of things that are worth highlighting: American Advantage, I really have to applaud something that they did, which is to eliminate cancellation and redeposit-of-miles fees. United is more flexible than they were, and if you cancel more than a month out, they’re not going to charge you a fee to put your miles back. American won’t charge any of their members at all for redepositing the miles on any of their awards. That means booking with them is something you can do, even if you think you might take the trip, and you can cancel later—and it’s really a risk-free proposition. Other than that, the miles you have in your account can only be used for ticketing one trip at a time. Giving that sort of flexibility and that kind of confidence is something that I think is really valuable.

But getting cheap fares is not really that different than getting award seats: it’s very difficult to get award seats when you’re looking to fly where everyone else wants to go when they want to go. … As a general rule, you get award availability when you’re flying where other people aren’t going or on the planes other people aren’t taking.

Holiday travel airfare

Gary: Holiday travel is always hard. In fact, holiday travel with miles and holiday travel with cash, you’re not seeing a whole lot of deals. This is one of the things that American Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja talked about on their earnings call: They’re not releasing their cheap fares for the holidays yet, because they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude on passenger demand. They could fill all these flights really cheap now, but they think they may have a shot at filling them at a higher price point later on. And so the old advice about booking three months out, but for the holidays maybe six months out, is maybe not quite right. I think it’s much more along the lines of: Look for the flight that you want, whether it’s revenue or on an award, and when you find it, grab it. There’s more flexibility than there used to be in terms of changeability and in terms of returning miles. So grab it, and then consider improving or, if your plans change, retaining a credit or putting your miles back, or if you see a better deal come along later.

Watch the video to learn more about how to get the best flights, seats, and fares in 2021.

 


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.

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]

 



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Gaia Riverlodge Belize

Dispatch from Belize: Private Sailing and Outdoor Adventures Right Now

Gaia Riverlodge Belize
Gaia Riverlodge
Rio on Pools 1 Belize
Rio on Pools
On top of High Temple - Lamanai Belize
On top of High Temple - Lamanai Belize
Flying over Glover's Atoll Belize
Flying over Glover's Atoll
Gaia Riverlodge Belize
Gaia Riverlodge
Gaia Riverlodge Beliz
Gaia Riverlodge
Gaia Riverlodge Beliz
Gaia Riverlodge
Blancaneaux Lodge
Chaa Creek Staff Belize
Chaa Creek Staff Belize
Chaa Creek's Butterfly Farm Belize
Chaa Creek's Butterfly Farm Belize
Chaa Creek Sanitization Station Belize
Chaa Creek Sanitization Station
RTV Safari Tour Belize
RTV Safari Tour
Site inspection at Ka'ana Resort Belize
Site inspection at Ka'ana Resort

 

With a Caribbean coastline that is home to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, yet is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami or Houston, Belize is both beautiful (think open blue sea, lush green jungle) and convenient. But how Covid-safe is it? So far, so good. The country reopened to international flights on October 1 (with the requirement that travelers are either fully vaccinated or have a negative Covid test), and since then a few of our readers have ventured there and been rewarded with trips that were both memorable and safety-conscious.

To get a better understanding of what Belize is doing to minimize risk, we called Rachael Wilson and Patricia Johnson, who’ve earned a spot on Wendy’s WOW List for their customized trips, both on land and water, and who orchestrated the experiences that led to those happy travelers’ reviews. Rachael and Patricia live in Belize year-round, and over the past several months, they’ve traveled the country, checking out Ambergris Caye (Belize’s largest island and gateway to many other islands), the Cayo District (an area known for its parks, natural reserves, and Mayan ruins), the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest, and more. Their goal was to see how pandemic protocols are being instituted and followed, and to judge for themselves where travelers should and shouldn’t go. Here’s what they’ve learned.

*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 Belize and have been road-testing travelers’ favorite spots anew. What have you observed?

Rachael: Ambergris Caye, which is normally the most touristed island in Belize, is a mixed bag: 60% of the properties have it together, but 40% are still ironing out maintenance after this very difficult time. So it’s important we are out there seeing things for ourselves, so we can guide people to the properties that are doing well. The travelers coming to Ambergris are predominantly Americans, and returning expats and homeowners, which is really good for the economy because they’re living their lives: eating, going to the hardware store, and diving.

Patricia: I live in the Cayo District, in San Ignacio. I spent an overnight at Chaa Creek Resort recently, which was one of the first hotels that were Gold Standard Certified. It was good to get a feel for what they’re doing to make sure guests are safe. The check-in is now contactless, and as soon as you arrive there’s a sanitization station. Then the health and safety concierge does a temperature check and takes you to your room, and you have access to the concierge via WhatsApp.

A lot of properties have taken this time to upgrade, and I stopped by Ka’ana Resort to see their renovations. Ka’ana added private outdoor gardens and plunge pools, and expanded their decks so they could have outdoor dining and improve the private experience.

What activities are open for travelers, and how are they different from pre-Covid?

Patricia: Most of the activities are open because most are socially distanced anyway. Like if you’re going to the Mayan ruins—I’ve been there several times during the pandemic—there’s no one there. We had guests over Thanksgiving, and they were the only ones there. It was an amazing experience.

Rachael: Scuba diving, snorkeling, cave tubing, hiking, mountain biking—all of those things are socially distanced anyway, so they’re the same.

Patricia: The experiences we are steering people away from are the very interactive ones, like ceramics, tortilla making, and cooking classes. But the hotels are providing a taste of the culture anyway, in terms of nights with Mayan cuisine or Garifuna nights with drumming and dancing with social distancing.

Before, we would pick and choose activities based on guests’ interests. But because of the Gold Standard, we have to reign in who we send where, and with who, so that the protocols are adhered to. For example, we had a guest who did a private catch-and-cook: They went out with a captain and caught lobster and conch, and then they went to a remote place on the beach and made ceviche and cooked it over coconut husks. They said it was amazing, and the best day ever. They didn’t see anybody else. So the classic Belize experiences are not really impacted.

What about restaurants?

Patricia: Most restaurants here in Belize are open-air. And right now they are open at 50% capacity. I went to a restaurant on Sunday night here, and it was sanitized, we wore masks when we entered, the servers wore their masks, and it felt normal.

Rachael: Places have adapted too. Red Ginger at the Phoenix in San Pedro was indoor with air-conditioning, but they’ve built a patio and put tables on the roof, so everyone can be outside. I saw friends there I haven’t seen in a long time, and there were seats between us outside. They’re discouraging people from just going to the bar and standing there.

How do you work safely on private boat charters, where the space is confined?

Rachael: The guests are coming into the country with a required negative test, and we’re able to test the crew. If everyone’s negative, it’s completely relaxed. The guests don’t have to wear masks if they’re on deck, but the crew will wear masks. We’re asking guests to keep a mask on if they’re inside. The crew is two people: the captain and the chef, and they wear many hats. So if the chef is serving the food, the chef will keep the mask on and then step away to tell them what they’re eating. And then when the chef cleans the cabins, they’ll have all the PPE on. It’s tricky because they want the guests to see their smiles, and that’s hard. So we ask that they stand away.

How many people are on a boat?

Rachael: We have two boats that can take up to eight people each. But typically there are only up to six people per boat, and we don’t mix the groups—they’re private charters. Honeymooners, couples, groups of friends and families. We can do tandem bookings as well. We booked four families over Thanksgiving, so they could go out together, and we can kind of wrap the boats so that we can have appetizers on one boat, for example.

What are travelers’ biggest concerns now, and how are you addressing those?

Patricia: They are really looking at the Covid numbers. Everybody is fearful of getting on the plane. Once we tell them about what safety measures are in place on the ground here, they feel more at ease. Primarily it is the thought of getting on the plane.

Rachael: But when you get off the plane in Belize, you can be onto the catamaran in ten minutes. If you’re headed from the airport to another part of the country, you may get into a little 14-seat puddle-jumper plane—however, it is difficult to be socially distant. For this reason, many of our clients have chosen the land transfer or water taxi instead. I took a puddle jumper back from the islands, and I recommend that you keep your mask and face shield on for the duration of the flight especially since the flights are short (15 minutes from Ambergris Caye to the airport). You can also book a private charter on a puddle jumper (planes are disinfected by fogging or spraying before and after each flight) ora private helicopter transfer that has Plexiglas surrounding the captain.

Tell us about the government’s Gold Standard safety certification. All hotels and yacht charters must earn it before opening?

Rachael: Yes, I had to get the certification for our catamarans in order to operate them. It’s a lot about monitoring and reporting and recording and tracing, as well as enhanced protocols for sanitizing, mask wearing, and hand washing. It’s complicated for us with the catamarans, because the guests go out with the crew on board, and we have to keep everyone safe, but it’s mostly about training everyone and using the right cleaning products. We have an electrostatic fogger for the boats, it makes our turn-arounds much quicker. And for our vehicles, if anyone’s been in it, we fog the vehicle right away.

Patricia: Some properties do have inspections at random times. All resorts must receive their Gold Standard Certification in order to welcome tourists. It is a strict requirement and once you download the Belize Health App you will need to indicate where you are staying by selecting from the list of Gold Standard Hotels. Majority of the resorts here have standalone accommodations and are serious about guests’ and employee safety, so the protocols are stringently followed.

What has the pandemic, surprisingly, made easier or better?

Rachael: It’s easier to see the Mayan ruins. There are normally 20 to 50 or maybe more people there, depending on the time of year, but we’ve had guests who’ve had the ruins all to themselves. The same with the yachts. People are going out and not seeing another boat. And in the marine reserves, while the fish are all there regardless, there seems to be more of an abundance of nature now.

Patricia: At the Mayan ruins, we also know which times of day are quieter, so even when things get busy again, we will know when to take people there. Like most everywhere else, the pandemic halted all incoming travel, and this sparked some creativity for many, including our local guides. Some of them have formed a Belize Hiking Group, focused on showcasing and protecting natural resources, and I recently joined their first hike for this year: a three-hour trek along little-known trails that ended with a swim at Vaca Falls. All the guides are Gold Standard Certified, so social distancing and other protocols were followed.

Is there anything that’s harder?

Rachael: It’s a huge part of the culture of coming here that Belizean people are warm and welcoming and fun and laid-back, so having half the face covered up is hard.

 

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.

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.

private jet with red carpet

Private Jets: The Safest Option, and More Affordable Than You Might Think

The biggest Covid risk that savvy travelers face nowadays is not at their destination. It’s getting to their destination. It’s airports and airplanes. So imagine if you could cut your airport waiting time down to 20 minutes, and share your airplane cabin’s air with just a few other people, by flying private. Think private jets are too expensive? If you’re already flying in first or business class, and if you’re traveling with a group of five or more people, you may find that chartering your own plane is within reach—and worth the cost to minimize your risk of exposure to Covid and ensure a worry-free trip.

Flying private will never be cheaper than flying commercial. Rates for a six-passenger aircraft generally start at $3,000 per hour of flying time. But if you can fill every seat—and provided you book through the right private-jet broker who doesn’t add a huge markup—it might make sense for your travel group. The price of, say, a transcontinental flight on a six- or seven-passenger light jet works out to about $3,750 per person each way. If you’ve got flexibility in your timing, airports, or destination, that price can actually drop by 75%: The trick is to book an “empty leg,” which means filling the return flight of a plane that’s been booked for a one-way trip. The schedule is dictated by the original passengers, but the savings for you are considerable: a coast-to-coast “empty leg” one-way might cost less than $1,000 each for a family of six.

If you don’t have the flexibility for an “empty leg,” you’re looking at pricing of perhaps $1,800 per person each way for a flight between New York and West Palm Beach, $3,000 per person each way between Boston and Vail, $3,500 per person each way between Dallas and St. Barts, or $3,000 per person each way between Chicago and Los Cabos, Mexico. Yes, it’s a splurge, but you also might gain more than you imagine, and not just in health and peace of mind. Here are additional benefits to consider:

Less time in airports

With a commercial flight, you need to get to the airport an hour or two ahead—time when you’re sharing indoor air with other people, some of whom may take their mask off to eat or simply aren’t bothering to wear it properly. If you’ve chartered your own jet, however, you can arrive 20 minutes before flight time, and you’re likely flying in and out of much smaller airports with few other passengers around.

Less exposure in the air

While commercial jets’ hospital-grade air filters are very effective, the particles exhaled by your seatmate may reach you before the air has a chance to be filtered. On a private plane, you share that air with just two or three people—a pilot, copilot, and possibly a flight attendant—instead of two or three hundred, and you could even pay for the crew to be tested before your flight.

Less vacation time wasted in transit

Say you want to fly from your home in Miami to a ski trip in Lake Tahoe, California. The commercial airport closest to the slopes is an hour away in Reno, Nevada. Since there are no scheduled nonstop flights from Miami to Reno, you’ll spend most of a day getting from A (Miami) to B (Denver) to C (Reno) to D (Tahoe). On a private charter, you can fly straight from Miami to a smaller airport that’s just 20 minutes from your lodge and strap on skis that same afternoon. In the U.S., there are about 500 airports open to commercial traffic, compared to 5,000 for private aircraft.

Your choice of timing

Airlines have drastically cut schedules during the pandemic, often leaving travelers with just one or two flight times to choose from on their preferred day of travel; sometimes these inconvenient changes are made at the last minute. When you fly charter, though, you dictate the schedule. And if you’re late to the airport, your plane will wait for you.

Frequent last-minute availability

With commercial flights, the closer you are to your departure, the more prices go up and options dwindle. With private jets, it’s not hard to find a charter at the last minute—and you may even pay less, since an operator doesn’t want their jet sitting idle. Payment can also wait: You’ll likely need to put down a 10% to 20% deposit to reserve a charter flight, with the balance commonly due two weeks before the flight.

Thinking of flying private?

There is a variety of private-jet brokers and sources, each with different pros and cons. Feel free to ask us for a personalized recommendation . We can level with you about the right source for your specific needs—one who will find you the safest, smartest option and negotiate the best rates on your behalf.

Ask Us About a Private Jet Trip

 

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.

Where to Go This Winter

Many of you have been asking: Can I travel safely this winter? The answer is that it’s possible to minimize your risk greatly—even when traveling to far-flung destinations—thanks to new, smarter entry requirements for certain states and countries, better Covid testing options, and new protocols that particular travel companies, hotel staff, and private drivers and guides have put in place. Read our reviews of real trips that travelers have taken to many of these destinations, all of which share three major characteristics: They are currently open to U.S. residents without a quarantine; they allow for social distancing, both during your daily activities and at your accommodations; and they are warm enough that you can eat many of your meals outdoors.

Click to get a personalized trip recommendation

Mexico

Beach villas and other private accommodations make it easier to social distance in Mexico. Photo: Cabo Villas

From private beachfront villas to small boutique inns with open-air common areas to colonial haciendas that you can reserve for just your family, you’ll find an array of options in Mexico that allow for easy social distancing—as these travelers did in July. Many airlines are operating between the U.S. and Mexico, with no Covid-testing requirements. For east coasters, a quick flight to Cancun gives you entrée to the Riviera Maya and Tulum; west coasters will find nonstops to Cabo San Lucas (where migrating whales and whale sharks pass by every winter) and Puerto Vallarta, the latter a gateway to the top-notch resorts and private villas on the Punta de Mita peninsula. Beyond the beach, the freestanding suites in the Mayan forest at Chablé Yucatán allow for complete privacy. Read Mexico trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Mexico

A Caribbean island

St Lucia beach with Pitons mountains in the background

St. Lucia is open to U.S. travelers. Photo: Shutterstock

A good many Caribbean locales are once again welcoming U.S. travelers. Some require pre-trip testing, others test on arrival or screen for symptoms, and some—including Anguilla—have created “vacation bubbles” so that travelers can take part in certain land and water activities that have been deemed safe. Read this article for more details. If you’re nervous about getting sick outside the country, know that Medjet will fly you home from the islands if you are hospitalized with Covid.  

Ask About a Trip to the Caribbean

Hawaii

Hawaii - Kaneohe Bay, Oahu

Hawaii now allows travelers to skip quarantine if they arrive with a negative Covid test. Photo: Shutterstock

The Hawaiian islands did away with their mandatory 14-day quarantine in October—provided that travelers register with the Safe Travels program and arrive with negative results from an approved Covid test performed no more than 72 hours prior (passengers headed to Kaua’i must still quarantine or stay in a “resort bubble,” and there may be quarantines for inter-island travel). A number of airlines will help passengers headed to the islands get a pre-flight test, for a fee. Once you’re in Hawaii, it’s all about enjoying the outdoors, from snorkeling to hiking to stand-up paddleboarding and ATV rides. Read Hawaii trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Hawaii

Belize

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

Charter your own boat in Belize for days of snorkeling, sunbathing, and plenty of distance from other travelers. Photo: Belize Sailing Vacations

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away; travelers who arrive with a negative Covid test will be fast-tracked through the airport, while all others will be screened and tested. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive (as Wendy’s son did), fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters. Only accommodations that have earned the country’s new Gold Standard Certificate of Recognition are allowed to open; options range from beach resorts with separate bungalows to remote jungle tree houses—or you can charter your own private yacht as I did, enjoying fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and plenty of distance from everyone except your captain and first mate (who have at least 14 days between charters, to avoid contact between groups of guests). Read Belize trip reviews.

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Skiing in the Rockies

Aspen Skiing, Rockie Mountains

Ski resorts are limiting capacity this travel season. Photo: Parker Olsen.

The slopes are operating differently this year: Major resorts are limiting capacity to allow for social distancing on lift lines (snow conditions and run availability will determine specific numbers), and pass holders receive priority on peak dates. At many resorts, day-of lift tickets aren’t available at the window, but you can buy a pass for as little as one day of skiing. It’s usually sunny enough to enjoy lunch outdoors on the patio; as for dinner, condos and private homes are in high demand among those who want to dine without others around. A first-rate ski trip will be pricey this year, but the right specialist can help you snag those sought-after slope reservations, and can get you the ideal ski-in/ski-out hotel suite or private cabin. Read ski trip reviews.

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The U.S. Southwest

Arches National Park, Utah

Some of the southwest’s outdoor meccas, such as Arches National Park in Utah, make for fun winter adventures. Photo: NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank

Utah offers Moab, a year-round adventure mecca with 4×4 tours, canyoneering, and hiking in nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks, plus spectacular resorts with your own private, standalone accommodations, such as Amangiri and Camp Sarika. New Mexico exempts travelers from its quarantine if they get a negative Covid test 72 hours before or after their arrival, and the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe is welcoming guests.

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The U.S. Southeast

covered gazebo dock stretching into lake in tennessee at Blackberry Farm resort

Blackberry Farm is in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, . Photo: Blackberry Farm

Northeasterners may not want to drive too far south, given the lengthy quarantine many face upon returning home, but if you live in the Southeast, there are a lot of drive-able, even pet-friendly, resorts in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee that have standalone cabins or cottages spread across considerable acreage. Just a few examples: Blackberry Mountain in Walland, Tennessee, situates guests atop the Great Smoky Mountains, with adventure (bouldering, anyone?) awaiting you at the doorstep of your cabin. The Cloister at Sea Island has its own private island on the Georgia coast. At Virginia’s Salamander Resort, every room has a private patio or balcony, and their famed equestrian center is open.

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Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

The weather in Costa Rica during the winter months is ideal. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica’s jungle lodges and beach resorts are open to all U.S. residents with no testing required. The weather is ideal at this time of year too, with the skies clear but the landscape refreshed by recent rains in much of the country. Read Costa Rica trip reviews.

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Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda. Photo: Shutterstock

Bermuda is great in winter: The humidity is low, the temperatures are warm enough to have dinner al fresco, the golfing is excellent, the 2- or 4-person microcars available for rent make it easy to get around the island safely, and many of Bermuda’s colonial-style resorts have individual cottages with immediate access to the outdoors. You can also feel more comfortable knowing that travelers are screened rigorously, with Covid tests required in the week before a trip, again on arrival in Bermuda, and on days 4, 8, and 14. And if you can’t imagine going home, there’s always the “Work from Bermuda” program, which allows visitors to stay on the island for up to a year while working remotely.

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The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

blue footed booby galapagos islands ecuador

The ratio of guides to guests is likely to be much lower than usual this year in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: peterstuartmill/Pixabay

Prior to Covid, on a Galapagos cruise you’d often have to share a guide with 15 other guests; these days, with travel to the islands just beginning to ramp up again, that ratio will likely be much lower. All travelers and staff are tested prior to flying to the Galapagos. Some hotels on the islands are welcoming visitors again, a few expedition-cruise ships are operating—or maybe your family group wants to have a small vessel all to yourself. If you’d like to extend your trip into the Amazon rainforest, consider Sacha Lodge, which is adjacent to one of the most biodiverse spots on earth; each group gets its own private guide, and the dining room is open-air. Read Galapagos trip reviews

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The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

The Maldives require a negative Covid test taken within three days of the first leg of a traveler’s flight. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

These idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean, many of which are home to just one resort, requite visitors to present a negative Covid test taken no more than 96 hours prior to the first leg of their flights to the Maldives; I spent a blissful five days there in October. It’s a breeze to socially distance at a private-island resort, where secluded beach villas and overwater bungalows are the norm. Restaurants are already open-air, toes-in-the-sand kinds of places, and the closest interaction you might have is with a manta ray while snorkeling. You’ll also benefit from lower rates and more generous cancellation policies at many resorts this winter. Read Maldives trip reviews.

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An African Safari

zebras drinking from a stream in the great migration of animals in Kenya

Safari camps usually book up years in advance, but for the 2020 holidays, the camps and the safari drives will see fewer people. Photo: Shutterstock

Safaris had grown so popular within the past few years that you were likely to notch more sightings of other 4x4s than of lions or rhinos, and the best camps and lodges—which typically have only a handful of rooms or tents—would book up years in advance. Now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Africa’s wildlife in solitude, as one of our travelers did in December. Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all allow travelers in with a negative Covid test; Namibia and Rwanda require tests both before and after entering the country. A savvy safari-planning specialist can lead you to the lodges that are limiting occupancy in game-drive vehicles, are testing staff, and have open-air dining areas and in-room air conditioning (the latter a necessity in some parts of southern Africa at this time of year). Read African safari trip reviews.

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Egypt

Egypt’s pyramids and other famous sites reopened in September at lowered capacity. Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re feeling truly adventurous, consider Egypt. While Cairo’s bustling souks and narrow streets don’t lend themselves easily to social distancing, there are certainly ways to sightsee while staying in your bubble, and this is an unprecedented opportunity to see the country’s pyramids and other archaeological wonders without the crowds: These sites reopened in September, but with much lower capacity. (Or do as these travelers did and have an expert arrange for private, after-hours access.) Travelers must bring a negative Covid test from the 72 hours prior to their departure. Read Egypt trip reviews.

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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.