Tag Archives: covid travel

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.

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?.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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