Tag Archives: covid

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

What Medical Evacuation Coverage Do You Need?

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

What kind of medical transportation does conventional travel insurance offer?

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

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

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

What if I get Covid during my trip?

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

Which medical evacuation program do you recommend?

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

 

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

World globe ball on the white background

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

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

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

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

 


Menu

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

Atlantic Islands
Bahamas, Bermuda

Caribbean Islands

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

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

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

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

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

 


Countries Open to U.S. Travelers With No Quarantine

Argentina

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ARGENTINA


 

Australia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT AUSTRALIA


 

Austria

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT AUSTRIA


Bahamas

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE BAHAMAS


 

Belgium

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BELGIUM

 


 

Belize

boy jumping in to ocean from a high dock in Belize

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

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BELIZE

 


 

Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda.

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BERMUDA

 


 

Bhutan

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BHUTAN

 


Bolivia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOLIVIA

 


 

Bora Bora, Tahiti (French Polynesia)

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT TAHITI + FRENCH POLYNESIA

 


 

Bosnia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOSNIA

 


 

Botswana

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BOTSWANA

 


 

Brazil

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BRAZIL

 


 

Bulgaria

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT BULGARIA

 


 

Cambodia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CAMBODIA

 


 

Canada

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT CANADA

 


 

Caribbean islands

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

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

Entry requirements:

  • Vary by island. See Caribbean Tourism Organization for details

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE CARIBBEAN

 


 

Chile

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CHILE

 


 

China

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CHINA

 


 

colorfully painted walls on a block of Cartagena Colombia

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

Colombia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT COLOMBIA

 


 

Cook Islands

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE COOK ISLANDS

 


 

Costa Rica

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT COSTA RICA

 


 

Croatia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT CROATIA

 


 

Czech Republic

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 


 

Denmark

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT DENMARK

 


 

Dubai and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

Photo: Timothy Baker

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT DUBAI

 


 

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ECUADOR AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

 


 

Egypt

 

 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT EGYPT

 


 

Estonia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ESTONIA

 


 

Fiji

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FIJI

 


 

Finland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FINLAND

 


 

France

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT FRANCE

 


 

Georgia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT GEORGIA

 


Germany

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT GERMANY

 


Greece

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT GREECE

 


 

Hungary

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT HUNGARY

 


 

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

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

Iceland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT ICELAND

 


 

India

Entry requirements: 

  • Random testing on arrival

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT INDIA

 


 

Indonesia 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT INDONESIA

 


 

Ireland

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT IRELAND

 


 

Israel

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT ISRAEL

 


 

Italy

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ITALY

 


 

Japan

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT JAPAN

 


 

Jordan

Entry requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT JORDAN

 


 

Kenya

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT KENYA

 


 

Laos

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LAOS

 


Latvia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LATVIA

 


 

Lithuania

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LITHUANIA

 


 

Luxembourg

Entry Requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT LUXEMBOURG

 


 

Madagascar

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MADAGASCAR

 


 

Malaysia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

 

ASK US ABOUT MALAYSIA

 


The Maldives

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

Photo: Soneva Fushi

Entry Requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE MALDIVES

 


 

Malta

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MALTA

 


 

Mauritius

Entry requirements:

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MAURITIUS

 


 

Mexico

Tulum Riviera Maya, Mexico

Photo: Journey Mexico.

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MEXICO

 


 

Monaco

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT MONACO

 


 

Mongolia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

Montenegro

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MONTENEGRO


 

Fez Morocco ceramic studio Art d'Argile

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

Morocco

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MOROCCO

 


 

Mozambique

Entry requirements:

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

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT MOZAMBIQUE

 


 

Namibia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

Ask us about Namibia

 


 

Nepal

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT NEPAL

 


 

The Netherlands

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE NETHERLANDS

 



New Zealand

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT NEW ZEALAND

 


Norway

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT NORWAY

 


 

Oman

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT OMAN

 


 

Panama

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT PANAMA

 


 

Papua New Guinea

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PAPUA NEW GUINEA

 


 

Peru

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PERU

 


 

Poland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT POLAND

 


 

Portugal

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT PORTUGAL

 


 

Qatar

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT QATAR

 


 

Romania

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ROMANIA

 


 

Rwanda

gorilla standing in the jungle in Rwanda

 

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT RWANDA

 


 

Saudi Arabia

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA

 


 

Serbia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SERBIA

 


 

The Seychelles

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT THE SEYCHELLES

 


 

Singapore

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SINGAPORE

 


 

Slovakia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SLOVAKIA

 


 

Slovenia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

 

ASK US ABOUT SLOVENIA

 


 

South Africa

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

 


 

South Korea

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SOUTH KOREA

 


 

Spain

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SPAIN

 


 

Sri Lanka

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SRI LANKA

 


 

 

Sweden

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT SWEDEN

 


 

 

Switzerland

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT SWITZERLAND

 


 

Taiwan

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TAIWAN

 


 

Tanzania

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TANZANIA

 


 

Thailand

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THAILAND

 


 

Turkey

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT TURKEY

 


 

Uganda

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT UGANDA

 


 

United Kingdom

Entry requirements: 

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT THE UNITED KINGDOM

 


 

Uruguay

Entry requirements:

  • Medical insurance covering Covid-related expenses

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT URUGUAY

 


 

Uzbekistan

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT UZBEKISTAN

 


 

Vietnam

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links:

ASK US ABOUT VIETNAM

 


 

Zambia

Entry requirements:

  • None

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ZAMBIA

 


 

Zimbabwe

Entry requirements:

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

Useful links: 

ASK US ABOUT ZIMBABWE

 

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

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

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

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

We love the Turquoise Coast!

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

 

A family milestone

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

 

Discovering under-the-radar villages

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

 

 

On a gulet, the market comes to you!

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

 

Special private access to a “museum hotel”

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

 

Exploring the historic ruins of Knidos

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

 

A beach town almost entirely to ourselves

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

 

Bodrum good-byes

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

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Read reviews of more private yacht trips in Turkey.

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mozambique

Zimbabwe


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

How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel

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

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

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

Jump to: In-Person Tests

Jump to: Mail-In Tests

Jump to: Tests That Can Be Self-Administered Abroad

In-Person Tests

Nationwide

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

Arizona

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

California

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

Colorado

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

Delaware

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

Florida

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

Georgia

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

Hawaii

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

Illinois

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

Maryland

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

Massachusetts

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

Nevada

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

New Jersey

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

New York

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

North Carolina

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

Oregon

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

Pennsylvania

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

South Carolina

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

Tennessee

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

Texas

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

Virginia

Washington

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

Washington, D.C.

Mail-In Tests for the U.S.

ADL Health

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

APC Health

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

Azova

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

Carbon Health

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

The COVID Consultants

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

empowerDX

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

Everlywell

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

ImmunitiRx

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

LetsGetChecked

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

Med2u Inc.

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

Quest Diagnostics

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

Reliant Health Services

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

VaultHealth

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

Tests That Can Be Self-Administered Abroad

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

Abbott BinaxNOW + eMed 

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

Ellume + Azova

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

Lucira + Azova

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

On/Go + Azova

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

Qured

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

Reliant Health Services

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

 

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

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

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

 

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


 

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

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

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

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

We can’t wait to see you there!

—Wendy and the team

 


 

Unique Travel Opportunities For 2022 And Beyond

Monday May 2 at 6pm EDT

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

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

How to Protect Yourself and Have Peace of Mind

Tuesday May 3 at 6pm EDT

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

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Solutions for Summer

Wednesday May 4 at 6pm EDT

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

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

Winter Travel: The holidays and beyond

Thursday May 5 at 6pm EDT

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

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

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

Friday May 6 at 6pm EDT

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

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

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

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

woman and son wearing masks on a plane

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

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

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

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

1. Choose antigen, not PCR

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

2. Test as early as possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Show documentation of recovery instead.

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

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

 



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

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

Your Biggest Covid Travel Questions Answered

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

Wendy’s Travel Advice for 2022

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

Covid Testing

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

5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return Flight to the U.S.: Air travelers age two and older must still show a negative Covid test when flying back into the U.S. after an international trip. But it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Here’s how to make it easier.

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

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

Travel Insurance

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

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

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

Where You Can Go and Entry Requirements

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

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

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

Air Travel Tips

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

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

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

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

Current Travelers’ Experiences

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

The Trip Planners You’ve Approved

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



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

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

Last-Minute Tips For Traveling During Covid

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

Testing / Covid-Related Prep For International Flights

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

Remember to Pack

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

Optimize Safety on Your Flight

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

Consider Travel Insurance

 


 

We’re Here to Help

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

LEARN HOW WE HELP

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are people wearing masks and following other Covid protocols?

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

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

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

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

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

What other experiences have you had this trip?

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

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

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

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

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

Is Italy different than before?

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

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

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

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


 

We’re Here to Help

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

family of travelers in Egypt at Hatshupset Temple

Egypt During Omicron: A Family Trip

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

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

Why she chose Egypt

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

family of travelers at Egyptian temple at sunset

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

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

Mid-trip, her impressions (shared by email)

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

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

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

They loved the dahabiya boat

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

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

family lounging on a boat on the Nile

Her advice to other travelers

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

 


 

We’re Here to Help

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

LEARN HOW WE HELP

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

The New Travel Checklist

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

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

To Do:

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

To Ask:

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

To Pack/Carry:

  • Proof of Covid-19 test results (even if not specifically required by the destination, it’s smart to carry at all times).
  • Masks. And, since cloth masks should be washed often, travel-size packets of Woolite or detergent for hand-washing them at night in your hotel-room sink.
  • Gloves. Try to avoid airline bathrooms; when you must use them, wear gloves. Keep extra pairs of gloves in your day bag for any situations that may arise.
  • Sanitizer and wipes. The TSA allows air travelers to bring 12 ounces in carry-ons now. It’s helpful to pack smaller bottles also, to carry with you in your day bag at your destination, or in case international airports have different liquid allowances.
  • Face Shield for the flight.
  • Snacks. Airlines vary in what food they’re now providing in flight, so be prepared with your own favorites.
  • Comfort accessories, such as a blanket, pillow, and sweater for your flight. The flight you’re on might not offer pillows or blankets, even for sale. And if you keep the air nozzle turned on above you the whole time to help circulate the air, it might get chilly.
  • Passport, travel insurance info, test results, and other travel documents. Print everything out, and keep back-up copies securely in the cloud or on your phone.
Doctor holding passport with COVID-19 sign stamped onto a white paper,immunity passport or risk-free certificate concept,recovered Coronavirus COVID19 patients being issued proof of convalescence, UK

The Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make When Getting a Covid Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

You didn’t get it from an approved lab.

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

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

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

The results are dated wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Getting a Covid Test Abroad is Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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

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

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

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

My number-one hotel tip

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

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

The one indoor thing you do not want to miss

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

 

And if it gets too crowded…

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

 

How to see the Spice Bazaar safely

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

 

 

How to visit Hagia Sophia safely

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

 

My favorite mosque in Istanbul

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

 

What it’s like at Topkapi Palace

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

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

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

 


 

We’re Here to Help

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

What Vaccinated Travelers Do and Do Not Need to Worry About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the video, edited for clarity and length:

Variants

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

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

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

Vaccines, India, Brazil, and South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air travel

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Triche’s own travel plans

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

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

 


We’re Here to Help

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

 

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

white woman traveler portrait Botswana Africa Safari with animals in background

Why 2021 Is the Year to Go on Safari

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

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

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

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

You’re outdoors the whole time.

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

 

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

There is no crowding of safari vehicles.

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

You can book something at the last minute.

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

 

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

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

The local staff are so happy to see you.

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

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

The animals are not skittish.

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

 

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

You’re keeping the poachers away.

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

The required Covid tests are easy.

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

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

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

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

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

The airports are empty.

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

There were no crowds in the Johannesburg airport.

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

Ready to plan your own 2021 trip to Africa?

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

Ask us for a safari recommendation

 

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

 

View of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

Places to See in 2021—Before The Tour Groups Return

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

ASK WENDY TO RECOMMEND THE BEST TRIP FOR YOU

 

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

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

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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

Barcelona, Spain

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

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

Egypt

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

Greece

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

Paris

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

Machu Picchu, Peru

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

Venice, Italy

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

 


 

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

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

Tips for Surviving This Summer’s Flight Delays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

We’re Here to Help

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

Barcelona Spain beach-June 2021

Barcelona Without the Crowds and Cruise Ships

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting there

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

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

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

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

 



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

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

Every State’s Coronavirus and Travel Information

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

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

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

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

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

 

Alabama

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Alabama’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard

Traveler Information (Alabama Tourism)

 

Alaska

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

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

Fully vaccinated travelers do not have to test or quarantine.

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

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

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information

Safe Travels information

Reopening Plan

Traveler information, restrictions, and advisories (Travel Alaska)

 

Arizona

No travel restrictions for visitors

State Coronavirus Updates

Department of Health Services and Reopening Guidance

Traveler information, restrictions, and advisories (Visit Arizona)

 

Arkansas

No travel restrictions for visitors

Arkansas COVID-19 Information Hub

Arkansas COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Traveler information (Arkansas Tourism)

 

California

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

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

California COVID-19 Information Hub

Business and activity restrictions by county

COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Traveler Information for the State (Visit California)

Traveler information by region (Visit California)

 

Colorado

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

Colorado COVID-19 Information Hub

Colorado COVID-19 Data Dashboard

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

Traveler guidance (Colorado Tourism)

 

Connecticut

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

Connecticut COVID-19 Information Hub

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

Traveler Advice and Regulations (Visit CT)

 

Delaware

No travel restrictions for visitors

Delaware’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Advisory (Visit Delaware)

 

Florida

No travel restrictions for visitors

Florida’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Florida’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard

Florida’s Reopening Plan

Traveler Advisory Updates (Florida Health Department)

Traveler Advice (Visit Florida)

Walt Disney World parks information (including mask requirement)

 

Georgia

No travel restrictions for visitors

Georgia’s COVID-19 Hub

Department of Health Daily Status Report

Traveler Advice and what’s open (Explore Georgia)

 

Hawaii

Hawaii has strict requirements for travelers:

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

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

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

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

Hawaii COVID-19 Information Hub

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

Travel FAQs

COVID-19 Data Dashboard

 

Idaho

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

Idaho’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Idaho’s Reopening Plan

Traveler Advice (Visit Idaho)

 

Illinois

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

Illinois COVID-19 Information Hub

Chicago COVID-19 Information Hub

Restore Illinois reopening plan

Chicago reopening information

Chicago Emergency Travel Order and yellow/orange state designations

 

Indiana

No travel restrictions for visitors

Indiana’s COVID-19 Information Hub and Data Dashboard

Traveler Resources (Visit Indiana)

Traveler Resources for Indianapolis (Visit Indy/Indianapolis Tourism)

 

Iowa

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

Iowa’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Current Case Status Dashboard

Traveler Advice (Travel Iowa)

 

Kansas

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

Kansas’s COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Cases Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Travel KS)

 

Kentucky

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

Kentucky’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Latest updates and openings

Travel Advisory (Kentucky state government)

 

Louisiana

No travel restrictions for visitors

Louisiana’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Information (Louisiana Travel)

Traveler info for New Orleans (New Orleans Tourism)

Maine

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

Maine’s Coronavirus Hub

Division of Disease Surveillance and current data

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

Maryland

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Covid Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler Guidance (Visit Maryland) 

Massachusetts

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Covid-19 Travel Advisory (state government)

Tourism information and Traveler FAQ (Visit MA) 

Michigan

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Guidelines for Traveles (Michigan tourism)

 

Minnesota

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening plan and phases

Travel information (Minnesota Department of Health)

Travelers Guidance (Explore Minnesota)

 

Mississippi

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Mississippi Case and Data Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Visit Mississippi)

 

Missouri

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Missouri Recovery Plan

Traveler Guidance (Visit Missouri)

 

Montana

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance and Resources (Visit MT)

Contact Info for Montana’s Tribal Nations and Reservations

 

Nebraska

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Nebraska Case and Data Dashboard

Traveler Recommendations (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)

Traveler Guidance (Visit Nebraska)

 

Nevada

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening and phases plan

State-wide Traveler Information (Visit Nevada)

Traveler Information for Las Vegas (Visit Las Vegas)

 

New Hampshire

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

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

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler information and quarantine rules (state)

Tourism resources (Visit NH)

 

New Jersey

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

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

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

NJ’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Live Data Dashboard

Traveler Quarantine Information and Health Form (Visit NJ)

Reopening Plan

 

New Mexico

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

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

Traveler information (New Mexico Tourism)

 

New York

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

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

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

New York State’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Phased Regional Reopening Information

Cases and Data Dashboard

NY State Covid-19 Travel Advisory (state government)

NY State Traveler Information (NY State tourism)

New York City Traveler Information (NYCGo)

 

North Carolina

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Data Dashboard

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

Traveler Guidance (Visit NC)

 

North Dakota

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Updates

Traveler Guidance (State Health Department)

Traveler Guidance (ND Tourism)

 

Ohio

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Data Dashboard

Ohio Reopening Plan

 State Travel Advisory (Ohio Department of Health)

 

Oklahoma

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance (Oklahoma Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Oklahoma City)

 

Oregon

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan and County Status

Travel Alerts (Travel Oregon)

 

Pennsylvania

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Hospital Data

Traveler information (Pennsylvania Department of Health)

 

Rhode Island

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

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

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Tourism information (Visit Rhode Island)

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

 

South Carolina

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

State Parks Information

Traveler Guidance (State government)

 

South Dakota

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Reopening Plan

Cases and Data Dashboard

Tourism information (Travel South Dakota)

 

Tennessee

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Traveler Guidance (Tennessee Vacation)

 

Texas

No travel restrictions for visitors

Texas’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Travel updates (state government)

Traveler Guidance (Travel Texas)

 

Utah

No travel restrictions for visitors

Utah’s COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Utah State Parks Information

Utah National Parks Information

Traveler Guidance (Visit Utah)

 

Vermont

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

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

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Traveler requirements and FAQ (Vermont state government)

Traveler Guidance (Vermont Tourism)

 

Virginia

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data

FAQs about openings, restaurants, and more 

Traveler Information (Virginia Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Virginia Tourism)

 

Washington, D.C.

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

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidance (Washington D.C. Tourism)

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

 

Washington State

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data Dashboard

Reopening Plan

Traveler information (Washington state government)

 

West Virginia

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Traveler Guidances (West Virginia Tourism)

 

Wisconsin

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

COVID-19 Information Hub

Cases and Data

Traveler Guidance (Wisconsin Department of Health Services)

 

Wyoming

No travel restrictions for visitors

COVID-19 Information Hub

Travel updates (Wyoming Department of Health)

Traveler Guidance (Wyoming Tourism)

 

Additional Resources

CDC Guidelines for Domestic Travel (CDC)

CDC Guidelines for After International Travel (CDC)

COVID-19 cases by state (CDC)

Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by Country (CDC)

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

Health departments by state (CDC)

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

Mask mandates by state (Pew Trusts)

National Park restrictions by state (National Park Service)

Restaurant restrictions by state (Open Table)

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

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

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

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

We’re here to help

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch the full Q&A above.

These were the over-arching takeaways:

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

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

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

The travel specialists featured in our talk were:

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

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

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

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

Covid-era travel intel and articles:

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

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

 


 

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

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

What I Learned About People from Traveling During Covid

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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

Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo

The Wonderful Thing the Pandemic Revealed About Madrid

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

 

 

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

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

It’s about the people

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

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

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

It’s about the food

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about the arts

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

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

It’s about urban design

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

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

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

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

It’s the perfect time

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

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

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

The feeling on the street

 

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

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

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

What’s open and what’s closed

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

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

Popular places that are crowd-free

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Weeks,” she said.

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

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

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

The hottest ticket in town

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

 

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

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

Local guides are even more valuable

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

Where to stay

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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Paros Greece Prodromos Village (

The Time to Go to Paros is Now

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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Naxos is the Greek Island You’ve Been Looking For

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

 

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

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

The scene: relaxed and comfortable

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

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

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

The food: fresh and farmed right here

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

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

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

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

The beaches: beautiful and not too crowded

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

The history: under your feet and at your fingertips

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

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



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plain open ocean looking out to the horizon

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

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

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

•How cruise lines are wooing travelers back

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

•How limited capacity and fewer ships will affect availability

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

•What shore excursions will be like going forward

•Covid logistics for multi-country cruises

•Onboard testing

•Cruise lines’ vaccination and documentation requirements

•Mask requirements onboard and on shore excursions

•When to cruise

•Where to cruise

•Christmas market cruises

•Alaska cruises and whether they can make stops in Canada

•Small expedition cruises

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

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

The panelists:

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

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

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

More Q&A videos:

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


We’re Here to Help

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

man at a cafe in Medellin Colombia

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

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

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

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

Colombia - Colorful painted buildings in the town of Guatape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is it like to go to a restaurant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has the pandemic made surprisingly nice right now?

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

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



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

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


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

Many travel insurance plans have added coverage for pandemics.

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

Standalone medical coverage is cheap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

When do I need to purchase this insurance?

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

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

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

Am I protected if I pay by credit card?

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

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

 

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

 

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

Italy’s Reopening: What Travelers Can Expect

 

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

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

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

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

WOW List–recommended Italy specialists

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

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

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

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

Your Italy questions, answered

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

 


Learn about our upcoming live Q&A travel talks

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


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

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

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

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

North America

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

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

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

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

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

Tropical Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Europe: Summer and Fall Possibilities

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

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

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

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



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

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

 

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

Our conversation included:

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

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

Airfare price predictions

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

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

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

Bargain-hunting for international flights

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

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

Frequent-flier programs in the Covid-travel era

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

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

Holiday travel airfare

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

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

 


We’re Here to Help

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

 

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

View of Hvar with green mountains and sea, Croatia

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

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

 

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

Why Croatia?

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

Why now?

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

What were your concerns about traveling now?

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

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

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

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

How was flying from Houston to Croatia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were people wearing masks?

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

What about at restaurants?

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

What were the hotels like?

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

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

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

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

What do you wish you knew beforehand?

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

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

 

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

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



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

Brando-Resort-Tahiti-OneTahi-motu.

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

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Why did you pick French Polynesia?

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

Did you have any apprehension about taking this trip?

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

How did Kleon help?

There were three areas where he provided super value.

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

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

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

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

Can you tell us what makes The Brando so special?

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

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

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

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

How did you spend your time in the islands?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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.

Gaia Riverlodge Belize

Dispatch from Belize: Private Sailing and Outdoor Adventures Right Now

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about restaurants?

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

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

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

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

How many people are on a boat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything that’s harder?

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

 

We’re Here to Help

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

What restrictions are in place now?

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

Who is coming to Turkey now?

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

Where are they going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s so special about Bodrum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the safety protocols for hotels?

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

What are the restaurant restrictions?

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

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

Is now a good time to visit Turkey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about testing and vaccines for your travelers?

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


 

We’re Here to Help

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

View of Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.

Dispatch from Costa Rica: More Nature, Fewer People

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irene: Because of the pandemic, a lot of people have been forced to be creative and develop new travel experiences. For example, we met with a local señor here who needed an income; he wasn’t in tourism at all before, but now he is willing to show people, even locals, how he processes cinnamon; it’s outdoors, and you go with him to the trees and see how he harvests it. We have another guy who makes cheese; he’s who we get our own cheese from, so I asked him about his farm, and we’re thinking about making that an excursion for travelers. Things like that are possible, and we are trying to find more local people who are developing such experiences. My mom, too, has been making her own spices— mixing orange peels with herbs, for example. It’s happening more and more, all around the country.

Richard: In the end, it will be a win for travelers: They will have new and more authentic things to do. We needed a recalibration anyway, because Costa Rica was getting commercial. But we, and the people around us in the eco-travel sector, are realizing this is an opportunity to go back to basics and back to your origins.

That sounds great. But for now, what are you finding that travelers want to do when they visit? Are they ready for those interpersonal experiences?

Richard: Travelers are less inclined to do those activities right now. They’re more vegging out. They are trying to limit their exposure—so they’re eating in their hotels, for example— and they are doing fewer activities than before.

Irene: In the past, people wanted to come for a week and explore as many destinations as possible. Now, they are limiting themselves to the beach or two places max and just enjoying themselves. They are also waiting until they’re in Costa Rica to book activities, rather than booking them in advance. I think it’s related to them getting a sense of how things are when they arrive, and then feeling more secure. The activities they choose are focused on nature and being outdoors.

How are the hotels that you’re visiting?

Irene: We are re-inspecting the hotels we recommend, to make sure that the services and maintenance are still there. It’s been interesting to go back and re-evaluate their environment and ambience. We’ve all been having a break. Most of the hotels are not operating 100% and they don’t have a full staff. Arenas Del Mar is one of our preferred lodges, but the ambience is very different right now; they’re slowly getting back to what they are used to. It’s going to take time to really be normal. When I went to Manuel Antonio, it’s like they are in sort of a trance. That was my comment to the lodge managers: we can’t lose that chispa, that spark! We have to get it going again, because that’s what is attractive to the visitors who come to Costa Rica.

Also, we have seen a great interest in rental homes and villas. Right now, we are trying to be a villa specialist and building a database of very select rental homes. That has been my homework: finding unique rental homes, especially on the beach.

What protocols are hotels putting in place?

Irene: They are cleaning the rooms very well, disinfecting luggage, not allowing anyone into the room after check-in (except for the guest). The in-room snacks are touchless—they have created electronic menus, and you can scan the menu with your phone and order from your phone. Check-in is handled electronically. Some of the more remote hotels have limited internet access, so we do check-in for travelers before they get there; the only thing they have to do at the hotel is give their credit card.

What is it like to dine in a restaurant?

Irene: At hotel restaurants, the only thing on the table is the hand sanitizer. They bring plates and silverware afterward. The servers wear masks, but you can take yours off once you start eating. The tables are spaced 1.8 meters apart, because that’s six feet. Reservations must be made beforehand. They are also offering the option of having your meal outdoors..

Richard: They used to charge to set up tables on the beach and outside, but now that’s something you can just ask for.

What about non-hotel restaurants?

Irene: Local restaurants have certain protocols but, in general, they are not as elaborate as the ones that the hotels use. We are not going to say don’t eat at the local restaurants, because that is part of the whole experience of Costa Rica, but we have eaten at some of them, and our advice is to always wear your mask and wash your hands and keep your gel handy. Our customers always ask for restaurants, and we have a list of the best. Plus, when our travelers have a private guide, that’s very helpful because the guides know which places are safest.

What Covid protocols have you put in place yourself with your own staff and expert guides?

Irene: All of our drivers and guides are required to wear masks, which we provide, at all times. Even if the traveler doesn’t, our guides and drivers must. We keep hand sanitizer in the car. We provide refillable water bottles that are different colors, so everyone knows which is theirs. We offer Covid tests for staff upon client request.

Who is traveling to Costa Rica now, and where are they going?

Irene: We are seeing a lot of families with young kids traveling right now. They are sticking to the more usual routes, like Manuel Antonio, Arenal, and Monteverde, but mostly beach. Before the pandemic, we were seeing a lot of families with grandparents, but not now.

Richard: They’re not heading off the beaten path, and we’re not encouraging that anyway, because the beaten path is doing the best job of sticking to the protocols.

If it’s the beaten path, how do you make that special?

Richard: It is special! Before the pandemic, you had to work hard to make it special because there were too many people. So we spent all our time curating an uncrowded, relaxing experience. Now, though, that’s a given! [Laughs.] We can focus on the details even more than before—all the little things that would be special to individual members of the family. It’s not anything Irene wasn’t doing before, but we have the ability to spend more time on that now.

The one and only reason you come to Costa Rica is to be outdoors, so you’re here in the jungle or on the beach, and now you’ve got exponentially less people to share all that with. Last night, I was watching the local news, and a local guy was sitting in front of a family of four tapirs! I’ve seen maybe three tapirs in the 35 years I’ve been here, but he was just sitting in the stream, and the tapirs were just totally relaxed, plodding around behind him. Even on our farm, we are seeing great green macaws, which are endangered, flying all over. It’s like paradise.

 

 

We’re Here to Help

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

private jet with red carpet

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

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

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

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

Less time in airports

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

Less exposure in the air

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

Less vacation time wasted in transit

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

Your choice of timing

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

Frequent last-minute availability

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

Thinking of flying private?

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

Ask Us About a Private Jet Trip

 

We’re here to help

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

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

Where to Go This Winter

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

Click to get a personalized trip recommendation

Mexico

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

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

Ask About a Trip to Mexico

A Caribbean island

St Lucia beach with Pitons mountains in the background

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

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

Ask About a Trip to the Caribbean

Hawaii

Hawaii - Kaneohe Bay, Oahu

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

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

Ask About a Trip to Hawaii

Belize

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

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

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

Ask About a Trip to Belize

Skiing in the Rockies

Aspen Skiing, Rockie Mountains

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

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

Ask About a Ski Vacation

The U.S. Southwest

Arches National Park, Utah

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

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

Ask About a Trip to the Southwest

The U.S. Southeast

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

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

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

Ask About a Trip to the Southeast

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

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

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

Ask About a Trip to Costa Rica

Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda. Photo: Shutterstock

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

Ask About a Trip to Bermuda

The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

blue footed booby galapagos islands ecuador

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

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

Ask About a Trip to the Galapagos

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

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

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

Ask About a Trip to the Maldives

An African Safari

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

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

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

Ask About an African Safari

Egypt

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

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

Ask About a Trip to Egypt

We’re here to help

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

Covid testing sign Newark Airport

Airport and Airline Covid Testing: What You Need to Know

UPDATE: Starting December 6, 2021, U.S. will require that all travelers entering the U.S. via air—regardless of vaccination status or citizenship—must show a negative Covid test taken within one day of their departure. You can read the CDC details for testing and vaccine requirements here.

As travelers make decisions about whether and where to travel in 2021, airports and airlines are announcing new Covid testing options to help passengers comply with the rules implemented by various countries and states.

Starting January 26, they will take their biggest role yet. On that date, the CDC is instituting a new policy that requires all travelers flying into the U.S. to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of arrival. Airlines will be responsible for vetting the proof—and denying boarding to those who don’t comply. They seem to be okay with this, since Airlines for America, the trade organization that represents all major U.S. airlines, recently sent a letter to Vice President Pence urging this kind of blanket testing program.

While we applaud these developments and wait to see how they play out, there are important caveats that travelers need to understand in order to smartly and safely plan their trips.

What you need to know about AIRPORT tests:

It may take a few days to get your results.
Various companies are partnering with airports to open on-site testing facilities. Already XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) has centers at EWR, JFK, Hartford and Logan, and JFK has additional facilities run by Adams Health. But there is a wide variety in the kinds of tests they offer, the prices, and the turnaround times. While some do offer rapid testing, in many cases, you’ll still have to wait two to five days to get your results, so it may not be worth it to go all the way to the airport for the test rather than visiting a clinic near home. Call ahead to find out what tests are available, and whether tests are limited to travelers en route to destinations that require them.

It may not be the right kind of test you need.
Xpress Check is offering 15-minute turnaround in some locations, but these are not PCR nasal swab tests, the kind usually required by destinations that ask for pre-trip tests. The reason is that rapid tests have been shown to be less reliable and have a higher rate of false negatives. Still it’s better than nothing, so these rapid tests can be useful for domestic travelers who want to be tested before going to visit Grandma, but not for most people who are crossing a border.

You will likely have to pay for it out of pocket.
The trend right now is that these in-airport testing sites charge travelers directly. The cost can run up to $250 or more depending on how fast you want results (if a rapid test is even available). There are some exceptions though. At Oakland Airport, Hawaii-approved testing partner CityHealth is offering tests to travelers flying to the islands, and their website says they accept “most insurance”. At New York City’s LaGuardia airport, testing is available for free but your results won’t come back for about 48 hours and are given only by phone—making this testing option useless for travelers who need immediate results or documented proof of their results in order to enter another state or country, or to bypass quarantine (including New York State).

Testing options by airport:

Alaska: Anchorage International Airport (ANC):  Alaska requires incoming travelers to arrive with proof of a negative test. If they do not have that, they will be required to test upon arrival and quarantine until the results come back. Nonresident testing is available at the airport for $250 (tests for residents are free).

Arizona: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX):  XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

California: Oakland International Airport (OAK): Travelers flying from OAK to Hawaii can make an appointment to be tested at one of two airport locations. Same-day appointments are not recommended.

California: San Francisco International Airport (SFO):  United Airlines passengers flying from SFO to Hawaii (and that route only) are eligible for a test at the airport. They can choose between taking a rapid test on the day of their flight inside the international terminal ($250; results in about 15 minutes), or taking a PCR test via a drive-through location at an airport parking lot ($105; results within 48 hours).

Connecticut: Bradley International Airport (BDL): Incoming travelers can get a test on the day their flight arrives—and that day only. The test is a PCR nasal swab, costs $125 without insurance, and results take up to 72 hours.

Florida: Tampa International Airport (TPA): Both PCR (three-day turnaround) and antigen tests (1-hour turnaround) are offered at cost to the traveler. Note that your destination may require a specific kind of test.

Massachusetts: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP): Free saliva tests are available to any traveler and are administered Vault Medical Health. Results are available in a few days.

New York: JFK Airport (JFK): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

New York: LaGuardia Airport (LGA): Testing is free to all passengers. Results are turned around within 48 hours but they are delivered by phone only — which the site acknowledges will not be acceptable proof to bypass quarantine for some places, including New York State.

New York/New Jersey: Newark Liberty Airport (EWR): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Texas: Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Testing is available for American Airlines passengers flying to Hawaii only. This is rapid test and it costs $249.

Vermont: Burlington International Airport (BTV): The airport offers PCR and rapid tests for Covid and rapid tests for the flu to anyone (including those not traveling), at the individual’s expense.

What you need to know about AIRLINE tests:

They may be offered for specific routes only.
But as of early November, domestic airlines are only offering testing options for flights to Hawaii (where a pre-trip Covid test is required), and the testing is available only from specific departure airports. As of now, airlines are not offering pre-flight tests to all of their travelers.

Airlines are partnering with labs to offer their passengers tests in different ways.
This does not mean you can get a test at check-in at the airport. Instead, it means you can maybe get a discount or preferred treatment at certain lab locations (or for mail-in kits) with stipulated proof of your flight.

In many cases, the tests may still take a few days to turn around results.
Just because a test is performed at an airport doesn’t mean you’ll get the results in time to take your flight—which makes these facilities less useful for travelers who are on their way to somewhere else.  These offerings are more useful for those who are arriving and want post-flight reassurance.  Where rapid testing is available, it may only be available from a specific airport. For example, United offers rapid testing for those flying from SFO to Hawaii; American has it at DFW.

The type of test offered may not be the one you need.
Many destinations require a PCR test (Hawaii doesn’t), so travelers need to check the type provided by the airline-lab partnership.

Testing options by airline:

As the holidays approach, here is a snapshot of what airlines are offering Covid test options right now, and what travelers need to know about them:

Alaska Airlines
Passengers of Alaska Airlines can show their Hawaii itinerary and get discounted tests from Carbon Health. The testing site in Seattle gives priority to Alaska Airlines passengers, and the Portland location is only for the airline’s passengers.

American
American Airlines has a few programs:

The airline has partnered with LetsGetChecked to sell at-home, mail-in testing kits to passengers flying to U.S. destinations that require testing, as well as to Belize, Grenada and St. Lucia. Tests cost $129, can be ordered online, and promise results within 48 hours of the specimen arriving to the lab.

Travelers on flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Hawaii have two options from American’s partnership with CareNow: They can book an in-person rapid test at a CareNow urgent care location, or at DFW on day of their flight.

American and British Airways
American is also partnering with British Airways and the oneworld airline alliance on a trial testing program. For select flights, eligible volunteers will take three different Covid tests for free: The alliance’s goal is to show that testing can prevent infection during air travel and to determine how many tests are recommended in order to ensure virus-free cabins. The trial will start with flights AA50 DFW-LHR, BA114 JFK-LHR, and BA268 LAX-LHR; at a time yet to be announced, the trial will also add the flight AA106 JFK-LRH.

Delta
Delta has launched a trial of what it calls “Covid-Tested flights” on two routes.  One route is between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Rome-Fiumicino International Airport (FCO), and for these trial flights, passengers departing from Atlanta must obtain a PCR test (at their own cost) within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time and show proof of negative results at check-in. Then passengers will be tested again before they board with a rapid antigen test provided by the airline at no additional cost; a negative result is required for boarding. Covid-Tested Italy flights are available on select flights through February 12, 2021.

Delta is also running this trial between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), but the rules are slightly different. For the Amsterdam flight, travelers must get a PRC test within 5 days of the scheduled arrival time in Amsterdam and self-isolate between when they take the test and when they board the plane. Then they will get a rapid test at the airport at no extra cost, and will need to test negative before they’re allowed to board. This trial runs on select flights through January 6, 2021.

Hawaiian Airlines
The airline has partnered with Worksite Labs for drive-through testing exclusively for their passengers in San Francisco. Passengers can opt for a 36-hour version or a more expensive same-day service.

They also offer their passengers expedited processing of and a slight discount on VaultHealth’s saliva test, which is taken at home and then mailed in.

JetBlue
JetBlue offers all of its travelers a discount for VaultHealth’s at-home testing kit.

United
Hawaii passengers whose flights originate at San Francisco airport can book one of two different tests: a test that they take at the airport on the day of their flight, or a drive-through test at the airport several days before their trip.

On November 16, United started a four-week rapid-testing trial for passengers flying from Newark Airport to London Heathrow. On select dates, all passengers over the age of two will be required to take a free rapid test before boarding and will receive results within 30 minutes.

Starting December 7, United passengers flying certain routes from Houston to Latin America and the Caribbean can order an at-home, self-collected, mail-in Covid test, which (if negative) will allow them to bypass quarantine restrictions. Two weeks before their flights, travelers going from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to specific airports in Aruba, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, the Bahamas, Panama, Honduras, or El Salvador will receive information on how to order the at-home testing kit for $119 via Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory.


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

teenage boy tandem skydiving selfie over Hawaii

How My Son Spent His Gap Year During Covid: First Stop, Hawaii

“Sorry, Mom, I didn’t ask your permission about this.”  Those words, spoken by my 18-year-old son at the start of the video below, are not what Moms usually want to hear.  Mercifully, Charlie’s decision to jump out of a plane 12,000 feet above Hawaii’s Kohala Coast left him unscathed.

I didn’t know he’d gone skydiving until he texted me this video.  It’s a sign of the times that my first reaction was not fear of a malfunctioning parachute or a landing in the Pacific Ocean but, rather, alarm over Charlie’s too-close-for-Covid proximity to the tandem-skydive instructor.  I thought it might worry you too, so I waited 14 days to share this video, just so I could assure you that nobody got sick.

How did my 18-year-old end up in Hawaii during the pandemic?  Well, he’s with a group of students who all deferred their freshman year of college because of Covid. Rather than spend the fall attending college from the attic bedroom of their parents’ house via a computer screen, these students have been living and traveling on Hawaii’s Big Island as part of a Pacific Discovery gap-year semester program.  Since Labor Day, they’ve been working on farms, helping local conservation causes, and learning about sustainability. They’ve managed to steer clear of the virus entirely and enjoy some sense of normality.

That’s partly because Hawaii has the lowest infection rate of any state in the U.S.  In fact, it’s the only state that has seen a decline in coronavirus cases this month.  Hawaii’s Big Island has taken particular pains to keep the virus off its shores:  Until recently, all incoming travelers were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.  Which is what Charlie and the other students did.  The quarantine is a strict lockdown:  Charlie couldn’t leave his room to buy food or go for a swim, and he had only 45 minutes a day in a backyard for exercise.  Before that quarantine, the Pacific Discovery students had already—immediately before their flights to Hawaii—self-isolated at home for 14 days and tested negative for Covid.

Hawaii’s Big Island recently implemented even stricter measures than Oahu and Honolulu:  Incoming travelers must produce two negative Covid tests (not just one) if they want to bypass the 14-day quarantine.  Which is why my worry about Charlie’s proximity to the tandem-skydive instructor began to fade, once I learned how small the probability of infection was: the Big Island has 4.5 cases per 100,000 people. (Charlie also explained that the instructor had recently been tested and that half of the students and the program director had skydived too and nobody got sick.)

If you have a college-age kid who’s interested in a gap-year semester program, you can learn of options here.  Pacific Discovery is one of only a few that figured out how to operate a real-world travel program this fall (others switched to virtual programs).  Pacific Discovery managed it by switching the trip from its original location of New Zealand and Australia (after those countries’ borders closed to U.S. residents) to the new location of Hawaii’s Big Island, and by adopting Covid safety protocols that worked.

Jealous parents: If you’re too old for a gap-year program but inspired to travel to Hawaii with no quarantine, and to get the maximum experience while minimizing risk, reach out to me via Ask Wendy.

(3) The Blue Ridge Parkway

How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip During Covid

(3)	The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway makes social distancing easy.
(2)	Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
(1)	The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
Woman in a mask at Mt Vernon  George Washington’s home in Virginia.
Everyone wore a mask at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
homeschool day with kids Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
At Mount Vernon it was Homeschool Day.
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
We had to wait to enter Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, because they are limiting the number of visitors.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
This is the spot where we parked our car at the Richard Johnston Inn in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
Breakfast can be served outdoors in the courtyard instead of indoors in the dining room.
Richard Johnston Inn breakfast
And the breakfast is yummy!
Richard Johnston Inn interior of guest room with dog Fredericksburg Virginia
Here’s our pet-friendly room off the courtyard. Macy (on the bed at left) felt right at home.
St Simons Island Georgia biking on beach
We met up with friends on St. Simons Island, Georgia, where you can bike on the beach!
St Simons Island georgia oak trees
St. Simons is famous for its magical oak trees.
 St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum Georgia
We opted not to enter the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum because I was too concerned about poor ventilation in a cramped space.
 Fort Frederica National Monument entrance St Simons Georgia
The entrance to Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island, October 2020
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
We felt very safe exploring the remains of the 18th-century fort and town known as Fort Frederica.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
These small motorized watercraft are a great way to get a sightseeing tour while staying socially distanced from the rest of the group.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Our favorite historic landmarks of our trip were, like Fort Frederica, outside and uncrowded.
covid safety signage at Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Safety signage at Fort Frederica

 

As we’ve learned more about Covid and how to avoid it, my family and I have grown more ambitious with each road trip.  Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to make four essential road trips. On the first trip, right after New Jersey’s lockdown ended, we avoided hotels and restaurants altogether. On the second, I learned how to choose safe hotels and restaurants. On the third, we added visits to historic monuments and museums and even rented a house. Each time, before leaving home and upon returning, we each took a mail-in Covid test and self-isolated, so as reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And it worked: Nobody in the family has gotten Covid.  As I head out on my fifth long road trip of the pandemic, here are the strategies I’ll continue to utilize.

For safer food stops and restrooms, get off the Interstate.

Gas-station convenience stores, chain restaurants, and food courts just off highways—all of which tend to have poorly ventilated, cramped bathrooms—are, in my experience, the least safe places on the road. They are highly trafficked by a wide cross-section of people from who-knows-which states with who-knows-what rules, and many of those people don’t stay six feet away. By contrast, in towns a few miles from the highway, even in red-zone states, we’ve found non-chain, family-run places that are much cleaner, less crowded, more virus-savvy, with more outdoor seating (plus outdoor heat lamps) and better take-out menus.

Bring a plug-in cooler for your car.

To avoid indoor dining, too many fast-food drive-throughs, and frequent supermarket runs, pack a cooler where you can store provisions such as cold cuts, condiments, and other ingredients for luncheon sandwiches.

Order curbside pick-up from eateries that win local awards and have extensive takeout menus.

When I can’t find a good outdoor-dining option, I search online for eateries that are beloved by the locals and do a huge takeout business.  As just one example, when we were nearing Winchester, Virginia, on I-81, I did a search for “Winchester Virginia best BBQ takeout,” found Bonnie Blue Southern Market & Bakery (check out the menu), and picked up Low Country Shrimp & Grits.  Bonus: I got to see historic Old Town Winchester en route.  Pro tip:  Always order by phone because the conversation with a human being yields important current info that you don’t get otherwise, plus they’re less likely to get your order wrong.

Look for government-run public restrooms.

In addition to local libraries, state welcome centers, and national historic landmarks’ visitor centers, we found the cleanest, least crowded bathrooms in places run by the U.S. National Park Service. First prize goes to the spotless, empty restrooms along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Before visiting a historic landmark or museum, find out what’s planned there for that day.

When we spontaneously pulled into Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia, it turned out to be Homeschool Day. There were moms with kids all over, and while it was possible to stay six feet away from them, it would have been better to visit on a different day. A relatively easy way to avoid a school-field-trip environment is to visit such sites in the late afternoon.

Buy tickets in advance for indoor sites (and indoor sections of sites).

Many monuments and museums are limiting capacity, to reduce the number of visitors in enclosed spaces. This means there might be a wait to enter or tickets might be sold out. At F.D.R.’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, there was no wait to stroll the grounds but a wait to tour the house. At Mount Vernon, we bought Grounds Passes that allowed us to access most of the estate, but tickets to get inside the mansion itself were sold out.

Look for hotel rooms with outdoor private entrances.

To avoid sharing poorly ventilated indoor spaces with strangers, I usually seek out hotels that have standalone cabins or cottages with windows that open. (If I think a guest or housekeeper was in the room recently, I’ll keep the windows open for ventilation).  Where such hotels are not available, I look for historic inns because they often have rooms outside the main building.  We’ve now stayed twice at the Richard Johnston Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia, because they have pet-friendly rooms off a courtyard:  We can park the car, walk to our room, and punch in the entry code to open the door, without entering a lobby or encountering another person. In the morning, breakfast can be served al fresco in the courtyard, and each time we were the only guests eating there.

Pack a HEPA filter.

When I enter a hotel room, my goal is to avoid breathing any particles left by someone else or touching anything recently touched by someone else.  So, before making a reservation, I speak with the room reservations supervisor in order to choose a room that will not be occupied by someone else the night before my arrival.  (On road trips I tend to make same-day reservations, so the supervisor knows for sure whether someone slept in the room the night before.)  Upon arrival, I use sanitizer wipes to clean all doorknobs, faucets, and the like. Last but not least, I place our air purifier with HEPA filter near the bed.

If you’re renting a house, the state’s infection rate matters less than hyperlocal factors such as the town and street you pick.

We spent the last weekend of one road trip in a vacation rental on an island off the coast of Georgia, and friends of ours who live in Florida drove up to share the house with us for three nights.  Georgia and Florida are not known for their Covid safety, yet our location and timing—St. Simons Island, near the beach, in shoulder season—allowed us to be as carefree as it gets nowadays:  We cooked all our meals, rented bikes—on St. Simons you can bike on the beach!—and spent our time sightseeing, fishing, taking long walks beneath the island’s famous oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and just being so happy that we could catch up in person with our friends, even if we couldn’t touch or hug them.  We’re already planning to rent the same house with them next year.


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.

overwater bungalow at Joali resort in the maldives

How to Choose an International Resort in a Pandemic

My water villa at JOALI Maldives had more than 1,000 square feet of interior space, plus a sizable deck with a private infinity pool and steps down to the water.
The villa deck at night.
JOALI gives every traveler a bike to get around the property. If you prefer not to pedal, your butler can also take you around by buggy.
The tables at each of JOALI's restaurants were spaced far apart, and we never had anyone seated at a table next to ours.
The JOALI waitstaff all wore masks when serving guests.
JOALI's restaurants all have walls that roll up, lending plenty of ventilation to even the indoor seating. This is the Mura Bar.
The view is grand from the cantilevered hammocks at JOALI's villas.
JOALI's water villas are built along a 1.2-kilometer jetty.
The building with the undulating roof is JOALI's open-air lobby. The main pool, restaurants, and beach villas are on the island in the distance.
JOALI's Japanese restaurant, Saoke, is constructed on a pier and artfully lit at night.
couple on exercise bikes at private overwaterbungalow at JOALI resort in maldives
When I mentioned that I wouldn't work out indoors at the gym, the JOALI staff brought the gym to us, delivering two exercise bikes to our villa's deck just in time for sunset.
All of the rooms at Dubai's Al Maha Resort are standalone villas with private pools.
Breakfast on my private deck at Al Maha.
Your private guide can take you on a desert safari into the sand dunes surrounding Al Maha.
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is home to Al Maha Resort—and to herds of Arabian oryx that have been successfully reintroduced to the region.
Guides deliver falconry demonstrations each morning at Al Maha.
You can also try your hand at archery.
A sunset camel ride at Al Maha involved plenty of space between guests.

 

I’m recently back from a 20,000-mile journey to see what international travel looks like during Covid. My husband and I spent a week at two resorts that make it easy to socially distance and spend time outdoors—one on a private island in the Maldives, and the other in the Dubai desert. Before and during our travels, we took careful steps to minimize our health risk. We’ve been back for 14 days, and we never got sick, so I’m sharing the strategies we employed to keep our risk low.

Not everyone will be ready to travel abroad now, but I’m so glad that I did. The trip was a much-needed escape—from Covid and from the smoke and fires near my home in northern California. I soaked up the beauty of exotic landscapes, from tawny sand dunes to tropical atolls arrayed like turquoise spots on a peacock’s plume. I’d long been curious to try scuba diving and finally gave it a go in the Maldives; it was exhilarating to peek into an entirely new world that may actually have benefited from the strangeness of 2020.

The time in airports and on planes (mask usage was lax on my international flights, so I put my faith in the HEPA air filtration and my own KN95 mask) was probably riskier than anything else I’ve done since March; during this pandemic, I’ve ventured indoors only for grocery runs and a few routine doctors’ visits. Still, I felt very safe at both resorts—and I spent far more time rejoicing in my good luck at being able to travel right now than I did worrying about becoming infected. Here’s my hard-earned advice:

Choose a country where every arriving traveler has taken one or more recent Covid tests.

I’d had to postpone a 10th wedding anniversary trip to the Maldives after the pandemic hit this past spring. When the country reopened its borders in July, I wasn’t comfortable rescheduling because they didn’t require travelers to be tested for Covid. But after the government implemented pre-arrival testing in mid-September, I rebooked my trip, knowing that the other travelers I’d be coming into contact with—both at the resort and on my flights there—would have been tested recently. To meet the requirement myself, I found an urgent-care clinic nearby that offered PCR tests with same-day results; you can find options in your area in How to Get a Quick Covid Test for Travel.

Pre-trip testing isn’t fail-safe—you can be newly infected when you’re tested and still get a negative result, or you can become infected while in transit to your destination—but this measure goes a long way toward reducing your chance of being exposed to the virus during a trip. Nowadays, many destinations that have opened their borders require travelers to be tested anywhere from 48 hours to 14 days before their trip; some mandate additional tests during the trip itself, which may give you an even greater degree of confidence. Learn more here: The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers With No 14-Day Quarantine and What You’ll Find There.

I had to get tested again in the Maldives in order to enter Dubai on my way home—a process that turned out to be far simpler than my search for an appropriate pre-trip test in New York: We popped into our butler’s buggy after breakfast one morning and he drove us to the resort’s on-site clinic, where a doctor swabbed us and then sent the samples by ship to a lab across the atoll. We had our results in less than 24 hours.

Pick a place where the other guests will be foreigners who have been tested recently, as opposed to locals who have not.

At JOALI Maldives, the private-island resort recommended to me by the Maldives and U.A.E. specialist who booked my trip, all the other guests were foreigners who had been tested. Also contributing to my sense of safety: the resort’s private, spacious villas, each with their own indoor and outdoor living areas, infinity pool, overwater hammock, and outdoor shower.

My flights left me with a long layover in Dubai, so I also opted for two nights at Al Maha, a safari-style lodge located in a conservation reserve an hour outside the city. I did not feel quite as safe at this resort as I did at JOALI, and here’s why: While my stand-alone suite provided plenty of social distancing (from everything but the gazelles and doves who took up residence at the edge of my private pool), I hadn’t anticipated that most of the other guests would be Dubai-based staycationers. The only health screening for them was a temperature check at the property’s gate. Happily, I was able to take part in several on-site activities—a falconry demonstration, an archery lesson, a sunset camel ride, and a private desert drive—while staying masked and keeping my distance from other guests, though we did have to meet indoors at the lobby to join these activities.

Focus on resorts where you can eat outdoors or in your room.

I did not want to share indoor air with other travelers, so I chose resorts with al fresco or in-room dining. JOALI’s four restaurants all have walls that open up to let in the breeze, as well as toes-in-the-sand or edge-of-the-dock outdoor seating. At Al Maha, high temperatures dictated that breakfast and lunch were served inside—so we simply called for their free room service, which we had them set up outside in the morning and indoors at midday. Dinner was on the restaurant’s patio, where there was plenty of room to spread out. (In winter, Dubai’s temperatures peak in the 70s and all-day outdoor dining is possible.)

Find a property that houses its staff on site.

Both resorts that I chose have living quarters on site for their workers, which greatly reduces the vectors for virus transmission. It meant that I didn’t have to worry about my butler going home to a family member who works at a hospital, or my waitress getting infected on her subway ride to work. In both the Maldives and Dubai, resort staff must undergo a period of quarantine and testing prior to their employment. So the only way the virus could be introduced to either resort was through another guest.

Choose a resort that will let you postpone or cancel if you test positive.

Our JOALI butler mentioned one morning that his next guests, due to arrive from the U.K. in a few days, had just tested positive for Covid. The resort wouldn’t penalize them, he explained: Guests who can’t travel due to a positive test can postpone or cancel their stay with no additional fees; this particular couple had already rebooked for a later date. The rules are similarly generous at Al Maha, allowing cancellations or date changes up to 24 hours before arrival. An unexpected positive test just before your trip would be bad enough; book wisely to make sure you won’t be hit with the double whammy of a health scare and a nonrefundable deposit.

Be upfront about your comfort level.

The staff at JOALI quickly sensed that I was more cautious about Covid than most. (I never saw another guest wearing a mask on the property—but I also never wished that another traveler would put one on, since every group kept to itself and we were never indoors together.) As a result, my husband and I were given the most private tables at meals, and the fitness trainer even brought two exercise bikes to our villa’s deck so that we didn’t have to work out inside the gym. Resorts are hungry for business right now and eager to please the customers they do have, so make your preferences known, whether that’s keeping housekeeping staff out of your room (I was comfortable letting them in once I confirmed that they would be masked) or arranging a massage outdoors rather than inside a spa treatment room.

Book your trip through the right destination specialist—one who will not only get you the safest rooms in the safest resorts but also will coordinate expedited service through the airport.

Landing in the Maldives, I saw that my fellow passengers would need to share the enclosed space of buses ferrying them from jet to terminal. Imagine my delight, then, to see a woman holding a sign with my name as I got off the plane. I’d arranged for VIP arrival assistance through the Maldives trip-planning specialist on Wendy’s WOW List—and, as a result, we were spirited from the plane to a private minivan and driven to a lounge, where we enjoyed snacks and WiFi while airport officials gathered our luggage and took our passports to be stamped. The process probably saved us half an hour and allowed us to socially distance in a large room that my husband and I shared with just a few other families, rather than waiting in an immigration line that would have put us in close contact with others. On arrival in Dubai, we again received expedited service: a quick ride in a cart to the head of the fast-track immigration lane. Such assistance is available at many airports around the world, but only if you book through a savvy destination specialist.

 

Have you traveled during Covid? We’d love to hear what measures you took to stay safe. Let us know in the comments below.

We’re here to help

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

 

Full Disclosure: JOALI Maldives and Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa provided this reporter with complimentary stays. WendyPerrin.com did not promise any editorial coverage, and there was no quid pro quo. Our policy when accepting discounted or complimentary trips is to use the opportunity to test out experiences; if they meet our standards and we feel there is value for our readers, we will cover them. For further input about Maldives and Dubai trips arranged by WOW List Trusted Travel Expert Justin Parkinson, read these reviews of Justin’s trips written by WOW List travelers.

 

Galapagos sea lions and people in boats- covid CR Expedition Trips

Dispatch from a Galapagos Cruise: What It’s Like to Be on a Ship Now

Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos airport health checker Expedtiion Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinter greeter CR Expedtiion Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta Panga covid CR Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos lizard
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lions cuddling
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos finch
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lion and man staring at each other
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos cactus and landscape
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta ship
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos La Pinta ship giving out wetsuits to passengers
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos tortoise
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos crab on sneaker Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton
Galapagos sea lions and people in boats- covid CR Expedition Trips
Photo: Expedition Trips/Greg Overton

 

“This was one of my favorite trips to the Galapagos Islands.” That’s what WOW List Trusted Travel Expert Ashton Palmer told us on the phone after returning from Ecuador’s famous islands two weeks ago. “I felt safe. In fact, in many ways, I’ve felt that I was in more precarious situations at home than I was on this trip.”

For Ashton’s first visit to the Galapagos since the pandemic began, he chose a five-day itinerary on the 48-passenger yacht La Pinta, one of only a few vessels currently sailing the area and visiting Galapagos National Park (which reopened July 13). Residents of the U.S. are welcome, with some documentation and a negative Covid test, and as travelers return to the area, a few more cruise ships are expected to start up in November and December.

Ashton experienced the ship, the shore excursions, the entire security process, and three Covid tests—prior, during, and after the trip, all negative—so that he could report back on what it’s like to travel in the Galapagos now and in the coming year. Here’s what he had to tell us.

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

What was the process of getting to the Galapagos, and what were your flights like?

You have to get a test within ten days of visiting the country, and I was leaving on a Sunday, so I went in on the Monday before to make sure I had enough time to get the results. I drove to a testing place here in Seattle, and it took five minutes. Then I got the results in about 36 hours.

I flew from Seattle to Houston on United. Going through security was a breeze; it was really no different than pre-Covid, other than that you’re wearing a mask and they have plastic screens for people checking your documents. The flight was about half full, with no blocked seats. When we got on, they handed everyone a heavy-duty industrial sanitizer wipe that was doused in alcohol so you could re-clean the seatbelt buckle and armrest. They served drinks and packaged cookies. Everyone was required to wear masks—and everyone did.

I then flew from Houston to Ecuador. This flight was full, with every seat taken. They issued those strong wipes again when we boarded, and they served a packaged food item with drinks.

Did the airline check to make sure everyone had the negative test certificate?

Not before boarding. The only time United asked us if we had proof of our Covid test was onboard the flight to Ecuador. If anyone said no, that person was given a form and had to go to a different intake area when we landed and get an in-airport test [at their own expense] that can deliver a result within 15 minutes.

What was the process when you landed in Ecuador?

When you arrive, they make you fill out a questionnaire asking if you’re sick. It’s a few yes/no questions, and I’m sure everyone always says no to everything. They had health workers in protective gear who took our temperature and inspected our results, stamped them, and sent us on our way to immigration. The whole process—from getting off the plane to getting outside with our bags—took 30 minutes. It was streamlined and efficient.

But you have to get another test to go the Galapagos. How did you manage that once you were in Ecuador?

You have to get a test within four days prior to arriving in the Galapagos. If you were flying directly to the islands, you could potentially get your test at home, spend the night in Guayaquil [the transit point for the islands], and then the next day fly to the Galapagos, without needing a second test. But we had been in Ecuador for a while, so the hotel I was staying at had a private company come to give us tests. We paid about $100 per person, and they emailed us results the next day.

After that flight to the Galapagos, then there’s another transit to the ship, right? Was there another round of safety protocols?

On arrival in the Galapagos airport, they make you walk through disinfectant trays to clean your shoes, and they also sprayed our bags—and us, which is kind of a bizarre experience. It was a guy with a backpack on and he had something that looked like a leaf blower that sprayed a very light misting on our clothing. There was no residue or wetness on our clothing, and no after-effects.

We then took a 10- to 15-minute bus ride on which every other seat was blocked off and everyone was wearing masks. Finally, about six to eight people got into each Zodiac—or panga, as they’re called in the Galapagos—with masks on and went to the ship. Before we boarded, they made us walk through something like an airlock of ozone. They gave us sanitizer, and checked us into our cabins.

One of the concerns scientists have is about being in enclosed spaces with other people for extended periods of time. How much open space is on the ship? Do the rooms have windows or balconies that open? Are you eating indoors? What steps were being taken to minimize risk?

The cabins are spacious and very comfortable. You can’t open the windows in them, but the cabins are electrostatically cleaned multiple times per day. The staff also sprays public areas and the seats in the dining room.

Normally the ship offers one seating at mealtimes, but they broke it into two seatings, to allow for greater social distancing. They also sat people only with their traveling group or family.

There is no buffet: Every meal is ordered beforehand and brought to you plated. So at breakfast you scan a QR code and tell the waiter what you want to have at lunch. Then at lunch, you select your dinner, and at dinner you select what you want for breakfast.

There’s also outdoor dining on that ship, so we had a couple of meals outside, and they had an evening cocktail hour outside too. There’s also outdoor deck space, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get fresh air.

“Within a day, I honestly felt very comfortable—and that’s because everyone onboard had been tested.”

How safe did you feel?

Within a day, I honestly felt very comfortable—and that’s because everyone onboard had been tested. Before they leave home, all of the crew and staff are tested; then they have to do a 14-day quarantine in the Galapagos, and they get a second Covid test before being permitted on the ship. And they were told: If you want to work, you have to commit to a three-month contract, and you can’t go into town or port or anywhere that isn’t part of an excursion. So the ship has created a bubble. And the passengers they bring into it have been tested as well. I actually felt safer on the ship than on my flight from Seattle to Houston. Had anyone been tested on that flight? Who knows?

All over Ecuador, you cannot go into a hotel without getting your temperature checked; you can’t go into a restaurant without them giving you sanitizer. I did not see one person in Ecuador without a mask on, and that includes in the countryside and on children. There’s a $100 fine if you don’t wear one, and for Ecuadorians that’s a lot of money. So they’re on the ball.

I came to the conclusion that, when I travel, I can take the same safety precautions that I take at home: I can wash my hands, wear a mask and do all of those same things.

What were the shore activities, and how did they compare to pre-pandemic?

They were the same activities. You’re walking around the different islands and seeing the animals and going to the beaches and swimming and snorkeling. There were just a few differences compared with before:

First, the gear that you’re issued is all fully sanitized, and they also issued us brand-new snorkel mouthpieces.

Second, you are required to wear a mask, even when outside on the islands.

Third, it felt like we had the Galapagos to ourselves—and that was really magical.

It’s very quiet, and the wildlife is really taking over the islands. There are animals everywhere on the hiking trails! It’s like: Excuse me, baby sea lion, I need to come through this way. [Laughs.]

We had more flexibility too, because there weren’t as many people or as many ships coming through—whereas in the past we might have had a window of time and we’d have to be out of a spot in two hours.

Did they also create a bubble for your shore excursions?

We were always with the same group of people for excursions. For us, that was for language reasons: The naturalist spoke to us in English. But I think they were generally organizing the groups according to who was traveling together.

You said this was your favorite of all your trips to the Galapagos. Why?

It was the privilege of being able to travel again. Being in nature is my jam anyway, but gosh if there’s anything to make you appreciate some normalcy and the gift of travel, it’s the pandemic. We’ve all been through the ringer for a while, and I think just being in a place of natural beauty, sitting on a beach and feeling the water and the sand or seeing these beautiful animals, and being fully present with it—it’s magical. Why should it take having travel taken away from you to make you appreciate it more? I don’t know, but it does. And that made the trip really special.

 

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

Concept of airplane travel to exotic destination with shadow of commercial airplane flying above beautiful tropical beach.

Need to Fly Long-Haul? How to Choose a Safe, Smart Flight During Covid

Travel isn’t just my job; it’s my favorite hobby too. After Covid forced me to cancel three trips this spring and summer, I wondered when I’d get to leave the U.S. again. One of those cancelled trips was a tenth-anniversary getaway to the Maldives, the collection of white-sand atolls dotting crystal-clear turquoise waters in the Arabian Sea. The Maldives reopened to travelers in July.  I knew it’d be easy to socially distance at our private bungalow on the water’s edge. What worried me more were the long flights to get there: about 17 hours from New York, with a layover required somewhere. I recently rescheduled my trip to visit next week; here are the strategies I used that made me comfortable doing so:

Choose a flight where everybody boarding has just had a negative Covid test.

Many destinations that have reopened require travelers to be tested prior to arrival; some won’t even allow passengers to board an incoming flight until they have uploaded their test results or presented them at the airport. When the Maldives first reopened on July 15, they didn’t require pre-trip testing. It was only last month, after the government changed its policy and started requiring visitors to show recent test results on arrival, that I decided I was comfortable enough to go. I chose to fly via Dubai because the United Arab Emirates also requires a pre-travel test—as do most of the other destinations that are currently served by Emirates, are open to U.S. travelers, and don’t have more direct flights from New York. This same strategy is what made reader Jeff Goble comfortable traveling to French Polynesia (which also requires a pre-trip test, as well as a second test four days after arrival).

Choose an aircraft where you can avoid sitting next to a stranger.

My husband and I wanted as much personal space as we could get, but we couldn’t afford to fly business class. Most long-haul jets seat three or more passengers together in economy; while some U.S. airlines are blocking middle seats, foreign carriers haven’t followed suit. Happily, the 777s that Emirates flies on the routes we’ll be taking have a tapered design, so the last few rows have two seats side-by-side. Emirates charges for seat assignments, so I spent $550 to ensure that we wouldn’t be seated beside a stranger—even though I think it’s likely that the flights will be pretty empty. (On the other hand, I might be saving a bit of money by flying Emirates: Through October, they’re giving all passengers free coverage for Covid-related medical bills and quarantine stays.) Read Wendy’s additional tips about where to sit on a plane.

If you can’t fly nonstop, make your layover long enough to have some mask-free time.

I’d have flown nonstop to the Maldives if I could. But since I had to change planes somewhere, I wanted the opportunity to take my mask off after wearing it throughout a 13-hour flight. So that I can do just that, I’ve booked a three-hour stay at a hotel inside the Dubai terminal on the way to the Maldives, and two nights at a desert lodge near Dubai on the way back.

Keep in mind that combining countries on the same trip can make testing requirements even more rigid: In order to comply with the rules of both the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, I had to find an in-person test with results returned in less than 72 hours. Were I headed just to Dubai, I’d only need an in-person test in a 96-hour window (which is much easier to arrange); if my only destination were the Maldives, I could have used a mail-in Covid test kit that returned results in 72 hours. After several hours of research, and hoping to get tested near where I’d be staying before the trip in upstate New York, I instead found a doctor’s office in Manhattan that returns results in 24 to 48 hours. So I’ll drive an hour into New York City to be tested on a Wednesday morning, receive results by Friday morning, and head to the airport that afternoon for my 11 p.m. flight. (Postscript: Just over a week before my flight, Emirates changed its policy and stopped requiring tests from some passengers transiting through Dubai; unfortunately, it’s too late for us to order a mail-in kit and receive results in time for our flight—and given the changing regulations, I’m still happy to be following the stricter protocols.)

We’re here to help

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

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

Dispatch from Kenya: What a Safari Looks Like Now

As countries around the world start to reopen to travelers—some even to U.S. residents—we want you to know how travel experiences in those places will differ from before and how to make them as Covid-safe as possible. So, in a new article series, we will be following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

First up: Julian Harrison, an African safari specialist who’s just back from an adventure in Kenya with his son Christian.  Because Julian felt his experience in Kenya was safe and delivered unexpected perks, he will be leading an exclusive, small-group trip back there in December, using his favorites of the camps and lodges he just road-tested. (If you’re interested in joining this trip, contact Julian via his WOW List page to ensure you’re recognized as a VIP. Here’s why.)

Julian Harrison just returned from Kenya, which is open to U.S. travelers.
zebras in Kenya savanna
“The benefit of being in Kenya right now: It’s just big, wide-open natural space without the tourists and the vehicles.”
infinity pool overlooking the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
One of the camps Julian checked out was the Sirikoi Lodge in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where he caught this sunset view over the infinity pool.
The seats at Doha airport were blocked off for social distancing, and passengers were required to wear face masks and shields for boarding and deplaning.
"Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature."
Julian and his son were the only people scheduled on their Air Kenya flight to the Lewa Wildlife conservancy.
Safari lodges, like the ones at Mahali Mzuri Camp, are socially distanced by design, and all camps give guests temperature checks every day.
Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri Camp had a cute take on Covid signage.
Every building in Kenya is required by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside.
“During our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.”

Did you get a Covid test before the trip?

Yes, travelers to Kenya must bring proof of a negative result from a Covid test taken within 96 hours of arrival. We also needed to fill out a health declaration form online and undergo a health screening upon landing.

How did you get to Kenya, and what should we know about the flight?

Christian and I chose to fly over on Qatar Airways via Doha. Their health and safety protocols made us feel very safe:  Every passenger was given a face shield to wear when boarding and disembarking the plane, and the flight attendants wore protective gear over their uniforms with masks and safety glasses. The business-class cabin from JFK to Doha was perfect for social distancing, since it offered individual cabins with doors to shut. The cabins are not foolproof—because the walls don’t go as high as the ceiling—but you’re still not having that direct line of sight with other passengers.  For the most part, everybody stuck to the rules, wearing masks throughout the flight except when drinking or eating.

Did the airports feel safe?

JFK Airport was deserted, with virtually nothing open. In the lounge at JFK, there was no service at all: no food, no drinks being served, nothing. You just had the ability to sit in a comfortable chair (and every other seat was blocked off).

Doha was a little more happening, in terms of shops being open, but all public seating had a banner across every other seat that said “Do not use this seat.” They were good about that throughout, with middle seats blocked everywhere, including on the plane.

How did the health screening go when you landed in Kenya?

We lined up at a lean-to outside the terminal, where they checked our Covid-negative certificate; asked for the QR code we’d been given when we filled out the online health form; and took our temperatures. Once that was done, they let us into the building to go to immigrations and customs.

If you arrive without a QR code, you have to fill out the form and get that code while you wait in line. And if anyone were to show up with no test or a positive test, I assume they would need to go into quarantine. It’s unlikely that someone would have shown up without a test, though, because when we were checking in for the flight in New York, they confirmed our results.

What safety protocols did you find on safari?

Every safari camp and lodge—in fact, every building or structure, such as a supermarket—is bound by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside the premises, and you must use them before entering and have a temperature check. And even while you’re staying at a camp, they check your temperature every morning. Safari vehicles are equipped with temperature checks too.

Also the staff and guides all get Covid tests and temperature checks on a regular basis. Meals at camps are taken in separate locations, to avoid being close to others.

How safe did it feel, compared to back home?

I actually felt safer in Kenya than in the U.S.  In the U.S. you can go anywhere as long as you’re wearing a mask, but in Kenya you can’t go unless you’ve washed your hands and had a temperature check.

And the level of infection is extremely low; it’s not huge numbers of people who have died from Covid. I think part of the reason the rate of infection in most African countries has been low is that the governments there are used to this stuff, because of viruses like Ebola. So as soon as Covid reared its head, they went into lockdown. They got on with it as soon as possible, to get rid of it.

Even South Africa, for years and years before Covid, every time you entered the country, you got a thermal scan and they checked your temperature.

Were you able to stay socially distanced on the game drives?  How?

Pretty much all camps have limited the number of people per vehicle, going from six people to four people. And wherever possible, they are giving individual groups their own vehicles, so they’re not with strangers.

All the vehicles I rode in were open-air—and that’s because of the properties I chose. (You usually get closed vehicles at lower-end properties or when you’re doing an overland circuit where you take the vehicle from Nairobi, visit several properties and then go back to Nairobi, because you don’t want to be in an open vehicle when you’re out on the road.)

How does the wildlife now compare to before the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say you’re seeing more wildlife but that you’re seeing it pretty much all to yourself.  Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature.

For instance, in the Maasai Mara, at Mahali Mzuri Camp (owned by Sir Richard Branson), during our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.

Later in the trip, we did a full day into Tsavo East National Park and did not see one other vehicle the entire day. That is the benefit of being there right now: You’re experiencing those parks like the early pioneers did, before tourism even happened.

What has the pandemic made harder?

Having to get the Covid test ahead of time is harder, I guess. And it’s harder that people are perhaps more nervous to travel because of the unknown. But that’s one of the reasons I went on this trip—to check it out for myself. And I felt pretty comfortable.

The general consensus I hear from travelers is that they are not all that concerned about being in Africa. It’s getting there—the airports and flights—that concerns them. But I think the airlines’ filtration systems are equipped that if everyone wears their masks and does the right thing, it’s pretty safe.

The other concern I hear is: What if I get Covid in Africa? What medical facilities are available? We automatically sign up all our clients for the Amref Flying Doctors service, so if anybody gets sick, we cover them, on top of their own insurance, for getting from a camp to a hospital in Nairobi. And the government has insisted that all the counties in Kenya must have a minimum of 300 safe Covid beds.

What did you learn from your own trip that has helped you build the small-group adventure you’re planning in December?

First and foremost, I learned that it’s a safe country to visit. Nobody can guarantee that somebody’s not going to end up with Covid, but in my opinion, if you do all the right things, I think it’s a low-risk, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel like a pioneer and see these landscapes and animals without tourists.


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laptop computer open on picnic table on beach, work from vacation concept

Working and Schooling Remotely? You Don’t Have to Stay at Home

For families with kids in school, the holiday season will look different this year. Many schools that students travel to get to—private schools, boarding schools, colleges—have decided to end on-campus instruction by Thanksgiving, thereby preventing the spread of coronavirus infection that could result from students traveling en masse back to campus after Thanksgiving and home again for Christmas only three weeks later. Of course, many children have been remote-schooling since August or September anyway and will continue to do so through the end of the year. This is leading some parents—those who are working remotely and can do so from anywhere—to consider a change of scene with their families for an extended time.

Some families are trading in their homebase not just for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for the entire six to eight weeks from mid-November through mid-January. They are seeking beautiful resorts, ranches, and wilderness lodges with private villas, cabins, and cottages in outdoorsy locations—and with strong Wi-Fi, good office and educational resources, and a ton of after-school options that will ensure everyone can get away from their screens to be outside, breathe fresh air, and enjoy new activities. And if they work with an expert, they can arrange special location-specific experiences too, such as snorkeling with a marine biologist or learning a second language with a native speaker.

Meg Austin, a trip-planning specialist on The WOW List who lives in Vail, Colorado, and specializes in ski, dive, and Caribbean vacations, has a name for these multi-week escapes: “Zoom Aways.” She has been helping families pull together safe and satisfying extended getaways, allowing for both work and play, mainly in beautiful settings around the United States. As someone who raised two daughters while working from home and who knows how taxing it can be to juggle multiple jobs at once, Meg is full of ideas. “Kids are going crazy,” she says. “At those ages, without the social aspect of school and the opportunity to get your wiggles out, there’s got to be a better way.”

Where to go for a “schoolcation”

Meg has been collaborating with beach and ski resorts in North America and the Caribbean to make these extended “schoolcations” rewarding. For example, Auberge Resorts Collection can provide tutors and dedicated caregiver services at their mountain properties in the American West. In Mexico, the Four Seasons Punta Mita offers a study buddy program, a tech hotline, and after-school sports classes. And if you book a two-bedroom suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park City, Utah, Meg can get you a free upgrade to a three-bedroom and turn the third room into an office.

Zachary Rabinor, a Mexico specialist on The WOW List who lives in Puerto Vallarta with his two young sons, is seeing a similar trend: Families wanting to rent private homes and villas in charming beach locales, some for months at a time. Since Mexico never closed to air traffic during the pandemic, he’s been doing this for a while now. “They’re more like relocations,” he says of this type of extended stay. “People are thinking, instead of going for a week between Christmas and New Year’s, why not go for a month? The working-from-home and virtual-schooling have removed any fetters of physical location.”

A state-of-the-art set-up

In addition to finding accommodations that support long-term stays—whether they be resorts, all-inclusives, or private homes or villas—the right trip planner can ensure that everyone in the family has what they need to do their jobs remotely. That can mean arranging for tech upgrades so that the Wi-Fi can support multiple Zooms, Google classrooms, and video conferences at once. “There’s intensive use of the internet now,” says Zach, “and the bandwidth needs to be different than what people would accept if they’re just on vacation.” To that end, it’s enormously helpful to use a travel specialist who, like Zach, knows which local internet companies to call, speaks the language, and can have someone on hand to make sure the work is completed to the families’ requirements.

A school support network

The work/school hardware is only part of the puzzle for a long-term trip; kids may need tutors, parents may need nannies—and often they need a combination of both.

The right trip designer can source that too, from a reliable pool of candidates; for example, a helper to get the kids ready for school in the morning and then take them out to the slopes for a few hours afterward, a babysitter to keep the family occupied while mom finishes a late-night meeting, or a Spanish speaker to teach everyone the local language.

Indeed, if the kids need local tutors in any subject, a travel specialist who is plugged into the area’s schools and the education community is a life saver. In Mexico, Zach says, “As you can imagine there are a lot of teachers who, because of the Covid situation, are on reduced hours; they’re looking for work and we’ve got it, so we are getting education professionals.”

Most important is to make sure that whoever you’re bringing into your vacation bubble is safe and following recommend hygiene protocols—and maybe even getting tested before they join you.

Extracurricular activities

On an extended school/work-cation, there are many opportunities for adventures outside of the classroom (or hotel room). The best ones won’t feel like school, but they may be just as valuable, or moreso. Because in addition to providing everyone a chance to get away from their computer screens and move around, these kinds of activities can give kids and grown-ups the chance to rebuild some of the social and recreational fabric that’s been missing after long months of lockdown culture. For example, lifelong skier and diver Meg can hook kids up with ski guides and SCUBA trainers; she can arrange for flora and fauna specialists to take them hiking, or a marine biologist to take them diving. Zach, a surfer, can set up surf lessons and find ways to integrate with local kids or sports teams. They can all do much more, of course: Hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, bird-watching, fishing, snowshoeing—all kinds of activities are available, and they can be enjoyed safely and privately.

Peace of mind and unexpected perks

In addition to helping families fulfill pre-travel requirements, such as Covid testing or health paperwork, ace trip designers assist with unusual logistics based on the latest rules, restrictions, and services of the countries or states their travelers are visiting. (For example, the Dominican Republic is providing all hotel guests with a free “travel assistance plan” of emergency Covid-related coverage through December 2020, whereas Costa Rica requires that travelers arrive with proof of their own medical insurance that covers Covid-related bills; see more in The Countries That Have Reopened to U.S. Travelers.) And they will know if you’ll need an extended visa for a long-term stay and how to get one.

They’ll think of the day-to-day needs too, such as grocery delivery and safe housekeeping services. Want to bring your dog, but need a pet sitter for when you hit the slopes? No problem. Want a list of the best local doctors? Done. Meg is even arranging to have a Christmas tree in place for one family who will be spending the holiday out West. “If you dream it, I can make it happen,” she says.

As for pricing, WOW Listers can often negotiate lower prices even during peak holiday season. And they can secure free or discounted amenities that easily add up if you’re staying somewhere for a month or longer—daily breakfasts, for instance.

 

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

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The Post Office cabin at Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania, Virginia

How I Choose Hotels for Road Trips During Covid

We slept in this historic cabin in Spotsylvania, Virginia, just a few miles off I-95 and close to Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.
Stevenson Ridge is a wedding and events property, but with no weddings or events happening, we saw nobody there during our overnight stay.
Stevenson Ridge has nine 18th- and 19th-century cottages and cabins set around a pond.
There's Tim relaxing in our cabin. That's a wood-burning fireplace.
In a pandemic, it helps to have a dining table for take-out food.
The hotel left us a doggie blanket, bowls, and treats for our dog.
There's a better view of the kitchen area.
Stevenson Ridge calls this cabin "The Post Office" because it was rumored to be an in-home post office.
Those steps lead upstairs to the loft bedroom.
Here's the loft bedroom.
We also really appreciated the hotel's contact-less check-in and check-out process. We felt safe.
Tim was very impressed with the 19-inch-wide boards, a sure sign of the cabin’s age.

 

A coronavirus-related change in my travel M.O. that won’t change back, once this pandemic is over, is how I choose hotels for road trips. No longer will I settle for soulless highway chains where I must wait in a lobby line, squeeze in close to others in an elevator, or sleep in a room with an iffy ventilation system and windows that don’t open.  Instead, I’ll choose old-fashioned inns with separate cabins or cottages. These give you a private entrance, windows and sometimes balconies that you can leave open for fresh air, a kitchen area and/or dining table for when you bring in a take-out dinner, and often a contact-less check-in and check-out process as well.  Researching hotels for road trips lately, I’ve been surprised by just how many such hotels with cottages or cabins exist out there. And I’ve been thrilled by how they can turn an otherwise tedious highway trip into an escape to a different world.

Here are three ways to find such places along your route (and I realize that these strategies might work better on the East Coast, where I am based, than out West):

Pinpoint historic areas you’ll be driving through and look for traditional inns there. Pull up your route on Google Maps and zero in on older accommodations near historic landmarks and parks. Such traditional establishments often have cottages, as well as outdoor dining on porches and in gardens.

Look at wedding venues along your route. There are many charming estates used for weddings that have a main house and separate cottages—and, because weddings and other events are not happening nowadays, these places are empty. You can look up wedding properties by state and region on websites such as theknot.com or wedding-spot.com.

Search for waterfront lodges and inns near your route. Look on a map app for any rivers, lakes, and other waterways—as well as marinas—you will be passing. You’ll often find hotels with standalone waterfront cabins, as well as outdoor dockside dining, with socially-distanced tables and a fresh breeze. Even if you’re not sleeping there, you can enjoy lunch al fresco with a view.

This past week, when I needed an overnight stop for a road trip south on I-95, I found a place that fit all three criteria.  I decided to look near Fredericksburg, Virginia—because it’s a historic city with several Civil War battlefields nearby.  I punched “historic hotel cabins cottages near Fredericksburg Virginia Civil War landmarks” into Google, to see what options might pop up within reasonable distance of my driving route, and found Stevenson Ridge, a few miles off I-95, near Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.  It’s a wedding and events property, with nine cabins and cottages from the 18th and 19th centuries set around a pond.  I phoned the hotel, asked which cabin might be particularly suited to two travelers with a dog, and booked the cabin called The Post Office, rumored to be a former in-home post office.

Check-in/check-out was touchless from start to finish:  All the paperwork was done by email, our key was in our room when we arrived, and throughout our stay we never came close to, or even saw, another human being. The spacious and comfortable two-room cabin cost only $175 for the night (plus $25 for our dog) and was so atmospheric that we almost felt like we were sleeping in a museum exhibit. With our dog!

Enjoy the slideshow of what we discovered so close to a major highway, and if you have any similarly pandemic-friendly hotels to recommend near interstates, please share them in the comments so we all can benefit.

 

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