Coronavirus and 2020 travel plans
I just found this in my “Drafts” Folder and thought “…uiiiih, I haven’t posted this yet?” Well, this blog is my hobby. Excuse me if I got a bit slack with the timely posting of time-critical posts. Posting this now seems like a bit of a bad joke. Coronavirus and 2020 travel plans looks, whatever way you put it, a bit of an oxymoron. Can I really post about my (quietly hopeful) travel plans for this year now?
But, please wait.
Am I the only one who needs a little escapism right now? Of I go to my desk and reminisce about travel. That’s my way of trying to cope with the situation right now. And no. I will not travel if there are travel warnings in place or if I think I might put others at risk.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic – can you really write about travel?
On one hand, I am bracing myself for what’s to come. I work in a hospital and I pray to got we won’t get into Italy-Spain-US-style situations. At the same time I have limited my personal social life to zero in order to absolutely minimize my risk and risk infecting others with SARS-CoV-2. And not just for a couple weeks since our federal government finally decreed to cancel schools and ban mass gatherings. I think my turning point came in early March when my Israel trip fell apart due to the very strict immigration policy due to SARS-CoV-2. And you know what? Their strategy appears to have paid off. They have cases, but an astonishingly low death rate and a less disastrous growth of new infections than many European countries or the USA.
On the other hand, there will be a time after the pandemic. I’m not sure when, as this depends on our collective behaviour. But I am sure there will be, and it may help to dream of the trips you might want to take. Even do a little bit of tentative planning… ? Coronavirus and 2020 travel plans light?
My best laid plans as of late 2019
When I started this post in late December 2019 sometimes between Christmas and New Year, SARS-CoV-2 was just on the radar of some very well-informed scientists. The first case was reported on 17 November 2019, according to the Guardian newspaper. BBC News first reported about it in 3 Januar 2020. It’s quite interesting to see now how travel plans can change, so I decided to post it. Late.
Lets tackle the “Where to travel in 2020” epic post. Or not-so-epic post. As for the foreseeable future I work my full time job, which gives me 30 days of annual leave, which I believe is generous on the whole. So, I am limited to these leave days, and I choose carefully how I spend my precious leave. But this year, I have Christmas off like 95% of the population, the only thing I have to face between the holidays is when our hospital becomes the Ramblas of the medical world, when everyone and descends there because a lot of private practices are closed until well into January.
This year wasn’t quite how I had set out my 2019 travel plans, but it had plenty of good surprises. And here is how the travel year actually went.
My Travel Plans for 2020
As usual, I submit my annual leave requests sometime in September, leaving me with little flexibility time-wise. When it comes to picking a destination, I am more the spontaneous type. I usually have an annual holiday with my not-such-a-traveller husband in spring or autumn, an annual trip to see my in-laws in France. The rest? Wish list destinations that will be put on top of the list if the season is suitable and there are reasonably priced flights or train ticket.
First Trip of the year: Jordan!
I have entertained the idea of visiting Jordan for a couple years, mainly because of its most famous site, Petra. Recently, I found it a bit to Instagrammy, you know, floaty dresses in Wadi Rum, Bedouin tea and more dresses in Petra. But I wanted light and sun, because January is usually a pretty difficult time as it’s always dark, cold and not a smidgen of snow in sight to cheer things up. And who could say No to flights for 40 Euro from Germany. Is this crazy? So I booked them. I’m thrown between finally getting a PADI Open Water Certification and travelling round a bit, but the sights apart from Petra and Wadi Rum appear a lot of stone remnants in deserty landscapes, and I have just had a very good tour of the amphitheatres and dead stones of Asia Minor, so I am kind saturated with this.
How did Jordan pan out?
It was wonderful despite the bracing cold! I have started a series of posts on this trip, which can be found here. Unexpectedly, Wadi Rum turned out the highlight of my trip. We had a medical emergency on the flight in, which was terrifying at times. I never thought I would utter the words “we need to make an emergency landing” but this is where it happened. All went well in the end.
Britain, have you Brexited yet?
We were travel to a family reunion in England and had things gone to plan, we would be there now. Yeah, Brexit happened by now, things seem pretty much as before regarding passports, money and mobile roaming, were it not for the very small infectious agent. Which eventually made us cancel our trip two days before we were due to fly out. I admit it, it was my husband who first chickened. After five minutes of “I’ll go anyway and go hook up with my mates in London and up North” I thought that this might be very silly indeed. For about two weeks I was practising pretty much self-isolation other than going to work and to buy food, and now I would go on a whistle-stop tour of entire England potentially picking up pathogens here, there and everywhere?
So, sensibility won and we cancelled. By this stage, the hotel was very understanding and let us cancel in the view of the virus spread. Easyjet wasn’t but at least you can now re-book flights without being punished with a cancellation charge. Just a bummer I can’t really take any extra days off until November, all my other flights have, in an unprecedented orderly fashion, already been booked, and the schedule only runs until 24th October.
Two weeks after I last worked on this post, Easyjet has still not deemed it necessary to refund us a flight they cancelled or our car hire (which Europcar confirmed was refunded)! I hope it’s not the end of the story… latest is they have promised a voucher for the ENTIRE booking… almost too good to be true, and I am willing to accept that. I’ll let you know once I successfully booked a flight using that voucher!
Israel, another trip that didn’t happen
Yup, and hot on the heels I had planned a trip to Tel Aviv and the West Bank, bolstered by a super cheap fare to Tel Aviv. It would have been now, during fairly low season but great weather in Israel while spring in Germany is still a bit of pot luck around this time, yet away from the craziness of Holy Week celebrations. I even booked a a very cool hotel this time – true to my intent to primarily recommend hotels I actually stayed in!
As we all know by now, Israel imposed a travel ban several nationalities on 5th March, and is currently complimenting all foreign visitors out of the country. I managed to cancel my two hotel bookings I had made on Booking.com for free, also the pilgrim hostel and my day trip were cancelled easily.
Flight cancellation issues… again
Easyjet was less understanding of the travel ban. They said on their website that you may be denied boarding. Strictly speaking, they would break the law or go as far as commit a crime if they took any one under a travel ban to Israel. Therefore, purchases would need to be reversed and a full refund given, but try to explain that to Easyjet.
Anyway, the airline cancelled the flight in, which meant a full refund. Interestingly, they only refunded the inbound leg. Perhaps they expect me to make my way into the country by magic carpet only to take the return flight? I’ve given up trying to contact Easyjet, as I have several times, with some automated-looking response telling me I can re-book but then, I really can’t because the earliest I can book leave is November, and the schedule is not out yet. So I will just wait and see if Easyjet will cancel the flight. Then a refund is due. If they do not cancel, I could, in theory, re-book any other flight. It’s like a virtual credit, but honestly, my motivation to travel on that airline right now is somewhat reduced.
Two weeks alter: They did cancel indeed. Another two weeks and various contact attempts via contact form and Twitter later, my flights were both refunded.
This really makes me wonder if I will ever fly on Easyjet again. This is a unprecedented situation, but them insisting of flying people into stricken regions and NOT offering rescheduling, paired with the absolutely dreadful response rate, unavailability of their email address (even the one in the impressum) and general disrespect for their customers makes me wonder and search for a carrier that is just a bit more… accommodating.
Fourth Time Japan
This isn’t going to happen until late autumn, and I very much hope this will happen. We booked and paid for the tickets. I am happy we booked the tickets directly with Japan Airlines. So, if the airline cancels, we will get a refund directly. If not, and if the situation is under control, we will travel. I cannot imagine Japan Airlines to be unreasonable, but we’ll reassess closer to the time. All accommodations,w ell the one I have already booked, are either reservations with the accommodation directly, where they have a fairly decent cancellation policy, or I used Booking.com.
And these are my somewhat amalgamated travel plans for the year! And guess what… my employer let me cancel my leave for Israel, soooo…. I have at least another week of leave to spend as I wish, and, all things being good and everyone staying healthy, I’m off armchair travelling now and think about in what reasonably priced place with a lot of culture and good food to spend that week! I’m also looking into unpaid overtime right now and taking days off in lieu – this may not free six weeks for my dream trip, but might add another few days.
My travel recommendations for 2020
I have no definitive plans to go there this year. My thirty days of annual leave usually cannot be moved once booked. I managed a great week in Jordan in January already. It looks like I’ll be spending two weeks at home, and if I’m very lucky, I might be able to visit Japan in autumn.
But who knows? I might try to fit a bit more travel in within the next yer or two. The current situation is showing me once more that waiting for the perfect time may not be the best plan.
Please note that I am based in the EU, and most of my travel is short-or medium haul. So a lot of these recommendations are based on accessibility from Europe, and also because Europe is the place I feel most at home in. These are to remind me to not become too bogged down with frustration about not being able to travel! Its not as bad as the 1980’s when I lived in a socialist country and travel was severely restricted. Its easier to not travel but to at least have the opportunity. Right now, it’s just impossible to make any firm plans for the foreseeable future.
Anyway… luxury problems! We are healthy, we have a job, we have food, internet and electricity… and we can dream.
For any recommendation, you must take the actual COVID-19 situation into account, and I advise you not to travel should you or the country that you plan to travel to any travel warnings in place that may apply to you. It looks like I have previously picked countries that I recently travelled in that are, at least in parts, under-visites, yet safe for visitors. However, many now have very strict measures or complete travel bans in place because of COVID-19.
The United Kingdom
So, the pound is low, the United Kingdom has left the European Union, but while they’re now in a transition phase for the year, not much appears to have changed. Maybe time to give Britain your business while there is uncertainty about tourism in the next few years? ? With the pound at an almost historical low, accommodation and services now have become affordable, and previously oversubscribed attractions may become less crowded.
I shall revise that after a further two weeks and COVID-19 now really taking a grasp on the UK. Having worked in the NHS myself, I am not surprised this is happening. I would now advise from all travel to the UK until COVID-19 is well and truly over. Firstly, the number of unreported cases is likely to be high, as they run very few tests, and secondly, to not put furhter strain on an underfunded overstretched healthcare system.
We visited Armenia and Georgia in 2018. While Georgia was beginning to receive millions of tourists, especially in and around Tbilisi, Armenia was sleeping its sleeping beauty sleep, and diaspora Armenians on a trip to the mother land made the majority of tourists in Armenia. Its landscapes and attractions may not be quite as diverse as Georgia (there are a lot of bare mountains, ancient monasteries and a good lot of Soviet architecture).
At the time of writing, Armenia has declared a State of Emergency (on 16 March 2020) and they currently have about 920 confirmed cases. I think they acted very responsibly early on in order to reduce spread, and are currently not open to tourists. Once they are again, I highly recommend you visit. Between March and October should make for good, sunny temperate weather. But leave the summer months out as it can become unbearably hot except in the highest locations, plus you get a huge influx of tourists. I am almost certain that with all its natural beauty, early Christian monasteries and hospitality, Armenia will take off similarly to Georgia as a tourist destination a few years ago.
“Oh don’t go there, there’s a civil war going on!” my husband tried to warn me when I planned just a little city trip to Odessa from Chisinau in 2018. True – the civil war in Eastern Ukraine flares up intermittently, but the cities in the west are little affected by it. I found Odessa rich with history, excellent food, and low, low prices. I long to go back, and visit the cities of Lviv, Czernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Uzhgorod. Oh, and I really would love to see the famous Easter Egg Museum of Kolomya. And… I want to do it all by train! There is a direct Berlin-Warsaw train which runs about 6 times daily (!) , then a high-speed train to Krakow, and well… two more trains! It could be done quite easily in a ten-day holiday, which is the kind of duration of a holiday I normally get.
I love, love, love Istanbul. In less than three hours from Berlin, you are in a cosmopolitan city with a definite oriental vibe, friendly people, impressive sights too numerous to mention, wonderful food and extraordinary shopping.
We did a two-week road trip of the Aegean in 2019 with two days in Istanbul tagged onto it, and it was so lovely that I set my eye on a different region already… Central Anatolia! With a lack of a sea and beaches, this is strictly for sightseeing, landscapes and food. With Konya, the region around Afyon and the huge salt lake of Tuz Golu, there is plenty to see in two weeks! I am also interested in the Black Sea region and Eastern Anatolia and the Hatay province. I think in the next ten years I’d find a different region to visit in Turkey every year while staying away from the tourist resorts of the Aegean and the Mediterranean.
Taiwan – tentative
Has never really been on my radar until I saw pictures of ornate temples and appetizing food in Instagram. And to add to that, it offers Chinese culture, great infrastructure and what apears to be an easier way to travel independently that the People’s Republic of China.
Well… I know so little about it, despite taking an interest in Eastern Asian culture. It looks easy to visit with many direct flights from Germany, I would not need a visa, and infrastructure looks excellent. They also responded incredibly well to COVID-19, and they might allow visa-free travel again in a few months.
Are you planning any trips this year?
Just a few weeks ago I would have thought, what a silly question, but now… everything has changed on the travel front.
But, with all that’s going on, do you keep planning trips?