Should I stay or should I go? Travel in 2021
Just over a year ago, I wrote a post on whether to travel or not. Well, it is old hat now! But I am keeping it anyway as a snapshot of the times we were in. And is travel in 2021 actually a viable and ethical option?
Now, things look a lot different. The questions remains the same. Is travel in 2021 a good idea? Part of my work at present is counseling and vaccinating. Most benefits and potential risks of a COVID-109 vaccine are described in our government consent leaflets, so the most common questions I get are “How long will I be immune for?” and “Will I need a repeat vaccination?” among others.
I normally reply that like most people I honestly do not know but that it’s quite possible. Just over a year ago we had this new virus no one knew how do deal with other than complete isolation and shutdown, and now, a year later we are starting to roll out mass vaccines (while other countries have reached the point of herd immunity) so who knows what will be in one year? As a scientist, you may research into only a small definite part of the future. My generation in Europe has yet to experience a major crisis and this may well be it. We need to accept that there are things we cannot take for granted and things we cannot predict.
So. Back to the question of travel. As the vaccination rates increase, countries are opening their borders for tourists, especially those that have been vaccinated or can pre COVID-19 immunity.
But does it mean now is a good time to travel?
I am torn, honestly. I had thought travel in 2021 would be easier than it is now.
Of all things I have missed in the past year, travel comes top. And I was lucky. I kept my job, I had enough disposable income to see my immediate family and to spend a week in Sicily in 2020. There were some other trips that I enjoyed less, including travelling for work on crowded trains with poor air circulation and anti-maskers, or losing one of the most important people in my life and arranging a funeral in a lockdown remotely and then traveling to England to attend.
But considering how much I used to travel pre-COVID-19, I still feel pretty much grounded. Travel in 2021 does not seem to happen in Western Europe. I have a week of leave coming up and I had seriously considered a trip to enjoy after a year of hard work, anxiety and restrictions. To say we had enough of six months of restrictions is probably an understatement. Other than work, all activities and socialising are basically frowned upon, but all work and no fun over many months have made me quite frustrated, and there isn’t enough Netflix and sourdough to make up for the lack of culture and social contacts.
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Travel in 2021- Where can I go right now?
Disclosure first: I was vaccinated in February as one of the high priority groups. I have run an acute infection clinic for over a year with heaps of COVID exposure and managed to dodge it successfully, I started as a vaccinator in December 2020 including visits to some very vulnerable people, and I am one of those who get exposed to aerosols a lot due to messing around with peoples top ends a lot. So as soon as there was a remote possibility of a vaccine, I registered for it in my home state, with the Berlin government that administers vaccines, and with my employer. My employer offered the vaccine, and I jumped at it. The Berlin Senate would have vaccinated me some time in March, and in my home state I’d be still on the waiting list.
So, vaccination done, I started to search potential destinations. The ones I liked with good weather in April, limited lockdown and reasonable health services for the broad population were Georgia and the Seychelles. I also considered Zanzibar but Ramadan and the rainy season have just started and flights are more than 560 Euros. Plus, I have been to Zanzibar. Seychelles – a bit far, a bit expensive. So, Georgia. I spoke to a few people who have family there and they said it was kind of semi-open, unlike Germany where everything is shut except supermarkets, hairdressers and plant centres.
Georgia is a lovely small and safe country in the Caucasus region of Western Asia that depends on foreign tourism. A former Soviet Republic, it is are quite Western leaning in its policy and therefore, English is fairly widely spoken in cities and people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. It is a mostly secular and Christian country with a great deal of tolerance, only in Religions sites there are certain modesty rules to be observed. I have visited in 2018 and got around a bit and now wanted to visit Kutaisi, the nearby Monastery of Gelati and then have a few days in Tskaltubo walking around abandoned sanatoria and getting a back injury sorted out in one of the working sanatoria.
Another option was Gdansk in Poland as it is our neighbour and just a short train ride away.
Also Greece and Israel but neither are fully open to foreigners just yet but are planning to do so in the near future.
But as I trawled government web sites and travel restrictions, I wondered: Is it okay to travel right now?
The situation at home
Let’s say from my semi-informed point of view it is pretty dire. Despite a lockdown since November 2020, the infection rates have not decreased and are rather on the rise, with some mutations taking overhand and no definite evidence on the level of protection with various vaccines against them.
The high level care units are now full to bursting point (yet) but that’s only because only urgent surgeries are performed in many hospitals. Also, the number of available beds does not necessarily reflect the number of staffing levels required to look after high care patients. The profession is bleeding qualified staff because the level of appreciation has sunk to the bottom from enthusiastic clapping a year ago. Guess what? No one can pay their rent form a round of applause. No one is out to make financial gain from the pandemic here, but a lot of us went more than the extra mile, put in extra hours, exposed themselves to the virus every single day. Yes, it is our job, but to be told a year later that there will be no bonus payment but rather a further reduction of staffing levels is a slap in the face, no, its a brutal knock.
My older family members have had one or two doses of the vaccination but my husband does not qualify and we will be lucky if he qualifies before July or August. For the past year, I have done all our shopping, and he has stayed pretty protected, working from home, with occasional well-masked outings and one trip to see his family. It does not sound so bad, actually, for we have a garden and of course we go out on walks where there are few people, but . If I go away, he will have to expose himself and risk an infection.
The infection law and immigration policy seems all over the place right now and to this day, I will still need to quarantine for ten days upon returning home. There is the possibility of getting a letter from my employer to stay I am essential staff, and some stated in Germany have changed their law to waive quarantine for the vaccinated. But I cannot be sure right now, and getting stuck in quarantine would be pretty horrific as my clinics are fully booked for months and rescheduling because I had to travel for fun and then be in quarantine is irresponsible.
The situation at your destination
Another important point to consider are the infections dynamics and the general public health situation in your destination.
What are the infection rates?
What is the health service like, and will they be able to help you if you become sick – not just with anything coronavirus-related?
Are there lockdowns in place? What good is it to travel somewhere and then find most things shut and curfews in place?
So, Georgia, my favourite destination for now… they have a rising high infection rates of currently 1000 new cases per day and administered just under 30000 vaccinations – in a country of 4 million people. Lockdown measures are being eased but cases are on the rise. In neighbouring Turkey where I would have to transfer, cases are rising sharply and are currently at 50000 new cases a day. As much as the lack of travel restrictions is enticing, I am too worried about being stuck somewhere.
Poland is experiencing stable infection rates but its hospitals are full. Would I really want to travel there and potentially increase the burden on the system?
Tanzania…. well, as I mentioned before, COVID-19 does not appear to exist there officially. Well, not Turkmenistan-level denial but there is very little testing and very few hygiene rules from what it appears on news reports. In early 2021, Tanzania was fully open to tourists with no quarantine or testing rules so chances of people mixing and mingling and swapping virus are high. Also, flight prices, having to change planes in Oman, and the start of the Ramadan and the rainy season have made this a less enticing option.
Vaccinated, post COVID, Tested Negative?
Some countries still require tests upon entry, no matter whether you had an infection or a vaccination or not.
Germany requires a negative PCR test upon entering by airplane, no matter whether you are vaccinated or not. I know of some test centers where such a test can be obtained within eight hours for as little as 30 Euros, but I am not familiar with the testing facilities in Tbilisi or Stone Town, so I do not want to risk being denied boarding and missing a place.
I realize having received the COVID-19 vaccine relatively early for Germany, it is a huge privilege, but one I have deserved, honestly, after really being exposed a lot and putting my neck out there for a year. I don’t care of others see this as a golden ticket to travel, as long as the majority of the population has not been offered a vaccine, it is a bit unethical to enjoy the freedom to travel again when the majority of German residents is stuck in a lockdown or, worse, losing income because of it.
Just the other day I had a patient who upon entering the consultation room ripped off his mask and started talking at me. I could barely get a word in but manged to say. “Please. Put your mask back on.” on which he responded “but I am vaccinated, I do not have COVID.” And continued yakking about his dyspepsia and snot in the back of his nose and what have you, demonstrating by snorting deeply in my direction. Seriously! I nearly lost my face. I just opened the window wide and said ” We are gonna keep this very short today so allow me to examine you and then I want you to put this mask back on because it is the law AND the house rules.”
Honestly, I do not fancy a trip in the company of some entitles idiots who think they are invincible because they had two jabs.
And… sorry to spoil it, but the vaccination even with a highly effective mRNA vaccine doe snot make you fully immune. The efficiency rate is reported between 91 and 95%. This means you can still become infected, and stranded, if you are really unlucky.
Last not least, the my style of travel usually involves a packed city at some stage, staying in mid-range accommodation and mixing with as many people as I can. The last time I stayed in a resort was in 2016 and I got bored, quite quickly. So, even though many countries who depend on tourism open to foreigners in one way or another, staying in a resport the whole time would not constitute a fun holiday for me.
What am I doing instead?
So, after much deliberation, I have decided not to travel. Mostly because the vaccine I received through work because of my work is primarily to protect me from becoming infected myself and pass it on to others, not to travel immediately and set a poor example. However careful I am, I definitely have many more contacts when travelling than in my daily like (if I am not at work). I mean, I don’t lock myself in the house with zero contacts and I have seen my immediate family since getting the vaccine, but I am pretty selective and try to avoid any unnecessary exposure outside work.
I have lots of things to do in the house, but I will instead treat it like a holiday! I will probably write a couple of blog posts I can schedule for when work gets busier again. I might start sewing a few summer clothes. I have not sewed much except soft furnishings, face masks and proving cloths in the past year, so sewing actual clothes again will be fun.
Another thing which may be short-lived (but I started) is learning Hebrew. Several reasons: I felt like an eejit in Israel last tines, not being able to speak at least a few phrases of Hebrew. I did a few online classes and did not find it that difficult once I got the hang of the Hebrew alphabet. So, next time I visit, I will be able to speak some basic Hebrew. I also contemplated to study again. I am not sure what course exactly and when, and it is likely to be totally inconseqential for my profession, but learning Hebrew was the big gap as I did Latin at school and I know the Greek alphabet so Hebrew was the big unknown – until now.
And I might have picked up a couple of locum shifts as well. I can save the extra cash for future trips. Or pay off the house five minutes earlier. Feathering the nest.
What is happening with travel?
I have not written 2021 off, and we will keep an eye on developments.
My dream is to visit Thailand (with my husband) and the Holy Land (solo) later this year. The way things are going at present, a small Mediterranean trip for both of us should be possible, like last year. Much will depend on whether Germany will pick up speed with vaccinations and whether my husband can get the vaccine, really, and how he feels about travel without having been vaccinated.
My next trip will be to London, but maybe it won’t. I have just rescheduled everything from October to January to March … for the third time, so third time lucky, perhaps. Thankfully, reserving a hotel room with Booking.com means I could change hotel reservations with no loss at all. And British Airways may pack their airplanes full, but they sell a nice flexible ticket.
I use Our Wold in Data for up to date Coronavirus Statistics.
For Immigration and quarantine advice I use the national government or health authorities sites. For Germany this is the Coronavirus Entry Regulations and the Infection Protection Act and various state and local rules and regulations that are changing all the time and are increasingly hard to comprehend.
For The UK, there are the Coronavirus restrictions on the governmental website – they seem to be a bit clearer than the patchwork of rules we have in Germany. For the US, I would consult the US Department of State-Bureau of Consular Affairs.
For data on efficiency rates of COVID vaccines, I have consulted the original publications in the New England Journal of Medicine on the Biontech-Pfizer and the Moderna COVID-10 mRNA vaccines. There are several publications on their efficiency on virus variations, but although they do offer some protection, there is insufficient evidence that efficiency rates are as high as for the original virus.
The Small Print
This post reflects my personal view on why I am not travelling for pleasure at the moment. Every one’s situation is different, and I am not here to judge your personal views. There is much to be said for responsible travel and spending money on the battered travel industry or, more importantly, people whose income depends on tourists but as long as I feel I might do damage rather than good, I am staying at home.
This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com which I use for 90% of my bookings. If you book through this link, I mmay earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.