what the pandemic has taught me about planning travel

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two months since our lives flipped upside down due to the Coronavirus outbreak. My last day in the office was on March 13th and since then I’ve been working from home, getting groceries delivered, and haven’t come within six feet of someone other than my husband! Although I always like to be informed and aware of what’s happening in the world, at times the drastic change to our daily lives and inundation of news and opinions has been overwhelming. To do my part, I’ve respected all of the social distancing rules and have hardly left the house other than walks outside. We’ve also been ordering dinner from local restaurants once a week to try and support local businesses as much as we can!

Although I’m feeling very grateful for mine and my family’s health, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about having to reschedule our upcoming Europe trip. We had planned to leave for our Spain and Italy trip next Monday! Instead we ended up rescheduling to the middle of September. I’ve actually never had to reschedule a trip like this before so this experience has taught me a lot. I’ve always maintained this idea that once the trip is booked, there’s nothing in the world that could stop me from taking it. How naive I was to think that there wouldn’t be things outside of my control that could in fact stop me ha! Although we don’t yet know the lasting effects that this pandemic will have on the way we live, I believe that it has forever altered the way that we will travel.

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Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Travel insurance or not to travel insurance? I’m not typically someone that gets travel insurance (or cell phone insurance, furniture protection insurance etc. ha)! Not that I’m a risk taker but it pains me to spend money on something that I’ll never get a return on the investment for. Yes, there’s peace of mind, but how much is that worth? Once news of the virus started spreading I decided to investigate travel insurance options for our May trip and I learned that there are quite a few rules surrounding trip insurance packages. Rule like having to secure the insurance within a certain number of days of the first flight or hotel element booked. Also, most travel insurances (as of present day) don’t cover for what’s considered a “known event.” Meaning, any trip booked after the first Coronavirus outbreak in China was made public knowledge in January (note it was way before it became the global threat that it is now) will not be covered by trip insurance should you cancel due to the Coronavirus because the virus after January was considered a “known event.” Before the boarders were closed and flights were cancelled if you wanted to cancel a trip due to safety concerns, you wouldn’t be covered for what they categorize as “fear.” I understand the insurance companies want to make a profit, as all businesses do, but I have a hard time seeing how it’s a worthwhile investment! I did have a friend tell me he had a trip planned for Ireland that he had to reschedule after finding out his wife was pregnant and due the week of the trip! This type of event is covered by most insurances so there are situations where travel insurance might be right for you. I, however, don’t plan on investing in travel insurance in the future. There are too many gray areas in what is covered for refunding your trip that make me feel like I’d be just throwing money out the window!
  2. Getting Refunds or Credits. Since I don’t plan on investing in travel insurance in the future, I still want to try and ensure I won’t be at a loss should a trip get interrupted again in the future. The biggest headache for rescheduling our May Spain/Italy trip was that half of our hotels/bed and breakfasts were non-refundable. By locking in a non-refundable room you can often secure a lower rate. Saving some money seems great in the short term but moving forward I’ll only be securing rooms that have refund options available unless the accommodations are extremely special and worth the risk. Luckily, all of the hotels we had booked for May were accommodating to not charging a fee for moving the dates of our stay.
  3. Approach everything with kindness. This is a good rule for life and travel. All of the hotels that we are staying in for Spain and Italy are small and locally owned. Because of this, any cancellation or reschedule hurts their bottom line and their livelihoods. When communicating with the various hotels I approached it with empathy and kindness when asking for flexibility. Some were reluctant at first but then I adjusted to find a solution that would work for us both. For one hotel, I said “I really want to support your business as I know this is a difficult time for everyone. What if we added another night stay at your hotel in order for us to get flexibility in moving the date?” This worked like a charm!
  4. Keep all trip elements as organized as possible. Typically I use a master Excel document to track our travel details however what I quickly learned was that my email confirmations were not organized in Gmail. I had to spend a lot of time digging to find the confirmation emails for flights, hotels and restaurants. What I ended up doing was creating a separate category for this trip, and filing every correspondence for it in that folder. Now, I have a clear paper trail for all communications and confirmations of our new dates.
  5. Travel is a privilege. In our day-to-day busy lives it’s easy to get caught up and lose sight of how much we have to be grateful for. With social media serving as a highlight reel of friends and celebrities we all start comparing ourselves to others. I know I’ve felt it when I’m home and bored and seeing an influencer posting pictures sipping tea at a cafe in Paris. But wow, has this pandemic shifted my thinking entirely. I fully appreciate and recognize now how lucky I am to have had the opportunities to travel and explore that I’ve had. Travel is expensive and takes a lot of time and coordination – things that not everyone has. I’m still unsure if our Europe trip will happen in September but if it doesn’t, I’m staying calm and am at peace knowing that we will get to do the trip eventually, and when we do, what a gift it will be.

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