The COVID restrictions have been very difficult for those of us world travelers in the Early Retirement Community. We have had friends stuck for months in Europe, The Philippines, and Peru, among other countries.
We who travel as a lifestyle have found our footloose approach to life… encumbered, to say the least!
Our friends at Retire Early Lifestyle have a travel update from one of our World Traveling Buddies, Dale Knight—take a look:
RetireEarlyLifestyle: You have been a world traveler now for decades, Dale. How have these COVID travel restrictions affected your traveling lifestyle?
Dale Knight: It’s been devastating, as I’m sure it has for anyone who is passionate about travel.
Since March, I’ve had to cancel six trips previously booked through the end of 2020. I had plans to travel to SE Asia, then Australia and New Zealand… a Europe trip in August that included London, the Balkans and Paris… German Christmas markets in November, skiing in Japan in December.
It’s as if a year of my life has been snatched away.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Where were you when COVID started to shut the travel world down?
Dale Knight: In mid-March, I flew to Japan with plans to spend four days visiting friends in Sapporo before continuing on to Thailand. I was in Sapporo when Thailand abruptly closed its border to all international arrivals.
What to do?
I flew to Tokyo for a couple of days, then took the train to Kyoto, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Perfect timing! It was delightful, and everything at that time felt “normal” in Japan. People were out and about, bars and restaurants were open.
At the same time, the US was seeing a surge in COVID cases, and I began to hear from friends in Dallas about a strict lockdown. They warned that I might not be able to get back. I debated on whether or not to just stay in Japan but decided to return to Dallas.
That was not the best decision. In hindsight, I’d rather have spent more time in Japan.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Have you done any traveling recently? Where have you gone?
Dale Knight: I tried a couple of road trips in the US… The Oregon coast in June and Colorado in August. Those trips sort of scratched that travel itch, but in many ways it was still very frustrating. Hotels didn’t provide housekeeping services for one thing.
Traveling solo, I like to find a local bar or pub and chat with the locals. That is very difficult when everyone is behind a mask, and you have to sit off by yourself. The lone exception was in Laramie, Wyoming, where I happened upon a small friendly bar where nobody was wearing a mask. Some might think risky, but to me it was refreshing.
Twice I have gone to Mexico, meeting up with friends in Puerto Vallarta and then to the little beach town of Chacala to meet up with you and the Chapala gang. Just last week, I returned after a month in Mexico—two weeks with you and Akaisha and friends in Chapala. It was a wonderful time.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Is the “whole world” shut down or only certain places?
Dale Knight: For Americans, it does seem like the whole world is shut down. Australia, New Zealand, and almost all of Asia are completely off-limits, probably through the end of the year. Same with most of Europe. There are a few exceptions like Croatia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus—each is open with different entry requirements, such as needing a negative COVID test within so many hours of your departure or arrival.
Turkey is also open to Americans, and Tanzania in Africa. Several Caribbean Islands are open as well as Brazil and Ecuador in South America. At the same time, many US states require quarantine for out-of-state visitors and Canada is closed to Americans.
It’s a constantly changing dynamic and I follow blogs as well as the IATA Travel Centre website to stay up-to-date.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: How do you see the future of travel?
Dale Knight: I’m afraid it will be a long time before we return to the way it was just six months ago.
In 2019 a record 1.5 billion people worldwide traveled internationally. This year, the numbers have fallen off a cliff, with estimates of up to 80% decline. Countries that are heavily dependent on tourism such as Thailand, have made the choice of safety over the economy. They are being overly cautious about reopening borders.
I think we may have to accept COVID testing and quarantines as part of our traveling future. If a vaccine is ever developed, you might have to carry a card much like the Yellow Fever vaccination card, to show you are ok.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Is it easier in some places to get around versus other locations?
Dale Knight: When I was in Japan, it was easy to get around. Flying to Mexico and getting around Mexico is easy.
However, within the US, right now I cannot go to several states—mainly in the Northeast—without quarantining for 14 days. Before embarking on a road trip, I had to check each state’s restrictions to make sure I wouldn’t have to isolate in a hotel room. Attempting to go to Europe is difficult and even to those handful of countries allowing Americans, it requires planning, testing and possible quarantine.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: How has it been in the airports you have flown? What is different? Both flying into Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and out of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Dale Knight: Airports are pretty busy. People are flying and going places. The main difference is that the wearing of masks is strictly enforced both at airports as well as on the aircraft. Food and beverage service is minimal—or not at all—with the US airlines. My most recent flight was with the Mexican airline Volaris, from Guadalajara to Dallas Fort Worth. Flight attendants come through the cabin with a cart of beverages and snacks. Immigration was a breeze at both Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Do you need special papers, a COVID test, a health test? Did you have to answer any questionnaires?
Dale Knight: When I returned to Dallas from Japan in April, I didn’t need anything. However, if I’d flown through Los Angeles, as was my original plan, I would have had to quarantine for 14 days. On my recent flights into Mexico, passengers were required to fill out a health form, including flight and seat number as well as contact information. Otherwise, no testing, no quarantine.
Leaving Mexico, I had to fill out a short form with the same information, and the form was collected prior to entering the gate area. Arriving in the US, there were no forms or questions. Traveling to and from Mexico is very, very easy.
RetireEarlyLifestyle: How has the traffic in the airports been? Are your planes flying at half capacity or full capacity?
Dale Knight: Of the eight flights I’ve taken since April, all but two were completely full. The only flights not 100% full were the two from Mexico back to Dallas.
What does that tell you?
RetireEarlyLifestyle: Where do you plan to travel to next?
Dale Knight: My next trip is to California to attend my aunt’s 90th birthday.
After that, perhaps back to Mexico and Chapala. You and Akaisha are such gracious hosts. I can’t think of a better place to sit out the COVID pandemic.
Looking further down the road, I’m hopeful of getting into Thailand. A breaking news story just this week indicates Thailand is now open for long-stay tourists, those willing to stay at least 90 days or more. I’m trying to find out the details.
We’d like to thank Dale for taking the time to answer our questions so that we can share this information with our Readers.
Thanks Dale! It was great to see you again, and hope you return to our Chapala Paradise soon.
Ed. Note: Regarding countries that are opening things are moving fast. As of now Guatemala’s borders are open as well as its international airport with restrictions. Copa Airlines, based in Panama City is flying new routes, and I heard but not verified that Columbia is open without restrictions. But like we mentioned, things change quickly and you have to do your homework.