Travel Tactics During a Virus Panic

Tikal, one of the great wonders of the world

Update March 26, 2020My how things can change in the space of a few weeks eh?. Obviously there are no “Should I travel?” decisions going on now as we’ve gone to the world pandemic stage. Every country is on lockdown now or soon will be and many are shutting their borders in and out. So what can you do besides stay at home and watch TV? Well, you can make travel plans for the future, get some things done you’ve been putting off, and go for a long walk in nature. I’m leaving this up as a snapshot of what things looked like before all hell broke loose. But now you need to #StayTheFHome

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What we were thinking in early March about this spread:

After getting 28 messages from my wife about why I should cancel my trip to Europe because of the corona virus panic, I finally did. It wasn’t really up to me in the end anyway: the conference I was supposed to be speaking at got postponed, so that meant canceling the whole trip. It was to be in Sicily, a southern island far from where the real trouble is in north Italy, but perception trumps microclimate reality in these cases, so in the end the organizers had no choice. Hopefully I’ll be there in the autumn instead.

I continued on with my skiing trip in Idaho and returned to my home in central Mexico. I was supposed to be traveling to a different part of Mexico in a couple weeks for a conference, then maybe flying to a family event in New Jersey in early April. Or maybe not, seeing how things are being handled at the top in the USA. [Update: trip canceled, flight credits gained from American Air and Delta–thanks for making it easy.]

Now I’m watching everyone evaluate whether to take any future trip they’ve planned, due to the constant drumbeat about health risks.

I’ve seen this kind of story before, traveling during outbreaks of SARS, swine flu, bird flu, and the biggest travel disruption of them all: the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center of NYC and the Pentagon of DC. While this is the biggest medical outbreak, that panic made this look like a walk in the park for travel-related companies. [Update—this will be even worse for the travel industry.]

Even the most hardy and fearless travelers are hesitating about future trips right now and nearly every blogger I know is seeing their readership drop as people hunker down in front of the boob tube with their bottle of hand sanitizer. My Perceptive Travel blogger Sheila summed up the situation better than I could and gives sage health advice in this post: Should Coronavirus Change How You Travel?

Obviously now, weeks later, it seems quaint that we were even having that discussion. It seems like a luxury to even think about travel in the short term.

Read Real News About the Virus Outbreak, Not B.S.

There are all kinds of charlatans, sleazy salespeople, and anti-science politicians spouting pure b.s. about this virus panic and its risks. Some are strongly overstating it if it’s in their self-interest to do so, others are wildly understating it for their own selfish purposes. Our own idiotic president called it a hoax and his equally dumb supporters (and GOP news channel Fox) kept repeating that. Although the angry orange one and his cronies have underfunded the CDC’s efforts to be prepared to combat a pandemic, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is still your best source of information if you’re American.

Otherwise, trust news sources with no agenda, the ones that put facts above all else. If a news source has been around for 50 or 100 years, it’s probably going to give you better information than AngryGrandpaShouting.com. Check the BBC, the Globe & Mail, the Sydney Morning Herald, any of the top-5 U.S. newspapers, or any independent news source you can find in your own country. Despite what some on the right think, NPR’s non-profit model makes it more reliable than most—without all the name-calling and anger. Plus this is one time I would recommend Wikipedia for the country counts and facts behind them.

splurges on a trip around the world

What about TV? Well for the most part, TV channels live for ratings, so the more viewers the better. They often get more viewers by scaring people to death and making them think they have to keep tuning in for…”breaking news” that will then scare them even more. Or they get ratings by making you angry, by finding someone to blame.

Turn it off. You’ll be happier.

Learn to Read a Map, Then Dig Deeper

While this nasty virus has now been tagged as global pandemic, there are a few bright sides here. One is that the virus is not really killing a huge percentage of people considering the high infection numbers. This is not Ebola where as soon as you see symptoms you’d better start finding witnesses to sign your will. But you sure as hell better isolate yourself and stay there.

The other aspect to consider is that this virus doesn’t seem to do as well in hot places. So most of the tropical countries are virus-free or just have an isolated case here and there because someone flew in from an affected area. As I write this in early March, here’s the map that matters:

Coronavirus cases

[Update – the number of virus-free countries keeps dropping, but still the tropical ones have far fewer cases and it’s not spreading as fast. Though of course this is highly dependent on how many people have free access to tests. As we saw in the U.S., the low numbers were mostly b.s. because people couldn’t get tested.]

Poke around for the current update for where you’re thinking of going if you have travel plans later and understand that this map is a view from the moon. It only takes one case to turn a country from gray to blue. There are only a handful of cases in some of these countries, often just a few arrivals who are in quarantine at a hospital or by the airport. If it spreads beyond the capital though, all bets are off.

In the big country known as the United States, the data is fuzzy at best since there aren’t enough testing kits and the government was woefully prepared for an outbreak. Also, a for-profit health care system breaks down in a hurry when you need a coordinated national response to treat everyone, not just those with money. Again the situation is fluid, but the worse states are Washington, California, and New York. If you’re trying to get to Oklahoma to see your dying grandmother, you should go there. [Update late March: Sorry Grandma, “We’ve gotta talk on Skype.”]

Just because a country is colored in on that map doesn’t mean there’s cause for alarm–yet. In early March, Argentina has had all of two cases, Mexico has five, Ecuador five, New Zealand four, Morocco two, Nepal one, and on it goes. In most hot countries, the cases are from people entering by plane from China or some other country with a high number of cases. [Update – these numbers have all gone up, in some cases rapidly. See the current news. The only stats that matter now are the ones where you currently are.]

Put the Numbers in Perspective

It’s very scary to watch the numbers of cases go up and hear that people have died from anything we don’t have a cure for. We’ve gotten to the point where we think almost anything can be treated with the right pill, injection, or operation, but that’s clearly not true in this case. So people are panicking. They’re even buying up all the water in stores, like this virus is going to unleash a horde of zombies or something. (Hint, the municipal water supply might be interrupted during a hurricane or string of tornadoes, but not a medical outbreak.)

When this thing took off in the USA, the daily deaths were still lower than the number of people dying from random gun violence each day. At that point I said, “Be careful and vigilant with your hand washing and hygiene, but if you’re really worried about dying, stay out of your car, eat healthy food, and stay away from opiods. Having an annual travel insurance policy is a good idea too in case your flight gets canceled or some other disruption comes up.”

Now in late March, it’s a full-on pandemic and group gatherings are banned nearly everywhere. The choice has mostly been made for you for the good of us all. Stay home and chill.

This will get far worse before it gets better, of course, so all we can do now is wait it out.

Don’t Avoid Corona Beer (Unless It’s Because You Think It Sucks)

Corona is one of the worst beers from Mexico–why do you think they stick a lime in it? This is especially true if you buy it in a clear glass bottle (always a terrible idea). But you’ve got to be pretty dumb to think it’s risky to drink a beer that happens to share the same name as a totally unrelated thing. That’s like refusing to go to an Egyptian temple with images of the god Isis because you think it has something to do with terrorists. Or avoiding Bimbo bread in Mexico because you think it will make you stupid. But it’s happening.

Mexican beer that's not Corona

Better beer options in Mexico

Take Advantage of the Bargain Opportunities

Every disaster has a silver lining it seems and there are several upsides to this one.

– If the stock market keeps falling, there will be lots of buying opportunities. Five years from now, you’ll look like a genius if you buy in at the bottom. We probably haven’t hit it yet though, so hold on for a bumpy ride.

– Unless things turn around in a hurry, we will see tremendous deals on flights and hotels when it is safe to travel again. Companies will either need to go out of business or reduce their prices to survive. That’s economics. Those who are still willing to fly in the second half of this year will find good prices that come with low demand.

– I’m already hearing about people snagging award availability with frequent flier miles like they’ve never seen before. I’ve seen a few posts on Twitter where people got domestic flights for 5,000 miles. You might finally see availability to cash in miles for Hawaii, London, or Paris.

– Any place you go after this is over will be very happy to see you. Anyone in tourism will be rolling out the welcome mat when we can travel again.

– At first, this may just be a great time to explore your own backyard. If you’re worried about flying to Asia or Italy even after we get the all-clear, go check out that place a two-hour drive away that you’ve been putting off for a decade now. Maybe in a a rented RV or staying in a state park cabin if you’re still worried.

In short, stay informed, be smart, keep the risks in perspective, and take advantage of great opportunities where you can after this virus lockdown is over. Meanwhile, there are 1,000+ articles you can read on this blog to prepare for later. You’ve got the time, right?

6 Comments

  1. Maria 03/09/2020
    • Tim Leffel 03/10/2020
  2. Glenys 03/09/2020
  3. Douglas Wahlgren 03/12/2020
    • Tim Leffel 03/19/2020
  4. Isabella Miller 03/20/2020

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