Travel in Covid Times

With the ongoing effects of Covid on the travel industry things had been so much quieter in the office over the past year. In July this year, after getting double vaccinated, I relished the opportunity of travelling to Europe to spend some of the winter staying with friends. Like many, working remotely is achievable, and of course I knew the wonderful team at World Journeys were ably holding the fort back in New Zealand.

On my return many people have asked me what it was like to be in Europe, and what travel looks like in this new Covid world.

The first thing I would say is that there are a large number of people of all ages travelling right now! Sitting back in New Zealand you tend to think the world has come to a grinding halt, but I can assure you this could not be further from the truth. At airports I encountered long lines at check-in and security, and planes generally between 60% and 80% full. The Swiss and French are classic examples of countries that have no problem welcoming in double-vaccinated visitors, without even the need for a PCR test.

After spending a few weeks relaxing in sunny Spain, I chose to travel to Portugal – a beautiful corner of the continent I have always wanted to see.  I opted to fly, although the land borders in mainland Europe all remain open. This involved completing an online health declaration and then a QR code is sent to you which you must present at the airport when checking in, and again on arrival at your destination.

With very attractive prices available on river cruises, it was a no-brainer – I embarked on a week-long cruise on the Douro River from Porto to Salamanca.  From the beginning, I was impressed with the organisation on board. Passengers had to be double vaccinated against Covid-19 and a short health declaration was completed a few days before boarding and then updated as you embarked.  The cruise company and sites of interest visited along the way have introduced precautions to make the trip as safe as possible.  Of course, strict hand sanitising was required before entering the dining room on board and masks were required until you took your seat at the table.

One thing that stood out for me was how appreciative the crew were to have tourists return, as were staff at sites and attractions at all the ports of call along the way. This is an incredibly scenic journey as you gently cruise through a lovely UNESCO heritage listed landscape of vineyards, rugged gorges and beautiful picture postcard towns. But perhaps what impressed me most were the impressive locks the vessel passed through along the way, including the highest locks in Europe. It was great fun to see the ship rise at times as much as 35 metres, to transition from one section of the river to the other. Porto, the town the cruise started and ended at, was a particular delight and a vastly underrated city. Wandering the narrow streets of the old town and exploring the hidden corners of this gem of a city was a real highlight for me.  I can highly recommend a river cruise as a delightful and relaxing way to experience the ‘real’ Portugal.

I also visited friends in the UK, France and Switzerland. The EU and the UK have developed secure online solutions to prove a person’s vaccination status and pleasingly, New Zealand will follow suit from next month. Certainly, it is becoming quite apparent that in the near future you will simply not be able to fly internationally or gain access to most touristic points of interest around the world, if you are not fully vaccinated.

So, what is life like in the rest of Europe? With the exception of the UK where mask wearing is no longer a requirement except on some public transport, most countries still require you to wear a mask when entering a shop or a restaurant. Once seated at a café, bar or restaurant, the mask is then removed. One gets an overwhelming sense that life is really returning to normal, certainly in the five countries I visited. People are ‘living with Covid’ and as vaccination levels are now high, their lives and the economy are fully restarted.  This applies to countries that a few months back were ‘basket-cases’ with terrible death tolls from Covid. Thankfully that now seems largely in their past.

All sightseeing venues including museums, historic sites and other tourist spots are fully open.  Some however are restricting the number of people they allow in daily, so it is a good idea to pre-book tickets if you know when you plan to visit.

The message is plain. If you plan to travel in the next couple of years, I suggest you start planning now! There is huge pent up demand that will see 2022 and 2023 exceptionally busy years, and many overseas operators are offering very flexible amendment and cancellation conditions. Don’t hesitate to contact World Journeys (or your travel agent), we are here to help rekindle your travel dreams.