While some people have been sheltering in place for over a year, St. Clair resident Margaret Hall and her husband just returned to Michigan for the first time since July.
For over eight months the couple traveled across the country in a fifth wheeler, starting in northern Michigan before heading to Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California where they attended their daughter’s wedding, Utah, Arizona and more.
She said they weren’t nervous when they set out on their journey. They assumed they were as safe in their vehicle as they were anywhere else and they might as well do what they enjoyed together.
“I definitely feel like we had the best of both worlds,” Hall said.
In 2020 the travel industry took a hit of billions of dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with $19 billion lost from when cruising stopped in mid-March in the United States through the end of August, U.S. hotel workers losing $1.7 billion each week they were laid off or furloughed and airlines losing thousands of flights, USA Today reported in September.
“And it’s still going,” said Theresa Winters, Kimball Township resident, travel agent and owner of Faraway Places Travel.
March through June are her busiest months, which is right when the pandemic hit in 2020. Last spring break was a “complete disaster” and everybody really had to pivot to keep travel going, she said.
Although it’s still not close to the same level of business she’s had in past years, business is picking up for Winters with six new clients within a couple days.
“Yes, people are definitely traveling,” she said.
Travel sees an uptick
According to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint travel numbers, traveler throughput was 1,468,218 on Friday and jumped more than100,000 to 1,572,383 on Sunday. That’s compared to 106,385 on April 16, 2020, and 105,382 April 18, 2020.
Winters said people want to travel in 2021. People are trying to go on delayed trips, using credits and vouchers. Some people are moving forward with their destination weddings, though sometimes wedding guests might not go because of the uncertainty with the pandemic.
“We could book today and things could change tomorrow,” Winters said, and “It’s been a very up and down rollercoaster.”
This line of work has gotten easier from the standpoint she knows what to look for now, but it’s a lot to keep up with COVID-19 regulations and changes.
There are places people can travel, including Mexico, Jamaica and Aruba with guidelines. People must provide a negative COVID-19 test to come home and as a result many places like resorts have started offering tests there, Winters said.
Whether people choose to travel depends what individuals are comfortable with. Winters always reminds people that the vaccine doesn’t fully protect them and they can still get the virus, she said.
Winters said if someone has a trip booked soon, they should do their part to stay safe, stay in and do the extra precautions to keep from catching COVID-19 so they can travel.
“Just be a rule follower,” she said.
Dr. Annette Mercatante, St. Clair County Health Department medical health officer, said in an email as COVID-19 cases rise, travelling can be higher risk depending on where people are going and what they’re doing.
“The more people you interact with (actively or passively) the greater the risk of contracting the virus,” she said. “Most people, due to the nature of travelling, expose themselves to more people than they generally would with routine stay-home activities.”
She said if someone does decide to travel or has a trip planned, it would be preferable they wait until they’re vaccinated, as a fully immunized person is much less likely to get infected with COVID-19, be hospitalized and die, and it’s suspected they will be less likely to spread infection to others.
Other safety suggestions from the department include:
- Don’t travel if sick or recently exposed to a COVID-positive person.
- Check the overall viral transmission rate and if it’s high or increasing, consider rescheduling, going somewhere else or use extra caution while there.
- Drive instead of fly.
- Avoid crowds and indoor dining.
- Do as many activities outdoors as possible.
- Always wear a mask in public spaces.
- Travel with just family or a personal “pod” instead of with a large group that combines several families.
- Make sure everyone in the party is fully immunized if possible.
- When the traveler returns, if possible, quarantine before going back to work or school, or at least get tested.
The travelling experience
Detroit resident John Davis, one of Winters’ clients, said as time has progressed people have become more “relaxed” about COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Davis said he has travelled to several countries, Kenya and Brazil before the pandemic and Ghana during the pandemic with plans to go to Senegal next month. He’s in corporate real estate and has flown back and forth to California from Detroit.
Early in the pandemic, “travel was way down, visibly down,” he said.
Very few people were on planes, maybe a handful, and people at airports seemed like they adhered to protocols, whatever they were at the time. People were conscious where they put their hands and were wearing masks properly, he said.
But recently he’s seen crowded airports and people talking with their masks down.
“There just seems to be some exhaustion going on as it relates to the pandemic,” he said.
The pandemic has changed his behavior when it comes to traveling. His kids have not traveled since it started. He will not eat, won’t use the restroom, will keep his hands in his pockets and not touch anything in the airport, and was planning to receive his final vaccination this past Sunday, he said.
“Get vaccinated and wear your mask and keep your distance,” was Hall’s advice for traveling during the pandemic.
When she and her husband travelled, they weren’t worried about catching the virus because they weren’t close to people. When they hiked, if they passed someone, they put on their masks or turned their backs to face the other way. They maybe ate in restaurants three times since July and for the most part cooked outside.
And if people weren’t wearing their masks, were being disrespectful or there was a large crowd, they stayed away from them.
“We did not feel unsafe at all,” Hall said.
This isn’t to say they couldn’t have caught the virus on their trip. At any time along the way they could have been exposed and not known, but they were lucky and they enjoyed their time, she said.
“We’re very, very fortunate that we did get this traveling in,” she said.
Contact Bryce Airgood at (810) 989-6202 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bairgood123.