Why I’m Still Traveling During a Global Pandemic

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Hand sanitiser

Despite the coronavirus risks, I’m still getting on a plane this week

I’m one of those lucky people who has arranged my life around travel. I don’t live a luxurious life, I travel economy most of the time, but I make travel a priority in my budget and it’s also kind of “on-brand” for me as a TravelTech founder. ✈️So I am a seasoned global traveler and I am going to travel despite the coronavirus risk.

For me, 2020 is the year of destination weddings; one in Argentina, one in Jordan and one in New York. This is the beauty of living a digital nomad life, so many of the people I love are spread all over the world, giving me the perfect method for dealing with the never ending list of wonderful places to visit. When someone plans a destination wedding, that picks the country and the extra excursions become much easier to select.

I was thrilled when our friend decided to get married and invited us to join their celebration in Argentina. We met them in Australia as couch surfing guests. Then they came to our destination wedding in Jordan and then we visited them in Argentina four years ago. Then they did a one year work-holiday visa in Australia. And now we’re heading back to Argentina.

Isn’t this super connected world amazing!? People I never would have met in my bubble in the US are now some of my closest friends. And this trip I get to add Patagonia to the itinerary and experience one of the most epic wild destinations in the world. (I am more comfortable in hiking boots than heels).

Of course, there is a downside to all this connection

Because we can can move easily around the world, so can the viruses we carry.

So the recent outbreak of a new human virus, the coronavirus (or Covid-19, or new coronavirus) has been an added concern for our upcoming trip. I’ve spent hours pouring over the latest news, reading official government websites, and reloading the Latam airline press release page. I even got into a long email argument about how much we should panic based on the currently observed infection rate.

So here’s my well considered opinion: Don’t Panic, but maybe hoard some sanitizer

Risk is part of adventure, and I like my travel to be a bit outside most people’s “comfort zone”. That’s why I climbed Kilimanjaro as part of the YouLi launch in 2018 and why I like climbing on top of most climbable things (except Uluru). The view is great, and if you’re sure-footed like I am, it’s a reasonable risk to take.

Catching unusual illnesses has always been one of the traveler’s risk considerations – meeting new people means new diseases. Often they are immune to the nasties in the water and you are not. Exotic locations often have unique dangers like Malaria, Dengue, Yellow Fever and Zika to name a few. Plus you’re moving in crowds in the airports, stuck in airplanes with sick people and bumping into more people in super-crowded subways.

I’m not flippant about these risks. I took anti-malarial medication when I went to Tanzania. I got a yellow fever vaccine before going to South America. I am mindful about washing my hands when travelling in planes, trains and buses. I have learned to love drinking warm water that has been boiled because I know it is safe to drink.

I rarely get sick when I travel. Typically when I do it is because I have exhausted myself and my weakened immune system can’t cope. That was the case after my destination wedding 4 years ago. I was running on adrenaline for 3 weeks and I fell sick within hours of all the guests leaving. It was totally worth it.

As I have aged I’ve gotten smarter (yay!), so I don’t drink alcohol on planes, I drink 1-2 liters of water on long haul flights and I’ve gotten great at sleeping on planes and allocating extra rest days to ensure I’m not exhausted. That doesn’t make me immune, but it raises my chances of fighting off whatever I encounter.

To even get infected with Covid-19 I would have to encounter one of the 80,000 people infected in the world (out of ~8 billion). That’s nearly a 1 in 100,000,000 chance, plus I’d need to be one of the 2% that dies, so that’s longer odds than getting struck by lightning (1 in 3,000 over my lifetime). Based on what I’ve read, the median age of those who are killed by Covid-19 is 71, and being a female means my risk of death is half that of my husband’s.

That means my chances of DYING from this virus are VERY LOW, so close to being zero that I should really be worried about other things. In fact, I am.

Like catching the good old fashioned flu – the one we ignore all the time but regularly come into contact with. Because UNLIKE Covid-19, the flu virus we are familiar with is termed “endemic”, it’s lose in the population and cannot be put back in the bottle. That’s what the WHO and the CDC are trying to avoid, they don’t want ANOTHER flu-like virus to be out there killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. And I applaud them for trying to achieve containment. But I also know that if they don’t, it will become yet another “normal” risk that we ignore every time we make our holiday plans.

So the threat is real that Covid-19 will become as common as the common cold, but that threat is not something that has stopped me from traveling in the past, so it is not going to stop me now. Now where is that hand sanitizer?

The real threat to travelers is being quarantined or having flights cancelled

The reason I did all the research to assure myself that my destination is at least as safe as the country I’m currently in, is because I’m worried my return flights might get cancelled. Or, even worse, we’ll be diverted to a cage for quarantine. I’ve been joking that I’ll end up trapped in Patagonia and finally live out my dreams of being a gaucho. Not the worst outcome really, but also not what I have in mind.

The irony is, I have people telling me to cancel my trip – but I won’t get any of my money back if I do. Panic induced self-cancellation is NOT covered by travel insurance. Plus, there are more cases of the dreaded virus IN AUSTRALIA 🐨 where I live than there are in Argentina and Chile where I’m going.

We finally found some hand sanitizer, despite it being sold out in many shops, thanks to a friend with a healthy sense of humor (see article photo). Plus we stocked up on canned foods and water for home, so we can self-quarantine on our return since our offices would rather we didn’t come in for 2 weeks. It seems the real thing we have to worry about is that people will be afraid of us because we got on a plane.

I’m secretly excited for the plane and the hiking trails to be empty

While I do not wish this global panic to continue longer than it has to, I’m actually quite excited to see how empty Patagonia is and maybe get to stretch out in the back of economy because everyone else has stayed home.

I think some good things will come from this “pandemic”, and not just that my destination won’t be overcrowded. Hopefully people will be reminded how important it is to fund public health. I don’t think me not traveling will help anyone, but I do know that if I was sick, I would follow the public health guidance.

I also think Australia will have a chance to shine as part of the global effort to create a vaccine. I think the travel industry will get a shakeup and it will be interesting to see whether cruises bounce back after the panic.

“Now that’s one kind of travel that I don’t think is worth the risk, I will get on a plane this week, but you won’t find me on a cruise anytime soon.”

– Jennifer Fein, Co-Founder YouLive to Travel

Let’s hope my risk calculation remain the same later in the year and I get to go to ALL my destination weddings this year.

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