First-Hand Reflections of the ‘New Normal’
Countries around the world are opening borders, relaxing mandates and embracing the New Normal. So what is COVID travel actually like now?
Fear has prevented many of us from traveling overseas, visiting family, or even leaving our own homes, but with nations declaring endemic status and the effectiveness of vaccines, testing and other protocols, COVID travel need be of no more concern than visiting your local grocery store. In fact, somewhat ironically, it is invariably far safer.
The tourism industry has a vested interest in keeping its clients as safe as possible. At Rothschild Safaris, we have staff members whose sole purpose it is to ensure that every COVID mandate is accounted for and every guest receives the information, advice and steps necessary for safe and convenient travel.
The very nature of a safari is to place yourself in one of the most healthy environments possible, surrounded by fresh air, in nature for eight hours a day, socially distanced and, even when in camp, immersed in wide-open spaces.
Of course, there is the travel. However, airport protocols are some of the most stringent in the world, and airplanes are significantly safer and healthier than subways, taxis or crowded shopping malls. Yet it is understandable that, given the tumultuous 24 months we are now swiftly emerging from, some people remain hesitant about overseas travel.
Two of our staff members, Ruthie Detwiler and Kim Bezuidenhout, have recently returned from overseas adventures, offering first-hand insights into the safety, convenience and pleasure of traveling at this time.
RUTHIE DETWILER: PERVUVIAN EXPLORATIONS
We have already shared Ruthie’s wonderful tales of her Incan excursions, but her insights into COVID travel through Peru are incredibly useful – and wonderfully enlightening.
Similar to African safari destinations, Peru is a country of the outdoors. From the Nazca plains to the heights of Machu Picchu, fresh air and wide, open spaces are ubiquitous. But despite the incredible length to which staff go to to accommodate your needs and safety, there are certain things that just aren’t quite the same:
“We weren’t all that excited about the whole mask thing,” reflects Ruthie, “but we accepted that, if we wanted to travel, we’d just have to do it.
“On the train (from Lima to Cusco) we had to wear a mask and a face shield. We thought that it might be a little cumbersome but it was okay – it wasn’t bad at all, and everyone was doing it.”
Peru is a nation that doesn’t require tests. In fact, Ruthie’s only PCR test was as a requirement of her return to the states and performed on her last evening in Peru as she relaxed on her hotel terrace overlooking the majestic Andes. Yet despite this, Ruthie’s experience was one of security, comfort and consummate professionalism at all times.
“Everybody was very conscientious about it. The guides were required to wear a mask all the time. We had the option to wear a mask or not in our private vehicle, but any time we were outside of the vehicle, walking around town or sites, we had to wear a mask. But it was very accepted and matter-of-fact – everybody wears a mask now, that’s just the way it is.”
So much a part of daily life has this become that, even high in the Andes, supplies and services are readily available at all times.
“The guides would do anything for you, whether you needed a test or new mask,” Ruthie assures. “In fact, I had asked if I would need to get a shield before I left the States, but they were available at the train station and very easy to find. You don’t have any problems getting a mask or a shield.”
For those unable or unwilling to receive a vaccine, Peru is still an accessible country. With such stringent steps in place on transport and in public areas, the safety of everyone is paramount, and those wishing to travel unvaccinated are no different. However, the requirements for unvaccinated COVID travel are different, requiring a negative test whenever boarding public transport. For Ruthie’s journey, it would have been necessary for her to provide a negative test at least four times had she not been vaccinated.
“Some of our guests do travel unvaccinated, and while it is achievable, they always need to be aware of the numerous extra steps they will need to take.”
RUTHIE DETWILER: INTO AFRICA
Over recent months, Ruthie also had reason to visit South Africa. An independent trip, she lacked the extensive planning, arrangements and attention to detail of a bespoke Rothschild Safaris itinerary, but her experiences were equally as expedient as in Peru.
“I had to make an appointment, then I had to go to a temporary clinic,” she shares. “It wasn’t as pleasant as sitting on a terrace overlooking the Andes, but it was convenient. It was easy, but it was a little bit of a challenge. But of course, if Rothschild Safaris is organising your trip, the team will arrange for a nurse to visit your hotel at your convenience to provide the test. Even if you were to have to go to a clinic, we would both book your test and arrange transportation for you.”
KIM BEZUIDENHOUT: COVID TRAVEL AS A FAMILY
Kim, her husband and toddler, Keira, returned to Kim’s home country of Malawi from their current place of residence in Spain. Traveling with a youngster can be challenging at the best of times, but would COVID travel provide additional hurdles that might diminish or even derail an African vacation?
“The hardest part of traveling during COVID with my toddler,” she says, “was her wanting to pull my mask off all the time – that was pretty much the only stressful part of our entire trip!”
Kim’s experience of African travel, something she has done extensively over the last decade, is that very little has changed. Airports are places of protocol by design. Passport control, customs and immigration all require you to hurdle the red tape before continuing on your journey. COVID, it would seem, causes the lowest and swiftest of these hurdles:
“The airports were the same as pre-COVID, except that officials were wearing masks, and obviously there are a couple of additional, but brief, steps to take. Everything is very clearly marked, so there is no chance of confusion, but staff are also incredibly helpful and available.
“To enter South Africa, we needed to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival. On arrival, we were required to fill out a passenger locator form, though we recommend our clients complete these in advance.
“Internally, we again had to provide a negative PCR test, though we will always arrange this for our clients. When we arrived in Malawi, we were required to fill out a health form simply stating where we’d been and where we were intending to go. That was it in terms of the arrival procedure.”
The consideration and attentiveness of camp staff is renowned, and this extends to the necessities of COVID. Staff greet you with masks and hand sanitiser at the ready, guest groups are carefully yet unobtrusively separated, with private dining and refreshment areas provided for each separate party, and levels of vaccination among employees is almost universal.
Some could be concerned that this level of adherence to mandates might feel oppressive, but guests are, for the greater part, free to do as they please. While staff continually remain masked, the imposition upon guests is at their discretion.
“The staff informed us upon arrival that if we would like to take our masks off we were more than welcome,” Kim recalls. “Because camps are open-air environments, mask-wearing is at the guests’ preference, but staff wear their masks at all times. Even on our game drive, we told the guide that we were totally happy for him not to wear his mask. Otherwise, he would have kept it on the whole time.”
With the global acceptance of mask-wearing and certain other small actions, the African safari experience has changed very little. In fact, the most noticeable difference is the wonderful lack of crowds.
“I think the biggest message I would share is that things really haven’t changed that much, in that it’s still an incredible experience, and absolutely worth the extra piece of paper you have to fill in,” says Kim. “Traveling at this time, you are often experiencing places almost on your own, and the reward that you get for traveling to Africa right now is that extra exclusivity.”
Inconveniences of COVID travel do exist, but they are highly achievable and often so diminutive that you would barely notice them. Masks, a little extra paperwork and an occasional test is all it takes to enjoy an unprecedented travel experience.
“I think it’s going to keep getting easier,” says Ruthie. “I don’t think the masks are going away any time soon, but many of the restrictions currently in place will continue to get easier.
“If you’re by yourself or in a couple there is little inconvenience, but if you’re a family of five, you might want to consider just going to one country rather than several, simply in terms of the logistics involved in getting numerous tests.”
“You might have to fill out a form or do a PCR test, but it just takes 30 seconds of your day, and we pre-arrange everything for our clients, so there’s almost no impact at all,” adds Kim. “We fly nurses to their camps and our guests are receiving their PCR tests in the middle of the bush.
“It really is only the slightest impact yet it is so very worth it.”
The world has changed, and it is likely going to be several years at least until we might return to the unfettered pre-COVID world, but it has changed everywhere. Whether in your home town, a big city or the African bush, the effects of COVID can be found, in masks, sanitiser and precautions.
But we are now thankfully at a stage when travel requires acceptance, rather than deterrence. Being aware of the necessary steps and accepting that you may need a mask and an extra five minutes at immigration is all it takes to rediscover a world that is more peaceful, tranquil and free of crowds than it has been in many years.
We have gone to exceptional lengths to learn the steps required for travelers all over the world. We provide our guests with information and support throughout their journey, from arranging nurses to visit camps and provide expert testing to organising the small amount of additional paperwork you may require.
As with everything we do, we take care of the organising, allowing you to simply enjoy the journey.
It’s time to reconsider COVID travel. When once it was an unattainable and hazardous process, it is now safer than a trip to your local convenience store – yet infinitely more rewarding.
5 Tips for COVID Travel:
- Organise your paperwork. We will inform you precisely what is required for every stage of your journey. By creating an organised file that can be carried with you in transit, you will expedite your travel.
- Check your tests. Every country is different in their testing requirements, and you may well also need to be tested before returning home. Again, we will provide you with the exact information needed – all you have to do is take the test.
- Countries in southern Africa require you to upload test results to the Trusted Travel system. Simply take the test, upload your results and provide the QR Code at your departure airport. Trusted Travel is simple to use, but it is worthwhile familiarising yourself with it before your departure. We are always available to take you through the steps required to complete your Trusted Travel application.
- Take a spare. Though our two staff travelers found COVID-related supplies available almost everywhere, carrying spare masks and a small hand sanitiser bottle is advisable, giving you peace of mind, wherever you travel.
- Don’t wait! Now is a wonderful time to travel. Ironically, the highest risk you have is often in your home country, because the safety precautions are often more lenient. With far fewer tourists, exceptional COVID protocols in place, and the rapid antigen and PCR tests readily available, COVID travel is not only incredibly safe and achievable, it is wonderfully enjoyable.