Covid and Travel

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March 2020

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Covid and Travel
Expectations of a return to international travel are giving many of us something to look forward to. Myself included. As a professional guide however, the reality of travelling in a covid filled world poses a whole new challenge.

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I was lucky enough to run photo tours for 15 years before the Covid pandemic arrived. We were running a tour in Norway in March 2020 when the world as we knew it was changed forever. We had a great group of people with us, and luckily we finished that trip and managed to get everyone off on their flights. Since then our world of workshops and tours has been nearly non-existent.

Here in Australia we were lucky enough to have very few deaths compared to almost everywhere else in the world. The downside was that weren’t allowed to travel outside of the country, because of the obstacles in place to getting back in. Indeed for some of the past 18 months Shellie and I haven’t even been able to travel outside of Melbourne CBD, due to the covid-lockdowns.

As we approach November 2021, everything is changing again. The vast majority of Australians are vaccinated now, and we’re moving out of the covid-zero world and into the covid-endemic world instead. And with the end of border closures comes the expectation that travel will resume as normal.

Sort of.

We’re not sure at this time when our state borders will be back to normal, but for many the allure of international travel takes precedence anyway. Long haul airfares are a thing once again, with affordable tickets to Europe and Asia just a Google search away. Getting travel insurance that covers you for pandemics might be a little more tricky however. As a general rule, insurers exclude epidemics of any kind from coverage and avoid anything like plain English when outlining what is included.

It will also take some months to see how the vaccine passport situation plays out. There are many countries that Australians can travel to right now, with minimal or no quarantine period for the vaccinated. This includes Sweden and Finland for example, but regrettably Australia was removed from Norway’s purple list when the Sydney outbreak went exponential. I say regrettable, because Shellie and I really want to be in Norway for the start of 2022 and I have 8 people who really really want to join us.

Aside from the practical considerations, I have also been worried about the ethics of travelling while the pandemic is still in motion. In a perfect world, everyone by this stage would have had a chance to get vaccinated if they so wish. But many countries have not had access to the vaccines in sufficient quantities, or have lost the battle against misinformation before they even begun. Kenya, for example has failed to break the 10% mark.

I worry that international travel ramping up in 2022 will lead to more virus being spread across countries that have failing to manage an effective pandemic response. And yet, I also desperately want to get back to places like Kenya – both for my own selfish desires to travel but also to help my guides return to meaningful employment. Remember, even if you are fully vaccinated you can still catch Covid-19 and you can still infect others around you.

It’s worth restating also that while vaccines will greatly reduce your risk of dying or getting seriously ill, that doesn't mean the risk is zero. The risk is less, but there is still risk. Especially if you’re older or have a few health concerns already.

All of which brings me back to the main point. How do I run my tours in various parts of the world and still ensure that everyone is safe? It turns out I can’t, and this is weighing on me considerably. I want to be in Norway with a group this February, but I am worried about the possibility that someone in the group catches Covid and then we all catch Covid. We drive about in vans all day and share meals and cabins – Two weeks of intimate travelling. It’s unrealistic to think I can run a tour and ensure a “Covid Safe” environment for everyone, or even myself.

I worry that one of my guests will catch Covid during their flight to Norway, and then have to cancel the tour to isolate or seek hospital care. I know these folk are all fully grown adults who can make their own decisions, but I would still feel the weight of having encouraged them to come and chase auroras in the snow. I also worry that I might catch covid en-route to Norway myself, and then have to cancel the entire trip for everyone else. I’m not a multi-million dollar tour business, and I can’t just send in a replacement with zero notice. I'm just a dude who loves photography and travel and happens to work with some really great people.

So tonight I need to write up a Covid policy for my tours. I have to define new “booking conditions” and clearly outline what happens if case the worst does happen. I’m not looking forward to it. I really just want to share my favourite places with like-minded souls and help them enjoy a wonderful experience. With the help of marvellous people like my wife Shellie, and my friend Ian, and my guide Chris in Kenya, and Tsering in Nepal, and Rinzi in Bhutan.

But we are living through a pandemic, and the virus doesn’t just stop overnight even though half the planet went and took the vaccine. For now, my worries are moot. Norway has a closed border to all but a small list of countries. Neither Australia or the USA are on the good list right now, and time is running out to lock in plans for February. I have my fingers crossed, and cabins booked. There's nothing more I can do right now.

I’d love to hear from any of my readers and travellers about how they are feeling. I have received a lot of emails this week from folks wanting to know when my new dates are confirmed. I have quite a few in the schedule for 2022 now. What I don’t have is a crystal ball to work out whether the year ahead of us will actually be any more normal than the year behind us. We can only hope so.

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