Insights on Traveling Iternationally During COVID
If you haven’t traveled at all during the pandemic, you may wonder what the experience is like. I too wondered and having recently returned from a trip to Turkey and France, am happy to report that like many things in life, the reality is much better than what might be anticipated. Good systems are in place in many places in the world and local governments have established protocols to protect everyone.
The reasons for my travels were to lead a tour. For the past 10 years, a small group of men from Texas have traveled with me to various places around the world. I’ve had the pleasure of guiding them in Mongolia, Montenegro/Albania, Mexico, Idaho, Montana and most recently, Turkey.
There were a few reasons we decided Turkey would be a good destination during these uncertain times. First, early on in the pandemic, Turkey made the decision to vaccinate all workers in the tourism industry. This included people at every level, including all hotel and restaurant workers, taxi drivers and yacht crews.
Another key reason, is that from April through October, living outside is easy. Temperatures are mild and fresh air abundant. Almost all restaurants have outside terraces. Our trip itinerary was very much outdoor-focused, with walking, swimming and generally being outside.
While the group departed together from Texas in mid-September of 2021, I flew from Spokane, Washington. Everyone’s flights went well and passing through connecting airports in Europe (Amsterdam or Frankfurt) was a breeze. While we had filled out airport health forms in advance, these were also passed out on the airplanes. However, in the case of both airports, some of the forms were never collected.
On arrival in Istanbul, we all entered directly without any issues. Prior to arrival, we had filled out the required Turkish health form online, showing proof of vaccination. We transferred to the hotel in a van, wearing masks. We were happy that during our entire trip every single driver always had a mask.
After a couple of days exploring Istanbul, riding the decks of a ferry along the Bosphorus, walking through historic districts and monuments, we flew east to Cappadocia. Domestic flights only allow vaccinated persons, and of course, all flight crews are vaccinated. We simply showed our vaccine cards when checking in and gathering boarding passes. On board, masks were required.
We had 3 glorious days in Cappadocia, a magical landscape rich in history. We spent 3 days walking through this fascinating landscape and dining outside. The only time we were indoors was during van transfers and sleeping in our hotel rooms. There were many fewer tourists than normal, but still some. Many were Turks exploring their own country. I noticed other folks from eastern Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
From Cappadocia we flew south to the coastal town of Gocek to board our 75’ yacht, home for the next week of exploration and learning. Unpacking into our cabins, we didn’t have to pack again for the next 6 nights. Meals were served outside and knowing the crew was fully vaccinated put everyone at ease. The weather was perfect, as it almost always is in September, and some of our group enjoyed sleeping on the open deck under the stars.
After exploring Turkey’s southwest coast on our gullet, we returned to Istanbul. The next morning the men headed home to Texas. I also started my journey home but had decided to stop in Paris for a few days. As a long-time Francophile, I try to keep my French skills brushed up, and there’s no better way than a visit to France.
Before arriving in Paris I had filled out an online application through a French government website for a request for conversion of my US vaccination into a digital format accepted throughout Europe. This is the “Demande de conversion d’un certificat de vaccination étranger en passe sanitaire français (étrangers).” This was processed and created a document with a QR code I kept on my phone and used to enter all public spaces I visited in Paris. When entering a restaurant, bar or café, staff would simply request the pass which was scanned from my phone. I noted that other tourists who had not bothered with this online application simply showed their actual vaccination certificate, and this seemed to work just as well.
Prior to the pandemic, September in Paris would be fairly busy with tourists. In early October, it was fairly quiet. Restaurants and bars were busy, but mostly with local Parisians. Lines at popular attractions like a visit to the Eiffel tower were short. On the first Sunday of every month, all museums in Paris offer free entry. I decided to visit the fascinating Musée d'Orsay, housed in the former train station, Gare d’Orsay and best known for Impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir and others. The line, which might normally take an hour or more, especially on a free-ticket Sunday, took a mere 10 minutes and everyone’s health pass or vaccination certificate was checked. Inside the spacious museum, everyone donned masks. The visit was a delight.
There have been numerous articles about how this is an ideal time to visit the famous travel destinations of the world. I would have to agree. If you’re vaccinated, comfortable with air travel and want to enjoy uncrowded sites, it’s hard to imagine a better time to travel.
While I was in Turkey, we also had a small group enjoying the islands of the Adriatic along the coast of Croatia on our Croatian Yachting Tours. They had a fantastic time, and like our experience in Turkey, enjoyed living outside almost all the time.
Soon our season in Baja, Mexico begins. We are eager to share outdoor adventures with our guests, as we kayak in the crystal waters of the Sea of Cortez, watch whales from our whale camp at Magdalena Bay and explore the mission towns of the mountainous interior.
When you are ready to travel, we are ready to guide you!
Peter Grubb, Founder