What A Travel Journalist Wants You To Know Before You Book Your Next Holiday

ILLUSTRATED BY CARMEN DEÑÓ.
An ice-cold cocktail under a palm tree on a Caribbean beach was always a good idea. But after many of us have experienced a travel-free pandemic, it’s now what dreams are made of. Literally dreams for some of us, as UK international travel guidelines continue to change frequently. But as the government and the travel industry take a stronger stance on vaccinations, the possibility of travel is making a comeback.
Of course, the fact that we can even consider travelling right now is a huge privilege. The COVID world looks different from country to country (because of global vaccine inequity, millions of people haven’t received even their first dose yet), and your travel has a direct economic and health impact wherever you go. That raises ethical questions about whether or not you should even be booking a trip right now. Add in that if you’re considering a vacation, you’re fortunate enough to have the means financially, have the vaccine, and likely do not have other restrictions (at-risk family members). Here’s the bottom line: Travel raises a lot of eyebrows at the moment, so if you’re going to do it, it’s never been more important to get it right. 
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Which means travel rules and niceties must be re-learned — and in some cases, altered altogether. Jet lag, over-reclined seats, and your airplane seatmate’s absence of shoes used to be the things that generated travel stress hives. But these days? Navigating the current pandemic travel universe — which includes the ever-growing threat of variants, and new risks to mitigate —  involves a slew of socially acceptable and unacceptable rules to think about before packing your bags. Proper mask etiquette, the question “are you vaxxed?"… not going to lie, I get anxious sweats thinking about it, and travelling is my job
With some insights from Ottawa-based etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau and some serious travel knowledge from someone else who travels for a living, Toronto-based award-winning travel journalist Heather Greenwood Davis, I’ve put together a travel etiquette brush-up pandemic-style. 

You’re finally settled in for your flight, but when you look over at your seatmate, they’ve turned their mask into the dreaded chin diaper...

Masks on planes aren’t going anywhere — for good reason. While airplanes have decent air ventilation systems (most have High Efficiency Particulate Air filters similar to hospitals), social distancing is basically impossible. If you add in a long-haul flight with hours of not socially distancing, chances of exposure increase.
Therefore masks are your best bet to help stop the virus spreading in close quarters, according to doctors. Some airlines in Europe are taking it one step further by recommending medical masks over cloth masks on planes for increased protection (Canada and U.S. airlines have not yet implemented that particular mask mandate, but do require all airline passengers to wear a mask properly).
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Unfortunately, run-ins with careless maskers aren't something we can escape these days, no matter how hard we try. Getting mad won’t help. Blais Comeau’s rule of thumb, especially during these intense times, is to lead with empathy, not anger or frustration.
“The pandemic has taught us that we don't know what others are going through. So first, observe their body language,” she says. Make eye contact and ask if they are okay. That will usually prompt someone to realise their mask maybe isn’t on, if they’ve simply forgotten to adjust it after a drink (we’ve all been there!). Next, ask them politely, but firmly, to put their mask on properly.
If they say no, or addressing your seatmate makes you uncomfortable, enlist a flight attendant to step in to ask them to put their mask back on or switch your seat. It’s their job to ensure everyone’s safety and to make sure passengers are complying with mask rules.

You planned a cottage weekend months ago, but you’re just not comfortable with it now. How do you back out gracefully? 

With new variant cases and guidelines changing constantly (travelling internationally from the UK currently requires a vaccination passport), planning out anything in advance is tricky. Bottom line in this situation: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bowing out if you’re uneasy about the trip. But how you do it can make or break a relationship.
“Once you've committed to something, email or text is not appropriate. Pick up the phone,” says Blais Comeau. Start the conversation with an “what I have to say is difficult,” and be honest. “I know that you may be disappointed and I really wanted to be there but right now I'm really, really not comfortable with this situation. I'm feeling anxious about it. I'm gonna have to decline.” 
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If you do decide to back out, you need to be financially prepared to still cover your portion of the trip. Ideally you’d be cancelling before things become non-refundable, but be ready to still pay up if you’re pulling out at the last minute.

Your friend’s bachelorette in Lisbon is coming up, but you're only willing to go if everyone on the trip is fully vaccinated. Can you straight-up ask if they are double-dosed?

The outright question of “are you vaxxed?” can make people defensive. Greenwood Davis’s workaround is to offer her personal vaccination status to put people at ease. “I found that people are more receptive when I volunteer what my vaccination status is,” she says. “I have no problem saying to people, ‘hey, I'm fully vaccinated, so I'm happy to participate.’” 
If you are curious about the vax status of the group, Blais Comeau recommends posing the question to the organiser, whom she says should be responsible for communicating this information to guests. For example, saying “My partner and I have decided that we’re only attending events where all people are vaccinated. Can you tell me about this bachelorette?” They may say that it’s a vaxxed-only event, or they may say otherwise. Then it’s up to you to decide whether or not you attend.
And remember, if you don’t like the answer (i.e. some people are not vaccinated and don’t plan to be), you can make a decision that is best for your health and that may mean backing out. If that’s your choice, explain your reasoning and suggest a way to make it up to your friend in a situation you’re more comfortable with.
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Your vacay has started, but the person you’re travelling with isn’t adhering to the local rules because hey, they’re fully vaxxed, so it’s all cool, right?

We’ve all been on a trip when we’re just not on the same page as someone else. But unlike having different budgets, or a friend who wants to shop the Champs-Élysées when all you want to do is eye up hidden art galleries, being reckless with social distancing, masking, or other rules can have deadly consequences. When your travel partner’s actions could have serious implications, you need to be on the same page.
Research the rules and restrictions in your vacation spot and have a straightforward, frank conversation before booking. “I would start with ‘I would hate to be in this beautiful destination and have any inkling that I am bringing the virus to [here], or taking the virus home. So I'm going to follow their rules. I will be wearing a mask and I will be social-distancing and these are things that are important to me,’” says Greenwood Davis.
If you’re on the trip and you’re uncomfortable because your friend is not following the rules, bring it up, but do it privately, says Blais Comeau. “You can say ‘I've been observing and it's not easy for me to say but I'm kind of uneasy about us sometimes not being in compliance with guidelines. We're in a different country, I don't know what the consequences could be. I care about you. I want you safe.”
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And if you’re just not on the same page, your health and safety comes first. It’ll be a tough decision, but you can opt to do different things, spend time apart, book separate rooms, or regroup in settings you feel better about.  

You’ve finally booked that beach vacation, but is it ethical to be going anywhere right now?

“I don't think there's one answer to whether it's ethical to be travelling right now, but I do think that you should not be travelling without thinking about it,” says Greenwood Davis, who has kept her travels within her province, following the government’s guidelines, until a recent trip to Vancouver in late August (while travel within Canada was a go).
Before she books a trip, Greenwood Davis asks herself: “What does the pandemic look like where you're coming from? What does it look like where you're going? How are you travelling (plane, train, car) and what restrictions are involved? How far are you going? Who are you interacting with when you go and are they vaccinated? Are you going remote-based?”
The onus is on us as travellers to be vigilant and responsible for knowing restrictions, guidelines, vaccination rates, and infection rates in your destination. Most government websites and tourism-board websites list travel requirements — from vaccination proof to testing, to mask mandates, to whether they are open to visitors from other countries.
They may also list current vaccination rates and infection rates. If there’s a high rate of infections or a very low rate of vaccinations in the destination, it’s not a good idea to travel to that spot. Not only do these things need to be considered before booking, but you’re responsible for keeping on top of changing situations. Be prepared for the worst-case scenario (an outbreak, or you getting sick) with financial backup, knowing the fine print details of your insurance and bookings. If you can’t answer these questions or ensure that you can follow all the requirements, it’s not responsible to go.
Your safest bet, still, is to stay local or domestic. So that ice-cold cocktail may be at a pool in a UK city for now, but it will always be waiting for you (and will taste extra sweet) in a tropical locale next year.  
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the UK Government website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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