Since January, many avid travellers have been watching how the COVID-19 epidemic and now pandemic has affected travel. The effects have been everything from delays and added inconveniences to flight cancellations and total travel bans. Opportunists may be tempted to take advantage of “Crisis Tourism“, i.e. low airfare costs and a major slump in the tourism industry to get a cheap vacation. But, is it worth the risk?

Why you should avoid travel for tourism during the Coronavirus pandemic

In January, I cancelled my trip to Thailand and Hong Kong. Things were getting pretty crazy over there and I was afraid of getting caught up in the flight cancellations and total mayhem of travelling during an outbreak. This was before COVID-19 was declared an epidemic. Instead, I still chose to travel from Montreal to San Francisco, as I considered the risk to be fairly low of spreading the disease.

Now, one month later, I would NOT go to San Francisco if given the opportunity, since COVID-19 is now considered a pandemic. Why? because of how pandemics work, very simply. The choice of getting on a plane or not isn’t so much a question of “will I get sick”, although that is a consideration, especially when travelling to a foreign country and the need for special travel insurance.

Choosing to travel during a pandemic is also a question of the likelihood of spreading the disease even if you never fall ill yourself. If you are healthy and are able to fight off the disease fairly easily, good for you! But, you could transmit it to a child, an elderly person, or an immunocompromised person without knowing it and put their lives at risk.

The other risk is “will I get stuck” as the United States decided, from one day to the next, to ban all incoming flights from Europe. Cancellation policies are pretty generous right now, so you can always get a refund on whatever cheap flight you book. However, you should consider the risk of getting stuck when you want to come home and the requirement to self-quarantine after you get back.

If you do decide to travel for an important reason, here is a post about how to do it safely. This one may also help.

What is social distancing and why is it important

If you are more concerned about the spread of the disease than missing out on an opportunity to book a cheap vacay, then you should also consider taking it one step further with social distancing.

Statistically, you don’t have a higher chance of catching COVID-19 on a plane than you would at, let’s say, an indoor concert. The reason governments are encouraging people to avoid travel is also to limit the contamination to new regions where cases are low. At home, in most places in the world right now, indoor mass gatherings have been cancelled altogether. Where I live, all public facilities have shut down and most gatherings of 30+ people have been postponed. Everyone is hunkering down for two weeks of low-key self-quarantine. If you need ideas on how to stay active and sane during this time, here are some options.

Graphs from The Washington Post

This technique of social distancing and staying home “as if you were sick” is statistically the best and least disruptive way to curb the spread of COVID-19. Staying away from others will slow down contagion rates, decrease the number of cases total and hopefully ease the burden on hospitals. Here are some useful graphs to explain the concept and the benefits.

Should I travel home if I’m currently abroad?

This is a tough question and the answer in most situations is probably…yes? The Canadian government suggests you do because we can take care of our own better if you’re within the Canadian borders and also because you never know how different travel restrictions will affect your ability to come home in the future. So, the current advice is to get out while you still can.

On the flip side, I am following people on social media who are currently vacationing in a private villa in Mexico, where the population is relatively untouched. It would seem for them, staying away from their home in NYC is the best option. NYC’s higher density of population and the difficulty in accessing health care and testing are valid factors. If you are working remotely anyway, I suppose it’s better to self-quarantine at the beach than fighting your neighbours for toilet paper at the corner store. Something to consider!

What about you? How are you dealing with the state of the world right now?