It’s fair to say that the world is still holding its breath in anticipation of what the ultimate, lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. As some countries start to reopen, and others offer inviting digital nomad visas, will we travel as much as before? Will we ever return to in-person office work? Will a vaccine arrive sooner rather than later? How much is this going to end up costing us? 

The world’s re-emergence from the first half of the year’s “great lockdown” has been stop-and-start, to say the least. Even countries that got a good grade for their virus response, like France, Spain, and South Korea, are dealing with a resurgence in cases and an increasingly restless populace. The U.S. continues to suffer from its incredibly inadequate response, but it turns out that our angry anti-mask protestors weren’t one of a kind: angry Spaniards held signs this week reading, amongst other slogans, “no mas cuarantena.” 

While the strain that the virus puts on each of our personal lives, professions, and passions is different for everyone — beware lazy expressions of solidarity like “we’re all in this together” — we are all weighing our options. It’s a very strange time in history, when although this virus has taken a lot of options from us, it’s also presenting new ones and revealing ones we might have missed. Activists for social and racial justice in America will tell you we have a chance to restructure our entire society, now that inequities in opportunity have been laid plain to see. 

If travelers know anything better than most people, it’s that there’s a strange freedom that comes with finding yourself in unfamiliar territory. When you don’t know the language, but need a bus schedule; when you end up on a road trip with people you just met the previous day. It’s like as soon as you’re left high and dry, your hang-ups and apprehensions disappear: you’ll approach any stranger, sign up for anything. We’ve all had to learn to think differently about risk so far this year, but we’ll continue to bet on each other, and on adventure. 

If you read sites like ours, chances are that you’ve heard of the new digital nomad visas that some countries are offering in response to the pandemic. Estonia, Barbados, and Bermuda now have special programs for those of us who work from home, or work remotely wherever “home” is that day, week, or month. The digital nomad lifestyle is probably now more appealing than ever, and not just to escape the feeling of being tied down in one place. People are going to be making long-term moves for these on the basis that it’s safer to be elsewhere, especially if coming from a place that didn’t handle the viral response particularly well. Others yet may feel convinced that life is never going to return to the pre-lockdown norms that gave their cities vibe and energy, evidenced by this viral post claiming that “New York City is dead forever.” 

Estonia by Marissa Anwar.
Tallinn, Estonia by Marissa Anwar.

I know that personally, I accelerated a move away from my home state of Tennessee a few weeks ago because public health and safety were not prioritized. Of course it hurt to leave a place very close to my heart, but it hurt even more to see that place act so recklessly.

But moving is a huge commitment at any time, so let’s look at when and where it’s safe (and permitted) to just take a holiday again. While the U.S. recently lifted its global “do not travel” advisory, that doesn’t mean American citizens are able to go where they please, and in fact the CDC still warns against travel to about 200 countries. U.S. travelers do not have to abide by these recommendations, because that’s just what they are — recommendations. And while an American traveler could go to a decent number of places, many are very small countries and islands without much capacity to handle an influx of tourists who may get sick and need to stay. Some destinations ask that you present a negative COVID test, others do not. Check out AFAR’s list of locations open to Americans arriving by air. 

A Croatian flag hangs from a window over a street and across from a Church.
Photo by Joseph Ozment.

The prospects for travelers hailing from outside the US of A are a little better, especially if they have their sights set on Europe. The EU recently eased some of its travel restrictions, allowing visitors from Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. If you’re worried that your country isn’t on that list yet, fear not: in the fine print of this arrangement, the EU allows for individual member states to make all of their own rules on who comes and goes. After all, these are fully sovereign nations, and places like Serbia and Croatia are taking advantage. The latter allows non-EU travelers, including Americans, so long as they can provide proof of accommodation. 

While some movement is starting to occur, the general state of viral resurgence and staying power suggests that even if you arrived somewhere safely, there are no guarantees that you would be able to return home. Countries like Ireland specifically state in their guidelines that new travel restrictions could be instituted with little-to-no warning, should the viral situation deteriorate. Portugal now offers a COVID-specific brand of travel insurance that would cover the cost of quarantine stays or hospital visits, should you fall ill while visiting. 

Ireland by Chris Hill.

So how will the travel industry respond? Accommodations and airlines are preparing for demand to increase slowly, and specifically domestically in the U.S., but it’s too early to tell what the lasting effects will be — even as long as it feels like this has dragged on already. In the meantime, guest and passenger safety is priority number one, simply to reassure people that travel is both possible and plausible while the pandemic continues. After dropping to as low as 22% in April, hotel occupancy in the U.S. was back at 48% by the end of July, and the use of new technologies might be partially responsible. You may have seen digital room keys for your phone before, but MGM Resorts are now offering check-in identity confirmation and payment processing on your device, too. 

While the only reference points we have for airline slowdowns like this are 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis (and it may take them even longer to recover this time), the number of domestic flights in the U.S. decreased in both cases. When sitting down with our partners at Dollar Flight Club back in April, their forecast for the airline industry’s recovery did not bode particularly well for the passenger. We’ll see how demand rebounds, but don’t expect prices to stay at pandemic levels forever: as soon as airline pricing departments gather enough data and can start to predict demand with more confidence after 2021, fares may surge higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to the Wall Street Journal. Right now, the computers and models they use to maximize revenue are shot without enough relevant customer data from 2020. 

Stay tuned for more COVID-related travel updates for us. In the meantime, stay close to home, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

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Words by editorial manager Joseph Ozment.