Should we still travel during Covid? How?

One can’t help but wonder if the age of big bus tours is over. Fifty eight people packed into a coach, going together to the postcard sites and commission-paying shops for two weeks? Given that Covid is just a fact of life from now on, with seasonal surges and remissions, I’m skeptical that the old model will work for much longer.

Luckily, Rick Steves is already ahead of that curve, with only half the seats on the bus filled, and a more refined and considered model of movement, so I think he’s well situated to survive into the future. (And since I just agreed to my 2022 spring schedule, I am wholeheartedly looking forward to being part of those tours!) We can still get all the benefits of collective bargaining and private transportation, while still remaining sensible about covid risks.

Beautiful museums, yes, but let’s be honest that the crowd was never a selling point

But for my Romania tour, I’ve decided to go even further down that path of precaution, by capping my groups at 15 people. Every person on a tour is another possible vector of contact, with their own set of shopkeepers, waiters, and passersby on the street. With half the group, we have a fraction of the exposure. (We can also take a smaller, more nimble bus!)

Additionally, while I love those crowded Western European cities and sites, I feel much safer in the smaller towns and open countryside we’ll visit in Romania. Covid (and all its variants) are everywhere, it’s impossible to escape them, but we can be smart about where we go. And while full vaccination is an essential part of our personal calculation, I believe our behavior while abroad will do more to protect our health than relying on generalized national stats.

My Romania tour is light on museums, but even the couple we visit are more likely to be crowded like this, despite fantastic art on display.

Another part of these smarter considerations is the hotels. While I love the mom & pop places where I stayed on my first Romania trip, for my group I am demanding a higher standard of cleaning than I can demand of someone running a small business. Add in my continuing commitment to interesting and authentic accommodation experiences, and I’ve ended up with some absolutely gorgeous places to stay.

All of this leaves me with a surprising conclusion. Covid…is probably good for my tours. Every year pre-2020, I became more and more aware that the main problem with tourism was its own success. Venues were slammed with crowds, authentic connection was drowning in the mass produced, prices were getting unreasonable, and illnesses were already going through tour groups with a vengeance. The industry was flummoxed by what to do about any of it. Covid has taken the decisions for them.

I am still a passionate believer in the myriad benefits of travel. In fact I think its merits have only increased as we’ve continued into the ominous woods of Fear and Bad News. But if we do it right, we can navigate those woods even better than before. And as anyone who’s ever read a fairytale knows, the gloomier the forest, the better the treasure hidden within it.

Don’t miss the next post, for some teasers of the kind of riches I have planned…