I’d been twitching for awhile.
I hadn’t been out of the country since February.
In a normal year, I travel outside the USA at least four times for a total of about six weeks. This is the first year since 2006 that I haven’t already taken at least three international trips by this time of the year.
International travel makes me happy. I wanted to celebrate my retirement. My girlfriend hadn’t had a vacation in more than a year. She wanted to go someplace to relax where she “didn’t have to think.”
Relaxing without thinking? Mexico sounds perfect. I booked the trip to Cancun.
Lots of people criticize Cancun as a destination, but I truly enjoy the city. I’ve been to Mexico 21 times since 2002. Most of those trips were to destinations in and around Cancun. They have a very easy tourist infrastructure. The people are happy and friendly. Most tourist industry people speak English. The beaches are some of the most beautiful on the planet. It’s as close to a paradise destination as I have found anywhere in the world.
I booked a luxury all-inclusive at a five-star hotel. Due to the pandemic, rates were $300 per night cheaper than the last time I stayed there. I got first class airline tickets on Delta for $400 each. Coach is usually a couple hundred dollars more than that fare.
When I started telling my friends about my trip, I got some strange responses. Lots of folks questioned our desire to travel during a pandemic. I didn’t get it. I had flown to Arizona for a training class last month and everything went well. At the time, Arizona had a far higher rate of Covid positive patients than Cancun.
Then I learned about the concept of “travel shaming.” Some folks think it isn’t proper to travel during a pandemic and attempt to shame those who do so. I’m generally immune to shaming efforts, so I don’t really care. The concept baffles me. If someone wants to perform an intelligent risk analysis and decides to travel, why would anyone care? I guess sometimes I forget that we are in the age of “cancel culture” and anything that departs from the cultural norm is punished.
“Two-thirds of the nearly 4,000 Americans surveyed in June by Ketchum Travel, a public relations agency, said they would judge others for traveling before it’s considered “safe.” Half expected to censor their social media posts to avoid being “travel shamed” themselves. Compare that with last year, when about 80 percent of the 1,300 respondents in a Skift Research survey said they posted trip photos on social media.”
Having never been one who cared much for cultural norms, I booked the trip.
We had a wonderful time and I’ll share my travel narrative and pictures without fearing anyone who wants to target me with their “travel shaming” efforts. Busybodies who “travel shame” need to get some new hobbies. If you are worried about being shamed for traveling, you need to start hanging out with a higher class of people. Travel shaming, like so many other modern indignities is absolutely ridiculous.
So what has changed in the world of travel as a response to the pandemic? Quite a lot.
There are only a few countries and a couple of Caribbean islands that will accept travelers from the USA. Most of the other countries are planning to stay in tourist lockdown until November at the earliest. Don’t book a trip to a country that bans your entry!
Each airline has its own Covid procedures. All of the airlines require you to wear a mask for the entire flight unless you are eating and drinking. The catch is that most airlines have suspended meal and drink service during the pandemic. If you don’t bring your own food and water, you won’t be allowed to take of your mask any time during the flight.
Speaking of food, the airports are like ghost towns with only about 25% of the passengers they had at this time last year. Because of the light traffic, almost all the airport stores and most of the airport restaurants and bars are closed. Bring your own food. It may be a long day if you have tight connections and pass through airports with fewer open restaurants.
There were a couple positive changes in the flight procedures. The first is that as you board the plane, the flight attendant hands you an individually wrapped Lysol disinfectant wipe. Everyone used the wipes to sanitize their seats, seat belts, tray tables, and computer screens. I actually advised doing that in my travel book published before all the Covid changes. It’s a good practice and I hope it continues.
The airline I flew also altered boarding procedures. In order to avoid a line at the gate and a traffic jam in the aisles of the plane, the flight attendant boarded just a few rows at a time, starting with the rear of the plane. I have no idea why the airlines didn’t do that before. It just seems incredibly more efficient and avoids keeping passengers jammed together in a close line while boarding.
The only other airline change was the fact that they handed out paper Covid-19 questionnaires on the plane. The questions were the standard ones about feeling ill or having close contact with anyone testing positive for Covid-19. The flight crew told us to fill the forms out and give them to immigration officers while landing. No one ever asked for or looked at our forms. These forms were required by the Mexican government, yet no one ever looked at them. A stunning example of government inefficiency if I ever saw one. Welcome to Latin America.
Speaking of forms, if you are planning a trip to Mexico, you can now do the immigration tourist card and the customs forms online before you leave for your trip. That will save you time on the ground and speed up your entry into the country. Highly recommended because airlines regularly run out of the forms and regularly don’t have enough to provide them to all the travelers on the plane.
Once we arrived in Mexico, disembarkation procedures changed as well. The airlines funneled all arriving passengers through an automated temperature scanner. Presumably, if you had a fever, you would be sent back home or placed into mandatory quarantine. The dude monitoring the scanner was dressed in full PPE with a Tyvek suit, respirator, goggles, gloves, and a face shield.
Airport employees sprayed a sanitizing solution on all of the bags before they were put on the luggage conveyor belts. Some of our fellow passengers’ bags were literally soaked in disinfectant. If you pack valuable clothing, food, or electronics in your checked bag, you may want to put those items in a plastic bag inside your luggage to keep them from getting wet. Our bags were also hosed down upon arrival at the hotel. be prepared for a lot of liquid disinfectant spray covering all of your luggage.
In Cancun, the primary international arrivals/departures terminal was completely closed down due to the pandemic. We flew in and out of what had normally been the domestic terminal. The regular luggage X-ray machine and the “traffic light” customs inspections are no longer in place. Once you get your checked bag, you are free to walk out without any customs inspections.
In general, the Mexicans seem to be doing more to prevent viral transmission than the Americans. Like here, masks are required indoors in a public place. They are not required on the beach, but it is mandatory to wear a face covering even while walking around outside in the city. Everyone was wearing a mask, without exception.
All the hotels and most of the businesses had a pool of disinfectant solution that guests were required to walk through before entering public establishments. Each hotel, every restaurant in the hotel, and every business had a person with a thermometer gun standing at the entrance. If your temperature was more than 37 degrees Celsius, you would be denied entry. As hotel guests, we were forced to have our temperatures checked multiple times a day whenever we ate or entered the hotel from outside. We were also forced to use hand sanitizer at every hotel, restaurant, or business entrance.
When checking in to the hotel, we were instructed to download the hotel app to our phones. The hotel app allowed us to check in and out, see what events were happening, view restaurant hours and menus, book spa reservations, order room service, and report any problems. That was really very handy and a unique way that the folks in Mexico are trying to remove almost every element of face to face interaction between employees and guests.
By law, the Mexican hotels can only book no more than 30% of their previously-allowed guest numbers. The hotel had guests, but was far less busy than other times I had stayed there. Take a look at the photo below. That was the most crowded it ever became at our hotel’s pool and beach. There was a very noticeable difference between this trip and my previous experiences at the hotel. On this trip there were far more vacationing Mexicans than any other nationality. Among the Americans staying at the resort, I would bet 50% of them were African American. On previous visits, I seldom saw a black guest or a Mexican citizen at the resort.
My assumption is that when the hotel is priced at 40% of its usual rate and airfare is half price, it encourages more people to visit. It makes me happy to see anyone traveling and having fun. I’m glad that the cheap prices have allowed folks to enjoy an international luxury they may not have previously been able to afford.
We had a very relaxing trip. We spent most of our time enjoying good food, free margaritas, and a beautiful view. It was a perfect mindless beach vacation. We did book one excursion and had a blast. We did a two hour speedboat rental and snorkeling trip through Jungle Tour Cancun. The excursion allowed us to race speedboats on the lagoon side of the island before taking us out to an underwater national park for snorkeling. It was a lot of fun for $50 a person. The snorkeling was much better than I thought it would be. We saw a sea turtle, a sting ray, a manta ray, and lots of colorful tropical fishes. If you get a chance to go, I’d highly recommend the trip.
Besides our boating/snorkeling excursion, the only other time we left the resort was to have dinner in my favorite Cancun restaurant, La Habichuela. As usual, the food was amazing. Unfortunately, we were the only guests dining there on what would have normally been a very busy Friday night. The tourist industry in Mexico is having massive problems right now. Lots of restaurants are closing. Taxi drivers are finding new careers. The tour industry has been completely decimated.
Near the restaurant, there is a large public park that is normally full of locals on every weekend night. We walked down through the park after dinner. I would guess that it was at 10% of normal capacity. It was sad that there were so few people enjoying the nice weather on a summer night. I’m not sure if the lack of people was caused by fear of the corona virus or the fact that local families didn’t have any money to spend because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Today marks the two week mark from the day that I left for Mexico. I’ve been tracking my temperature daily, No fever and no respiratory symptoms yet. It appears that we made it to Cancun and back without getting the ‘Rona.
If you are called to travel, I urge you to do so. Most of the destinations you choose will have a similar or lesser viral infection rate than your home state. Travel is tremendously cheap right now. Take advantage of that fact and support the local tourist economies that you enjoy. They need all the help they can get.
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