Let me assure you that as a seasoned globetrotter that 2020 has presented some of the strangest situations as far as travel that I have yet to experience personally in seeking to make plans. There is a passage in James that says that one should not say that I will be in such and such a place except if God wills it, and that is certainly the case this year more than it has ever been the case before. The issues are multifarious in nature. For one, there is the question of being able to afford such travel. This is seldom a pressing issue personally but for a great many people it would be, and it certainly was for my folks at least through much of this year when health issues and problems getting enough hours for some of my family members made the cost planning a struggle. Before one can travel one has to make sure one has the means to travel, and that involves making sure that one’s own personal business is going well enough and that one is able to earn and save enough money for one’s plans. This is not always the case and can be a real struggle when unemployment is high and the economy is generally not looking very good.
Generally, I have seldom found my travels inhibited by diplomatic issues, though I do remember a case where some friends of mine wanted to visit Syria and so they could not visit Israel first or they would not be allowed to do so. There are, of course, some nations that are dangerous for Americans to visit, but even if my family has had some wild luck when it came to visiting countries experiencing civil wars or recent coups or the occasional terror attack, we have been remarkably fortunate so far in not causing a problem in most of the countries we have visited. There has occasionally been concern about how my prolific writing would play with the government of a given nation (Thailand and Russia, for example) where I was visiting, but seldom has it been made clear that I was unwelcome in a place. This year, though, has presented a case where the public health concern of covid-positive Americans has made it so that many countries do not in fact want Americans to visit. If we have been politically unpopular around the world for some time, this year has provided us with the painful reality of being viewed as potential plague vectors and thus decidedly unwelcome in many areas around the world, which has caused a drastic change to many of my own travel plans this year.
For a few reasons, then, travel planning in the times of Coronavirus has been different than usual. First, one has to determine if the place one is going actually wants you there or at least is willing to accept you there. Second, if you are welcome, it is time to determine the terms under which you are welcome. A fourteen day quarantine means you are not welcome at all and it is best to look elsewhere. Other places specify by nation or by state which people are required to have Covid-19 tests in a short enough time before one arrives in said country so as to minimize the risk. Nearly every place one would go has some kind of requirement for social distancing and/or the wearing of masks in many public areas, and the like. Regardless of how we may feel personally about such matters, and rest assured most of us (myself included) have strong opinions about such matters, it is our responsibility as ambassadors of our church and our state to be good examples of law-abiding and rule-following people when we travel, because in a time like these when fear and concern are widespread, building a reputation as a thoughtful and considerate person can go a long way, and the opposite can have major negative repercussions.
Of course, the biggest change that travel planning has presented this year has been the far greater uncertainty. One cannot simply know how conditions will be in a year or in a few months, and what the rules will be where one happens to live and where one would want to go. As a result, more than usually, one cannot afford to be too attached to one’s plans because it is possible that they will change in the blink of an eye. If this is less than ideal, it is simply an aspect of reality that has to be dealt with, and hopefully can be dealt with as cheerfully as possible. So if you want to reserve those hotels or flights, and make those plans, one has to be aware that those plans are not set in stone. To be sure, they never are, but now more than ever there are a lot of factors that we know and can recognize as being in play that make things more complicated than they would otherwise be. And that need not be a bad thing; it can make the experiences that one gets to enjoy all the more treasured because they are so fragile and so uncertain. Perhaps we ought to get used to such things, or at least to know that we can handle the uncertainty.