Travel In the Time of Corona

Stay at home

Me “exploring” from my couch. Can’t you see my enthusiasm?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. Needless to say, I’ve not done any traveling since late January. I had high hopes for this year, but the ‘rona chewed us up and spit us out. I’d planned to go to Grenada with my husband (no longer fiancé as of November!) for some much needed R & R. Since this entire situation is unprecedented and so by the minute, I thought there was a glimmer of hope that things would improve by late May, when we were scheduled to leave. That didn’t happened.

I was cautiously optimistic that by late fall/early winter there would be opportunities to travel. That seems more and more like wishful thinking with each passing day. I live in New York City, which has gotten (somewhat) of a handle on COVID-19, so restaurants and stores have opened to some extent. Still, whether there’ll be indoor dining in the city come winter is anybody’s guess. Governor Cuomo says that New York City will begin indoor seating at restaurants on September 30th at 25% capacity and with strict regulations, such as temperate checks and no bar service. Businesses here are hurting a lot and many have not hung on. Neighboring Westchester County to the north has enjoyed limited indoor seating for nearly months now.

Because the virus has increased rapidly in other states, New York State has implemented a travel advisory. Travelers visiting the Tristate area (NY/NJ/CT) must fill out a mandatory form and quarantine for 14 days if arriving from the list of twenty-something restricted states and US territories (ones with high incidences of the virus.) Anyone entering New York without first filling out said form faces up to $2,000 in fines, though how heavily it’s being enforced remains to be seen. In New York City less than 1% of those tested for the virus turn out positive, which is, quite frankly, a victory from where we were in late spring; let’s hope it stays that way.

Where Can You Run To?

United States as a whole remains barred from travel abroad, with few exceptions. Traveling outside the US is daunting, as the countries that Americans are allowed to travel to and the entry requirements (almost all of which require a negative COVID test) are constantly in flux. Some countries, primarily Caribbean nations, have opened to Americans and quickly closed due to rising virus rates. Costa Rica, a unique case, will allow tourists only from states with low or controlled virus rates, most of which are in the Northeastern part of the United States. Despite testing now being widely available, rapid tests are still few and far between, and their accuracy questionable.

Should you decide to trek to one of the countries that sallow American visitors, finding a test center with a fast turnaround will be a challenge. As of this writing, I have friends and acquaintances whose results took anywhere from under 24 hours to over two months (!), as well as at least one who received a false positive (she was retested for both the virus and antibodies at another test site, both of which came back negative.) Some countries will issue a COVID test upon entry, but who wants to go through that and risk possibly being turned away or having to quarantine?

If you’re lucky enough to still be employed, the silver lining is that now is the time to save money, accrue vacation time, and regroup. Really desperate to get away? Here’s a list curated by The Points Guy with every country Americans may currently travel to.

If you can’t travel, how are spending your free time?

A Cure for Homesickness

Landing in Bogotá.
Landing in lush, green Bogotá.

I’m a late bloomer. I remember throwing tantrums when my parents told me they’d be leaving my sister and I to spend the weekend at my grandma’s. Girl Scout sleepovers? I’d avoid them as much as possible and begin the countdown until I was back at home in my own bed. Even my first plane ride, a birthday trip to Disney World in Florida with my aunt and uncle, ended in tears and bitten nails as I called my Mom back in New York to tell her how “homesick” I was. You never would have pegged me for a traveler.

It wasn’t until I got a boyfriend in Brooklyn, whom I’d visit during the weekend that I ever voluntarily spent nights away from home. As a high school freshman, for me, spending time outside of my parents’ gaze began to equate to new found freedom. During the hiatus over winter break from college senior year, I somehow convinced my parents to let me book a budget trip to Tampa (Miami was too expensive.) At 21, this was only my 2nd time on a plane, and at that point, taking a break from New York City meant a cure from boredom. Months later, after a day trip to Philadelphia with my college class, I convinced my then-boyfriend to return with me a few weeks later. Even so, I’d still never had a passport because I’d never left the country. This would change within the year.

My college offered passport services and my mother encouraged me to apply for one to have “just in case.” At that point in time, traveling to a foreign country seemed like as much a possibility as going to the Moon. It wasn’t until my boyfriend’s mother came from Colombia to visit that I seriously considered leaving the country. I once became captivated by a book of photos taken in Colombia that I’d perused in a bookstore. Months later I’d find myself at JFK on an economy class Bogotá -bound Avianca flight. I’d be staying with my boyfriend’s family for two weeks in Bogotá , including a side trip to Medellín and its environs.

Plaza Bolívar in Bogotá, the city’s essential photo op.

Before any trip, I was usually already visualizing my return home. But this time was different. I surprised myself in the fact that my biggest concern was the fear of flying, which I’d only done a few times before. From photos and what Colombians had told me, Bogotá seemed grey with horrendous traffic, and bleak. Despite this, getting in the car to leave the airport might as well have been landing on another planet where everything was exciting and new. The humid, cool air immediately hit my skin and everything was so green. Political graffiti was juxtaposed with statues of Colombian heroes backed by mountains and colonial buildings. Was this really the city that everybody had told me was so cold and ugly? I wondered.

My trusty Guía de Rutas por Colombia. So many things to see and do, so little time. I still have a copy to this day.

We were in the house for less than 36 hours before going back the airport once more for our flight to Medellín, where we’d stayed with cousins of my boyfriend’s mother. If Bogotá was April showers, Medellin was May flowers, with its air full of the sweet scent of earth and flora. The antioqueño countryside was the most beautiful place that exceeded any photo.

La Ceja
A gorgeous sunset in La Ceja, the country side. It’s hard to believe this is just 45 minutes from bustling Medellín.

For a New York kid living in an overcrowded apartment, coffee fields as far as the eye could see and mountain roads lined with banana trees was overwhelming. I got to know the pueblitos outside of Medellin from the ceramics workshops of Carmen de Viboral to the vividly painted zócalos adorning the buildings of Guatapé, and of course, the 16th century churches of Santa Fe de Antioquia.

The transition between bustling city and rural village was abrupt, which made Colombia even more appealing. The landscapes, the buildings, the smells, the food were spellbinding. Somehow I’d managed to live in the moment. It was all breathtaking; I didn’t want to go home. What if I could live here?, I thought. Maybe I could. In any case, I needed to return and soon. And just like that, my homesickness was gone. Colombia was just the right cure.