It has been just over a month since we left Italy as the spread of the Coronavirus was exploding there and beginning to take hold in the US. It was surreal and Betsy and I both wrote of our reflections about the experience. (A Letter for the Langhe in the Time of Coronavirus,and My Reflections on our Time in Italy during Coronavirus) It is remarkable how things have changed in such a short period of time.
We self quarantined with Chelsea and Sam in Madison for two weeks after we returned on March 14. They did an amazing job of stocking up so we didn’t need to leave the house for that time. Sam was able to work from home and we continued working on renovating the house. Of course Chelsea made sure we ate very well.
After those first 14 days, so much had been shut down locally that our daily routine didn’t change much after our self quarantine was over. We had groceries delivered, and arranged curbside pickup for other needs including pet supplies for their new family member, Andy. We have also ventured into a Home Depot for some yard work supplies and one grocery run of our own, with masks and hand sanitizer.
We are all getting a little stir crazy but we also realize this is just how it’s going to be for a while. I would like to go see my parents in Ohio but they are in the most vulnerable demographic. We are concerned about traveling and possibly infecting them. We would like to visit our son David, but he lives in NYC and travel to the epicenter of the outbreak in the US doesn’t seem prudent.
Our situation is exacerbated by our current lifestyle. Our “elevator speech” for the last two and half years has gone something like this: “We retired from university teaching, sold our house and most of our stuff, and travel throughout Europe for 9 months of the year. We extend our travel budget by participating in Work Away, WWOOF, and Trusted House Sitters. We also have a travel company where we create custom itineraries for people and lead small group tours. We spend our summers at our cottage on a lake in Quebec.”
Nothing much about that statement is valid right now. We obviously can’t travel around Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, right now. Work exchange opportunities are non-existent and since nobody else is traveling, housesitting opportunities have disappeared.
Since we sold our house, we don’t have a house to come home to. I am certain Chelsea and Sam weren’t counting on us as indefinite house guests! Did I mention there’s only one bathroom?
We would love to go to the cottage but the border between the US and Canada is closed, and so are some of the provincial borders. Even some of our friends who live in Ottawa, Ontario are finding it difficult to make the hour and a half trip to the lake without being stopped by Quebec provincial police.
And things have changed rapidly for our travel business, Euro Travel Coach. After a busy 2 months at the beginning of the year, all of our client trips for the Spring have now been postponed. We are carefully looking at summer trips and will handle all the details of postponing many of those plans as well, depending on how things progress. We have two wine centric small group trips we plan to lead in Piedmont in October. We are still hoping we will be able to take these trips with our guests, but we have to continue to monitor the situation and see how things go. Not surprisingly, no new clients are coming in right now. No one knows when it will be safe to travel, or what travel will look like when it opens up again.
But we are still here, still working, still planning. We continue to work on the website improving SEO (site engine optimization) and adding content, like this post. We also take care of all the details for our itinerary clients as they make decisions on travel plans that have already been booked.
We are also looking to the future and trying to understand and anticipate what the future of travel is going to look like. We don’t know what the new normal will be, but we have been thinking a lot about how travel may change in the future. Here are some possibilities.
For many of us the thought of large, confined crowds is concerning if not terrifying right now. With time, this sense of unease will surely dissipate. But until we have a vaccine, it is hard to imagine the long lines and hoards of people at sites like the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s in Rome, The Louvre in Paris, or the Tower of London being allowed to continue as in the past.
Perhaps some of these sites will move toward using controlled entrances such as the Borghese Gallery in Rome, which we visited in 2006. They allow a maximum of 270 people in the museum at a time, on a two-hour schedule. After the previous days’ visits to the Coliseum and Vatican, the Borghese Gallery seemed quite civilized in comparison. It left such an impression on us that we still consider it one of the best museum visits we’ve ever experienced. It is a magnificent museum by the way. I highly encourage a visit on your next trip to Rome.
If this were to happen on a larger scale, it would significantly limit the number of people that could visit any given site, and would probably also increase entry fees.
What about events that rely on large, gathered audiences? Concerts, plays and musicals, night clubs, sporting events, large festivals, Oktoberfest. It is hard to imagine how these can be made safer.
Dining While Traveling
Another area where things are bound to change is how we eat while traveling. Our good friend Daniela at La Giolitta in Barolo is considering how to change the wonderful breakfasts that are included with the room when you stay with her. In the past, the guests have eaten together in a small dining area. Fresh pastries, meats, cheeses, and breads are left out and an espresso machine is available for guests to use at their leisure. There are only three rooms so it is a good opportunity to get to know your fellow guests. We have always struck up a conversation with people there and Daniela is there, taking care of her guests. Now she is considering serving people in their rooms to avoid unnecessary contact. This is not her idea alone but one being floated around by a hospitality association in her area to keep travelers safe.
It is hard to believe that restaurant experiences will not change in some way. When we were in Italy before it was completely shut down, restaurants were encouraged to have limited hours and only seat at 50% of capacity. I would imagine something similar will be instated as restaurants begin to open again. Will servers wear masks and gloves? Will menus be disposable? Restaurants operate with narrow margins in the best of circumstances. How will they remain profitable at 50% capacity? Restauranteurs are creative and resilient. They will find a way to take great care of their guests. But a restaurant experience will be different for a while.
All forms of public transportation will likely be affected including planes, trains, buses, and mass transit systems. It is hard to imagine what can be done to improve the safety of something designed to efficiently transport a high volume of people. We have been on subway cars in New York, London, Paris, Rome and other locations during rush hour that have been so completely packed, the doors could barely close. We’ve experienced similar conditions taking the bus from the tarmac to a terminal after a flight.
When returning from Europe in March we spent hours crowded into rooms with fellow passengers in passport control. I’m sure you can think of instances during your own travels where you were in a kind of crowd that seems almost unimaginable now.
I’m not sure what the future will bring but I anticipate longer lines and more controlled entrances in these situations. Patience will be even more of a virtue.
There have been some nightmarish stories about cruise ships during this pandemic. I know some people, especially now, consider these ships to be a bit of a petri dish or sardine can. But they are also immensely popular among a large segment of the population. I have no doubt this industry will continue, but with significant changes. We have heard some companies are looking into discontinuing all buffet style service of any kind. All food and drink would be table service only. To be sure, the cruise lines want you to be safe. They will figure out a way to comply with the highest standards of health recommendations, while offering you a great experience.
Travel in the Shoulder Seasons
We have always advocated traveling during the shoulder seasons. I believe this will become an even more sought after time to travel. Even low season travel can be quite rewarding and may become a more desirable time to vacation. I anticipate more people will invest their travel dollars during these times, trying to avoid crowds. As companies and people realize the benefits of working at home or remotely, it may foster this type of travel in order to avoid the busy summer months.
Visiting Off-the-Beaten-Path Locations
We have also always suggested visiting areas that are not on everyone’s wish list. I know a trip to Italy seems like it should include the Roman Coliseum, Michelangelo’s David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the canals of Venice, and maybe all of them! But while these are “must see” destinations for a reason, there is something just as appealing about experiencing the beautiful Tuscan hills of the Val d’Orcia, enjoying a glass of Barolo while taking in the Italian Alps, or exploring the small hill-towns of the often overlooked Umbria region.
Think of it this way, if someone wanted to visit the US and really get to know what it’s like to live here, would you send them to New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles? Or would you send them on a road trip through your favorite part of the country, hitting a dinner here or there, and taking in some sites along the way? I love all those cities but they are destinations in themselves. If you really want to know a country you need to get into the countryside.
Optionally, people may visit less touristed countries. In the last three years we have had amazing experiences in Slovenia, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, and Iceland among others. Sometimes they haven’t even been on “our list” but circumstances put us there. What we have found is there are remarkable sites, tremendous food, outstanding entertainment, engaging history, and friendly people everywhere. The experience is largely up to you.
When Can We Travel Again?
We just can’t know when it will be safe to travel again, but those who are willing to be some of the first to go will likely find some bargains. Numbers of tourists are not likely to return to pre-crisis levels for some time. The law of supply and demand dictates that prices will be lower as providers try to lure the first travelers.
We also encourage you to patronize smaller, family-run establishments. While all companies, big and small, are hurting during this period, you will have a much more authentic experience at a smaller spot and your hosts will be so happy to have you, they are bound to make it a special visit. They need you now, more than ever.
We don’t have a crystal ball but we do know that what the world is going through now will cause potentially major changes in our lifestyles and the way we travel. We are anxious to be on the road again, as I know many of you are. Rest assured that we will continually monitor the situation and when it is safe, we will be here to help you navigate the waters. Until then stay home, stay safe, stay hopeful, and keep dreaming about future trips.
If you have ideas about the future of travel, we invite you to share them in the comments section below. Let us know how you think the future of travel will look.
Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family to help you dream about travel to Europe, and create amazing trip plans when it’s safe to travel. We are here for your custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. We also book European cruises! Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!
Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
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