Howard Clauser had big plans to visit the Galápagos Islands this week. But then the coronavirus outbreak happened, and he needed a vacation rescue.
“The tour operator canceled my trip,” says Clauser, a retired English teacher from Chicago. “I didn’t know what to do.”
How to save his hard-earned vacation? That’s a common question as travel bans go into effect and flights, cruises and hotel reservations get canceled. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, the answer depends on where you are and, more importantly, who you are.
“Travelers can salvage their vacations,” says Freddie Julius, chief executive of Tourist England, a site about travel to the U.K.
It’s a matter of finding an alternative place away from all the crowds. Some travelers are changing their plans, while others are sticking to their schedule but modifying their itinerary to avoid large gatherings. And while it may make sense for you to stay home, the coronavirus crisis doesn’t mean you have to give up your vacation.
How to save your vacation
Clauser didn’t go home. He’d already flown from Chicago to Quito, Ecuador, a few days before his tour. Although he was sad to miss a special place like the Galápagos, he decided to hang out in Ecuador’s capital until his return to the States.
“I’m spending a few extra days in Quito. I’ll finish visiting the sites I missed and maybe take a few more Spanish classes,” he says. “Although Quito closed all of its public schools indefinitely this afternoon, I don’t sense the same level of anxiety here that there is in Chicago. So I’m not rushing to get back.”
Julius, who runs the U.K. tourism site, says choosing an alternate destination is a great vacation rescue plan.
“For example, while visitors to London would normally head to tourist hotspots like Windsor Castle or the British Museum, there are many wonderful alternatives that don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says. “Museums such as the Wallace Collection or Sir John Soane’s Museum have fabulous artwork on display, but with a fraction of the visitor numbers.”
Making a detour to save your trip
When it comes to vacation detours, perhaps the biggest trend is escaping the crowds. Getaway, a company that specializes in renting tiny cabins in remote areas, saw a 400 percent spike in bookings after the presidential address last Wednesday.
“It is possible people are looking for alternative road trip ideas that don’t require much — if any — interaction with people,” says Jon Staff, Getaway’s CEO.
That’s a common thread with most of the vacation rescues I’ve seen in the last few weeks. Some are detouring, like Clauser. Others are going anyway, but taking steps to avoid the crowds.
Jacqueline Lambert and her husband were just about to wrap up a vacation in Italy when the borders locked down. They decided to stay, renting an apartment in the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy. “We’re going to enjoy the weather and beautiful scenery, which we have all to ourselves,” says Lambert, a guide book author.
Others are changing their itineraries before they leave. That’s what happened to me last week. I had planned to spend a month in Italy, with stops in Bologna, Venice, Rome and Südtirol. Then the entire country turned into a red zone.
After consulting with my three travel companions — my kids, ages 13, 15 and 17 — we diverted to Nice, France. I found a roomy Vrbo rental along the Côte d’Azur. True, the cafés and restaurants are closed now, but the beach is still open and the weather is warm. And at least it’s not Italy.
Saving your vacation is usually a good idea, says Stephen Scott, a luxury travel advisor at Protravel International. “My advice is to not cancel your plans, but to push them out to the next best future travel date,” he adds.
But some people are just scrapping their vacations and detouring back to the safety of their homes. That’s the best vacation rescue plan if you’re over 80 or have a pre-existing medical condition. Coronavirus mortality rates for older people are significantly higher. What’s the point of saving your vacation if you come home in a casket?
So if you’re in that age group, consider canceling.
For the rest of us, don’t be afraid to improvise. Find a way to keep your vacation plans by modifying your original schedule or rerouting to a new destination. Avoid large groups of people and you’ll probably be fine. You might even save some money.
How to do a vacation detour
Switch from flying to driving. A number of Americans are turning their vacations into shorter road trips instead of canceling them, says Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president at Best Western Hotels & Resorts. “There’s no reason for travelers to completely abandon their vacation plans,” she adds.
Be creative. That’s the advice of Marinel M. de Jesus, founder of a tour operator called Peak Explorations. “As long as it’s legally feasible and safe to do so, I would explore alternative travel ideas for the destination that I originally chose,” she says. “Collaborate with local agencies directly for assistance and alternative itineraries.”
Keep calm and stay safe. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, say experts. “If you must travel, get insurance, listen to health professionals and follow protocol,” says Anna Kim, founder of the travel and philanthropy site My Travelanthropy.
Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.
© 2020 Christopher Elliott. Published with permission.
PXhere (Creative Commons)
Navin 75 (Flickr, Creative Commons)
Michael Quinn, National Park Service (Creative Commons)