Is Traveling During COVID-19 Worth It?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably like me – an adventurous spirit yearning to be out on the road again after many months of wanderlusting through the screen. You’re doing the research to see if traveling further from home during this time is worth it at all, for your own safety (and sanity) which is something I searched countless times throughout the past two years. So, having returned recently from a trip to the Galapagos Islands at the cusp of Omicron’s onset, I’m going to give you my most honest account of what it’s like to travel during COVID-19.

Full transparency: I’ve never been a nervous traveler. I’ll book a trip a week before and jump on a plane to somewhere I have yet to visit without a second thought. COVID has changed a lot of that for me, as I’m sure it has for you as well. I also think it has made adventures more meaningful and intentional, and my trip to the Galapagos solidified that feeling for me.

Just a mere three weeks prior to departure, I received a text message that ultimately sent me into a travel research panic – a close contact had tested positive. I had been counting the days until I departed for the Galapagos, keeping a watchful eye on any local regulations and mandates. Until that point, I had just been excited (with realistic constraint), as it was the first new country I was visiting since the beginning of the pandemic.

I had ordered sun shirts and a Go Pro, and I was already imagining myself on the islands, swimming with sea lions and galivanting with giant tortoises. I had been so careful for the last two years that I had never brought myself to imagine what would happen in this exact scenario. I also never imagined that I would actually test positive.

I had run a mile just prior to receiving that text; I felt perfectly fine on all accounts, and I absolutely did not want to consider what would happen with my upcoming trip if I did test positive. But, it happened, and there wasn’t anything I could do to control it.

Thankfully, I got out of isolation a week before my flight was scheduled, and I had my testing exemption ready to go, but if we have learned anything, it’s that COVID is wildly unpredictable. Omicron had just made its appearance. With this, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands changed their regulations and exemptions were no longer allowed. The CDC advised me not to re-test for 90 days at risk of testing positive again, and I was already within the 72-hour testing turnaround, which meant I likely wouldn’t even get my results before my flight was scheduled to depart. On top of that, if I did get my results back from a regular PCR, I would have to get tested again upon arrival in Ecuador for the results to be valid when I arrived in the Galapagos a day later. Are you still with me? Long story short, a true COVID nightmare had set in and believe me when I say that I was stressed out of my mind.

However, there are not enough words in a dictionary to fully describe how incredible the following days were. After nervously waiting in line for a rapid PCR test at Boston Logan International Airport, my results came back negative.

It felt like I had won the lottery. I cried. I danced. People in line high-fived me. All the excitement I had been bottling up for the last several weeks was released in full force, and I assure you that the bliss did not stop there.

As the following week in the Galapagos unfolded, I realized that every ounce of stress (much of which was self-inflicted) had been worth it. Our small group of seven, all vaccinated and tested, became a family. We reminisced on past travels and shared remarkably similar struggles from the previous two years. We laughed, we hugged, we shared contact info and connected to each other and the crew in a way that I haven’t felt since before the pandemic began. It was as though everyone in the group was craving these chats with new friends after having been deprived for so long.

But, that wasn’t the only incredible aspect of traveling at this time. Our group became expeditioners, we had each other’s backs as we snorkeled in open ocean, keeping an eye out for colorful sea life to share with everyone. We hiked islands together, spotting blue-footed boobies and baby albatrosses, with not a single other traveler in sight.

The islands were ours in those moments, and I have no doubt that being alone on our adventures (with the exception of several very curious sea lions) made this trip that much more amazing.

With the lack of as many travelers over the last few years, the wildlife has taken over the islands and environmental restoration has been able to take priority. It was like exploring the islands for the first time, untouched by people, with lava gulls, iguanas, sea turtles, and sea lions at every turn.

For those of you searching for an answer on whether or not you should travel during this challenging time, I’d say to go for it! While travel of course remains a personal decision (and I highly recommend doing your research and working with experts like those at Club Adventures and AAA Travel to stay on top of all the changes and protocols) you’ll experience an authentic side of your destination, with fewer crowds to shuffle through and more intimate encounters with locals who can’t wait to have more tourists back in town. But, most importantly, you’ll be back out there, treasuring every moment of the adventure (possibly more than ever) in the company of travelers just as excited to be on the road again as you are. The world is waiting for you. Ready? Let’s go!