If the grand entrance of Covid-19 in the early weeks of 2020 didn’t prove Robert Burns correct, that “the best laid schemes o’mice an’ men often go awry,” I don’t know what would. Covid would initiate the longest expanse of nontravel I have experienced in decades. Being socially responsible and just NOT wanting to let something like a virus take me, I have remained home. My Travel Calendar has never been this blank. My computer has taken a beating but my genealogy research has soared.
As the globe shut its doors to travelers, I couldn’t help think of parallels. Is this how it felt to live behind the Iron Curtain? Travel and exploration came to a screeching halt. Harder to do my yearly calendar and Christmas card; easier to choose a wardrobe. Painful to cancel several trips: Five Stans of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc. (and I was just beginning to learn their geography and names); to Italy and the Cinque Terre – twice; a camping trip in Big Sur; a cruise out of Los Angeles with friends. Optimism was eternal – until about May.
There was a lot of planning and adjustment needed. By early February 2020, I was developing serious concerns and because of the disastrous US response to the pandemic, I decided to cancel my Mar/April trip to Italy’s Cinque Terre. I moved reservations to Oct 2020 only to cancel everything by June. Obviously, responsible travel was not possible. My ElderTrek tour of the Five Stans for May/June was canceled and rescheduled for May 2021. As the pandemic worsened, I moved the trip further out to Sept 2021. Maybe?
I was fortunate with cancellations and changes of schedule.
With tours, flights and lodging booked, I had about $30,000 worth of investment at risk. Would it be threatened by economic collapse? Would I get my money returned? Could I cancel and reschedule without penalties? There were a lot of lessons to be reinforced.
Because of the circumstances of a global pandemic and the fact that typically insurance does not cover pandemic nor one’s choice not to travel because of it, most businesses and airlines, after the initial shock wave, fortunately were willing to work with their customers. By my calculations, I lost 43.50$ of deposits or payments. (It was for a Visa I had just purchased for entry into Uzbekistan. I didn’t bother to ask for a change.) I do have about $6200 in vouchers with United Airlines and that is okay as I will fly with them in the future. (The vouchers and credits are valid into 2022.)
Airlines took a beating from customers, and vice versa, but my experiences were good. When the airline cancelled a flight, I was refunded the money. When I cancelled a flight, I received vouchers. I patiently waited for United to cancel my flight to Italy and once they did, my credit card was credited the full amount. I did struggle with Turkish Airlines (had an Ashgabat to Munich flight scheduled) but, waited for TA to cancel, who asked me to wait 60 days for my refund. Having not received it by day 65, I approached my credit card and within 10 days received a full credit. Thank you Chase!
I purchased a health insurance policy for the Stans trip. The company moved the policy to the new rescheduled date. When I moved the trip a second time, they would not reschedule the policy but credited me with a full refund to apply to another trip or the Stans at a later date.
I had many rooms booked, especially in Italy. All of them were booked with free cancellation. I use Booking.com for lodging and it took me but a few minutes to cancel all my reservations. No fees were charged. The single hotel I booked privately allowed me to cancel.
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
Dwight David Eisenhower
Planning ahead was valuable and watching deadlines even more important. It is a must not only to book rooms that allow cancellation or change but to watch their deadlines. Patience and awareness were invaluable. Many people were caught in the situation of cancelling their flights, etc. Unfortunately, it was only later they discovered by doing so they would loose their investment. It took awhile for the airlines to begin issuing vouchers and some fought to avoid refunding monies. In the end, seasoned travelers quickly learned to not “blink first” and waited for the airline to cancel and thus airlines flying in the U.S. were required by law to refund monies. And some airlines were worse than others. Air Canada continued to refuse refunding monies.
This disaster for travel strengthened my belief that I will always book direct as much as possible. Booking “cheap” or through 3rd parties only exacerbated the process of cancellation and refunds. Dealing directly with the airline, I was able to get my refunds months ahead of my friend who booked through a third party.
Would travel insurance have assisted? NO. Most basic travel insurance will not cover pandemic nor your decision not to travel because of it. What about Cancel for Any Reason, or CFAR? Yes, possibly; it depends if they wrote pandemics into their policy, which many did not (but have since added.) By my calculations, with CFAR paying out 75% of my non-refundable losses, I could have claimed the Visa and possibly received a refund of $32.62. All the remaining reservations were cancellable or monies were refunded in cash or voucher. CFAR would not have refunded any of my charges.
Insurance in the future? I am not convinced. I did, in a moment of weakness, purchase CFAR for my 2021 Stans trip. It is costly, about 20% of the total insured. Because CFAR refunds only “75% of the prepaid, forfeited, non-refundable Payments or Deposits for the Covered Trip,” it means that should the pandemic result in the trip being rescheduled again, I would get nothing. Because I would suffer no financial loss, I am essentially paying for nothing. With airlines presently booking fully refundable tickets, there would be no loss there either. I am really at a crossroads as to the worth of CFAR insurance.
Everything is at a standstill. In most instances, loyalty programs and perks have been extended through 2021. But will 2021 see much travel? I often see the question, “Where will you go first?” My first thought always is, “Who will want us?” Do I want to go where the restaurants are closed, lodging iffy, campgrounds closed, museums closed, theatre closed, limited dining, activities restricted?
And I have a unique reaction to all those who expound “discover your own backyard.” First, I know my backyard well, having traveled across the US on numerous occasions. Living in a tourist area, my backyard is filled with mask-less idiots who came over to escape their own backyard. Planning a trip to state and national parks, I found much to be closed or filled to capacity. Travel began to appear to be a rather selfish enterprise and difficult to organize safely. Second, why go if I could not relax and enjoy the sites? The deaths of a half million people would seem to indicate we, as citizens, were not willing to sacrifice even to save others or shorten a global pandemic.
I’m loosing my edge. I have only a few trips left in me. Many of those were lost to the 2020 Pandemic. Like most travelers, I wait and hope, wait and hope. A pandemic is a lesson we could have done without. Hopefully, once our world is on the mend, we will look back on 2020 and not think about the travel missed, or anxiety experienced. I hold to the hope that we entered 2021 wiser and kinder. And when the globe does once again open its arms to travelers, we appreciate the freedom to do so.
2021 – The year of Flâneur?
I look forward to being, once again, a Flânerie!