We’re super excited for today’s guest post from Derika Powers! Derika is a flight attendant and self-proclaimed travel enthusiast — seriously, this woman travels constantly and we are here for it! My travel bug has been aching during this pandemic, and I was honestly resigned to not being able to travel until it was all over. Then I became friends with Derika, and she showed me that safe COVID travel is actually possible. Ladies, it’s time to pack up your bags and (safely!) plan that next excursion — Derika’s about to tell you how to make it happen!
Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2. Who knew these three names could flip the world off its axis in a matter of weeks? We would soon begin to see drastic changes in the travel industry as we knew it — cruises stranded at sea, air travel halted, and country borders rapidly closing.
I had just landed in Malaysia when I first heard of the novel coronavirus reports. Four days later I was getting ready for my flight to Thailand and decided to be proactive by buying my first mask. I had only ever worn a mask when I was in a hospital setting, so it felt new and a bit awkward when I put it on for the 6 hours of travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Phuket. At that time masks were not mandated and many people were not wearing them. I received many long, uncomfortable stares from people not wearing masks; meanwhile I was thinking, “Have you not seen the news?”
After arriving in Phuket, Thailand there seemed to be breaking news on the rapid spread of coronavirus every day. A few days in, I booked a day trip and decided to wear my mask anytime I was in the van with 10 other strangers. When we would get out of the van to see temples or to explore the grounds of Phuket’s Big Buddha, I would take my mask off if I was able to stay far away from others in the fresh air. After a few stops, I remember our tour guide making a comment about how I looked nicer without my mask on. She even said I didn’t need to feel obligated to wear it since everyone in the tour group was feeling okay. As nice as her compliment was, I kept my mask on inside regardless. I still had 10 days left in my Southeast Asia backpacking trip and I wasn’t about to cut it short due to unexpected illness.
As a flight attendant I often worked flights that had upwards of 60 or more connecting passengers on their way to or from Asia. Before COVID, I’d observed their practice of mask usage and always wondered why they wore them for the whole duration of their journey. I heard that a common reason people wore masks in large cities was due to smog and poor air quality, but why wear them while traveling indoors. Later, I read an article that explained that most people who wore masks regularly (pre-Covid) wore them to protect themselves from others or to protect others from themselves if they were feeling unwell. Now that made sense! I loved this concept because it is a very community-oriented mindset as opposed to the individualistic mindset I often observe from people stateside.
After taking a compulsory travel hiatus for six months due to worldwide border restrictions, I decided it was time to test the waters of traveling during a global pandemic. My options were limited as an American passport holder so a friend and I decided on Turkey. I had always wanted to visit there, and what better place for our first hot air balloon ride! We secured our e-visa’s, purchased flights, booked hotels, and (a new step in planning) we reviewed Turkey’s Covid-19 protocols to make sure we were compliant.
We flew with Turkish Airlines and departed for Kayseri, Turkey via Istanbul on September 20th. The gate agents took our temperatures before boarding and at the end of the jet bridge a couple crew members were providing hygiene kits to each passenger. The kits included three masks, a hand wipe, and a small bottle of sanitizing alcohol. My friend and I came prepared but it was nice to have additional supplies for our 9-day trip.
While in flight our cabin crew was very attentive and followed strict protocols for mask wearing and sanitizing the lavatories regularly. They also monitored passengers in the cabin who may have forgotten to replace their masks after eating or drinking. After landing in Istanbul we had 2 hours to make our connection. As we made our way to the next flight we observed many signs and ground markers reminding us to maintain a sufficient distance from others. We would come to realize these visual reminders were the new normal throughout Turkey. There were also sanitizing dispensers installed throughout the airport, so you were never more than a few seconds away from clean hands. Everything was clean and efficient, just what every traveler loves.
Once we touched down in Kayseri we made our way to Göreme where we would spend the first half of our trip. Unless we were in our hotel/hostel room or seated at a restaurant table, we had to wear masks everywhere. We quickly found our extra disposable masks from the Turkish Airlines hygiene kit came in handy for our outdoor activities as they were easier to breathe through, while our cloth masks were great for evening outings and restaurants. Since we got lucky with gorgeous weather most of the week, we opted for outdoor seating at restaurants. Once we got to our table, there was always a bottle of kolonya to clean our hands with. Kolonya, as we would learn over the next week, is a traditional Turkish perfume that can alternatively be used as an antiseptic because of its 80% alcohol content — and it boasts a refreshing citrus-y scent! By the end of our trip we loved it so much, we ended up bringing home two bottles each.
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While in Istanbul, we took multiple ferry trips and noticed the staff periodically walking around to enforce the mask rule even in such an open environment. Staff were also consistently checking our temperature as we made our way through popular sites, national parks, and even some restaurants. Overall, we had a great experience and felt safe the entire time; we also agreed that Turkey is doing it right when it comes to taking preventative measures.
In the age of COVID-19 I strongly urge you to review individual country requirements before traveling. Also, although not all countries are mandating travel insurance that covers medical expenses, I highly recommend adding the small expense to your budget. We spent $45 per person for our 9-day trip and it was so worth the peace of mind. If you have a medical condition that puts you in a high-risk category or you’re more susceptible to illness, I would recommend holding off on leisure travel a bit longer and consulting your doctor before you decide to travel again. Otherwise, if you have been hesitant or curious about making that first trip since COVID turned the world upside down, I say go for it. Give the new COVID travel style a shot — who knows, you might actually like it!
She’s a Full On Monet wants to emphasize that, while COVID travel is certainly possible (thanks, Derika!), it must be done with caution and only while following correct CDC guidelines and other foreign protocols. Travel right now is certainly not normal, and likely won’t be for a while, so don’t take a trip unless you’re okay with following coronavirus precautions while traveling. Please do not travel if you’re feeling sick or have recently been exposed to someone infected with the COVID virus.
Looks like COVID travel is possible after all! Have you taken any trips since the pandemic hit? Are you planning to? Share with us in the comments!
About Derika Powers
Traveling is Derika’s passion and she is constantly planning her next adventure! She has always had a taste for trying new foods and brews no matter where she lands in the world. In her spare time she loves practicing yoga and getting lost in a good book. Derika has visited 39 countries so far and recently launched her new travel blog, Foreign A·Fares, to share her experiences with those keen on travel.
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