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Is It Safe to Travel Now?

Travel agents: now is a great time to travel, if you select the right area to visit

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If your travel bug has been biting hard lately, you can feel confident that you still have options for taking a vacation.

Although it seems counterintuitive, it’s a good time to travel and, providing you select the right area, safe both for your health and your travel plans.

Patty Bean, travel agent and owner of Bean Cruises and Travel in Rochester, said that although the travel advisories are subject to change, at present, Mexico is her go-to for clients.

“Specifically, I like the Cancun east coast area,” Bean said. “I love the color of the water. It’s so pretty. Others like Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific side, but it’s more difficult to get into the water.”

She returned from a trip to Cancun in July after staying at three different resorts. She observed the staff and other guests using PPE and social distancing.

“Mexico used large thermal scanners,” she added. “If you have a temperature over 99.8, you would be quarantined in a certain area of your hotel until you came back with a negative COVID-19 test. If it were positive, you’d be hospitalized.”

She also said that many of the Caribbean islands are open with a negative COVID-19 test, including Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Turks and Caicos Islands. But travelers should be aware that the time length between when they took their COVID-19 test and their arrival varies by island.

Social distancing can mean a more tranquil, less hurried vacation, as many beaches and resorts have occupancy rates of only 30%. Bean also said that air travel is less crowded as the airline industry is trying to keep passengers safe, too. Instead of sitting three abreast, the middle seat was vacant, allowing extra room for everyone.

Encountering fewer travelers also means less hassle at the airport.

“Getting through customs was amazingly quick,” Bean said. “Walk, swipe your passport, go to customs and no lines. None! Go get your luggage and recheck it.”

She flew with Southwest Airlines. Because few are feeling confident to travel, many airlines are cutting rates to lure nervous travelers.

Bean said that using a travel agent to plan a trip is even more important than ever because of the constant flux in the industry.

Otherwise, “you won’t know what’s open, what’s closed and what test is required,” she said.

“Travel insurance is a good plan,” Bean said. “It won’t cover you for the fear of getting COVID and canceling it, unless the tour operator lets you refund or have up to two years to book it. It covers the interruption in your travel plan and the hospitalization or if you can’t get home.”

Travel agents specialize in knowing just what is open and what the travel protocols travelers need to follow.

Melinda Johnston, owner of Luxe World Travel in Rochester, plans international customized wellness travel to places such as Thailand, Bali, India and Peru. She said that online booking is pretty tricky for consumers.

“The standard cancellation policies no longer apply most of the time,” she said. “With most hotels, you can cancel within a two-week period, but if you need an international ticket and need to cancel because the virus is raging, you might not be able to take the trip. Everything is constantly changing.”

She said that booking through third parties such as Orbitz online means that travelers pay cancellation fees if they cannot take their trip. She estimates that the soonest international travel will take place will be March 2021.

“Right now, trip insurance is not covering if a country bans us from going in,” Johnston said. “It’s a game of statistics and probabilities. The consumer is no longer in any control. If you need to cancel or the U.S. can’t get this virus under control, any travel consumer is at the whim of whoever they booked with. If you’re going to book anything, book directly with the airline and hotel.”

She added that the cost of lodging in locations that live on tourism have very low rates to attract wary travelers; however, if the pandemic worsens, travels could get stuck there. They may receive a voucher for future travel, but they’re out the cost of airfare and in the meantime, their money is tied up in a future trip.

Jim Havalack, owner of Quality Transportation Services in Victor and Geneva, encourages New Yorkers to take domestic trips in their own backyard.

“With Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes and the Adirondacks — you can’t see everything in five years of traveling,” Havalack said.

Some travel agents book for local stays, such as Lori Angelone Chaba, owner of Lori’s Travel in Rochester. Her company books cottages in the 1000 Islands and Adirondacks so clients won’t have to worry about quarantining themselves as part of their travel protocol.

The Thousand Islands and Adirondacks venues appeal to many travels because “anything by the water is what people like right now, Chaba said.