With every travel blogger grounded for the foreseeable future, I now have a lot of time to do nothing about read news about Coronavirus and think endlessly about its impact.
The entire world has shut down and every airline has grounded their plans to a halt. Society has pulled down the curtains to hibernate for the foreseeable future. When it’s time to wake up, the curtains will only be halfway up.
I’ve been locked down and doing the same thing as everyone else in the world for past month and it still feels a bit surreal. While I’ve been doing nothing but reading the news every day, sometimes I just think it has to be a bad dream right? Turns out, when I wake up, my reality is the bad dream. Is there really no clarity on what the world will be like for the next year or two? Am I really just doing to stay home and have no travel for the foreseeable future?
Once in a generation event
Covid-19 is without a doubt a once in multi-generational event. It’s still way too early to tell what the ballpark of deaths and cases will even be but what can’t be disputed is just how much of a disruption it is to society.
In fact, I can’t remember an event that has crippled global society in such a manner since World War 2. Of course I’m not comparing war to being at home locked down, but I am merely saying there hasn’t been this much of a disruption to global society since. There’s nowhere in the world that isn’t engaged in some form of lock down or quarantine with covid.
In fact, this may be the online time in history where everyone is literally doing the exact same thing. No one has to be jealous of anyone’s travels because no one is doing any of it at the moment.
People are not meant to be isolated
I’m not a psychologist by any means but I strongly believe that human beings were not meant to be solitary creatures. From the beginning of humanity, the cave man realized there was strength in numbers forming the basis of civilizations as know it.
Modern day societies are built around people interacting with others. People crave and depend on this. Even the people that constantly complain about wanting to get away from it all will at some point need to be around other people. Whether it’s for food, for medicine, for weapons, we have evolved in the last thousands of years to know we can depend on someone else for x, y, and z.
I can’t remember the last time there was something that forced every person on Earth to stay at home at the same time. It’s not normal and not something people can handle. Forget about the economic impact of such a shutdown of society, but rather many are not equipped for it mentally. I’m going a little crazy myself, not knowing when my next travel will be!
Because of all that free time, I’ve done too much thinking of what the future of travel and society will look like that I had to write it all down.
What’s going to happen to travel for the next year or two
To sum it up, I just don’t see society returning to normal. At best we will see shades of normal until a vaccine is found and widely distributed.
We will live in a permanent state of social distancing and there will probably be perpetual lockdowns as cases flare up.
The virus will never be 100% contained and therefore, governments will run their countries with the thought that infections could come back at any point.
Travel in H1 2020
For travel, I see the first half of the year being completely finished. There will be no travel whatsoever. Anyone traveling now should only be doing so for family emergencies, repatriation flights, and medical professionals. Any one else traveling is just being selfish and irresponsible in my opinion.
Recent statistics out of the US have counted the lowest passenger traffic in decades, with April 2020 having around 4-5% of the traffic that April 2019 had. Pretty shocking I must say.
Travel in H2 2020
I think by Q3, we could see slow resurgence of domestic travel. Governments could let up on restrictions related to movement and internal flights. I’m hoping I can travel around Germany, where I currently reside, starting in June/July. Technically, you can do so right now as trains are still connecting the country, but what are you really going to do going from one locked down city to another?
The big question for me is if the EU will open the Schengen during this time. I suspect not because I can’t imagine a lightly impacted country like Malta will want travelers coming from Italy any time soon. Because the Schengen is built on freedom of movement, I also don’t see EU countries checking passports from other EU countries.
I think we could see Schengen borders slowly emerge starting in Q4. The different member states need to have their infection numbers under control before they can even consider this. Next up is if they trust each other to keep it that way to allow tourism and travel to be re-established.
It’s a tough one because so many countries have such huge parts of the economy dependent on tourism that if you take away the entire summer season, it would be disastrous for million of people. At the same time, does a country like Greece (what I wouldn’t do to be there) which has had a success in dealing with COVID, really want to open the floodgates to their European neighbors like France, UK, Netherlands, Germany etc. that have had many more cases?
At some point, virus fears will give into economic disaster but where that point is will be the million euro question.
As for international travel, I’m hopeful Q4 could happen but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve pretty much written off foreign travel for the rest of the year.
Travel in H1 2021
I think by 2021, we will have some semblance of international travel again. It’s impossible to keep it subdued for so long because tourism and trade need to continue. However, in the absence of a vaccine, I could see countries screening and quarantining passengers from abroad.
This means for sure that we will wear masks, get fevers checked, and perhaps even be subject to bespoke rules depending on the country you’re from. Aka, if your country has a bad healthcare system and/or do not have the virus under control, that country may be subject to additional scrutiny or just be barred altogether. I could see this list being constantly updated for every country until a vaccine has reached critical mass.
Countries will likely continue to impose mandatory two week quarantines for foreign travelers which would make travel extremely unappealing and out of reach for many people, particularly from the US who have limited vacation. In addition, when you return home you may have to yet quarantine for another two weeks! This means if you want a two week vacation, you’re looking at 4 additional weeks of just doing nothing. Not the most appealing proposition.
Cities and crowds will be less appealing
I think before the COVID pandemic, there was a healthy mix of people that visited big cities as well as people that visited more rustic countryside style escapes. With social distancing being the new way of life, I think the appeal of big densely packed cities full of tourists from all over the world will be less appealing. I know for certain that crowding into the Vatican will be bottom of my list.
Instead, I think we may see a shift towards more nature oriented experiences, as well as road trips to smaller and less frequented towns. I’m already a fan of the latter as some of my best trips around Europe have been road trips through the countrysides.
Camping style trips like the ones I did through Africa will be more popular domestically and internationally because the name of the game will be to be exposed to less people.
Speaking of crowds, I can’t see any sort of event defined by large groups of people like concerts, sporting events, festivals resuming the way it has. The 2020 Japan olympisc were postponed until 2021 but now I’m wondering if that is even a feasible time frame. Having a million people from all around the world get on airplanes at airports, then crowd into stadiums, streets, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. is just asking for the Coronavirus phoenix to rise from the ashes.
Restaurants and bars
I don’t see big events happening for at least the next year. That means all my favorite festivals and markets in Germany will be canceled until further notice. Oktoberfest will for sure be canceled in 2020, maybe even in 2021. Having 6 million people from all around the world crowd into a tight space is the ultimate coronavirus breeding grounds.
In addition, I see restaurants and bars closing for the foreseeable future. When they do reopen it will be awkward social distancing run at 50% capacity. Even with social distancing, I can’t imagine how a restaurant would work because how is the waiter supposed give you your food while keeping distance. Even so, I’m not sure how many people would actually be keen to brave going to a restaurant. Packing into a bar I think is unthinkable for the future.
A second wave
This is all assuming we don’t get a significant second wave. People have talked about the virus going away in the summer and coming back in the fall. However, the virus is in plenty of warm weather places and spreading accordingly so I’m not sure I would rely on that theory.
Policymakers will need patience: Restarting activity too quickly could risk a second spike in infections that could deal more damage than the first because it would shake people’s faith in their ability to engage in even limited amounts of shopping, dining or other commerce.
If we do get a significant second wave, I’d expect countries to close their borders again with even stricter quarantines and wait out until a vaccine comes.
I think countries will be carefully weighing how much of a toll locking down a country takes on the economy vs allowing their citizens to die. At what point does killing your own people make having a working economy make sense? It’s crazy that we have to think of it like that but I think it will be a decision many countries will have to make. For example, as of writing this, New Zealand has done a great job of handling the outbreak and has more or less contained it. Once they reopen for tourists, I could see them barring entry for people from countries with still ongoing pandemics like the US so to not risk a second wave.
To say this is hurting airlines is the biggest understatement of the year. There is nothing like this, even 9/11 can’t come close to this. As far as travel goes during the coronavirus era, it is completely halted. At least during 9/11, flights were still running but people were just scared of another terrorist attack. With the coronavirus, flights are not running and people are scared.
Every airline in the world has slashed their routes by at least 70-80% because no one is flying anymore due to lockdowns. The world has essentially closed down and we are living like we did a hundred years ago. Airlines are bleeding cash and the outlook is as negative as Trump’s coronavirus results. In fact, anyone who is flying for reasons other than getting home or aiding in crisis areas should be ashamed of themselves.
When this is all over (can that just be now?), I anticipate that the landscape will be completely different. For the airlines that are not acquired by a bigger airline at bargain prices, they will go bankrupt. I think bigger airlines will downsize their operations as international travel will only return slowly and piecemeal. National flagship airlines will focus more on their immediate regions before tackling world travel again.
Hopefully, the airlines that I have way too many miles with still stay in business so those miles don’t end up worthless!
Just like after 9/11, I see screening being more strict in the future. I could see airports checking people’s temperatures multiple times before boarding a flight. What happens if you have just a fever but not Covid, I have no idea but this will definitely be a requirement just like how everyone was checking for Ebola when I was in the Congo.
Masks will probably be a requirement for any sort of travel going forward. If you don’t bring your own, the airline will probably make you buy one on the spot. As for distancing, I could see airlines blocking the middle seat for the foreseeable future which will increase the costs of tickets as they’d be flying at lower capacity. I could even see airlines completely re-vamping the layout of coach.
Similar to yellow fever certificates that are needed for visiting countries in Africa, I could see the global adoption of a covid immunity form once a vaccine is created. Something along these lines could be a supplement to the passport and be required for pretty much any travel via airplane for the foreseeable future.
Domestic travel vs international travel
I do see domestic traveling opening up much sooner than international. Living in Germany, I could see the country allowing people to travel around the country sometime in the summer. This means I’ll have plenty of time for the rest of the year to explore Germany. Thank god there’s plenty to explore.
Even within the Schengen, I don’t expect travel to happen until at Q4. There’s 27 countries in Europe and each country has had their own method of dealing with the pandemic and each have had their own results. The EU does work together but in these crazy times, it’s a bit of an every man for himself type of thing, although some countries have definitely helped out others. Nevertheless, helping aside, letting people travel freely again within the EU borders is a separate issue.
When will air travel go back to normal?
Leading up to the pandemic, every year for the past decade had seen travel break previous records. I read somewhere that this recent pandemic has cratered travel so much that we are back at 1956 levels. That is absolutely crazy.
Numerous analysts have forecasted that travel won’t be back to normal for two more years and for it to reach its 2019 peak may take 5 years or more!
I think once the world has a better handling of coronavirus, we will see an increase in demand but still a fraction of 2019. There will be the mavericks that travel no matter what and others who have already gone crazy from being bound to their homes (like myself). However, the majority of people will still be questioning the prudence of international travel without a vaccine.
Once a vaccine is out or we’ve reached heard immunity, I can see demand going back to what we are used to because confidence will return. However, for the travel industry to go back to 2019 levels and beyond, it will take quite some time because people will be more cognizant of future pandemics. By that time, numerous airlines will already have gone bankrupt and the offerings on the table will decrease.
Psychology of people will change forever
I think the number one most damming thing about this pandemic is the way it will change people’s psyche for years to come.
What do I mean by this?
People have always sought physical and emotional interactions with others. This virus calls into question everything we’ve become accustomed to throughout our lives. Socializing and being in close proximity to people has no place anymore in a world defined by being 2 meters apart at all times.
That hug you give to someone you just met will leave you second guessing from now on. If you’re comfortable giving that hug, what about the person receiving end?
Is it culturally acceptable in corona times to hug a friend, let alone a stranger? What if that person has covid? What if I have covid, don’t know, and am spreading it to others? It’s a bit of a game theory-esque prisoner’s dilemma situation that we will face in the future.
As the spread of the virus eases, I think people will go back to their old ways piecemeal. However, if we have social distancing for the next year or so, it will really alter how people perceive others.
Trust is lost, suspicions everywhere
People will be naturally more suspicious of each other than before because of the virus. This virus is everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. There’s no way to get away from it. That cough you hear on the airplane or someone walking down the street? Is it corona or something else will be the first thing you say to yourself.
You might be comfortable with traveling abroad, but can you say with the utmost certainty that those are the receiving end are equally as comfortable with accepting you? For example, I might be willing to traveling Africa in a year but many people there may see me and think I am the harbinger of the plague. Instead of being traditionally warm and friendly, it may be the complete opposite next time around.
Even for those that depend on tourism for their livelihood, how much would they be willing to risk for your tourism dollars? And even if those people are willing to chance it, do you really want to travel somewhere with a constant reminder thought that these people probably don’t me here but are just desperate for my money?
Society will be more inward focused
It’s not just a hobby of mine but it’s part of my identity. I will never stop exploring the world and there will many others in the same boat with me. However, the casual traveler who was thinking about that inaugural trip abroad to Rome may reconsider their choices now. That borderline Lust and desire will be tempered down for the foreseeable future.
I think people will focus more on domestic tourism. That weekend getaway to the mountains that you would “get to sometime” may turn into all the time.
As countries focus on their own self being, anti-globalization and nationalist sentiment could increase, particularly as people view others with newly minted suspicions.
Overall, I don’t see this being a good thing for travel. Those that have and always will travel (like myself) will continue to do so, but the same momentum we had as a global society before the crisis will be muted.
Countries will not just go back to normal
Let’s say your country has somehow managed to get the coronavirus cases to 0. Firstly, these are just cases that have been tested so it only takes one or two asymptomatic cases to start spreading the virus around the population again thereby resulting in more quarantine measures.
Okay, lets say your country has 0 cases and magically there are no asymptomatic cases either. If the borders are reopened and people are allowed to travel freely again, it only takes one or two people to travel somewhere that still has cases to bring it back and start the whole show again.
It’s just a never ending cycle that will never end until everyone develops antibodies to it or a vaccine is found.
Hereby, you can see where there is a problem with travel, and particularly international travel. It’s going to be a long time before countries open themselves up again to their own citizens let alone outsiders.
There will be no “normal’ for awhile
There is no “normal” for a while, it’s not just stay at home for a month or two and it’s all over. It’s stay at home for a month or two, flatten the curve, ease up on “some” of the restrictions and monitor the situation, then deal with outbreaks in localized areas if possible or go back to stay-at-home for all again.
Our saving graces are an effective treatment protocol that reduces mortality to an acceptable level, a vaccine or we reach a point of herd immunity. Until then, no normal, we can get to relative normal with testing and quarantine protocols but that still means reduced gathering sizes, no stadium evens, no festivals, nothing where people are crowded together. International tourism will be on the fence too. I wish I had more optimistic views on this subject but the realist side of me is setting in.
At least the world can heal
On the bright side, this will allow the world to heal from decades of over-tourism. Animals will be able to repopulate quicker and fragile ecosystems a chance to recover. It’s not a bad thing at all. Once life goes back to normal, we can travel with a new found appreciation for what we once took for granted. Instead of powering through places just to check it off the list, we actually stay that extra night or two to really soak it all in.
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Hi Johnny: Your site is inspirational. I agree with the sobering tone of this, however, I am a bit more optimistic for a vaccine. I believe that there likely will be a couple of approved vaccines being manufactured in Q1 2021 (a little less than a year). Yes, it will take a few months for more large scale manufacturing and distribution. But over the course of 2021 you will have large scale vaccinations finally putting an end to the COVID pandemic. Notwithstanding that economies will take time to heal after that, I can see travel starting to come back at that point. (12-24 months). In the meantime, I’m focusing on saving and exploring options for traveling and hopefully living/working abroad when things come back.
I’m curious – do you take different jobs in these countries? Meaning – do you work for the same company and have the option of living abroad? Or do you seek out specific jobs in other countries. I just want to know how you do it – I myself have lived abroad in a couple of places when I was younger (in school) but I really would like to live outside the USA again and work elsewhere and explore – like you did/do. As a side note – I was born in Cape Town but grew up in the USA. I’d love to work and live in SA for a period of time in the future…
Hey david, I agree with your outlook too! Thankfully, living in Europe means I can explore the continent this summer (as predicted!) as most of the countries will open their borders to each other starting in June! I was always working for companies in the US but they were large international firms so I kind of just lucked out with there being opportunities in South Africa, and now in Europe.
I think with COVID, it will change beacuse most companies I know will transition to remote working at least for a portion of their company. I don’t see myself going back into the office for the rest of the year and I suspect in the future, it will be MUCH for flexible than before COVID. I also work in an industry where working remotely has never really been a thing. So you might not have to search for jobs in other countries in the future! Whatever job you have in the US may be able to take you to other countries!
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