In 2020 we travelled Botswana for 7.5 months and South Africa for 3 months. In 2021 we have travelled for 9 months through South Africa, all within regulations, respecting and adhering to all policies and lockdown protocols. We had plans to go for our honeymoon and we went. Before getting preachy or judgmental please read this article in its entirety.
Do we feel guilty or socially irresponsible for travelling during this time? No. And there is one reason for that — we want to explore the isolated places. We are not searching out the next hot spot, the best restaurants, the most popular cities. We are discovering the underutilized and incredible places in nature. We are seeking adventure in the remote areas. Our self-isolated space is our home on wheels and we acknowledge and appreciate these rare opportunities to travel in a time of travel bans.
COVID has changed the way we look at travel. Gone are the days of getaway weekends, impromptu sprees, bachelorette parties, festivals and shows… at least for now. Even business trips have been replaced with Zoom calls, but this doesn’t mean travel is not possible.
First things first: How do I start?
Okay, so you have the itch to travel. The next question is, where do you want to go? What countries are open? What flights are available? What are the airline policies for cancellations due to country closure or personal illness? What is your travel insurance covering? Are you driving? Where, how much, and how long will it take to get a COVID test? What precautions are required? Where will you stay? How will you move around once you get there? What do you want to do there? Are those activities offered now? If flights are available, are tourist visas available and how long is it issued for? Will you be entering a quarantine facility? Are your dates fixed? How much time do you have? Can you afford a repatriation flight? Where will you stay if you are in locked down in a country? Can you afford to stay for several months if you are locked in a country? Can you work remotely? Does this country have internet to allow that?
These are just a few questions to ask. These are all questions we have asked ourselves over the past year that we wouldn’t have asked before. Once you can confidently answer a handful of those questions then it’s time to move on to the next step:
Number Two: Throw planning out the window.
Once you have sorted those plans out for today, expect them to change with a new state of emergency or covid level. I am on several travel-focused Facebook groups and astonished by the number of people asking and speculating if borders will be open for a particular country in, let’s say, 6 months from now. HELLO PEOPLE!!!! This is not where you get travel forecast information. Find those answers through the Embassies, the WHO and the CDC.
However, these Facebook groups are an excellent tool for keeping up to date with information about current situations such as which land borders are open, local regulations, prices of COVID tests, etc… Before setting out, I’d recommend joining several local groups based in your destination.
Number Three: Change your Expectations.
This is a unique time to travel, unlike any other. This is not just travelling in the low season, this is travelling in the no season. If you are hoping for companionship from the travel community, it is not often found as you don’t often find them. Wild animals behave differently without the swarms of safari tours and popular surf spots are ghost towns. It is both exquisite and bizarre.
Number Four: Accept the possibility/ probability of getting stuck.
We went to Botswana for 3 weeks and couldn’t leave for 7.5 months. We couldn’t return to South Africa because they weren’t issuing tourist visas for me, even with my husband being a South African resident. The repatriation flights would have cost us over $3,000 each to go back to Austria, plus police escorts to and from the border, quarantine facility charges, impromptu flights both offered and cancelled, and storage costs for our car.
We weighed the alternatives and opted to stay and loved it. But this is not for everyone. We were fortunate enough to meet a family just before it was announced there would be an imminent lockdown. When a date was set, we were invited to spend 6 weeks in a camp that was being renovated by the building manager. During that period, we left this camp a total of three times travelling 2 hours each way to the nearest town for supplies and news. This camp was our home.
Number Four: The Age of Slow Travel.
This is where we had an incredible opportunity to witness amazing sights in nature and have much deeper connections with locals.
When I first started backpacking, I was popping from city to city around Europe. A nap on a bus, train or plane and you would wake up to a new language and culture. Now it is all about destination travel or overlanding at an unhurried pace. If the plan is move around, expect to do it independently — many tour operations are not offering services right now.
We found two different trends. While in Botswana, we could walk up to any campsite and be accommodated because of the lack of tourism. South Africans, on the other hand, travel a lot within their own country (I also saw this in India). We found that many places had reduced their number of occupants and we would be required to call ahead to make sure guesthouses, campsites, and hostels, A) were still operating, and B) have availability.
Number Five: Self-Catering and Camping.
Opt for self-catering options like campsites, cottages, or flats. If you are planning on staying in one place, a bi-weekly grocery run and a kitchen is far preferable and safer than a 5-star hotel with a weeks’ worth of catering. If a road trip is more your style, then gear up with a tent, cooler and a gas cooker.
Number Six: Couple Goals.
You have been isolated, and your friends have been isolated, why not isolate together. Pick one or two friends and pick a destination or a camping road trip. Drop the expectation of travelling with your girl gang, your tribe, for a while at least. Otherwise what has this whole year been for?
Number Seven: Get Local.
Support small businesses, buy local food, stay at independently owned and operated sites. Prop up the community you are visiting. One of the things that makes travel so special is experiencing the local cuisines. Supporting local restaurants that offer al fresco dining or take-away is an excellent way of giving back to the community respectfully.
Number Eight: Explore Nature.
This is an amazing opportunity to explore your own country, your own region. It saves the trouble of all of those pesky and problematic border issues originally mentioned. Just because there are restrictions doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the places foreign tourists usually visit and are now left empty. Discover the mountain peaks you have not reached, support the national parks, search out secret sunset spots and hidden beaches. Appreciate nature for the exquisite beauty and wanderlust it affords.