The world is facing unpredictable times at the moment. The news tells us one thing, our governments another, and may the Disney gods help you if you are susceptible to the tales of social media. If you don't already know, I am referring to the widely reported COVID-19 Coronavirus. This article is not to spread panic or fear, simply to share the story of how this topic has affected my travel plans, and share a little experience from the other side of the globe.
For those of you that don't know, my little family and I had spent the last 18 months planning for our maiden voyage to Japan. You know I always make travel plans early, as it is the best way to stay on track and pay off your vacation before it even begins. This one was signed, sealed and delivered, just waiting for the days to tick by until it was time to pack our bags and head off to the wonders of Japan and explore the parks of Tokyo Disneyland.
We've traveled a lot over the years, but this trip was to be more of an adventure than we'd had since the kids were born. They were now a little bit older, and this one was something special that none of us had done before. That was until January 2020 when news of the coronavirus hit.
Now, I've read all the statistics. I've seen the official articles from the CDC and WHO, all of which indicate that, for most people who are reasonably healthy and not elderly, the risk is less than that of the average flu. So, we press on, watching the world react to the threat of the unknown. Flights began to cancel; borders began to close to some who have traveled through high-risk countries; even Disneyland Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo close their gates.
Still, we refuse to give in to the mass-hysteria, take proper precautions, as we always do when traveling, and be prepared. That is, until Japan, as a country, started to shut down. Sure we can still travel there, but schools and public monuments are now closed, theme parks and museums locked at the gate, and friends that live there are told to stay indoors and away from public areas. At this point, you need to ask yourself what you are actually going for.
Image: JEShoots on Unsplash
And just like that, here we are; canceling flights, accommodations, rental cars and tickets, all pre-paid, with little to no refund in some areas. Didn't you get travel insurance, you ask? Yes, we certainly did, however, unless our government upgrades the advisory to DO NOT TRAVEL, they won't pay. Until that point, it is considered that we are electing not to go by choice - which is not covered.
Even though the country we are going to is in the equivalent of lock-down and our risk of exposure is higher in our destination. Even though my son and I are both asthmatic and at higher risk and we can't afford to face the potential 2 - 4 weeks of quarantine on return. And, even despite the possible risk of bringing it back from the airport alone and potentially spreading it to groups of people that are at risk, we were still considered to be choosing not to go.
And, after that long-winded introduction, this brings me to the crux of this article. How do you travel smarter during times of uncertainty and make the decision, when necessary, to call it quits and cancel? It is a hard, emotional decision, and one that, for us, was based on assessing what sort of vacation we were trying to achieve by pressing on in the wake of hotels and restaurants spontaneously closing. What sort of situation were we willing to let our children be stuck in? And, was the Japan that we had our hearts set on seeing even able to be seen at the moment?
The answer was no. It wasn't.
If you are in this situation, and your travel advisory is anything short of the highest level of alert, check with your airline. Sometimes the airlines themselves will offer travel credits for your ticket cancellation, even without the government advisory.
I've only had a few trips go sideways in my life; most find a way to stay on track with only two or three that had to be canceled or adjusted due to unforeseen circumstances. This is where your travel insurance usually comes into play. Book it immediately, as soon as you have your first reservations paid and in hand. Under normal circumstances, this would be what saves you a fortune and keeps everything under control. Currently, most travel insurance issuers are specifying that they will not cover repercussions from cornonavirus under new policies, so be sure to read the fine print and ask the specific questions, in writing, before you buy.
Another key element is to book refundable accommodations that will allow you the flexibility to make decisions closer to your departure without needing to rely on the insurance to cover you. Further to this one, write down your 'cancel by' dates so that you don't miss your window if something doesn't work out.
Most Disney resort packages through Dreams Unlimited Travel offer a very reasonable cancellation policy. Disney Cruise Line is a little stricter under normal conditions, however, they have recently relaxed their cancellation policy regarding certain European ports to accommodate guests in high-risk groups related to the Coronavirus.
Keep yourself, and most importantly, your hands, clean. In some areas, there is now a shortage of soap products and hand sanitizers; I try and put the question, why were you all not washing your hands before out of my mind. Order your supplies early. Not because of coronavirus or the flu or the measles, but because it is just good travel practice. Wash your hands in the bathroom and then use a paper towel to open the main restroom door, press pedestrian crossing buttons with your elbows, rest your arms on railings rather than your hands that then touch your mouth, and don't forget to wash your hands before every meal. This is something most people think they do, but when you really consider those times when you unexpectedly order some street food or pick up an enticing snack to eat on-the-go, it's easy to miss this step.
Hand sanitizer is great for those in-between moments in the parks or shopping centers, airports, etc. Some can even double as a surface cleaner for the airplane tray tables and armrests. Again, not because there is a sudden scare of sickness, but because you should always be doing this to avoid germs and stay healthy.
We will wait and see how this virus affects the rest of the world, although the recent toilet-paper shortage turned violent outbreaks and arrests in Australia tell me that we humans are our own worst enemy, with mass-hysteria the biggest obstacle. Toilet paper is not outsourced and instead made right here in our country and yet, it only takes a few doomsday idiots to stockpile the stuff before a stampede ensues. And that is what has happened. I will embarrassingly suggest you google the rest from here.
If you are planning to travel around this time, especially internationally, keep your cool, stay calm, and wait to see what options are available to you. Research the situation, not just at your destination, but of any stopover locations, as well as what you can expect when returning home. If your trip does need to be postponed, remember, despite how sad you feel at the moment, the world will still be there when this has passed. Conversely, trust the process; if your destination isn't in lockdown and you aren't traveling out of your country, don't be swayed by the toilet paper lunatics. Stick with the facts, not the hype.
If the country we were going to were still functioning as normal, we would still be going. In our case, it seems that the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo are proving to be the catalyst for exhausting every last preventative measure to stop the spread of disease. Understandably. So, don't go and cancel your Disneyland / Walt Disney World plans just yet. The world needs to keep ticking over to some degree in order to avoid worsening the economical impact coronavirus will subsequently have.
The Japan that I want to see is still in my future; this experience won't deter me. We will simply let this run its course and then re-plan when it will be a safe, fun, and pleasant experience for us.
Travel safe, my friends, and wash your hands.