An informative article about whether or not you should cancel your travel plans over Coronavirus including the latest news and developments.
LAST UPDATED: March 19, 2020.
As the cases of the new Coronavirus (COVID 19 to be precise) are increasing all around the world, many countries are shutting down their borders to travelers coming from certain European and Asian countries.
To make matters worse, the media are having a field day with a 24/7 news cycle that has caused more panic than reassurance.
Coronavirus is affecting the daily lives of countless individuals whether they are infected or not and this article’s goal is to answer the question that all travelers are asking themselves right now: should I cancel my travel plans over Coronavirus?
The answer is not that simple.
Understanding Coronavirus’ Mortality Rate and Risk Assessment
Before we delve into whether you should cancel your travel plans or not over Coronavirus, it is extremely important to understand what Coronavirus can actually do.
No, Corona Virus isn’t “just the flu” but it isn’t Ebola either. To 93% of those infected it will be nothing more than a minor annoyance but what about the remaining 7%?
As of March 19, 2020, there are 245, 532 COVID 19 cases all around the world. Of those, 98, 485 cases are closed with 90% of the infected doing a full recovery and 10% of them dying.
By comparison, the mortality rate of the flu is 0.1 % while the mortality rate of Ebola is 90%. COVID 19 is dangerous but not AS dangerous as you might think…unless you are a higher risk individual.
Who is a Higher Risk Individual for Coronavirus? Can Higher Risk Individuals Travel?
Higher Risk Individuals for Coronavirus include elderly people and people with serious chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Source: World Health Organization.
As of March 19, 2020, the death rate of those aged 80+ is 14.8%, 70-79 is 8%, 60-69 is 3.6%, 50-59 is 1.3% and 40-49 is 0.4%.
The death rate of those aged 30-39, 20-29 and 10-19 is 0.2% which brings it closer to the average death rate of the flu. No fatalities have yet to be recorded for those aged 0-9.
When it comes to individuals with cardiovascular disease, the death rate is 10.5%, for individuals with diabetes 7.3%, individuals with chronic respiratory disease 6.3%, individuals with hypertension 6% and individuals affected with cancer 5.6%.
If you are (or know someone that is) a higher risk individual the advice couldn’t be clearer: DO NOT TRAVEL. AT ALL. SELF-ISOLATE.
But what if you are young and healthy? Should you also cancel your travel plans? The answer is a quite complicated one and it all boils down to many different factors that can make or break your travel plans.
Coronavirus Travel Deciding Factor #01: Are You Traveling to/from a Higher Risk Country
This is probably the most important factor of them all. As of March 19, 2020, the CDC has declared China, Iran, South Korea, Malaysia and most of Europe (see the entire list of European countries here) with a Level 3 Health Notice.
A Level 3 Health Notice for COVID 19 means that all non-essential travel to and from those areas should be avoided. The biggest problem is that many countries make the mistake of banning foreign nationals from certain countries instead of outright banning ALL incoming flights from those countries.
Viruses hold no passports and know no borders. Your nationality doesn’t really matter, what matters is where you have been.
Most places that were hit by COVID weren’t infected by Chinese tourists but rather by national tourists that traveled to China and brought the virus back with them.
Likewise, an Italian tourist that has been traveling in South America for months before COVID 19 affected their own country shouldn’t be banned from entering any country just because of their nationality.
If you have been (or are planning on traveling to) to any of the Level 3 Health Notice countries, DO cancel your travel plans immediately. It isn’t worth it and chances are that you won’t be let in anyway.
Coronavirus Travel Deciding Factor #02: Is Your Travel Schedule Flexible?
If your travel schedule isn’t flexible then you should definitely cancel your travel plans today. Many unexpected factors can and will happen in the following weeks and months that it will be impossible to plan in advance.
In the last few days, the USA and many South American countries have placed travel restrictions on flights coming from Europe and Asia with Argentina taking it a step further by also canceling flights from the USA.
The situation is changing by the hour with countries such as Colombia (where I’m writing this article from) shutting down land borders, beaches, bars, restaurants, and national parks as well, therefore, disrupting any set travel plans that one might have.
On the other side of the world, the Philippines entered in complete lockdown mode canceling ALL incoming flights and putting Manila into lockdown mode (plus canceling al boat tours in El Nido) starting on March 15 forcing travelers to either fly out on a last-minute expensive flight or stay in the PH for at least 30 more days.
Last but not least, there are countries like New Zealand which is quarantining all arrivals (except those coming from the Pacific Islands since there are no cases of COVID 19 there), including their own citizens, for 14 days which is, in my opinion, the most rational response from any World Government up to date.
Source: The Guardian.
If meticulous planning is your thing, then definitely cancel your travel plans and try to salvage the most of what you already paid by filing an insurance claim.
To keep up with the latest travel restrictions, requirements and more, please check out the IATA Website daily as it constantly updates new developments regarding COVID 19.
Coronavirus Travel Deciding Factor #03: Do You Have Enough Funds to Cover Quarantine and Emergency Flights?
The reality of traveling in times of Coronavirus is that even if you’re not infected, you might get quarantined against your will for two weeks just to make sure you’re in the clear since the incubation period ranges from 2 to 14 days after exposure.
I have heard horror stories of travelers being quarantined in their Vietnamese hostels by the military being unable to go out at all and missing their flights back home because of it.
To make matters worse, travel insurance MIGHT not cover COVID 19 related inconveniences since COVID 19, is, as of today, NOT an “unforeseen event”.
To put it bluntly: it’s not a matter of IF COVID 19 will disrupt your travel plans, it is a matter of where, when and how.
IF you bought your flight before COVID 19 was well known (something that is very ambiguous and is the textbook definition of a fine print), then you might get some of your money back but if you decide to travel in the times of Coronavirus…then you’re on your own.
Are you willing to spend hundreds if not thousands of USD in quarantine related costs and the purchase of new international flights? If you aren’t, then stay home.
Still not convinced to cancel and think it is perfectly fine to take that international flight instead of staying home? Check out my friend’s Lawrence video blog about how had to pay over 8,000 USD to get out of Colombia then make your own informed decision.
Coronavirus Travel Deciding Factor #04: Are You Going to be a Responsible Traveler?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has the following advice to travelers in order to avoid the spread of COVID 19:
- “Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled;
- Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene;
- Refrain from touching mouth and nose;
- A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons. However, in some cultures, masks may be commonly worn”
In addition to that, more and more countries in the world are placing a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for new arrivals regardless of their nationality or the countries they’ve visited.
Are you willing to obey quarantine rules instead of trying to sneak away? Will you be a responsible traveler and book an Airbnb and live in self-isolation for the first 14 days of your trip or are you going to be an irresponsible traveler that will book a hostel and risk spreading COVID 19 to absolutely everyone there?
Remember that everyone is responsible for their own health as well as for the health of others.
While it is also true that you cannot be held liable for other people’s carelessness (after all, the official WHO advice is for higher-risk individuals to self-quarantine and to avoid being outside), it is important to realize that not everyone is up to the news and that there will always be individuals that do not want to follow WHO’s best recommendations.
The best thing you can do? Go out of your way to avoid any contact with higher-risk individuals even if you decide to cancel your flight and stay at home.
The chances of YOU having COVID 19 are extremely low but if you do have it and you pass it on to them by mistake, it will affect them more than what it will affect you.
Be the better person and make sure everyone around you is safe.
Coronavirus Travel Deciding Factor #05: Do You REALLY Need to Travel at the Moment?
As of March 19, 2020, the official advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding travel is the following:
“WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
Travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact.”
Source: World Health Organization
Despite this, I know many hypocritical individuals who are travel shaming those who decide to travel in the times of Coronavirus and are simply just spreading panic by telling EVERYONE to stay shut in their homes and not travel at all.
I am not here to do that. What I’m here for is to help you make the right choice for YOU.
It is very easy to sit behind a keyboard and call someone selfish for traveling today while being oblivious to their own personal struggles.
In this age of polarization, people lack the humanity to empathize with others and instead spend their time promoting divisive hashtags like #staythefuckhome instead of coming up with ways to help those currently stuck on the road.
What if someone is traveling to meet their parents after months of being apart?
What if someone is traveling for their honeymoon that they’ve been dreaming for years?
What if someone is traveling to say goodbye to a loved one before it is too late?
What if someone doesn’t have enough money to fly back home?
What if someone doesn’t even have a home to get back to?
Judging from afar is easy, listening to people’s personal struggles is what makes us humans.
And even if you end up having to cancel your entire trip and have to go back home (Read my Best 7 Money-Saving Travel Tips here), it is perfectly fine to do so and you shouldn’t listen to haters that will call you coward when in fact you made the bravest decision of them all.
The need to travel is always a personal one and you shouldn’t let anyone try to change your mind, the choice is yours.
However….you NEED to be responsible for your own sake and the sake of others.
What If I’m Currently Traveling During the Coronavirus Outbreak. Should I Go Home?
This is by far the most common question I’ve been getting regarding COVID 19 and the main reason I chose to write this article.
Telling someone to stay home before they begin their trip is a perfectly valid and easy reply but it is a very simplistic one that cannot fully comprehend the struggles of those currently on the road.
The truth is…I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer.
Everyone’s circumstances are different so the best I can do is list some of the most common scenarios regarding people that were already traveling abroad when the COVID 19 pandemic broke out.
Scenario A: My plan was to travel for a few more months. Should I head home now or keep on traveling?
Pragmatically, there are only 4 RESPONSIBLE options you can take:
a) Fly home if the country where you are stranded still has outgoing flights. Do it ASAP because more and more countries are shutting down their borders. Some countries (like Panama) have shut down their borders for foreigners but still allow transit at the airport.
b) Contact your embassy for emergency flights back home in case the country where you are has canceled all outgoing flights (Peru for example). Prices are abusive (2000 USD and upwards) but it’s the only way to get home ASAP.
c) Wait for the situation to calm down where you currently are by BOOKING AN AIRBNB for at least 14 days, get some quarantine buddies and self-isolate.
d) Travel to a country that has no entry restrictions at the moment (Mexico for example), self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in an Airbnb OR fly home from said country.
With the waiting it out by self-isolating options you can still keep on traveling once the situation calms down but as of today, March 19, 2020, it is IMPOSSIBLE to foresee when that might be.
Things could get normalized as soon as April or it might take until December. It is impossible to know for sure so please be aware that you are taking a big gamble.
Finally, I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT BOOK A HOSTEL, that is the WORST idea for preventing the spread of COVID 19.
Sure, it sucks to travel and not be social but it self-isolating in a place that has constant arrivals from all over the world is not really self-isolating, is it?
The decision, as always, is totally up to you. After all, you could always go home now while you can, work from home to make some money (read out my Top 5 Digital Nomad Tips) and then travel again months from now.
Scenario B: My flight home is in a few weeks. Should I risk it getting canceled or book a new flight for today?
Considering the speed at which the USA and some South American countries suddenly canceled all incoming flights from Europe and Asia and closed down their borders, my best advice (in case you’re flying to Europe or Asia, that is) would be to book a new flight for TODAY.
Chances are that in the next couple of days and weeks, more and more countries will cancel flights to Europe, Asia, and the USA which means that there’s a real chance that you might be stranded abroad when your flight is canceled.
Personally, I had to cut my Colombian trip short and booked a new flight home leaving March 18.
My original flight was March 28 and guess what? Today March 19 Colombia just announced that starting Monday 24, it will shut down all incoming and outgoing flights!!! I sure dodged a bullet uh?
If you NEED to get home weeks from now…just get home today. Don’t risk it.
Scenario C: There are more cases of COVID 19 back home than where I currently am. Should I stay put or go home?
This is a very difficult question and I am really torn when it comes to how to best answer it.
Right now, South America is safer than Europe and the USA when it comes to COVID 19…but health services there are not up to European and American standards.
In the rare case you get infected abroad, are you confident that the health services there will be able to save your life? If you’re young and able you probably have nothing to worry about, but what if you are not?
A higher-risk individual from, let’s say, France, is probably safer in a country with fewer cases of COVID 19 than back home.
But if he or she gets COVID 19 abroad, then it becomes an issue of how efficient the health services are in the country the higher-risk individual is visiting.
After all, some countries (such as Taiwan) have an amazing health care system while others (such as Brazil) do not.
In the end, whatever your specific case is, I trust that you will make a responsible and informed decision by self-isolating no matter where you are.
COVID 19 is a mere inconvenient for most people but for higher-risk individuals, it is a real life-threatening danger.
As I said before, I am not here to tell you what to do, I’m here to help you make your own right choice and I sincerely hope that this article cleared up all the risks and inconveniences of traveling in the times of Coronavirus.
My Two Cents: Travel or No Travel, Be More Responsible. In All Aspects.
That being said, it is my personal opinion that whether you decided to cancel your travel plans or not, it is extremely important to be more responsible both abroad and at home.
And not just about the necessary precautions to avoid getting infected and infecting others with COVID 19 but in ALL aspects of life.
COVID 19, at the end of the day, will just be a drop in the bucket that pales in comparison to the bigger problems that our world suffers from including but not limited to: climate change, social inequality, poverty, pollution, and gender violence.
Each year, millions of Africans die to easily curable diseases yet no one is panicking.
Each year thousands of women are violently killed in Latin America yet no one is panicking.
Each year over a million marine animals are killed by plastic waste yet no one is panicking.
Each year climate change is getting worse and worse yet no one is panicking.
While scientists and doctors focus on how to save the greatest number of people from COVID 19, perhaps we should step back and ask ourselves if we as a species are worth saving in the first place…
Will you cancel your travel plans over Coronavirus? Will you keep going? Have you been quarantined abroad over Coronavirus? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think my friends!