Travel 6 Ways Travel Has Become More Accessible During the Pandemic
Where Can Americans Travel Right Now? A Country-by-Country Guide
From lounging on Caribbean beaches to sightseeing in Serbia, Americans now have options when it comes to international travel.Months later, COVID-19 is far from over in the United States but countries around the world are starting to welcome tourists back. Unfortunately, due to an uptick in coronavirus cases and varying levels of restrictions throughout the nation, many countries have blocked Americans from visiting. Most recently, the European Union announced it will reopen its borders to more than a dozen non-EU countries on July 1, but not to the U.S.
As a traveler with a neurological condition whose symptoms mimic a stroke, I’ve often wished that the travel industry would extend more flexibility and compassion to people with disabilities. Pre-pandemic, I faced a multitude of challenges when traveling: excessive fees when debilitating symptoms forced me to postpone or cancel a trip; ill-prepared tour operators that excluded me from activities without offering an alternative, or worse, put me in danger due to their lack of forethought. During the, I’ve seen glimmers of hope and . While there are a number of pandemic protocols, such as , that have created additional obstacles for those with disabilities, there are also a few new habits that, if made permanent, could make for a much more inclusive travel industry.
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“Sometimes as you’re getting older, you might start feeling less capable. You go out there and you navigate the world by yourself? Yeah, you come back feeling pretty darn strong.” Thinking You’re Younger Than You Are Don’t overestimate your abilities — or underestimate your age. “It’s pretty common,” Waugh laughs. “When you hit about 40 or 50, you really think you’re about 10, 20 years younger than you actually are. It’s really important that you take an assessment and know your physical abilities so that you don’t get yourself into an awkward situation.
1. Flexible booking and cancellation policies
The abrupt arrival of the pandemic necessitated a shift to more flexible policies across the industry, fromto international airlines. Now, a desire to attract customers back has led to new policies, such as that allow for lower or no penalties for cancellations closer to the departure date.
Extending this same compassion and flexibility to travelers with disabilities even after the pandemic subsides would be a welcome step toward more accessible travel.
On her blog,, Marika Devan writes about traveling with ataxia, a degenerative neurological condition. She says sometimes her symptoms are so severe she needs to cancel a trip, but pre-pandemic it wasn’t easy to do so without incurring hefty fees.
Countries Now Requiring International Health Insurance for Entry
COVID-19 continues to make entry requirements for foreign visitors more convoluted, with some countries now mandating that visitors have international insurance.Would-be tourists should be aware that International healthcare coverage is something that must be obtained separately from their standard, U.S.-based health insurance and any trip-cancellation insurance, and that international coverage is rarely included in their existing health policies.
“The fact that airlines were able to enact these policies so quickly means they’ve long had the technology and capability to be more customer-friendly,” says Michelle González, awith Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. She notes that it can be a win all around; if the airline holds the ticket value as a credit for future travel without tacking on , “they’ve still captured that business while instilling a sense of comfort in customers.”
Even tour operators accustomed to forgiving policies are updating them.is now offering bespoke cancellation policies on request and open-ended tickets valid through 2022. CEO and co-owner says the company has long had flexible booking and cancellation policies, particularly as weather can disrupt an itinerary. Hidden Iceland plans to maintain this level of customer-friendliness in collaboration with local partners. “On our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon tour, for example, we stay overnight at , a secluded farm guesthouse, to search for the Northern Lights,” she says. “Before COVID-19, [Liljia’s] patience and flexibility helped during unexpected bad weather days. Today it helps at a much larger scale. Having these strong relationships is the best and only way to operate, even when COVID-19 becomes a part of history.”
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Americans should ‘reconsider’ trips to the island due to health and safety.The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) says the Level 3 advisory published on Friday was an upgrade from Level 4, which advises Americans ‘Not To Travel.
2. An increase in safety and accessibility measures
The industry was quick to create coronavirus-related safety policies, market activities, and accommodations conducive to physical distancing. What if that enthusiasm and sense of urgency were applied to accessible travel? In the same way that destinations, operators, and agents have made pandemic info easy to find, they could proactively seek out and highlight accessible options for travelers with disabilities.
Dale Reardon ofsays the pandemic has prompted increased interest in the inclusive travel market. Reardon uses a seeing-eye dog while traveling around his country and a cane for mobility when traveling internationally. He and his wife created as a community and directory for accessible and inclusive travel. “It shouldn’t have required a pandemic, but businesses, particularly travel and accommodation-related, are really suffering so they are looking into attracting more customers—marketing to and providing services to new customers they haven’t targeted before,” he says. “This means some of them are much more receptive to fixing website accessibility issues, improving booking processes, and generally being far more open and accommodating to accessibility requirements.”
COVID-19 August Travel Restrictions: Latest Quarantine Rules for US States
Here is a state-by-state breakdown of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.To combat the viral pandemic, several states have imposed restrictions on visitors from areas with a high number of COVID-19 cases. Other states have mandated immediate quarantines and pre-testing to avoid the further spread of the illness.
3. A move toward contact-free
The risk of COVID-19 led to the implementation of more contactless options, such as more automatic doors, which Reardon says also helps improve access for many with mobility issues. And Devan says she’d be happy to see contactless check-in continue post-pandemic. “I sometimes have slurred speech due to ataxia,” she says. “With this [contactless check-in], I don't have to communicate with anyone.”
, creator of (an online resource for moms with chronic illness and disability) has a rare, undiagnosed motor neuron disease that is paralyzing her arms. She, too, is pleased with the increasing availability of touch-less options. “There’s no longer an endless amount of paperwork and documents to sign when doing things like checking into a hotel,” she says. “Since I can’t use my hands very well, moving to touch-less payments has made it a lot easier for me.”
And for those with weakened immune systems due to a number of medical conditions, reduced contact and the elimination of physical expectations such as handshakes may be a welcome change.
Unfortunately, contactless pandemic protocols have also created additional obstacles. “As a Deafblind traveler, I rely heavily on my sense of touch,” says, an author and disability rights lawyer.
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Travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth reveals new data detailing the pandemic's dramatic impact on international travel and the shift in targeted destinations.Analyzing travel insurance policies purchased through Squaremouth over the past year (September 12, 2019 - September 11, 2020) for all future travel and comparing the six months prior to the pandemic (September 12, 2019 - March 11, 2020) to the six months since it was declared (March 12, 2020 - September 11, 2020), the site found that international trips account for only 47 percent of all insured travel over the last six months compared to 86 percent before the start of the pandemic.
, founder and CEO of , says that some of the changes meant to prevent contact have proven problematic for those with hearing loss. “People are wearing masks and there is plexiglass or glass everywhere which inhibits sound,” she writes via email. Linz says more induction loops—systems that provide a signal to send sound directly to the hearing aid or cochlear implant—are needed.
4. Public spaces are easier to navigate
In many ways, pandemic mandates for physical distancing have made public spaces easier to navigate for travelers with disabilities. “General mobility everywhere is much more pleasant,” says Reardon, citing the lack of crowds and increased awareness of space between people, whether on the street, in a store, restaurant, or elsewhere. “As a blind person, this makes mobility easier.”
Devan says that reduced capacity on flights and elevators has also meant more room for travelers that use a cane or assistive device.
But González cautions that in rearranging spaces to suit pandemic protocol, properties, restaurants, and staff also need to keep in mind how to do so without excluding people with disabilities. She says removing benches and golf carts from resorts or closing seating areas outside restaurants in an effort to discourage people from gathering eliminates the option for folks that do need a safe place to sit.
Five More States Added to New York’s Travel Restrictions List
Thirty-five U.S. states and territories are now listed under the New York and Tri-State area’s executive orders for 14-day quarantine placed on incoming visitors from high-risk regions.In a joint effort with its Tri-State neighbors, New Jersey and Connecticut, enacted in June, New York has maintained a running list of U.S. states from which inbound visitors are required to complete a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, regardless of their method of travel. The criteria to determine high-risk states is a positive testing rate higher than ten in every 100,000 residents or a testing positivity rates of higher than ten percent, each measured on a seven-day, rolling average.
5. Increased local offerings
In the absence of out-of-town visitors, many hotels and tour operators are paying more attention to their local market, expanding tour options and extending deeper discounts to residents. For people with disabilities that may not be able to travel long distances, expanded options and affordable prices could make local travel a more accessible and attractive option—if these programs continue post-pandemic.
, a responsible travel company with a focus on inclusivity, postponed all of their international trips in response to the pandemic and began developing North American tours for 2021. Owner Breanne Kiefner was diagnosed with a neurological condition as an adult and aims to create experiences that make all guests feel welcome. Adding these North America options—“a little closer and a little more affordable”—may make that possible for more people.
6. Virtual access is more than an afterthought
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, tour operators, hotels, tourism boards, museums, and more began offeringaround the world—revealing what’s possible with a little time and effort.
“The pandemic has sparked many creative virtual travel projects,” Girma says. Although she'd prefer in-person experiences, she says that virtual options are indeed “making it easier for those with mobility disabilities to see places they might not otherwise see.”
But when in-person, international travel picks up again post-pandemic, will virtual experiences and those that are enjoying them be left behind? For folks unable to travel for any number of reasons, let’s hope not.
“Business conferences, concerts, comedy events are being broadcast and taking place online, allowing us to be involved and learn and participate from a distance,” says Reardon. “Often travel is difficult, expensive, or inaccessible; these events are now much more accessible and affordable.”
You’ve Got Holiday Travel Questions—We’ve Got Answers: Women Who Travel Podcast .
We're back with another FAQ episode.“There have never been more questions around travel,” says articles director Stephanie Wu in this week's episode—and she's spot on, based on how many were submitted through the Women Who Travel Instagram alone. In our eighth installment of our frequently asked questions series, we're covering everything from how to talk to your family when you're on different pandemic pages to how to navigating quarantine on entry if you're traveling overseas and how to budget for 2021 travel right now.