Traveling during a Pandemic

How to stay safe while navigating COVID-19.

Team VACAYA’s Randle Rober (center) with guests

By Joakim “Kim” Gustavsson

Although some would argue that we have “turned the corner” on the pandemic, I still talk about travelling “during” the pandemic since many regions around the globe are experiencing their second and third waves of the coronavirus. Regardless, I want to dispel some of the travel myths I have heard by sharing my recent experiences with traveling across country and abroad.

My first trip to Florida was in June, and I really geared up for it by wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, face mask, and face shield. My personal sanitization process in the airport would go something like this: pick up luggage, vigorously wipe luggage, change gloves, and liberally apply hand sanitizer. Repeat these steps whenever the luggage was out of my hands. As soon as I arrived at my destination, my clothes went straight in the washer and I stepped into the shower.

Although I’ve eased up on the glove changing, I still wear a face mask, a face shield, and I bring extra hand sanitizer to use as I go through airports. Since then, I’ve made several trips to Florida and Pineapple Point Guest House. I have also flown to Colorado and back.  When I return home to Houston, I take the precautionary measure to self-quarantine for 10 to 14 days and have a rapid test before I reunite with my family.

Watching the safety measures and protocols that Pineapple Point has put in place made me realize that we all have the power to make our own choices when armed with the facts, regardless of whether we are at home or traveling. I also realized that each of us has varying levels of risk tolerance. As individuals, we are responsible for our own choices regarding our exposure to the coronavirus, just like the responsibility we take when making financial decisions and investments. 

During a recent trip to VACAYA’s UNICO resort south of Playa del Carmen (my first LGBTQ vacation since pandemic travel restrictions were put in place), it was interesting to read the conversations among members of the Facebook group that was created for this trip. Mainly, the travel-shaming. One member said that anyone going on a trip at this time was “irresponsible” and “a health risk.” Those anti-travel members were on the extreme end of the risk-tolerance scale. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that from my perspective the trip was as safe as going to my local grocery store. Many of those on the trip got a rapid test the week before departure.

This resort has a capacity of over 800, but there were only around 250 of us due to hotel capacity regulations and the restrictions imposed by the Mexican government. The resort staff appropriately wore their masks for the entire week, and the guests were requested to wear masks or face shields when moving around the resort. In the pools, people kept their distance except those who were there with close friends—and even then, some groups wore masks. Upon arrival, everyone got to choose a lanyard to wear that held their room key and indicated their social-distancing preference with color codes. Red indicated “keep your distance and wear a mask at all times while around me,” and green meant “you can wear your mask around me, or not.”

The parties and entertainment were all outdoors, and people would dance in their groups. Everyone knew to keep their distance from those who were wearing a red-colored lanyard. At the restaurants each night, temperature checks were required before anyone was seated. 

Of course, we had some additional excitement during our week with the Category 4 Hurricane Delta coming our way. As it approached, we were moved to the conference center of the resort to spend one night on mattresses set up by the staff. VACAYA put on a show for us, and staff members who stayed there were gracious and hospitable. The resort was built in 2017 to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, so at no point did I feel unsafe. There were a few nervous guests, but absolutely zero drama. Truthfully, deep down most of us were excited about the extra-ness of it all!

Fortunately, Delta made landfall north of us as a Category 2 storm and passed within two hours. We passed a bucket and collected an additional $7,800 in tips for the staff’s generosity, and we also gave them a standing ovation. Right after the storm, and before bus service was restored to rotate the staff, many of the guests pitched in to help put the sun chairs and umbrellas back outside. It was the least we could do, and soon we were ready to go back to relaxing in the beautiful Mexican weather. 

Personally, I felt safer during that VACAYA trip than I sometimes do in Houston. Nobody needed to preach about wearing a mask or how to wear them correctly, and social distancing was easy to maintain at the pools, in the restaurants, and at the bars.

From my perspective, life must go on and we must keep living. Yet, we all have a responsibility to avoid exposing others to risks that are beyond their comfort level. For me, the most important part of the week was connecting with my friends from all over, even in the unconventional circumstances.    

When your personal risk-tolerance level is at a point where you feel you’re ready to venture out into the world for a vacation, you will first need to research the specific restrictions in place for your destination. Luckily, Mexico was pretty relaxed about visiting Americans, but that may not be the same for every country. You don’t want to get caught in a place where the government is likely to impose sudden restrictions that could ruin your travel plans.

Wherever you decide to travel, know that the local hospitality professionals at your destination of choice are going beyond the call of duty to ensure your health and safety throughout your stay.

Joakim “Kim” Gustavsson is an avid traveler and an international business consultant to several Fortune 100 companies. He and his husband, Charles, own Concierge Travel, an agency specializing in LGBTQ travel.

This article appears in the November 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine. 


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