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Traveling Under the Shadow of Coronavirus

Updated on March 9, 2020

Coronavirus Breaking News Sells

The cases of people infected with coronavirus are rising across the globe, and especially in certain parts of Asia and Europe. Regardless of the decent medical reports asserting that even though the coronavirus is worse than the seasonal flu in terms of mortality rates, most victims are not only above 65 but also with serious health problems, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, many people, including some seasoned travelers start to get scared. It is due to the fact that all these reasonable medical expert opinions and reports are simply buried in the ocean of fake news and sensationalist pieces promoted by the mass media. Whether you open the news online, turn on the TV or the radio, one of the first headlines you will see these days is how many new cases of coronavirus we have and how many more people died. If you merely count on this information, you may think that the coronavirus is not only another annoying contagious respiratory virus from which most patients recover successfully but rather, a new version of the 14th century Black Death in Europe or a zombie apocalypse that will wipe us all out of the surface of Mother Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I am not surprised. At the end of the day, this sensationalist media approach is what thrills most people and eventually makes them watch the news and click on scary headlines predicting our dismal future.

The consequences, however, for the travelers and the entire tourist industry are detrimental. Billions of dollars lost due to canceled flights, hotel accommodation, restaurant dinners, tours, events, competitions, closed museums, and additional border formalities are all the result of this unnecessary hysteria.

Follow only the opinions and advice of reputable medical experts

I am a doctor, but a PhD in history not a medical doctor, so unfortunately, I am not qualified and I cannot predict when this hysteria will be over, when we will reach the peak of the virus, whether to wear a mask, what kind of masks to wear, etc. And I don’t think that random amateurs who are so eager to talk on the media can give adequate advice either. The only advice I can give is to follow serious medical experts and not to listen to every wannabe medical doctor.

I don’t believe either that people who continue to travel should be stigmatized for being irresponsible and playing with their health. In fact, many people who have never traveled anywhere got infected with the coronavirus. Simply because you do not travel, it does not mean that your family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors or the guys next to you in the movie theater do not travel either. They probably do travel and if they are infected, they can pass the virus to you too. As a matter of fact, as of today, March 9, there are almost 600 active coronavirus cases in Madrid alone, where my home is, and more than 1100 active cases across Spain. To put it in a perspective, in Madrid, there are as many coronavirus cases as in the entire USA and twice more than in the entire UK! Thus, I don’t need to travel very far to meet someone with coronavirus, even if I cancel all my trips for this year. Then the question is, why should I postpone my traveling plans?!

To Travel or Not to Travel – That is the Question!

As an enthusiastic explorer of the world, I prefer to talk about traveling. My next planned trips include a city break in Riga, Latvia on March 19-22, a conference in Honolulu with a stopover in Seoul, South Korea on March 26-31 and a quick Caucasian tour of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in June. Latvia had only one person with coronavirus, who has already recovered. The three Caucasian countries have a few cases but June is still quite far away in time. Obviously, out of all these trips, the one to Honolulu via Seoul was the one that I had to consider very well. Korean Air offered me to cancel my flights without any penalties but I politely declined. They appreciated it so much that they offered me a five-star hotel on them when I am going back to Madrid. Here is when I started to wonder under what circumstances would I cancel any future trip? Everybody has their own limits and considerations but for me traveling is very important. Traveling allows me to discover new places, people, cultures, flavors, languages, music, art, architecture, and inspiration! Traveling gives me tremendous emotions, recharges my batteries and really, it makes me a better person. So, in order to abandon a trip, I need very serious reasons.

If the Canadian foreign ministry advises on their website Canadian citizens not to travel to a certain destination and it is confirmed by the US Department of State, I will most probably cancel my trip. Serious turmoil in the country due to war or economic problems and mass protests as in Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia or Libya. If a similar situation appears in a country that I have to visit, then OK, I am canceling. Natural disasters – like the massive earthquakes in Chile or Nepal or a volcano eruption would also mean that I need to adjust my plans accordingly. A really lethal disease leading to a sure death will make me change my plans too, but coronavirus does not qualify. The only other reason to make me cancel my traveling plan is if the country is completely paralyzed and everything is closed, as it is the case with northern Italy right now. If all the public buildings and museums are closed, all events are postponed and there is barely anybody on the street, why should I even bother to go to the place? I will not feel anything of the spirit of the local people and culture this way. This is my only concern with Seoul. I want to see it on my way back from Honolulu but I wonder if I will be able to see anything. I have a 24-hour stopover though, so I will take a peek at South Korea for sure.

If you decide to travel anywhere these days, though, I would strongly advise you to arrange in advance for your health and travel insurance. Incidents happen, flights are canceled, baggage can be lost, so it is a very good idea to spend a few bucks on some insurance.

I will be glad if you, fellow travelers, share below in the comments under what circumstances, would you cancel your traveling plans?

Enjoy your trips, everybody!

© 2020 Chris Kostov


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