Should I Stay or Should I Go?

During this stay-at-home period of the pandemic I’ve had a lot of songs running through my head, but the ’80’s classic, Should I Stay or Should I Go has dominated, of late. I’m not really even a big fan of The Clash, or am I? Hard to know, at this point.

As the world sits at home collectively trying to avoid the COVID-19 virus, millions undoubtedly need to evaluate upcoming travel plans. Looking forward thirty, sixty, ninety days what is the best plan of action and when should you cancel reservations? I’m wondering the same. I have plans to travel out West to photograph Glacier National Park in late June with multiple reservations still on the books. I thought as I evaluate whether to cancel or maintain my plans it might be a useful subject to write about for others.

Of course, if we, in the U.S., aren’t collectively successful at lowering the curve of the outbreaks this discussion will be for naught, and nobody will be going anywhere. I certainly maintain hope that that won’t be the case. I have no desire to put myself or any destination’s local population at greater risk. Everything hinges on achieving a declining trend by April 30. It’s hard to predict or know, since we’ve never experienced anything like this, whether there will be a definitive ruling on resuming full activity, or whether there will be some sort of roll out based on a particular areas status and rate of infection of the traveler’s home. It’s impossible to know how a roll out will look. Yesterday, I watched news coverage of a protest in Lansing, Michigan against the continuation of stay-at-home orders, while in stark contrast the Outer Banks of North Carolina will not allow non-permanent resident homeowners access to their homes as of March 20. A few of those Outer Banks’ residents are suing Dare County where these homes are located. No doubt different regions of the country are experiencing this pandemic from different points of view.

At the same time, I’m trying to support local businesses and business in general.  The outdoor industry, as an example, provides 5 million jobs in the U.S. and generates around $778 billion in economic output, according to information from The Land Water Conservation Fund. Not to mention, during a time of political conflict and clashes, National Parks and public lands are overwhelmingly popular and unifying environments for Americans and foreign visitors, alike.

Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has explained virus predictions, as they relate to the various models designed to anticipate the spread and toll of the virus’ U.S. outbreak, are only as good as the assumptions used to build them. The same can be said for trying to predict the status of the pandemic in any given country or area in the next few months—all based on assumptions that may or may not come true. And, without being too pessimistic, it’s easy to imagine that there’s a clean start and stop to this threat, but Dr. Fauci put that idea to rest, as well. He said it’s not likely we will get a national all clear. It’s more likely that a return to normal will happen in stages.

My trip to Glacier National is scheduled for the last two weeks of June. I have reservations up and down the eastern side of the park and as far north as Waterton Lakes Park in Alberta, Canada. I was looking forward to that segment in particular. We are suppose to stay at The Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking the lake. At the time of this writing, the normal cancelation policy applies which is a full refund up till three days prior to my arrival. The bigger question is whether we would be able to cross the border by then.

I haven’t purchased airline tickets, thankfully, so I’m holding off on that purchase until I have a better sense of the general travel advisories. I do wonder whether it makes some sense to go ahead and purchase a ticket at the lower rates I see for routes, while demand is down, with the assumption that if travel is still restricted I’ll be able to adjust my flight to a later date or get a refund. If they’re doing that now, I would hope the same would apply down the road, but that’s a gamble.

As of Friday April 3 following many complaints from consumers about airlines not offering returns for canceled or significantly changed flights, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will require foreign and domestic airlines to provide speedy refunds to passengers holding tickets for canceled or significantly altered schedules.  Those holding tickets who choose not to fly are not eligible for these refunds.  Baggage fees and other extra fees should also be refunded under the same conditions.

Most hotels are allowing cancelations with varying limitations. For instance as of April 3, 2020 Hyatt is waiving change and cancelation fees for reservations existing or made April 1, 2020 or before for arrivals through June 30, 2020. Hyatt does have some restrictions for reservations made April 2, 2020 through June 30, 2020 for any future date related to “select Destination properties” and special event rates. As of this writing, Marriott International says there’s no fee for cancelations or changes to existing reservations or new reservations for travel at any future date, including prepaid rates, as long as the cancelation is made before June 30, 2020. Airbnb is allowing cancelations for check-ins between March 14 and April 30, and owners are being partially compensated by the hosting site for these COVID-19 related losses. My Airbnb reservation doesn’t fall within these dates, but I still have time to cancel based on the normal cancelation policy of the property owner. Each property has unique cancelation policies outside of the current COVID-19 cancelation allowances timeframe. Be sure to read the cancellation policy for any property you have booked.

I cannot fathom why anyone would want to go on a cruise of any kind for the foreseeable future given the nightmares we’ve watch unfold on ships all over the world.  Nevertheless, Disney Cruise Lines is offering passengers refunds for trips booked for March thru April, or the option to rebook within a 15 month window for it’s various routes.

In an informal poll of the folks who I know are traveling in June, most are holding off on a final decision until the end of April. One or two are largely resolved to cancel their trips in an abundance of caution, but most want to wait and see a little while longer before abandoning a much anticipated trip.

So, for now, I am holding on to my hotel reservations because there’s no harm in doing so, right now. I plan to reassess at the end of April and again mid or late May, keeping an eye on the specific area and service providers I will rely on during this trip. What are the guidelines for visitors, as well as the mood of the area where I might want to visit? I’ve been in touch with the hotels where I plan to stay and I’m paying close attention to what and how they answer my questions. Are the borders I’m crossing passable?. As a last resort, I have considered driving, rather than flying, and camping along the way, but I have to see if that’s feasible, too. Many camp grounds are closed to overnight visitors, as well. No way of knowing how those locales may adapt as the course of this pandemic plays out in the U.S.

Any leisure travel that’s scheduled for April or early May is likely refundable, and I would proceed with getting that process started now.  If you have travel in May I think the statement from Dr. Fauci about a national all clear is particularly useful.  Many stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders are through the end of April or slightly beyond.  In Virginia, where I live, ours goes through June 10 (unless rescinded sooner), while in Montana the restrictions are open ended, so it’s important to know the rules of the state where you’re headed, not just your home state.

Stay well and plan carefully as you proceed with your travel plans. The link below from Travel Weekly contains links to many hotels, cruise and airlines for your reference.

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