By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
The year in travel is easy to sum up for 2020:
We stayed home.
As the coronavirus raged around the world, pleasure travel was among the first victims.
Ambitious plans for overseas travel in the works when the year began were put on indefinite hold.
We turned inward. We traveled vicariously via an assortment of free programming on the streaming platform Journy.
We found comfort viewing in the latest seasons of “Somebody Feed Phil,” which finished production in January, just before the onset of the pandemic. Bittersweet, wondering when it will again be possible to enjoy exotic sights and cuisine in premier destinations depicted in the whimsical travels of “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal.
Personally, we haven’t left our home county in South Florida in more than 10 months. It wasn’t until the final week of the year that we ventured into a public entertainment setting.
Travel close to home
It was only three miles from home at the Plantation Baptist Church for the Christmas lights show. It’s an annual event but it was new to us.
As Fran and I watched the dancing lights synced to music — much of it to the grinding Christmas rock anthems of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra — the feeling momentarily was similar to what we seek when we travel.
The hosts were friendly. Families were caught up in the wonder of the spectacle. The show and the hot chocolate were free.
In 2020 fashion, we watched from a safe distance and lifted our masks to sip.
But it felt like we’d actually been somewhere worthwhile. Without the need to get on a plane or take a long drive, we were able to return two nights later and enjoy it again with the full moon lending mood lighting.
2020 travel ended early
It also provided an ironic bookend to an incomprehensible year. In February we traveled to Summit County, Colorado, to visit some of my favorite ski slopes. The highlight of the trip was a sleigh ride at Frisco Adventure Park.
It included a stop at a hall where a cowboy singer performed and thermoses of steaming hot chocolate and plates of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies were served. They also poured generous portions of peppermint schnapps.
Thinking back to that moment, it was unimaginable that would be the last enjoyable travel toast of 2020.
Now we look ahead to 2021 with some hope but plenty of trepidation. The vaccines are encouraging but distribution is progressing slowly and clearly months from hitting stride.
The return of what can be considered normal life remains an indeterminate point in the distance.
The return of travel as we’ve known and desire is even more uncertain.
Many obstacles to international travel
There are only a handful of countries currently open to travelers from the U.S. Are Bangladesh, Botswana and Zambia on your bucket list?
There are others, including a number of island destinations. But all have various restrictions that must be met. For instance, you can apply to visit the Bahamas after presenting a negative Covid-19 PCR test result no more than seven days old before traveling.
You can visit Ireland, but must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
COVID vaccine passport may be required
Indications are that the new reality of travel in the time of coronavirus will be a requirement for a COVID vaccine passport. Smartphone apps are being developed that will enable individuals to upload details of their COVID-19 tests and vaccinations which will provide digital credentials for entering countries as well as concert venues, stadiums, movie theaters and other public places.
Meanwhile, the travel industry is struggling to survive a devastating year. The U.S. travel economy has lost more than $500 billion since the beginning of March 2020, according to ustravel.org. In the week ending Dec. 12, total hotel occupancy in the U.S. was at 38 percent, compared to 61 percent in the same period in 2019.
The impact has been profound in tourism-centric South Florida, which had begun the year on a high note by hosting the Super Bowl. Soon after that event the beaches were declared off limits and hotels closed until June.
Cruise ships are usually a common sight off South Florida. We watched several ships outbound from Port Everglades in early May. But they were not bearing passengers, rather headed to distant ports to ride out the pandemic.
It remains uncertain when they will return. Carnival, the largest cruise line, has sent some of its ships off to the scrap yard.
Saga of the last cruise ship on Earth
The most notable story on this site in 2020 was about an American couple, Michael and Cher Woywod, who were among 2,000 passengers aboard the MSC Magnifica on an around-the-world cruise when the coronavirus spread rapidly around the world. Captain Roberto Leotta avoided the fate of other cruises stricken with the virus during that time by keeping the ship isolated at sea for 40 days.
Read the full story of the ‘last cruise ship on Earth’ here.
Not everyone has been staying home. Despite record levels of COVID infections and deaths in December, air travel saw a huge spike in volume in the final days of the year. After going from mid-March through mid-October without seeing 1 million air travelers in a day, U.S. airports surpassed that total in six out of 10 days, based on TSA figures.
That is still well below normal holiday levels. And it remains to be seen what future travel patterns will become as the pandemic subsides.
Pandemic will bring lasting changes for travelers
National Geographic predicts eight ways that travel habits will change. Among them, an emphasis on road trips over international flights.
It has been difficult to find inspiration in travel writing in this year of staying put. I took the opportunity to finish editing and publish my first novel, “Tail of the Lizard” (available on the major ebook platforms; in paperback from Amazon).
In a sense, it is a travel story of the imagination.
The strangest story about travel I’ve come across during the pandemic was of a couple of flat-Earth believers who set sail from Venice, in violation of Italy’s COVID lockdown restrictions, in search of the end of the world.
They expected to encounter the edge near Sicily. They ended up lost and were taken into custody.
It is an apt tale for a year in which boundaries have seemed very close at hand.
As 2021 dawns, here’s to looking forward to once again being able to venture out for new horizons.