As COVID Fears Abate, The World Begins to Open Up
September 10, 2021

As COVID Fears Abate, The World Begins to Open Up

I hit 50 miles per hour on a whirling zip line, several hundred feet above Mexico’s Copper Canyon. It wasn’t my idea of fun. My wife is an adventure junkie. With my stomach in my mouth, I wondered why people pay money to risk wetting their pants. That initial ride was about 1 mile long. And I had six more death glides to go, followed by a gondola ride back up to where we started.

While riding that gondola, I reflected on the adventure.  This wasn’t a vacation.  Instead, this fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants experience was part of our life together.

In 2002, I quit my job to travel the world for a year.  Twelve months later, I began teaching in Singapore.  My wife and I met there, and in 2014, we took a big risk.  We quit our jobs and decided to travel while living on my freelance writing money. I first wrote about that here.

Over the following six years, we traveled to more than 40 different countries.  When people asked, “Where do you live?” or “Where is your base?” they stared in confusion when I replied, “We really don’t live anywhere.”  Sometimes, we rented homes in low-cost countries, like Mexico, Thailand or Malaysia.  Other times, as with Vietnam, we backpacked around the country.  For several months, we cycled our tandem throughout Europe.  During other years, we visited much of the Middle East and dipped into Africa.   On one occasion, we spent 17 months in a camper van in Mexico and Central America.

At the start of 2020, we were cycling around Costa Rica.  In early March, we flew to Victoria, British Columbia where we planned to stay for twelve days.  We had tickets to Kyiv, Ukraine, where I was scheduled to give a financial talk, followed by a two-month booking at an Airbnb in Cyprus.  But like everyone else’s lives, COVID changed everything.

After calling our global medical insurer, they said, “If you get COVID in Canada, we’ll cover you because you happen to be there right now.  But you won’t be covered anywhere else.”  There was nothing special about Canada.  The insurer just saw a higher risk if we jumped on a plane.

Canadian COVID rules were strict.  We weren’t supposed to leave our towns.  I once posted a photo on Facebook.  At the time, we were in a remote location, miles from the city in our camper van.  Two British Columbian friends blasted me for that.  I was supposed to stay indoors, they said, to help prevent spreading COVID-19.

With clipped wings, we remained in that province for several months.  But once we had our vaccines, we chose to make a move.  And travel, as it always does, opened our eyes to different things.  We saw, for example, how other countries dealt with the Coronavirus challenge.

First, we flew to Panama.  Afraid to sit too close to other people, we booked business class flights from Vancouver.  But we soon learned that it was a waste of money.  Other people likely had the same idea because business class was full.  Ironically, economy class was almost empty, and the safest part of the plane. 

After landing in Panama, we lined up for mandatory antigen tests at the airport and then took a taxi to Panama City.  We didn’t know Panama had just lifted one of the world’s strictest, long-term preventative COVID measures.  Men and women could now go to work.  Other than that, for many months, they couldn’t leave their homes except to buy food and run errands.  And even that had restrictions. For example, men were allowed out only three specific days of the week.  Women were allowed out on alternative days. The country enforced a full lockdown once a week, and the police fined anyone who broke those rules.

We arrived after those restrictions were lifted, but we still had to wear facemasks every time we left our rented condominium.  That included any walks outdoors. Everyone followed the rules.

While cycling near Boquete, a high mountain town, I saw a lone woman wearing a mask as she hiked up a dirt hill in sandals.  She was bent over, carrying piles of sticks on her back.  When I asked some locals why even that woman wore a mask they said, “Many people [including these mountain folk] think they can catch COVID in the wind.”

Fortunately, thanks to the vaccines, the world is opening up.  But traveling to other countries isn’t as easy as it used to be.  There are still plenty of hoops to jump.  But doors are opening.  I just spent a week cycling with seven friends in northern Italy.  To board our airplanes, we each had to show our vaccine cards and test negative for COVID within 48 hours of departure. 

In Italy, most people wore masks in public places (it was often mandatory).  To enter a museum, we also had to show our vaccination cards.  And 72 hours before leaving, we all needed to submit another negative COVID test before getting our boarding passes to fly out of Italy.

At first, I was afraid to fly to Panama and then to Italy.  It was like my apprehension on that Copper Canyon zip-line.  Yes, by leaving Canada, we did take a risk. But we only live once.  And as the world opens up, we shouldn’t be afraid to take careful steps out.

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