Cree and I just returned from two weeks in Sicily, and I can’t tell you how great it felt to be traveling to Europe again. We have been teaching workshops, both domestic and international, for months now. And we hear from a lot of our travelers wanting to know how it is traveling during covid. I thought I would share some observations, and try to answer some of the questions that we hear.
At this point we are more than two years into the pandemic. Cree and I spent the first year teaching entirely online, and it was a great way to stay connected with folks, and stay engaged in photography…as well as be safe. As vaccines rolled out, we started to teach again in the field. Many of our regular travelers first came on short domestic trips. These trips were in the US, and many people felt comfortable traveling during this time. Everyone drove in their own vehicle during the workshop, or if they decided, could ride share with someone else. We didn’t teach in a conference room, but instead taught on zoom calls before, during and after the trip. We left dining open to participant’s comfort level, and found many locations where we could eat outside as a group.
Last week in Sicily things continued to evolve. First, travel on planes is the same…wear a mask at the airport and on the plane. Sicily/Italy didn’t need a covid test to enter, but did require everyone to be vaccinated (they call it the Green Pass…not green pasta…long story!). You couldn’t go to restaurants without a vaccination card…this is the norm right now. As a side note, we require all our participants to be vaccinated, as do most tour companies. Getting into restaurants, hotels and stores required showing your vaccination card in Europe. Of course this all might change as the pandemic evolves. Our group went to a pharmacy to get a rapid covid test the night before we flew home, simple and quick (prices can $15 in Italy to $200 in Africa). The US is still requiring a negative covid test to return to the USA.
We dined indoors as well as outdoors, wore masks driving in our van between towns, and occasionally wore masks in busy streets and markets. Italy requires indoor mask wearing, so we wore masks going into stores and hotels. All our participants are asked to bring covid test kits so if they are feeling sick, then can do a test. Most of our group had three covid shots (two plus booster), and some had even just gotten their fourth shot (second booster). We had one in our group catch a cold…he went and got a covid test which was negative.
Right now tourists are starting to come back, but many places don’t have crowds. We didn’t see many other tourists in Sicily, and the hotels weren’t packed. March is early for Europe, and our guides said it is looking like it will be a busy summer season.
The biggest thing we can tell you on deciding to travel right now is you have to decide if you are ready to travel. I felt safe and comfortable during two weeks of travel in Sicily. If we went to a busy outdoor market, I just put on my mask…many locals were doing the same. On our trips we are doing many things to reduce the risk of covid exposure, but the bottom line is no one can guarantee you won’t be exposed to covid during a trip. Being vaccinated, wearing masks, being outdoors, washing hands…these things all help to reduce the risk. Everyone will have a different comfort level. Traveling to Europe and last fall to Africa felt liberating. Photographing outside in the national parks feels better than it ever did after spending so much time at home during the pandemic.
Things are going to change, just as they have in the past. Covid rates go up and down, new treatments arrive, and regulations continue to evolve. We recommend everyone get travel and medical insurance for their trip (just like we have always done…you want a policy that covers medical expenses while traveling). This summer we are looking forward to indoor classroom sessions on workshops, and dining as a group.
If you are considering travel, but don’t want to be out of the US, then take a look at domestic travel. This spring and summer we are doing numerous outdoor workshops at national parks and other locations. You can drive your own rental car, eat outside, and enjoy being outdoors photographing a beautiful scene. We have a few spots still open on our Texas bird blind trip, Badlands NP, and one spot on Alaska bears. If you are ready to travel and photograph, we’re ready for you!