Is this another false alarm?

They say the worst of COVID is over, but travelers have heard that before

Can you hear that?

It's the sound of the so-called experts telling you to go ahead and book a vacation now. It's safe, they claim. 

COVID is just about over.

The rate of new COVID infections is down 20 percent in the last two weeks. The coast is clear, right?

And some of you believe it.

But wait. You've seen this before.

We thought this was over earlier this year, too.

It wasn't.

Fellow travelers, you have a decision to make now: Do you heed the siren call of travel, ignoring the potential health risks? Do you join the many others who have already made up their minds? They're leaving soon, regardless of the consequences. Honestly, I feel like the parent having an awkward conversation with his teenager before a date. I'll explain what I mean in a minute.


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Travelers are at the crossroads of COVID

We're at a crossroads now.

Is it time to let down our guard and call our travel agent to book a winter trip to the Caribbean — or should we wait and see what happens? And when will we know for sure that it's safe to travel again?

Let's check in with our friends at the Centers for Disease Control. If you're fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine, you can travel safely within the United States, according to the government. Likewise, don't travel internationally until you've had all of your shots.

But you want more than the CDC’s assurances. You want guarantees that the pandemic is out of the way, not a factor anymore. You want someone to tell you that you can book that tour and actually take it next summer."

That, the government can't do.

What's next?

This feels a lot like when your friend asks what you think of a boyfriend or girlfriend. It's a trick question! They've already decided to tie the knot, and they just want your blessing. All you can do is nod your head approvingly. 

The decision's been made.

"Where have we seen this before?" wonders reader Joyce Smith. "The numbers go down, and the restrictions vanish — with predictable results. How about some caution? Keep any and all restrictions in place until we are out of danger."

But still. If you had to choose between traveling or not, should you go? Has the situation changed at all from two weeks ago, when we had 20% more cases than the previous two weeks?

Look, the government has given its blessing for you to travel unless you're unvaccinated. If you haven't had your shots, or if you're immunocompromised, please stay home until the number of COVID cases falls further. It's just not worth the risk. 

"Things are getting better," Kyle Killion, founder of Suiteness.com, told me. "But slower than I expected."

By this time next year, he thinks the pandemic will be behind us and travel will have returned to normal. That's October 2022, in case you're keeping track.

News flash: We're going anyway!

I just wrapped up two columns on 2022 travel. Look for those soon in USA Today and the Washington Post.

Bottom line: We're traveling again, COVID or not. According to Morning Consult's research, two-thirds of U.S. adults say they will travel for leisure next year. 

"COVID-19 will continue to be a factor in travel planning," Lindsey Roeschke, Morning Consult's travel and hospitality analyst, told me. "But I expect that travelers will continue to travel more domestically than internationally, given a combination of health concerns and difficulty navigating the logistics of testing and quarantine requirements abroad."  

Business travel still has a way to go, but that's an opportunity for bargain-hunters, as I noted in yesterday's USA Today travel column.

So, in a sense, it doesn't matter if it's safe or not — chances are, you're going to go somewhere in 2022.

But if you were wondering, here's the situation. The only variant of concern to the CDC is delta. It spreads faster and breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are likely. According to the government, vaccines are effective at preventing most infections. Your best bet to protect yourself is to get vaccinated.


Have you seen my exclusive series on travel during delta?

Hey, I'm halfway through a 10-part series on traveling around the country during the delta surge. You can read it exclusively in Forbes. Here's the latest installment on surveying the spectacular damage to the tourism industry while I was in Washington, D.C., this summer. It's MUST-READ journalism!

Read the series

I'd like to say "hell no, we won't go," but …

In a perfect world, we'd all stay home until delta disappears. But that's impractical. Some of us must travel (it's my job), and for others, it's something they feel they have to do. 

Readers like Brita Bishop have taken every precaution. For her, that means being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot. In February, she's headed to Easter Island. In June, she has plans to visit Austria and Croatia, and next August, she'll be in Greenland.

"I can't wait," she says. "I'm antsy to get out of the country again."

I hear ya, Brita. For readers of this newsletter, asking them not to travel is almost like asking them not to breathe. How long can you hold your breath? A year? Two years? OK, but eventually, we have to go back to doing what we do.

The travel experts say it's safe to go. It almost doesn't matter what they say, or what the CDC says — or what I say.

It's going to happen. 

And so I feel a little bit like the father whose teenager is about to go on a big date. You stand at the door with mixed feelings. You don't want to interfere, but you also think you should say something. 

"Be good," you finally manage to blurt out. "And if you can't be good … be safe."

What do you think? Is it finally safe to travel again, or is this another false alarm, like we had last March? The comments are open, my friends.

About the art

Artist Dustin Elliott wanted to portray the entry and exit of the travel work masses, the weary anxiety-ridden passengers who are sick of COVID. "How do the travelers come and go with time?" he asks. "They signal each other for safety, like lemmings without the cliff, as they carry their luggage along." These travelers have one purpose in mind: to survive.