If you waited until the busy summer season ended to make your travel plans — until all this COVID unpleasantness blew over — then you probably feel like a sucker.
Here we are in the middle of the delta surge, which looks like it could be worse than the last one. Maybe waiting was a bad idea. Maybe you should have traveled when you could.
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Well, don't worry. I've been on the road since April, and you haven't missed much. We've had crazy midair confrontations between people who don't want to wear masks and crewmembers who seem a little too eager to duct-tape them to their seats. We've had sky-high rates, especially for vacation rentals. We've had incomprehensible travel restrictions to places everyone wants to visit.
It's the travel industry equivalent of eating empty calories; there's just not much to it.
WHAT SAY YOU? My fellow travelers, before I continue, let me hand the mike over to you. I'm really interested in your thoughts on the future of travel. Is it safe to go back in the pool? If so, why? If not, when? What do you think will happen? You know what to do. Push the big red button.
So when will things finally get back to, you know, seminormal?
I spend most of my day talking to people who get paid a lot of money to know, and here's their dirty little secret: They don't know. Really. They don't have a clue. They spend hours staring at a computer screen full of numbers, and the numbers stare right back at them and say, "What are you lookin' at?"
But here's what we do know: It looks like the delta variant won't end any time soon. COVID may be with us for months or years. But it's not going to make much difference in the way people plan their future trips.
Delta will get worse before it gets better
I check the stats every morning. You too? And every day, I wonder: Has the curve flattened? Is it safe to travel again? The conventional wisdom is that the delta variant will get worse before it gets better. Here are the latest projections from the authoritative Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
"Better" is relative in travel. It may mean that infection rates fall in some areas, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to get to your destination if infection rates there remain high.
For example, I'm hoping to visit Israel later this year. I'm not sure if they'll let anyone in the country with cases like this.
Now that's a spike.
Word of the day is "endemic"
COVID will probably be with us for a while, and maybe the rest of our lives. Don't take my word for it. That's what Harvard immunologist Yonatan Grad thinks could happen as COVID transitions from being acute to endemic. "The expectation that COVID-19 will become endemic essentially means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing," he explained in a recent interview.
And what does that mean for you, fellow travelers? If you thought you would be able to wait it out until COVID goes away — some of you vaccine holdouts were hoping you could make it through until we achieved herd immunity — you're probably wrong. You'll need to get your shots if you want to travel. You'll need to get your boosters. And you'll need a vaccination passport that's up to date.
Oh boy, I'm probably going to get into a lot of trouble for writing that.
Does anyone care?
Here's the twist: Even though the delta variant will get worse, even though COVID will be with us for a long time, many travelers just don't care. They're going anyway. I just wrote about that in my Washington Post column. Chalk it up to COVID fatigue or fatalism, but many readers say they're done cowering in fear and waiting for the disease to go away.
In other words, COVID will get worse and may never go away, but people will keep traveling. As long as the borders are open, as long as planes are flying and cars are available, people will travel. You can't stop 'em.
And that leads us to the enduring question: Now what?
Let's do a lightning round:
Is it safe to book a trip now? It's as safe as it will get for now. COVID isn't going away any time soon. Get your shots and deal with it.
Will it get safer soon? Yes. And no. Check out the infection rate charts, which look like the Cyclone at Coney Island. I get whiplash just looking at them.
When should I book a trip? When you see a really good deal. Or when you want to go. Did I mention that you should consider getting vaccinated? I may have.
Should I cancel my trip? If your doctor advises you to call off your trip, then yes. But if you're just afraid of COVID, I have some bad news — and I realize I'm repeating myself here — but COVID will be with us for a while.
Will any of these predictions come true? They could. As with everything else about this pandemic, nobody knows what will happen next.
Time for your comments, my friends. Do you expect more COVID chaos and will people tap the brakes on their future vacations? Or is this the worst of it? You know that your guess is as good as mine — so what's your guess?
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott says he wanted to portray the village idiot behind a fortune-telling orb, but in his trademark, visceral illustrative expressionistic style. "With Burgundy reds and pinks, I highlighted the fortune-tellers flesh tones," he explains. The urgency and maniacal lust, and desire for immediate outcome are imprinted on this once wise man's face. The subject is focused, excitable, and most importantly non-neurotypical in expression. The background is a homage to Fauvism, and Monet's late summer mark-making." For more information about Dustin's art, check out his site.