The holidays are near and it’s time to reunite with family, friends, and loved ones at home. While it is an exciting time of year, it is important to keep in mind that are still lingering health risks associated with traveling during this stage of the pandemic. Also, airports and roads will be as crowded as ever. Not to mention, this may be the first time many people are traveling since the pandemic hit last year. With that in mind, it may be helpful to hear from a travel expert and learn about what it’s been like to travel over the last year and change.
Gabby Beckford spoke to the Black Information Network about traveling during the pandemic, quarantine vacations, and venturing outside of the country.
How did travel blogging become not only your passion, but your career?
I went to college with the hope of becoming an engineer because I have first-generation parents and what else am I going to be? I did not have any intention to study abroad. I liked to travel, but I never considered it as a career. I went to fun places during spring break like Puerto Rico and London, but it was never really a priority until I figured out that I hated engineering. Everyone was miserable. People got PhDs and couldn’t find jobs. So, it was weird. I was in biomedical engineering and it was not great, so I switched to math. Switching to math gave me a lot more flexibility and it was in a different school along with humanities and sciences. They talked a lot more about study abroad and I found out that people could get scholarships to study abroad. I ended up with a scholarship…the Boren Scholarship to study abroad in Dubai for a year and that further changed my life. I was like, “Wow, people don’t even hate their lives and they make good money.” There were influencers there. They have the leading influencer culture over there. I saw people could tell their stories and make a living from living their life. I had already built my travel blog as a hobby and I was like, “Okay, I’m trying to see if I can make it into a business.” I ended up setting a goal for myself. Two years after graduation, I wanted my blog to be making enough money so that I could quit [my job]. So, that’s what I did and then a pandemic hit after I quit.
Your job requires you to travel in the midst of the pandemic. You’ve been to Mexico, Germany, and a number of other places over the last year and change. What health and safety precautions have you taken during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Actually, I think I have had a really unique opportunity to travel and see the world during the pandemic because it’s kind of the safest the world has ever been. People are not out in the streets like that. Everyone is super cautious about being vaccinated, using hand sanitizer, and wearing masks. In that sense, I haven’t even gotten a cold in the last year and I haven’t gotten COVID-19. I get tested for COVID-19 every two weeks and I’ve never tested positive. In that sense, it’s been pretty good. When visiting big cities and landmarks like Paris, Milan, and Dubai in the pandemic, it feels as if it’s been the least crowded it’s been in maybe a century. It’s been cool to see these places as they once were before over-tourism. I kind of like the opportunity that the pandemic has given for some tourist economies to become more sustainable and not rely on over-tourism. In terms of safety…when the seasons get cold, I think that people are sneezing more in general and people are not paying attention. No one wants to use hand sanitizer and then walk outside in the cold. So, I do wipe down my seat every time I get on an airplane. Everyone used to think you were crazy if you were doing all of that and now it makes so much sense. I still wear my mask wherever I go because it’s no burden on me. In the cold, I would rather wear it because it’s freezing. It’s just a no-brainer. Like I said earlier, I get tested every two weeks now that testing is more accessible. It’s super cheap. I’m in Mexico City right now and I think it’s $15 for antigen tests. I just grab them to keep myself and the people around me safe. During the holidays, people like to get together and making sure that the people who can get vaccinated are vaccinated is really important. Whatever your opinion on the vaccine is, if you want to be traveling during the holidays or in 2022, the vaccine or the vaccine card is going to be almost essential. A year from now, I think that they will be absolutely essential for anyone who wants to get on a plane or enter a new country.
During the pandemic, you managed to plan a quarantined vacation for you and your Mom. How did you all come up with the idea for a quarantine vacation and what did that entail?
My Mom loves pools! If she sees an infinity pool, she wants to stay there. She found an Airbnb in Fort Myers, Florida. It’s kind of obscure. It’s in the western part of Florida, so we knew it wouldn’t be too crowded. Once she found the Airbnb, we decided that we would go. It was a 13-hour drive to the property, but it had a pool, barbecue, and this outdoor area that was connected to a little lake. Ultimately, we decided to stay there for a week and a half. We would stay there and grocery shop once to minimize our interaction with the public. I think it ended up being a really fantastic vacation because especially if you’re from the city or don’t have a backyard, the cabin fever is real. That trip was definitely a way that we could vacation, stay safe, and get your fix without risking our lives.
A lot of people have opted to utilize different forms of travel during the pandemic. Some people have opted to take longer train rides or go on road trips. With that in mind, for road trips, how do you find attractions or points of interest that you can stop at along the way? And as a solo traveler, what precautions do you take in order to stay safe?
My favorite thing is to ask the people [if they have recommendations]. For me, I have a big audience, so I can ask people via social media. I’ll say, “Has anyone ever taken the trail from Virginia to California? Where did you stop? Do you have an itinerary?” People are so happy to help. Even if you don’t have an audience, you can easily ask those questions in Facebook groups about travel. People are in those groups to share their stories, share tips and get tips, so you can post in that group and expect to get results better than what Google can give. I would suggest finding a Facebook group or a Whatsapp group. Meetup.com also has lots of littler virtual meetups. So, I would just go into the ones that are about road tripping or about California and just start asking around because you cannot stop people from helping you plan your trip. It’s so, so convenient.
For me, I would say staying safe involves having someone I check in with every day. If I don’t check in with that person, they’re going to raise hell about it. I also try to map out wherever I go ahead of time. Even if I change my plans, I’ll have a Google Doc that is editable and I’ll just add my parents and my best friends to it. So, if I change hotels or my hotel was sold out, I can change the Google Doc and they’ll automatically have it. Stuff like that keeps the important details shared with everybody. I think that’s a really good tip.
Let’s talk group travel — there are going to be a number of people traveling to see family and friends during Thanksgiving and the early December holidays. With that said, group trips are notoriously difficult for a lot of people. What advice would you give to a group planning a trip during the holiday season or any time of the year?
That’s a great question. I do solo travel more often because I struggle more with group trips. There may be that wildcard who doesn’t want to do the group trip or just wants to do things their way. I think the biggest thing with group trips is setting expectations. You need to communicate with people before you even agree to meet up, family or friends aside. You need to be like, “If we’re all getting vaccinated, we all need to be vaccinated. Pull up with a card or don’t pull up.” You really need to set those expectations. We’re going to be staying at these types of hotels or these hotels. If you’re not going to like that, speak now or forever hold your peace. I don’t want to be talking to you two days into the trip and know that you’re not happy. That plays a lot into the group dysfunction that I see. Someone may say, “Oh well, I didn’t know we’d be waking up at 7 a.m. every day to see the Christmas lights.” Well, you did if you looked at the group itinerary that I sent out two weeks ago. Yeah, it’s definitely about managing expectations. It also helps to make sure that everyone in the group feels like they have a voice.
Some people are traveling out of the country for the first time since the pandemic started to see family during the holidays. How do you keep track of all the different guidelines and requirements needed to travel internationally during the pandemic?
I think it’s kind of overwhelming to think of it like that. It’s scary to think of it like, “Oh, God! I have to plan the trip abroad. What? What are the vaccine requirements? Will I need a COVID-19 test?” It’s daunting to look at upfront. Having gone through it so many times this year, I know that if you’re vaccinated 50% of your problems are off of the table. Fifty percent of the pressure is off of you. Aside from vaccination, it helps to take a COVID test within one to three days…sometimes a week before traveling. That will save you a lot of headaches. Definitely, you do want to do your research ahead of time about the health forms you need to fill out. Usually, you need to fill it out 24 hours before or a week before, sometimes. The health form, vaccine, and COVID test are usually the three things that you need in order to get where it is that you’re going. Those are usually the only things that they’ll be asking you about at hotels, restaurants, etc. When I arrived here in Mexico, Mexico seems pretty lax as a country honestly. As for Turkey, I didn’t really need to show anything. People [in Mexico] wear masks a lot, so I made sure to bring extra masks. It’s daunting to look at on a piece of paper, but make a checklist and you’ll be fine. Sometimes you have to fill out a one-minute help form to say where you’re going to stay and how long you’ll be there. It’s pretty simple. If you can do those three things. You’re really good to go.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.