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For many Canadians, it may be difficult to even think about travel.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

The last time the Halifax-based travel vloggers Anna and Trevor Delaney journeyed abroad, the first wave of COVID-19 saw them trapped on the Philippine island of Palawan for more than three months. Now, more than a year later, the husband-and-wife duo are gearing up for their first international trip since their fraught return to Canada last June. And, once again, the pandemic has already led the couple to throw their original travel plans out the window.

“Initially, we thought we’d head to Europe and spend a few months there travelling to various countries,” Anna says. “However, with the increase of the Delta variant, along with constant and quickly changing rules, we decided to do something different. The couple now intends to set up shop in the Dominican Republic for the allotted few months, where they will live their lives more or less as they normally would (albeit, with the bonus of a beach and swimming pool).

For many Canadians, it may be difficult to even think about travel. In the first three weeks of September, the national estimate of new COVID-19 cases rose from about 3,500 a day to approximately 4,300. Just last week, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reinstated the province’s COVID-19 state of emergency. In Alberta, the occupancy rate of hospital intensive care units is hovering dangerously close to the 90-per-cent level at which doctors must triage critical care.

Despite the grim state of affairs, a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are ready to venture beyond the confines of home and hearth.

“Until a couple of months ago, except for ‘staycations’ and forward 2022 planning, almost all of my pandemic international business has been U.S. travellers,” says Tom Bartholomew, a luxury travel advisor who divides his time between Vancouver and New York.

But that’s beginning to change. Bartholomew reports a sharp uptick in last-minute 2021 travel inquiries from Canadian clients, particularly those without children at home (or whose children are older, and therefore vaccinated against COVID-19). For the most part, these travellers are opting for destinations relatively close to home – the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean – though Bartholomew has booked a smattering of European trips over the coming weeks, too.

Bartholomew attributes the “shift in mentality” to Canada’s high vaccination uptake and the relaxing of re-entry measures at the Canadian border. He says he’s seeing an increase in Canadian international travel interest “almost by the day.”

If it feels like an ethical grey zone, that’s because it is. As the Massachusetts bioethicist Kelly Hills put it in an e-mail: “How do we define ‘non-essential?’” She elaborates: “Is it essential to be there when someone is dying? Is it essential to help someone recover from surgery? Attend a wedding or birth? Funeral? What about mental health – at 19-odd months of pandemic, we could all use a mental health break.”

The ethical – and epidemiological – quandaries of travelling amid a public health crisis can’t be assessed in a vacuum. To minimize the risk of harm, prospective travellers need to be mindful of the rates of COVID-19 both where they live, and where they’re planning to visit; travel to and from active hotspots may not be the wisest move. Hills adds that a conscientious traveller should also avoid visiting international destinations where vaccination rates are low due to a lack of vaccine access.

And then, there are the logistics.

Manpreet Singh, a travel agent in Brantford, Ont., advises prospective international travellers to repeatedly check the travel requirements for wherever they’re planning to visit. “There are frequent changes to entry requirements and individuals should ensure they keep apprised of them so they are prepared, and/or can make the necessary changes to their travel arrangements if required,” she says.

Singh also recommends that individuals have a plan in place in the event that they end up testing positive for COVID-19 at their destination country and are not allowed to board the plane to return home. “They should understand beforehand where they would quarantine and how much it would cost,” Singh says.

Bartholomew recommends that travellers do their research ahead of time, and leave no detail up to chance. In short: Have a contingency plan for your contingency plan. Even sourcing a reliable and affordable COVID-19 test can be difficult these days, especially when one is travelling abroad.

Travellers must also accept that no matter how much you plan, a global pandemic may have plans of its own. “Basically, our best advice to Canadians wishing to travel right now is: Be as flexible as possible,” Delaney says. “Be willing to change up the way you’d normally travel, embrace safer spaces in nature and the outdoors.”

Singh offers a similar piece of advice for Canadian travellers: Pack your patience.

“Most of the tourism industry is experiencing staffing shortages, which means longer wait times at the airport, longer check in times at the hotel or resort, and longer wait times at restaurants in destination,” she says. A measure of grace goes a long way.

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