The travel brakes are on, yet again. New restrictions and a constantly changing list of requirements suggest travel will be different for quite some time. But when it is safe to take off once again, one trend we can expect to see is travelling in bubbles.
Travel bubbles surfaced in May as the first itch to get out of town hit many during the pandemic. The original notion of a travel bubble was a group of family and friends who share the same quarantining and physical-distancing practices going away together. Everyone in the bubble takes the same precautions at home and on the road. Travel agents and tour groups saw it as an opportunity to offer safe options.
A whopping 79 per cent of people surveyed by travel-adviser network Virtuoso said they would be willing to take part in a travel bubble, according to Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director of global public relations. People clearly want to travel safely, which is why the idea of bubbles continues to float around. “While effective, [the original concept] was somewhat confining,” Belles says. “Now that we know more about the virus, travel bubbles are evolving.”
In Atlantic Canada, the provinces have been in their own bubble since the beginning of the pandemic. Outside visitors, including from other provinces, must complete a 14-day quarantine on arrival. This has kept COVID-19 numbers low, but some residents are ready to burst out of that bubble.
Travel agent Elayne Pink of Absolute Travel Specialists in Halifax thought she had found a solution for her bubbled customers. The Atlantic-Cuba Bubble would move a group of Atlantic Canadians on a chartered flight to a resort in Cuba where they would be the only ones vacationing. “Our phones rang off the hook for days when the trip was announced at the end of October,” says Pink. “Everybody wanted to travel with people from the same area along with the safety protocols of what Nova Scotia has come up with.” At the time of publication, Pink was still planning the trip, but the original departure date of Feb. 12 has been rescheduled (with a date to be determined).
When the trip goes ahead, guests in the Atlantic-Cuba Bubble will be required to refrain from other travel two weeks prior to departure. They will need to complete a COVID-19 test in Cuba (on arrival and departure for their return to Canada). If rapid airport testing is not available (the Atlantic provincial governments have not approved it at airports), then guests must complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine, if it’s still mandatory at the time of return. “The same rules that are in Nova Scotia, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, any public-health protocols, will also be taken with us on our trip,” Pink says.
Even tour companies are offering travel-bubble incentives for future bookings. G Adventures launched “Book Your Bubble” packages. You can book smaller groups of eight to 12 people with the eighth spot discounted 50 per cent or the 12th spot complimentary. Trips include hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, exploring Portugal or an eight-day excursion through Northern Thailand. Flight Centre has been highlighting its small group tours as travel bubble options, while Trafalgar tours is also promoting bubble-friendly tours throughout Europe.
But travelling in a bubble doesn’t mean you have to book a private plane, resort or group tour. A family-bubble vacation at a remote cottage rental where you bring your own food to limit interactions is one way to get away that’s still close to home. It requires more effort, adherence to health and safety rules, and organization on your part. If you want to err on the side of extra caution, consider a travel agent or an organized tour. Travel agents can help navigate restrictions as they change.
Whichever travel-bubble method you choose, who’s in your bubble is the most important factor of all. A typical group trip comes with considerations – personalities, dislikes, budgets, etc. But with a bubble, you’re with the same group of people the entire time. The same activities, locations and flights. And everyone, hopefully, is following the same COVID-19 protocols. When you return home, you’re still in that same bubble for another two weeks (if you’re not in a location with rapid testing at the airport).
“Make sure these are the same people you’d want to be stranded on an island with,” says Belles. Conversations to ensure you’re all on the same safety page are essential. “All it takes is one person with a different threshold or a different set of experiences to ‘break the seal’ on a travel bubble, whether it’s intentional or purely accidental,” says Belles.
And we all know ... the fun of a bubble is lost once it pops.
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