By Edd and Cynthia Staton, America’s best known experts on moving abroad and expat life.
International travel 2021: Our personal experiences
We just arrived in the U.S. after spending more than 2 months exploring six locations in Mexico. Our travels took us from the Yucatán peninsula to the Caribbean coast to the central highlands.
Since beginning this adventure from our home in Ecuador, we logged thousands of miles, been through 11 airports, slept in 13 different beds, ridden local & long distance buses, and taken too many Ubers to count.
In this world of lingering COVID concerns you may be thinking, “Are they crazy?”
Full disclosure: we’re both card-carrying vaccine recipients and don’t recommend international travel without being fully vaccinated, even to countries where it’s not required. Nor do we think it’s a great idea for vaccinated individuals with serious underlying health conditions to travel until more is known about the Delta variant.
All that said, if you’re itching to escape “pandemic prison” and willing to navigate today’s landscape of ever-changing rules and restrictions, now is actually a great time to travel!
Deals! Deals! Deals!
Domestic destinations enjoyed a robust rebound during the vacation season. However, the slow roll of countries reopening, combined with reluctance by many to venture beyond their own borders, created a “buyer’s market” of excellent money-saving deals for flights and accommodations.
For example, our flight from Raleigh to Mérida, Mexico at the beginning of our journey cost only $157 each. Every Airbnb we booked cost less than $35 per night.
And bargain travel isn’t limited to Mexico. We regularly receive email alerts for deals like nonstop, round trip flights to Portugal for less than $400, or to Puerto Rico for $179.
What about safety?
OK, saving money sounds great, but you may wonder if it’s safe to travel internationally right now. Acknowledging that these impressions are only a snapshot of what’s happening in the overall market, allow us to share our experience with airports, planes, and destinations.
Perhaps you read some discouraging stories about crowded, understaffed airports and canceled flights. We’re not saying they aren’t out there, but we went through some of the busiest airports in the U.S. (Las Vegas, Newark, Houston) and Mexico (Cancun, Guadalajara) with no problems or delays whatsoever.
Lots of stores and restaurants in the terminals still remain closed. But since there are also less passengers overall in airports, we found sufficient options were always available.
We were extremely impressed everywhere we went by the friendliness of airline and airport staff and the overall cleanliness. Also, most everyone “masked up” except when eating or drinking.
With improved air filtration systems and cleaning practices, airplanes are spotless and more sanitary than ever before.
The policy of keeping the middle seat empty has disappeared. Keep this in mind if social distancing is important to you because many of our flights were completely full.
We read about isolated incidents involving unruly passengers, and are happy to report we witnessed no such behavior. To the contrary, it seemed that people are thankful to be traveling again, us included! In fact, passengers wore masks voluntarily, and politeness rather than rudeness was the norm.
This same attitude carried over to all the places we visited. Granted, we weren’t out late at night in the hard-partying Riviera Maya hotspots of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancun. But the locals, expats, and visitors we observed and encountered everywhere were kind, friendly, and helpful. Outdoor mask wearing was minimal, to be truthful, but within enclosed spaces employees and customers generally did the right thing.
Tips to travel smartly and safely
During pre-COVID, travel was “book it and show up.” Those days are over for the foreseeable future.
It is possible your airline may reschedule or even cancel flights. Lines to clear security could be longer than expected. Your Airbnb host might take advantage of the overheated real estate market and sell your vacation rental.
Be prepared to pivot.
Arrive at the airport early. Pack a change of clothes and toothbrush in your carry-on luggage in case the airline cancels your flight. Consider booking a refundable hotel stay as a backup to your planned accommodations, or, as a “worst case scenario” if you’re traveling internationally and test positive for COVID prior to your scheduled departure.
Sign up for Global Entry.
We enrolled in Global Entry and highly recommend it. The $100 fee covers 5 years of eligibility, and belonging to the program automatically gives you TSA Pre-check status. Say goodbye to taking off your shoes and pulling out your laptops. We happily breezed through Customs and Security. Check to see if one of your credit cards covers the enrollment fee.
Pack carry-on only.
It wasn’t easy pairing our luggage down to one backpack and rollaboard each, but it’s sure worth it. By checking in online we skipped the ticket counters and went straight to our departure gate. Upon arrival it’s incredibly liberating to avoid waiting for bags at the carousel (not to mention the stress of hoping they weren’t lost) and be on your way!
If fully vaccinated and anxious to “get out there” again, this is a fabulous time to travel internationally. Reopening countries are rolling out the red carpet for visitors, prices are low, and crowds at even the most popular destinations are far below normal.
Gazing down on Plaza Grande in Mérida from a rooftop table at sunset. Hearing the symphony of church bells in San Miguel de Allende. Experiencing the sensory overload of 5th Avenue at Playa del Carmen.
These are just a few of the marvelous memories we’ll always cherish from our recent adventure in Mexico.
Are you ready to create some memories of your own? The world is out there waiting for you!
About the authors
Edd and Cynthia Staton are America’s best known experts on moving abroad and expat life. They appeared on network television, written hundreds of articles for national and international publications, and are regularly featured in major media outlets including ABC News, CBS News, CNBC, Forbes, and USA Today. They are authors of three Amazon best-selling books. Their trilogy, Mission: Rescue Your Retirement, hit #1 in 10 categories as diverse as personal finance, retirement planning, self-help, travel, and comedy! They have created Retirement Reimagined!, a revolutionary Master Course providing comprehensive, step-by-step guidance to successfully retire in another country.
Visit them at www.eddandcynthia.com.