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How the 2020 pandemic wreaked havoc on travel: Money, Honestly podcast

The ongoing pandemic has brought the travel industry to its knees.

Before social distancing measures began in March, the travel industry began its own set of mandates and precautionary measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Adding to the complexity of the tenuous situation are restrictions from states and countries and their response to visitors from viral hotspots.

In the latest episode of the Money, Honestly podcast, Cashay editor Janna Herron and reporter Stephanie Asymkos explore the travel industry’s struggles and what the pandemic has meant for hotels, airlines, cruise lines, and rental property owners, along with how travel bloggers have been forced to adapt.

Airlines, hotels, and cruise lines have been forced to suspend routes, service, and occupancies while also upending decades-old protocols with the introduction of modernized cleaning methods.

With leisure and business travel grounded, those tangentially related to the industry, like travel bloggers and influencers, have been negatively impacted because sponsorships with industry stakeholders aren’t happening.

The United States represents approximately 26% of coronavirus cases worldwide, despite making up just 4% of the world’s population. Being the global epicenter has negatively impacted the reputation of Americans abroad and as it stands, a U.S. passport only grants access to 45 of the 200 United Nations-recognized countries.

Domestic travel also has a new landscape in the pandemic era, and state governors from Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Florida, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Maine, and Massachusetts have instituted travel advisories for visitors as a means of viral containment.

Map by David Foster, Yahoo Finance
Map by David Foster, Yahoo Finance

The following is an audio transcript of the discussion:

Janna Herron: This episode of Money, Honestly by Cashay is brought to you by USAA. If you're currently serving a veteran who served honorably or an eligible family member, they've got your back through every stage of life. To learn more, visit usaa.com.

Hi, this is Money, Honestly. I'm Janna Herron. And today Stephanie Asymkos, a reporter on my team at Yahoo Finance and Cashay, is joining us. We'll be talking about traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks, Stephanie for joining us today.

Stephanie Asymkos: Hi Janna.

JH: So traveling during a pandemic, let's go back first of all because things have changed so much. Let's go back to February, that's like almost six months into this pandemic. How has travel changed during that time? First, when we started to know about what was going on, up until now.

SA: Right. I mean, it's kind of two different approaches. So there were people who saw that the U.S. was banning overseas travelers from China and then ultimately, people from the European Union nations and then airlines were canceling flights, but airlines were also having really cheap fares. So there were some people who were just kind of like devil may care attitude of like, "Hey, fares are really cheap right now. Let's go capitalize on this," so that was one group of people.

Passengers in the baggage hall at Sydney Airport after arriving on Jetstar flight 510 from Melbourne on August 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Passengers in the baggage hall at Sydney Airport after arriving on Jetstar flight 510 from Melbourne on August 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Another group of people did the same thing for cruises, but then ultimately, airlines canceled flights, cruises essentially just stopped operation, not just in North America, but worldwide, not worldwide cruises, but cruises stopped traveling internationally. That makes more sense. And then as time went on, when people were returning from those places, they had to undergo screening either at airports or ports.

And some places like Florida placed restrictions on travelers from hotspots, like the Tri-State. And then here we are today. So right now, the U.S. passport only gets you into about 80 of the countries that the UN recognizes. And I think the UN recognizes maybe close to 200. So nearly half of the world's countries are off limits to Americans right now.

And that's just because the health of this country and the response to the coronavirus hasn't been the strongest compared to Asian countries and European countries. So they don't want us right now.

JH: That's kind of amazing, especially that passport idea. Usually, you could go anywhere you wanted, but now we're not welcome, obviously because we're having some issues keeping the current virus cases under control, but it's not the same everywhere in the United States, so that takes me to my next question.

We've been seeing Governor Cuomo, Governor Lamont, and Governor Murphy, from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut impose certain kinds of travel restrictions to just US visitors into their States. Can you tell me a little bit about what they're doing and how that's been changing?

A man wearing a protective face mask has his temperature checked before entering a shop inside a shopping mall after it reopened in Mumbai, India on August 05, 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A man wearing a protective face mask has his temperature checked before entering a shop inside a shopping mall after it reopened in Mumbai, India on August 05, 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

SA: Yeah, the Tri-State has started this little coalition, this little tribe, and announced in June that they will impose a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on visitors. And if we can remember that the Tri-State, specifically New York, was the country's first epicenter and New York has really made great strides in reversing that direction of COVID cases and slowly phasing open and reopening the State's economy.

So the first travel ban or I shouldn't say travel ban, the first travel advisory, that first cohort of states was nine. And we're recording this morning, it's July 29, and now that's up to 34 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

JH: And then-

SA: Go ahead, Janna.

JH: Tell me again. So the travel advisory, what is it that you have to do?

SA: Yeah, you have to self-quarantine for 14 days, so that means that when you arrive from, say Florida to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, that means that you are on self-imposed lockdown for two weeks. That means no going to the grocery store, no going to the park, no swimming on our beaches, no hiking in our mountains. That means you are homebound. You cannot interact with anyone. Stay home.

JH: Yeah. That doesn't sound like a fun vacation.

SA: It doesn't at all. You could do that at home.

JH: Right. And so how do they determine which States are on that travel advisory list?

SA: Yeah, so that metric hasn't changed since June. It's just that COVID is spreading and the case count is rising. So it's a positive test rate greater than 10 per 100,000 residents over a week, or a positive case greater than 10% over the same period.

So basically what that means is that, take a state, take Wisconsin. If Wisconsin's COVID case count from last week to sort of week-over-week has changed greater than 10%, then Wisconsin would be on the States that would have to self-quarantine arrives on the Tri-State.

Passengers in the baggage hall at Sydney Airport after arriving on Jetstar flight 510 from Melbourne on August 05, 2020, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Passengers in the baggage hall at Sydney Airport after arriving on Jetstar flight 510 from Melbourne on August 05, 2020, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

JH: So this list is dynamic. It can change. Your State might be on it one week and then they get their stuff together and they fall off the next week?

SA: Yeah. We've seen that. That's actually been happening with Delaware, which actually obviously borders New Jersey. It found its way on the list, then it's off the list, and now it's back on. So yes, it is very dynamic.

JH: And you say Delaware, I'm actually traveling there very soon, so keep my eye on that. And the Tri-State area, are those the only states that are imposing traveling restrictions? Or you're seeing that other places as well?

SA: No, it's not. And I get sometimes colorful tweets and emails from people telling me that they are just appalled at what Governors Cuomo, Lamont and Murphy are doing, but it's not just the Tri-State and Florida actually has a retaliatory move and has self quarantined visitors visiting Florida from the Tri-State. So it's not just the Tri-State. And then also States like Maine, Hawaii, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Alaska, all have some type of visitor quarantine measure.

And either that is in, say when you arrive to the States outside the 48, meaning Hawaii and Alaska, you have to show a negative COVID test or in the continental U.S., when you arrive, it's just a mandatory self-quarantine for 14 days. So each State has its own sort of mandate.

JH: Okay, and those things can be changing too. So if you are planning travel, it's probably important for you to check and keep checking on the status of the State that you're going to.

SA: Yes. You don't want to put all of this planning and take time off of work or something, and then only to be turned away or have your plans completely hampered once you get there.

JH: Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Money, Honestly by Cashay, brought to you by USAA. If you're currently serving a veteran who served honorably or an eligible family member, USAA has your back. They can help you manage your money and protect what's important to you. With roots grounded in the military, they understand what their members are made of, and can offer financial products and tools that fit their unique needs.

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JH: So let's talk about if you want to take the leap and travel, if you decide to fly, for example, I don't know if I feel comfortable doing that. I know Dr. Fauci even said he wouldn't be comfortable doing that, or you want to stay at a hotel, what can you expect right now from the airlines and from the hotels?

SA: So hotels are going to look totally different than what we even saw six months ago. I'm not sure if they'll ever return, but sort of the hallmarks of hotel stays, things like minibars, buffets, if you were in a higher-end hotel, you might get some plushy slippers or a plushy robe, all that's gone.

None of those things are a part of the hotel stay anymore. And whether they're coming back, I'm not too sure, but for now, they're gone. And right now, airlines require all passengers to wear masks for the duration of the flight. Some of the U.S. carriers have different rules about elderly or child passengers on what their mask protocol is. But you'll have to check with your airline and the information will be on its website.

JH: Okay. All right. I know regarding hotels, I have stayed at one hotel. I was pretty pleased with everything. I didn't have anybody clean my room while we stayed there. And this is... I forget what it was. I think it was a Holiday Inn Express, and they usually serve breakfast or like a breakfast buffet. And obviously that was gone too. So yeah, it definitely looked a little bit different, but I felt safe, so that's good.

SA: That's great.

JH: Yeah. So you also have talked to several travel bloggers and analysts about what's going on. When I think about a travel blogger at this time, it must be very difficult blogging about travel, since it's very hard to travel at this time. What are they saying?

SA: They're really hurting right now. And two of them that I talked to, their livelihoods really hinge on travel and audiences view their content on social and blogging, and YouTube. And it's either a form of escapism or it's practical advice on destinations. And then they also get the monetary piece out of this is sponsorships through anything in that travel orbit of credit cards or luggage, or anything that's packing cubes, whatever it could be. That's sort of how they sustain all of this.

They are finding ways to pivot their focus and leaning more into domestic travel; RVs and camping, people are making a big deal about it right now, it's white-hot. So they're partnering with rental car companies, RV companies, camping equipment. We're seeing that resurgence there. And then some of them who are staying home are pivoting to that more lifestyle content.

Things that people are doing right now, things like baking and cooking, and gardening, and that's kind of where they are. I feel terrible for them, especially being self-employed, nothing is really ever guaranteed before the pandemic, and now things are very open-ended for them.

A family enjoys a weekend with their motorhome at the Monte Holiday campsite on June 13, 2020, in Gargantilla de Lozoya y Pinilla de Buitrago, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
A family enjoys a weekend with their motorhome at the Monte Holiday campsite on June 13, 2020, in Gargantilla de Lozoya y Pinilla de Buitrago, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

JH: Yeah, I can imagine. But it is interesting that they're pivoting towards the RV camping. That does seem like there's more interest there. And it seems like a more, a kind of travel that you can do and still socially distance.

I mean, I'm actually going camping next week. So we'll see. And I know that every site at the campground is booked. So obviously people are still thinking about camping, so that's interesting. And van life, right? That's a big deal.

SA: Yeah. It is a big deal. I don't know if it's for me, but it's for others. And that's wonderful. I think that if you live in any type of apartment in a big city, I'm not really sure what the appeal is on living in a tiny house or a small space, because that's what we live in, in cities, but it's great. If people want to try it, I think it's wonderful.

JH: So I also saw another article that you put out that I thought was really interesting about Barbados and wanting to get people to work there remotely for a year.

SA: That's right. What a role reversal. I feel like we opened up with all the places that Americans aren't allowed. And now it's Barbados that is welcoming Americans for 12 months, which is a huge deal because Americans could only stay without a visa in Barbados for three months. So they've extended that to a year and they made this announcement in July and they're just making all of the provisions for Americans to come and stay there and work there.

Setting up short term housing, making sure that their internet is in tiptop shape because if you are still working right now and your job allows you to work remotely, your day just lives and dies on that internet connection.

JH: Right.

SA: So they're really, really beefing up that. And yes, it is an attractive offer that I definitely considered.

JH: Yeah, so that's something you'd do instead of the van line.

SA: Yes.

JH: Yeah, no, it sounds like it would be nice to be sitting on a beach and doing my work. That does sound pretty nice.

SA: I know, but then you have to work still, so I don't know. It'd be so hard to find the motivation to do everything I needed to do if I was in Barbados.

JH: That's true. Yeah. So Stephanie, if you had tips to give people for traveling right now during a pandemic, what would you say to them?

SA: That's a great question. I would say since we've all been so attuned to our mental health and our physical health lately, I say that you should only go if you feel comfortable. So if the thought of boarding an aircraft already has your nerves just in a wad, you're likely not going to be comfortable on that trip.

And your lack of comfort will directly append any type of relaxation that you're going for on the trip in the first place. So I would say, listen to your instincts and plan accordingly. If flying just doesn't sound good to you right now, don't do it. Think of another way where you can get somewhere either by boat or by car, either renting one, or if you have a personal vehicle, or a van or an RV, or go that way.

JH: That sounds good. And also given how these things change, I guess you'd want people to be flexible as well, right?

SA: Yes.

JH: It must be so hard to plan something ahead of time knowing that maybe you can't return to your State for example, if you live in New York or you can return, but have to quarantine for 14 days.

SA: Right. And it's not going to be the vacation that I think that we all are accustomed to, because depending on where you go, there might not be restaurants open or occupancy may be really, really down. So you won't be able to get a table there. If you're at an Airbnb or a Vrbo, you might have to do a lot more of your own cooking than you would normally do on a vacation.

So just think about that, and like you said, sleeping in a hotel room, you didn't have someone come in and make up your bed every night, which is the thing that I most look forward to when staying in hotels because it's just so nice getting just like a fluffed pillow, I don't do that at home. So it's so nice when someone else does, but you're just not to get that right now.

Tourists check out at the reception of the Costa Baja hotel, Puerta Cortés on July 30, 2020, in La Paz, Mexico. (Photo by Alfredo Martinez/Getty Images)
Tourists check out at the reception of the Costa Baja hotel, Puerta Cortés on July 30, 2020, in La Paz, Mexico. (Photo by Alfredo Martinez/Getty Images)

JH: That's really, really insightful because it's reflective of everything that's going on in the pandemic. Everything is not normal. Everything has its own bent. You have to make these sacrifices or changes that you wouldn't normally have. So let me ask you since you've been covering travel during this time and know the ins and outs of what's going on, do you plan to travel anytime soon?

SA: I do. I hope to get away at the end of the summer. My husband and I have been looking at just little Airbnbs. We live in New York City. So just maybe about two hours, 90 minutes outside of New York City, which is an entirely separate world, if you're not familiar with this part of the country. So somewhere in the woods where we could hike or kayak, or just be on our own and have it be night and day from Brooklyn.

But I recently visited my parents' house in New Jersey and it was the house I grew up in. My parents have lived there for 20 years, but even though it's so familiar to me, it felt like the Four Seasons because I got to swim in their pool. I got to go on long walks through their neighborhood. They live in a very rural part of the state. So it was wonderful that I got to have that change of scenery.

As the crow flies, my parents live about maybe 40 miles from where I do, but it felt like a vacation to me.

JH: Well, Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us today on Money, Honestly, and thanks for everyone listening. Head over to Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating review. We'll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Money, Honestly by Cashay, brought to you by USAA. If you're currently serving a veteran who served honorably or an eligible family member, they've got your back through every stage of life. To learn more, visit usaa.com.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. She can be reached at stephanie.asymkos@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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