The world has entered July, and a summer, unlike any other with a lurking, contagious coronavirus. Summer travel plans of many Sammamish residents have been disrupted by social distancing and other safety protocols to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Travel agents in Sammamish noticed a huge change in customer travel plans. Taking health risks into consideration, many Sammamish residents have swapped their original travel plans for more local destinations and neighboring states.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), travel increases the chance of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Airports, bus stations and train stations are a few places where travelers can get exposed to the virus in the air. Airplane travel, with its requisite time spent in tight security lines and airport terminals, can also bring people in close contact with others, as well as with frequently-touched surfaces.
Local travel agents saw a marked shift in consultations about travel plans, especially around the 4th of July long weekend. In the past, they were inundated with calls asking about exciting destinations to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends.
Travel With Mandy Loo is a Sammamish-based travel agency that specializes in cruise vacations.
“There is no single client calling in about July 4th [weekend],” said Mandy Storer, the owner of the agency, in discussing the noticeable change in customer behavior.
The lack of calls this year did not necessarily mean people stayed home. Many travelers felt comfortable driving to local destinations with their families. Storer’s own family went to Long Beach in southwestern Washington and enjoyed some horse-riding over Independence Day.
“[People are returning] to American domestic regions,” Storer said. “People are getting out and seeing nature.”
In a Facebook poll conducted by the Sammamish Independent on summer travel plans, 50 percent of respondents voted for staying local, while 24 percent said they were planning to take a road trip, 20 percent are going camping, and only 6 percent were still committed to airplane travel.
Almost everyone who participated in the poll said they had to change their original travel plans and are disappointed about the current circumstances. Many were forced to cancel their trips to foreign countries, whether for pleasure or to visit parents or friends overseas.
Nandini Gupta, who owns a travel agency called Wander Lust with Nandini, shared that her clients’ were keen on cancellations as the COVID-19 case count grew.
“People call in about the cancellation policies and ask how much money can be returned,” Gupta said.
Her agency is providing customers with the option of postponing trips to late 2021 or beyond. Still, many insisted on canceling their plans altogether and getting that refund.
Oregon, California and Nevada have replaced Europe, Mexico and Hawaii as the new “hot” destinations for summer travel. A few people on the Facebook poll shared their alternative travel plans. Susann Thiel had planned a trip to Patagonia in the fall, but decided instead to go camping by kayak locally. Janet Hofmann Berg rented an Airbnb house on a river in Oregon.
Storer, the travel agent, also shared her own experience. Her family was supposed to go to Norway and England later this summer, but they decided to cancel.
“We were really devastated. We had been planning this trip for 18 months, and it was set to be the first real family vacation where mom was not working in a long time,” Storer said, referring to previous instances when her family would go on vacation without her.
Once they resigned themselves to reality, they were able to regroup and come up with an alternative plan to head to the San Juan Islands.
Even though it was not as grand as what her family had hoped for, they managed to find a place to enjoy closer to home. Storer said she learned how to take a step back, re-evaluate what really mattered, and adapt her plans accordingly.
“Vacation is not always about miles traveled, it is about the people, the memories, and the quality time spent,” said Storer. “And that will be the same no matter where we are as long as we are there together.”
Storer offered some great advice for Sammamish residents.
“This is the time that you should be focusing on what is nearby,” she said. “Treat your hometown like you are a tourist. See things that we never pay attention to. This is a great summer to explore the beauty and abundance that we have right here.”