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Travel Lessons We’ve Already Learned in These Trying Times

The events of the last week or two have been earth shattering. Borders closed. Stay at home orders issued. Entire industry segments – like airlines – rendered completely moot. Life as we know it has changed. And travel has certainly ground to a halt.

Hawaii Big Island Mauna Kea Pool and Beach at Sunset

It’s way too soon to know all the lessons we will take from this experience. I expect there will be many. We don’t yet even know when this will end or how it will end. But the past few weeks and even days have certainly already taught me some vital life and travel lessons. I can’t really write about such mundane and carefree things like how to hack the lines for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland but still very much feel compelled to think and share about travel. I’d love to know what lessons you’ve taken and new perspectives you’ve gained from all of these experiences. Here are my travel takeaways so far.

Travel Lessons Already Learned

It matters where, how, and with whom you book your travel.

As the travel world has come screeching to a halt, so many Americans have had to scramble to cancel a multitude of travel reservations – flights, hotels, theme park tickets, tours, and more. Phone lines have never busier. Customers have never been more irate.

This is where the rubber has met the road. For too long, so many of us as travel customers have chased the rock bottom price, no matter what a company’s track record for service. Now we are often finding we get what we pay for. Stories abound of travelers losing hundreds or thousands of dollars as they bump up against inflexible cancellation policies and confusing fine print. An entire travel booking site, Bookit.com, has gone under, leaving customers stranded around the world.

Related: Airline Change Fee & Cancellation Policy Exceptions

But there have been true customer service bright spots too. I personally had two different trips booked for the next couple of weeks as these events unraveled. While friends spent hours on hold fighting to get some money or credit back from airlines, I spent a matter of minutes canceling those flights and getting points refunded with no questions asked. Why? I had booked on Southwest Airlines – an airline that has no change fees and a customer-friendly online interface to process cancellations.

Southwest OAK Airport Ticket Check in Counters

Booking our travel with Southwest Airlines made for a worry-free and easy cancelation process when it mattered.

Similarly, in the 23,000 member Disneyland with Kids Facebook group I co-own, we were flooded with stories from our members who have had to postpone their Disneyland vacations when the parks closed. While members were of course disappointed they couldn’t go to Disney, so many of them who booked with our partners at Get Away Today were beyond grateful for the understanding and generous customer service they received in the process. The small family-owned company reduced and waived cancellation fees even as they lost untold amounts of business themselves. Representatives worked until the wee hours of the morning for days on end to help customers.

When we all emerge from this crisis, remember the companies who treated you well. Give them your business. Those companies are suffering right now too by making things right with you. If you can, consider postponing travel with them instead of canceling outright so they can stay in business during tight times.

And give some real thought when you book travel again to whether saving a few bucks is really worth it. Booking something like a hotel pre-paid rate or a basic economy airline ticket to get a slight discount can come with a lot of other forms of inconvenience down the road. You really do get what you pay for.

Take the trip!

Before the events of the last few weeks unfolded, my family had been on a bit of a travel tear. We spent the holidays visiting my parents and sister’s family in North Carolina, traveled for a long weekend in January skiing in Park City, and stayed eight full nights in Arizona over the Presidents Week holiday. I also managed to squeeze in a conference at Disneyland before February was over.

Cousins in North Carolina

Fun with cousins in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It was much more back-to-back travel than we normally do. I certainly had moments where I resented all the packing and unpacking and worried we had overextended ourselves.

Do you know how I feel now about having taken all those trips? Profoundly grateful. 

I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel again at all. The memories of seeing my kids and their cousins tear open Christmas gifts, my son zooming down the ski slopes, and my daughter loping like a pro on a horse at a dude ranch are helping me get through these tough times confined at home.

So what is my point? My point is that when the world reopens again, it’s going to be that much more important to seize the day. Or in the case of travel, take the trip! So many of us wait for the perfect opportunity to check off our bucket list – when the kids are “old enough,” when we just get that one work project finished, etc.

Of course, it’s important to be financially responsible and only take trips when you can afford them. But if money isn’t really what is holding you back, take the darn trip! None of us know how long we have on this earth or how long our travel freedom will last. I’m never going to take it for granted again.

No trip is worth someone else’s life.

As current events of the past few weeks have unfolded, we’ve witnessed the whole gamut of human behavior. We figured out pretty quickly that what is so great about travel – connecting the world – is also what was the biggest risk right now to all of us.

As the writing on the wall became clear, many travelers responsibly canceled or postponed trips to minimize risk. But then there were the college kids who decided taking Jello shots on the crowded beaches of Florida was more important than making sure their grandma back home stayed alive. And there were the tourists flocking to Hawaii, threatening to overrun the islands’ limited medical capacity, often bringing illness with them. The state eventually had to close its borders to protect itself.

Hawaii Big Island Mauna Kea Beach

Our favorite retreat on Hawaii’s Big Island would have been overwhelmed providing health care for tourists plus locals.

It should be obvious but apparently it wasn’t – no trip is worth someone else’s life. My friend Shawn of the blog Miles to Memories so poetically put it, “don’t be a jerk.” And yet a lot of people were just that. If we want to enjoy all the advantages and benefits of being part of a connected global community, we have to accept the responsibilities and burdens that go along with that. And canceling a flight or even a bucket list vacation is a small burden to bear to help save fellow human beings.

Travel the world, but get to know your neighbors.

I’m beyond grateful for the lessons travel has taught me and the experiences I’ve enjoyed with my family all over the world. I want to do more of it when it is safe to do so. For now, however, we are all staying home in our neighborhood in the suburbs of San Francisco. And the only other human beings I’m seeing (from a distance of at least 6 feet, of course) are our immediate neighbors.

Welcome to Alameda California Sign

Our little town of Alameda, California in the Bay Area has pitched in together more than ever!

Community has mattered more now than ever in these trying times. We’ve all seen the videos of Italians on their apartment balconies singing songs together to get through it all. Similarly, our community is banding together like so many communities around the world like never before. On my own street, many of us have offered to go shopping for the older residents of our block and the kids are all sidewalk chalking messages of encouragement and joy that people walking and biking by can see. And I know that if I run out of toilet paper in a few weeks, someone on the block has got my back (quite literally).

I’m so grateful that even in the mad dash of life and busy travel schedules that usually fill our family’s days, we’ve gotten to know the people who live around us. We all need each other now. My family will go back to travel and meeting people from around the world, but we’ll never take for granted the importance of the people who live next door.

We've learned a lot of lessons about travel from the events of March 2020. Important takeaways about travel planning and what really matters when it counts.

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