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Lioness in the Masai Mara, Kenya

What’s it like to travel in 2021? We visited 5 destinations

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There’s a sense of the world awaking right now. As countries gradually reopen safely to visitors, our specialists have been among the first to feed their wanderlust and test things out on the ground. But what’s it like to travel at the moment? Do the extra requirements and procedures detract from your overall enjoyment?

Here, five specialists who’ve recently traveled share their experiences. Some stuck to destinations closer to home to discover the highlights of their own backyard, others flew across the globe, and all have reignited their passion for travel.

What it’s like visiting the Southwest now

Grand Canyon National Park, USA
Grand Canyon, Arizona

By Mary

Living in Boston, it felt like I was constantly squeezing past people on the streets. I couldn’t wait to escape to the wide-open landscapes of the Southwest, where social distancing comes by default.

Other than having to wear a mask, my flight out to Phoenix felt like any other. Once there, I immediately drove out into the desert, arriving a couple of hours later at White Stallion Ranch in Tucson. A ranch is a great option right now, particularly for families, as you have plenty of space, alongside the facilities and activities of a resort — here I could choose from archery, horse riding, or just soaking in a Jacuzzi.

My trip also included a visit to Arizona’s headliner: the Grand Canyon. I stayed a 30-minute drive from the South Rim at Under Canvas Grand Canyon, which has a small number of safari-style tents designed to help you immerse yourself in your natural surroundings.

I’d seen the canyon before from the valley floor, but this time I got a new perspective: from the air. I boarded a helicopter in the Kaibab National Forest not far from the rim, and it was only as we lifted into the sky that the ginormous chasm came into view — it’s simply the best way to appreciate the canyon’s scale.

Were there many precautions in place? Masks were mandatory on my flights and in my accommodations’ communal areas, and my temperature was taken before each guided tour. My helicopter ride also operated at a reduced capacity.

Best advice for traveling now? Don’t let any qualms hold you back — know what you’re comfortable with and plan for the experience you want to have, whether that means packing extra masks for the flights, bringing antiseptic wipes for cleaning any surfaces, or staying somewhere remote.

What it’s like visiting Kenya now

Elephant crossing, Masai Mara
Elephant, Masai Mara

By Tom

I’m seeing this year as a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience places while there are far fewer visitors around. This was particularly beneficial on my recent Kenya safari — even in areas of the Masai Mara that tend to be the most popular, I barely saw another vehicle. It felt truly wild.

Before the pandemic, guests often shared game vehicles. Now, I had a vehicle to myself. It meant I could learn one-on-one from my guide and have the whole experience shaped around what I wanted to see.

I watched a lioness for an hour as she stalked topi (a type of antelope), noticing her subtle movements as she hid from view in the long grass, and holding my breath as she crept ever closer to her potential prey. One morning, I drifted over the plains by hot air balloon as the sun rose with us in the dawn sky as my guide pointed out elephant, giraffe, and herds of wildebeest moving below us.

Safari camps have always been designed for a small number of guests and have lots of outdoor space, so things felt pretty normal. Masks were worn in communal areas and food was served at individual tables rather than the usual shared, family-style meals. I could tell the staff were so happy to have guests, and my guides seemed to have extra enthusiasm as we headed out to see what the Masai Mara had in store for us each day.

What did you have to prepare ahead of travel? I had to produce a negative PCR test before flying and fill in a couple of extra forms to enter Kenya.

Best advice for traveling now? Print off everything you need in terms of forms, visa, test results etc. (your specialist will advise what you’ll need) before you travel and keep it all in a folder so it’s readily available should you need it during your journey.

What it’s like visiting Hawaii now

Nā Pali coastline, Kauai
Nā Pali coastline, Kauai

By Katie

Snorkeling with manta rays at night off the island of Hawaiʻi’s coast. Standing on the rim of the Haleakalā volcano and watching the sunrise from above the clouds. Driving the Road to Hana along Maui’s coast and pausing at charcoal-black volcanic beaches. These are just a few of the highlights from my recent trip to Hawaii.

I admit, I was a little apprehensive ahead of my journey. But I didn’t need to worry, it all went smoothly. Plus, your specialist can help you prepare everything ahead of time, keep you up to date with any changes, and plan activities that you’re comfortable with. My visit was in April, but even in the short time between then and now, rules in Hawaii have relaxed — for example, you no longer need to do a Covid test before moving between islands.

I’d never been to Hawaii before and was struck by how beautiful it is. In just a few days you can take in Kauaʻi’s emerald, sheer-sided Nā Pali coastline by boat or helicopter, soak up the history at Pearl Harbor, and drive to the summit of Mauna Kea at sunset before enjoying some of the world’s best stargazing from its observatories.

Were people in Hawaii happy to have visitors? Some did seem a little cautious of visitors — Hawaii’s one of the most remote places in the world so it’s understandable. But my guides were so happy to have us and told me they’d gained a renewed appreciation for what they do.

Best advice for traveling now? Be flexible. Rules and schedules are changing all the time which might affect what you can do on your trip and when, but generally restrictions are easing and things are getting smoother — your specialist will navigate any adjustments.

What it’s like visiting the Maldives now

Deluxe Sunset Ocean Pool Villa, Huvafen Fushi, Maldive Island
Huvafen Fushi, the Maldives

By Jason

I’d say there are very few places that can replicate the beauty of the Maldives. I’d traveled there last November and couldn’t wait to go back, so booked my return trip for June. I found the process of testing and form filling was now much smoother, and the long journey (via Doha) to get there was more than worth it.

Staying at Huvafen Fushi, my girlfriend and I spent most of our time unwinding on our overwater bungalow’s sundeck, feeling the warmth of the sun as we lay on the pristine white sand, and taking leisurely alfresco meals that were freshly prepared to our tastes. We even headed down to the underwater spa — a room with glass walls where you can see reef fish flitting about as you enjoy a treatment.

There was plenty to do if we were feeling more active, too. You can choose from a range of water sports, from snorkeling and diving to windsurfing and paddleboarding, or stay on dry land and play beach volleyball. And, the island’s small size means it’s a short walk from one end to the other, taking in views over the spearmint-blue water.

What procedures were in place for returning to the US? You need to have a PCR test administered within 72 hours of your flight. Resorts are all aware of this and make things as smooth as possible. At Huvafen Fushi, a dedicated personal assistant came to our room with the test, timed just right for our flight.

Best advice for traveling now? Be detail-oriented when it comes to knowing the requirements for your destination (your specialist will help with this). Also, arrive earlier for your flight — members of the staff are dealing with a lot of travelers, many of whom are less prepared than you, so things might take longer than usual.

What it’s like visiting Portugal now

Alfama district, Lisbon
Alfama district, Lisbon

By Lauren from our Europe team

Sitting at an alfresco café, the breeze gently cooling my face as I tucked into a shrimp moqueca, I knew it had definitely been worth coming to Lisbon.

Simply walking around the city was a delight. The jacaranda trees were in flower, their purple blossoms bright against the yellow-painted buildings. I stopped at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, a terrace with panoramic views across the Alfama rooftops to the dome of the National Pantheon. Usually, this would be packed with visitors, but I had it all to myself.

I also had a private walking tour through Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown area. My guide, Sara, showed me some of the architectural highlights, from the grand neoclassical squares to Art Deco shopfronts and azulejos, the elaborate tiles that seem to grace every surface.

One of the best things about Lisbon is the variety of transportation you can use, so I was glad that everything was up and running, albeit with reduced capacity or extra sanitary precautions in place. You have the charismatic trams, which have become a symbol of the city, the metro, and a well-maintained bike rental system. Uber is well established, and, for families, I suggest trying out the electric scooters.

What was it like at your hotel? It felt like such a treat to be in a hotel again. The staff was so warm and welcoming and the only changes from the usual service was an à la carte, instead of buffet, breakfast. Everything was very clean, too, right down to the receptionist sanitizing the card machine.

Best advice for traveling now? With Portugal’s heat, I suggest bringing some really good-quality, comfortable face masks, especially if you’re considering a beach-focused trip, since you have to wear your mask right up until you walk into the sea.

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