Is it safe to travel abroad?
Posted on September 10, 2021

I have no idea if you like to spend on travel. Patti and I really look forward to traveling, and it’s our biggest category of discretionary spending by far. It’s been 22 months since we traveled abroad, and we just got back from our trip to the UK. This post gives my opinion: it is safe to travel abroad. If you have a trip planned, keep it on the books. If you don’t have one planned, go ahead and plan it.


We judged that COVID would be on the wane in August and Patti bought our airline tickets to England in March at the bargain price she seems to always find. We went a bit longer this time and added four days along the best part of Hadrian’s Wall Path slightly to the north and east of the Lake District, an area we have visited a number of times.


We walked on trails of at least four miles for 14 days straight. My iPhone says we averaged over 15,000 steps per day. I was happy that, at my age, I did not fall apart. It was GREAT to feel earth under my feet and not the sidewalks I’ve been pounding on our routine walking routes here in Pittsburgh. And, oh man, the views – if I only take time to not look down for my next step!


Lone hiker working uphill. Near Hadrian’s Wall.


== COVID tests ==


I described the logistics related to COVID and the UK in this post. The process was more of a hassle to understand what to do than to actually complete the steps:


1) We took a PCR test here (and test negative) before travel. 2) We completed a UK locator form online. 3) We had to pay for a UK test kit that was delivered to where we were first staying; we had to take the test in our room and then mail in the tube + swab. 4) We took US text kits with us and took that test using video on our iPhones; someone had to watch us take the test. All those steps were not hard to complete.


Note: No one asked to see our vaccination cards. Good thing, since Patti forgot to bring them! (We had images on our iPhones and would have been OK.) The UK locator form asks you attest that you have been double vaccinated. If they find you have not, you are subject to ~$15,000 fine. I also think they judge that no international traveler would travel unvaccinated.


I think you’d have to do three of the four steps for any international travel. I think only the UK requires a test upon arrival.


We rigorously kept our distance inside; used masks inside; and Patti regularly squirted hand sanitizer. Still, we were a bit nervous waiting for results in the UK: if we had tested positive there, we would have had to quarantine for 10 days.


== Air flight logistics changed ==


The other logistical hassle with travel to the UK is that our flights over and back were changed: UK travelers are not allowed in the US, airlines can’t fill flights easily. Our direct flight from Philadelphia to Manchester was changed to New York – Amsterdam – Manchester. Our return flight from Manchester to Philadelphia was cancelled and we had to take a two-hour train to London to fly from Heathrow to Boston, and then we were saddled with a long layover to get back to Pittsburgh.


== COVID in the UK ==


The UK is “not recommended” for travel by the CDC, but Patti and I judged it to be no greater risk than travel in the US. The UK got a MISERABLE start with COVID (It’s cumulative death rate was about the highest in the world for many months.), but it has made big strides. It’s been hit with the Delta variant earlier and harder than in the US: the current rate of new cases is higher than in the US. But this table shows that they have a far lower percent who are unvaccinated than the US, and as a result they currently have far fewer hospitalizations and deaths.



== Masks not required ==


The biggest difference we noted from practice here was that masks are not required on public transportation: that’s buses and trains for us; we don’t rent a car when we are there. The temperature every day was in the mid 60s and the buses had open windows. I’d say about 80% of bus passengers still wore masks. Trains, obviously, don’t have open windows and were nearly full; we seemed to be sitting where other travelers chose to wear face masks.


The four places we stayed and all stores had hand sanitizer stations prominently displayed and asked that you use them. Some stores had signs that stated that masks were preferred – similar to our grocery stores here – and I’d guess about 70% of customers wore masks. (I’d guess the practice in grocery stores here in Pittsburgh is near 100%.)


One of the places we stayed delivered breakfast to our room. Lunches were always on the trail. We did take out and ate in our room or on a table outside where we were staying about five nights. When we didn’t eat outside, we seemed to get tables that were not close to other diners. Most restaurants in the honeypot towns where we stay are fully booked for weeks ahead. UK citizens could not travel to Europe this summer, so they are traveling in England, and the Lake District, in particular, is a popular destination.


== Go ==


Patti and I don’t go on many group tours. We know England well enough to organize what we want to do; we use tour companies to organize the logistics for self-guided walking elsewhere. Our biggest effort to avoid COVID when we are there is to keep our distance and masks on. I think traveling on a group tour would be fine, since all those on the tour will be fully vaccinated and will have recently tested negative; you’re in the same bubble of people; your tour will likely have greater control of close interactions with others than Patti and I had.


== Trip Highlights ==


We did not realize how much we missed the green paths and sweeping views. England has excellent walking trails, most with fantastic views. I don’t think we’ll ever grow tired of them.


My favorite walk is Catbells close to Keswick. After breakfast we walk to the boat launch on Derwentwater, about 3/8 mile from where we stay. We take the 9:30 boat for about ten minutes across the lake to Hawes Landing. From there we walk the less steep route around the back side of Catbells to the top. We walk down to Littletown Farm at the head of Newlands Valley and buy lunch to eat at a picnic table, and then it’s about 30-minute walk back to Hawes Landing and a boat ride back. Back by 3:00. Terrific!!


Newlands Valley from the path leading up to Catbells.


We really liked the area of Hadrian’s Wall. It did not hurt that I picked the best place we’ve ever stayed in England. I blew an added $150 per night for four nights, and it was worth it. I picked out the best 20-25 miles of the Hadrian’s Wall Path. A bus runs each direction hourly on the road just south of this section of the Wall and just in front of where we stayed. It was easy for us to get to our starting point each day and get back to where we stayed. We visited three sites/museums that are excellent: Vindolanda, the Roman Army Museum, and Housesteads. We’re thinking we will go back next year and walk more of the path.



Conclusion: Patti and I have pent up desire or demand – and money that we have not spent for almost two years – for travel abroad. We just got back from our favorite area in the UK. While the UK currently has a higher rate of new cases than the US, Patti and I felt relatively comfortable. I judge it is no greater risk of getting COVID there than here. If you have a trip abroad planned, I think you are taking no greater risk traveling abroad than traveling here.

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