Since COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March, the travel industry has taken a major hit. And it's understandable that many people still aren't traveling, even with borders open and stay-at-home restrictions lifted. But, for those of us who live abroad, enjoy taking trips, or have loved ones in other countries, travel during pandemic times is a hard but necessary decision to make.
I'm one of the brave—and to some, crazy—souls who decided to travel shortly after borders reopened. I had my reasons, and so do others who have made the choice to go abroad even with the pandemic still looming. Here are our stories:
(Quick disclaimer: This is in no way meant to encourage travel at this time. It's simply a resource to inform and engage those who might be considering it.)
Image courtesy of Janell Hazelwood
Why I Chose to Travel During a Pandemic:
Janell: I've been in a long-distance relationship for three years, and not being able to see my fiance for months on end became devastating. Jamaica was like a second home, and frequent travel there had been my saving grace. I'd self-isolated for the whole month of March, and I'd been working from home even before the pandemic. I really didn't leave the house—even in the months thereafter—except the occasional walk around my yard or visit to the patio. When I needed food, toiletries, or groceries, I'd just have them delivered and left at my doorstep.
The pandemic brought a lot of hardship to my life, including loss of income, client reductions, and bouts of severe depression. I had flight credits, tickets that could be adjusted, and I was in good health. (I hadn't even had a common cold.) By September, the Jamaican government had reopened borders, so I decided to just go.
Jonathan: I've been in the hotel industry for the past 13 years. In March, I was furloughed as a result of COVID-19 and [was later] terminated. I had planned a trip to Peru in March and the week I was scheduled to depart, they closed their borders. Furthermore, I had planned a five-country tour to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Hong Kong in April. Needless to say, that was canceled. So COVID changed my life personally and professionally.
I needed a mental break—with being furloughed, moving to a new city, being forced to stay in the house, and the racial tension. That was a lot of trauma to experience first-hand. I needed a quiet place to lick my wounds, recharge, and reevaluate some things.
Francesca: When the pandemic hit, I had plans to return to the Caribbean in time for carnival season. I am a full-time travel and lifestyle influencer, and I cover Caribbean travel pretty extensively. It was shocking to see borders close almost overnight. Some were giving as little as 48-hour warnings before halting flights.
"It was like my whole world changed overnight. It became especially painful as countries started announcing various travel bans."
I wanted to get back to see my partner in Martinique. We had been separated for so long, and I knew once borders started to open that I had to act quickly because just as soon as they had opened, they could very well close again.
How to Prepare to Travel in a Pandemic:
Janell: Initially there was a bit of confusion on my part about the process. Early on, I'd heard rumors that you needed to download an app and get a COVID test before your trip, but I thought that was only for certain states. I was wrong. There indeed was—and still is—a pre-approval process for all travelers coming from the U.S.
Long story short, instead of confusing myself further by relying on YouTube videos and travel discussion threads, I went to the official authorities via VisitJamaica.com. This was the most detailed, accurate, and up-to-date resource. I had to get a COVID test, submit an application online with the negative test results attached, and then wait. The website indicated that it would take at least 48 hours for review, which was nerve-wrecking. It actually took four days, and I had to push my flight date back (yet again). I didn't mind because I'd be there for a little over a week, so losing a day or two wasn't a big deal.
The travel authorization was sent via email, so I screenshot it on my phone. I also printed out a copy of my negative PCR test, which was the test required at the time to move forward in the authorization process. I downloaded the JamCovid19 app just in case I'd be required to use it. (For more information on travel guidelines and restrictions, you can also visit the U.S. State Department site or the CDC website.)
Image courtesy of Jonathan Curry
Jonathan: I went to Tulum, Mexico. [At the time], they didn't have any restrictions on travel nor did they require a COVID test to enter. The process was very seamless. I made sure I read all of the current government standards of the country. I packed several masks and Clorox wipes to wipe down my seats and table.
(For more information on current travel restrictions or requirements in Mexico, please visit the U.S. Embassy and Consulates website here or the U.S. Department of State website.)
Francesca: I did a lot of research before booking my flight. I was more concerned with safety protocols than I was with flexibility. Ultimately it came down to two different airlines, and I ended up choosing the one that had a blocked middle seat over my usual airline where I accrue miles.
I brought a mask, of course, plenty of hand sanitizer, and my own food. Receiving a negative COVID test 48 hours before flying also gave me great peace of mind. I could assume that since it was an entry requirement, everyone I was traveling with most likely was negative as well.
(For more information on travel requirements and restrictions in Martinique, visit the CDC website or the U.S. Department of State website.)
What to Expect at the Airport & Upon Arrival:
Janell: I could not check in for my flight online, as I typically do. It was not allowed for international trips. I had to wait for the desk to open at the airport and check in with an associate. Other than that, the airport process and experience in the States was the same as it had always been except there were less people, you had to present your authorization document, and there were masks and social distancing requirements.
Upon arrival in Jamaica, I was delightfully surprised. The lines were typical but there was social distancing and an extra process added to the usual ones that involve customs and baggage claim. I'm always prepared to spend at least an hour at the Montego Bay airport during normal circumstances, and the extra process of checking my travel authorization document, getting information about my health and lodging plans, and listening to instructions on how I would quarantine only took an extra 30 minutes or so.
The officials and airline workers were kind, straight-forward, and efficient. My temperature was taken, and I was given a form with information on quarantining. I was also instructed about the "resilient corridor" limits I was to remain within during my stay and told what to do if I suddenly had any symptoms of COVID. (I wasn't told to download or use the app. I'm not certain as to why, but I kept it on my phone anyway. I suspect it was due to my length of stay and my choice to book at a compliant hotel.)
The experience was the total opposite of the nightmares of three-hour waits, scary soldiers, and double testing that I'd heard about.
Jonathan: Outside of the mask mandate, the airline didn't have any other restrictions in place. Fortunate for me, the middle seat was empty next to me and another young lady occupied the window seat. The flight was about 65-percent full. The airport was quiet, all the lines were very short, and there were limited food options in the concourse. You could cancel and get a flight credit with the airline.
Once I arrived, I had to keep my mask on throughout the airport. They had markers [6 feet apart] on the floor to make sure you weren't too close to your neighbor. Once through customs, I went through a non-intrusive temperature scan.
Francesca: I was impressed by how strictly the airline was enforcing their mask policy. I heard that they had added nearly 100 people to their no-fly list for non-compliance. They meant business!
I found that once it came time to fly, the airport was surprisingly empty. I think I interacted with less people throughout the flying experience than I do going grocery shopping.
The Trip Experience:
Janell: Typically, I'm able to go wherever I want, and I'm all over the place. I might be in Kingston one weekend, Negril, Savanna-la-Mar, Hanover, or Lucea the next, then off to Montego Bay. That totally changed. It was literally like a ghost town compared to the usual, and a curfew was being enforced. Though I did not have to download the app and check in via video, I didn't feel comfortable going anywhere other than the nearby beach, adjacent shops, the hotel pool, and back to my room. My fiance would bring food or we'd order in. The cleaning staff disinfected my room daily, the few people on site practiced social distancing, and everyone wore masks. (Negril Beach Club is actually a favorite of ours and the vicinity to Seven Mile Beach is divine.) I also noticed that most places required temperature checks and hand sanitizer use before allowing tourists to enter.
At my hotel, the vibes were super-mellow—even for Jamaica—and there were hardly any other tourists to talk to or at least be around—even at a distance. It got a tad boring and monotonous after three days because I'm used to being able to go on excursions or local adventures, however, I remembered why I was there—to spend time with my fiance. That was good enough for me. Due to quarantining, I was also able to watch the landmark general elections on TV with him and witness the honking cars and small celebrations from our balcony—a historical moment for us to share.
Image courtesy of Janell Hazelwood
Jonathan: Tulum still had some action when I first arrived, however beaches closed at 5pm and there was an 11pm curfew.
Francesca: My experience landing was a bit strange because I'm used to landing at an airport and being immediately surrounded by people. There were no large groups eagerly awaiting loved ones, and the airport was nearly empty. I was pleased to see the people who were present were wearing masks and respecting social distancing guidelines.
Travel Tips for Traveling in a Pandemic:
Do your research. Don't just rely on hearsay or online videos. While they might be helpful, look to the official authorities about what's required for travel and the recommendations based on where you want to go. Also, pay close attention to the cancellation, business hours, or booking policies of hotels, airlines, major attractions, and travel agencies.
If you're required to pre-test for authorization, be sure to get the correct test at the correct time. As of recent, test results can't be more than 10 days old and there are specific types of tests required. Ask your healthcare provider or test administrator lots of questions and make sure you're getting the correct type at a certified center or lab. Print out your results and authorization as well.
Go with an open mind and release the selfish vibes. COVID-19 is still very real, and the fears of locals are warranted, so if you're not able to freely do the things you're used to doing on vacation, make the best of it. Be grateful for the front-line workers serving you at the hotels, beaches, airports, and restaurants, and show that gratitude by tipping well and following protocols.
When in doubt, just stay home. If it's not an emergency or there's so much involved with planning that it causes you and your family unnecessary stress, wasted time, and extra money, reconsider traveling at all. Many airlines, hotels, and travel agencies are offering options for cancelling or rescheduling trips, and to be honest, this might be the time to do a domestic solo trip in your town or to focus on other goals.
Have a plan B. With restrictions returning, have another plan just in case things get canceled.
Assess your tribe. [This is] your community that you come in contact with on a daily basis. Is anyone in your tribe high-risk as it relates to COVID? Are you able to quarantine in isolation if you contract it? We all have to do what we feel is best for us while still considering the community we will return to. Get yourself tested before and after travel, for your own safety and the safety of others.
Francesca: The No. 1 thing is to comply with local health regulations and consult official websites frequently. The situation is constantly evolving, and staying on top of it is critical. And please, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently!
For more of Janell, Jonathan, and Francesca, follow them on Instagram @janellirl, @thejonrobert, and @onegrloneworld.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood. We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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