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.
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.
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
How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
I’m willing to bet that this is not the first time you’ve seen this couple. Dalen Spratt is a television producer, owner of a tailored men's suit line, and creator of Ghost Brothers: Haunted Houseguests, which is currently streaming on Destination America. Stacey Spratt is also a serial entrepreneur, focusing mostly on events and the nonprofit world, and she is the owner of two award-winning craft beer bars called Harlem Hops. But their accolades are not what united them.
The couple met years ago at their alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, when they were still working to create the life they have now, and if you had told them then that they’d eventually tie the knot, the pair probably would’ve laughed in your face.
Today, they’re new parents, flourishing in their careers, and each others’ “teammates.” When desiring love, Dalen recommends not looking to other couples for advice. And Stacey advises staying true to what you want. “Don’t put age or limitations on love and children. If God could do it for me, why can’t he do it for you?”
Here's How We Met.
How did you meet?
Dalen: We met in 2005 when she was advising the Greek sororities and fraternities in college. She was old as hell in college, and I was a young buck (laughs). Everybody had a crush on her, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, in 2007, we were in the same grad school class, but she still wasn’t trying to see me then either. I had to catch her five years ago; I was very patient.
Stacey: Yeah, everybody in our grad school class called him Young, Fresh to Death because he was always dressed in B-school (what CAU affectionately refers to as business major classes), and we’d just wear sweatpants (laughs).
So, I know Dalen was always attracted to you. But what about you? Did your attraction to him develop over time?
Stacey: So 2006-2008 – all the years went by. I don’t think we were really thinking about each other at all back then. Years later, I had an event in Dallas, and I booked him to be a speaker. Then, a few years ago, Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: "If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you." But I still thought he was too young at the time, and he started pulling receipts. Taraji P. Henson was dating someone young at the time, Gabrielle Union–
Dalen: First of all, I didn’t do that. You did that.
Stacey: Okay, I did. I thought he was a cutie pie, but that age thing was on my mind!
"Dalen posted a photo of him on Instagram, and I slid in his DMs. I remembered him being so young and handsome, and I’m like, I should hook him up with my younger cousin. His response was: 'If you’re not hooking me up with you, no thank you.'"
Talk to me about the first date. How did he change your mind?
Stacey: Our first date was at Tin Lizzy's in Atlanta. During that time, he was living in Dallas, so it was long-distance. But he came into town, and we just had a good time. We talked a lot, which we still do. It wasn’t anything fantastic.
Dalen: Don’t downplay our first date.
Then, walk me through your courtship. How did you get to the next level? What was that conversation like?
Stacey: I think he knew at age 43 or 44 I wasn’t playing around. But also, I think it just naturally progressed.
Dalen: Yeah, it just happened naturally. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think initially either one of us thought it would be as serious as it was. She thought I was too young and I wasn’t ready for marriage, kids, and all that. I think we both thought we were just hanging out. But after spending so much time together, a lot of stuff started happening. Like, she had to have surgery early on. It wasn’t just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That’s why we still don’t have an anniversary date because we never really asked.
"It wasn't just time together; it was intimate time. Next thing we know, we just never left each other. That's why we still don't have an anniversary date because we never really asked."
What made you want to commit to each other?
Dalen: The moment I knew Stacey was for me was from a phone call. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and I can be really blunt sometimes. But we were talking, and I said, ‘I don’t really feel like talking anymore.’ And she was just like, okay, and hung up. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and she understood that. It sounds bad, but that’s how I knew she just got me. I felt like she could get my random awkward moments, and she does to this day.
Stacey: For me, I liked him as a person. Even when times get rough and tough, I could still like him as a human. He is my best friend. We have time. We laugh until we cry, and it’s just always like that. Even when we get pissed at each other, something happens, and we fix it. Also, how he treats his mother. That’s a momma’s boy, but I’m a daddy’s girl – so I get it. I know how I want to be treated, and I see how he is with her and that’s beautiful.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned about yourself through loving your partner in this relationship?
Dalen: I grew up an only child and she grew up with siblings. So, when you have someone who is used to doing things by themselves, there is definitely a learning curve when you get into a serious relationship. It’s funny now, but it was definitely a process.
Stacey: I agree – definitely the only child thing. There’s times I look at him like, did you ever live with anyone else? That comes from being momma's baby, too. I have to say, my “mother-in-love” spoiled him. But also with Axel (their daughter), that brings another level of patience.
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images
What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Dalen: We’ve gone through a lot within the years we’ve been together. We suffered two miscarriages – I’d say that’s the biggest.
Stacey: Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me. I was wondering if I can’t carry [a child] what that looks like for us. We had very real conversations pretty early in our relationship.
"Having those miscarriages and trying to understand what’s next and what our options are was a lot. I had two myomectomies (fibroid surgeries), and he supported me through that time. Also, still, it was on my mind that he’s eight years younger than me."
What do you fight the most about?
Dalen: Nagging. Stacey nags; she’s a complainer. She’s that momma that will look in a room and just hunt for something to complain about. Like, I’m worried for Axel when she's in high school.
Stacey: It’s because I like things to be in place. He leaves stuff all over the place. I can tell where he’s been in the house because something is left around. So he says I’m nagging – but it’s like, just get your stuff.
What are your love languages?
Dalen: Stacey is gifts all day.
Dalen: We’ve talked about this. xoNecole is about to cause problems in our home (laughs).
Stacey: Obviously I love you. *thinks again* It’s words of affirmation.
Dalen: That’s it.
What’s your favorite thing about each other?
Dalen: I’ve always respected her business-mindedness. That may sound superficial, but it’s not because I’ve never been with someone who thinks like me. It’s one of my most treasured things about her. I remember one day, I was just running through ideas with her, and each time Stacey had a suggestion on how I could make it better. It’s just very comforting. She takes whatever I’m doing and elevates it – including me.
Stacey: I love Dalen’s hustle and creativity. He’s been on multiple shows, and he continues to create, produce, and reinvent himself and the product he’s putting out. I love that we can create together and bounce things off each other. Even though we may be in different arenas, there’s nothing he can’t offer me great advice about. I love that drive.
Finally, how did you know it was love?
Dalen: Well – she said it – first. (laughs)
Stacey: And he looked at me and smiled! He didn’t say it back. We were on a trip, out of the country.
Dalen: We were arguing when she said it, and she just threw it out.
Stacey: But we continue to do that. We’ve spent holidays and everything outside of the country.
Feature image courtesy
Porsha Williams And Simon Guobadia’s Marriage Has Ended: Here’s A Look Into Their Relationship Timeline
Porsha Williams and Simon Guobadia have called it quits.
After a 15-month-long marriage commenced with two elaborate wedding ceremonies, PEOPLEexclusively reports that the former Real Housewives of Atlanta star has filed for divorce from the Nigerian businessman on Thursday.
With online rumors around Guobadia's citizenship status coinciding with the announcement of their separation, a source informed PEOPLE that the divorce is "unrelated to recent allegations involving Simon's past" and is an “ongoing matter.”
In November 2022, the ex-lovebirds tied the knot in Atlanta during a show-stopping, 350-guest Nigerian traditional native law, with a traditional American wedding to follow.
Ahead of their wedding, Williams told PEOPLEexclusively, “I am ridiculously excited. I am just so ready. I'm not even nervous. I know I'm marrying the love of my life, and it's going to solidify our relationship and our family bond. I'm calm and excited."
Although their relationship has come to a sudden conclusion, their whirlwind romance was one to watch; or in this case, look back on. Here’s a breakdown of the moments that made Williams and Guobadia’s relationship one to remember.
2020 - Porsha and Simon's First Encounter
Porsha Williams and Simon Guobadia first crossed paths in 2020 on the set of Season 13 of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Guobadia was then married to friend of the show, Falynn Pina.
May 2021 - Their Surprise Engagement
In May 2021, Porsha Williams surprised fans by announcing her engagement to Simon Guobadia shortly after he reportedly declared his divorce from Falynn Pina. Williams shared on Instagram that their relationship started a month earlier, and Guobadia had initiated divorce proceedings in January 2021, which had been resolved.
Williams took to Instagram to dispel rumors around the overlap in Guobadia’s prior relationship.
“Our relationship began a month ago—yes we are crazy in love,” she wrote in the caption. “I know it’s fast but we are living life each day to its fullest. I choose happiness every morning and every night. Tuning out all negative energy and only focused on positive wishes.”
November 2021 - Porsha Clears Up Rumors Around Their Relationship Timeline
On an episode of Watch What Happens Live, Andy Cohen looked to “nail down some dates” in connection to alleged overlaps with Porsha, Simon, and his ex-wife. She shared that she reached out to Guobadia to express her sympathy for his divorce, having experienced the weight of divorce herself.
“I actually told him, ‘I’m sorry for your divorce,’ and all of that because I know what that feels like,” Williams shared. “I know what it feels like to go through betrayal and hurt.”
She continued, "A little birdie had told me that [Falynn] was pregnant, so I knew what he was about to go through." Porsha noted that his ex-wife’s pregnancy announcement prompted her to offer support to Simon, which opened a door for their connection to deepen and eventually fall in love.
November 2022 - Williams and Guobadia Tie the Knot
The couple spared no expense for their not one, but two wedding ceremonies. On Nov. 26 and Nov. 27, the two celebrated their love in front of 350 wedding guests at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, GA. The first ceremony celebrated Guobadia's Edo culture, while the following day featured a star-studded American wedding. Williams told PEOPLE that the double-wedding was a "true fashion extravaganza," as a nod to her numerous outfit changes.
November 2023 - A Diamond-Studded Declaration
To celebrate their one-year anniversary, the couple exchanged extravagant dazzling diamond rings — a stunning emerald cut for her and a stylish band for him.
February 2024 - The Two File for Divorce
Williams filed for divorce from Guobadia on Thursday, Feb. 22 2024, after nearly a half of marriage. While the cause of their divorce is still unknown, sources close to Williams confirmed that the divorce is an “ongoing matter.”
Featured image by Paras Griffin/Getty Images