I decided to write this post for all those who are wondering what it’s like to travel right now. Many people still have not been on a plane since before the pandemic. This is not to sway or persuade – it’s simply an account of my experience traveling during February of 2021.
I planned a trip to Mayakoba, Mexico this fall (for February winter break 2021), before the second Covid wave hit, and booked everything refundable. No one knew exactly what was going to happen with the virus, so planning a trip with everything refundable was key. The hotel where I had booked, the Fairmont Mayakoba, had a very flexible 24 hours cancellation policy; that’s what made me decide to book (thank you, Fairmont).
I had already experienced traveling and flying during the pandemic, when I went out to Colorado this summer. My family was selling our 20 year retreat outside of Steamboat, so I went for one last visit, and tied in a trip to Crested Butte and Breckenridge. I had a very good experience with the airports, flights and Colorado itself, and felt very safe the entire time.
This positive experience is what helped me to decide to plan the February break trip to Mexico. I didn’t know where the state of the world would be, but I figured why not; I can cancel if I don’t feel comfortable. And the truth is, I almost did cancel! I was nervous. The virus was – and is – still very much prevalent.
But I didn’t. I’m not sure what it was – the experience of having already traveled during the pandemic, or the need to get out of a freezing and wintery New York, or the fact that we had booked the trip with friends and they were going come hell or high water – but I decided to do it. And in the end, I’m glad I did.
I wasn’t so much nervous of getting sick as I was as if – what if we have to quarantine for 14 days? As we all know, anyone traveling back to the United States must take a PCR test within 3 days of returning. If it’s positive, you must quarantine for 14 days at the hotel. That’s a scary thought! So I went into preparation mode…
I packed our carry-ons with more masks, sanitizer and wipes than I thought possible, and my girls and I double-masked. I had them bring their Chrome books in case we got quarantined – they were still going to school, even if from a hotel room in Mexico. I purchased Medjet for the family, which is medical evacuation from hospital to hospital. The hospitals in Mexico are not great, so I wanted back up. I purchased travel insurance with an extra add-on that gave us more money in the event we had to quarantine. I was prepared as I could be. All of this, I must say, helped to calm any anxiety.
Finally, the trip itself. When we arrived to JFK, the airport was busy. People ARE traveling. It was a bit chaotic with the kiosks not working properly and staff having to answer all sorts of Covid and non-Covid related questions. Thank god we had arrived very early (I always arrive 3 hours early – at least – for an international flight). Our kiosk froze, security was longer than I thought it would be, and in general it just wasn’t as smooth of a process as I was hoping for.
When we boarded our American flight, it was a large flight, and every seat was taken. Everyone cooperated with the mask wearing, there were pre-packaged snacks and water on our seats, and the flight attendants were very helpful. I overheard the people in the row behind us talking about having received the Moderna vaccine – so you just never know peoples’ circumstances!
The flight was smooth – no hiccups – and we never really felt uncomfortable in our double masks. When we arrived to the Cancun airport, I will say, it was packed! I was a little shocked at the number of people in line for Customs, but then again, it’s Mexico, which doesn’t require a Covid test to enter, and I was one of those people contributing to the masses!
But, honestly, it was fine. Not once did I see someone with their mask down, everyone was respectable, and we made it through Customs, albeit slowly. The Fairmont transfer shuttle was there awaiting us with hand sanitizer and waters, and off we went.
When we arrived to Mayakoba, a gated community of 4 upscale hotels, we had to undergo a temperature check. After that, we continued on to the Fairmont. Once we arrived, we were escorted to an outdoor sink, where we had to wash our hands and have our temperature taken again. From there, we entered the lobby, which was full of Purell stations, 6 feet apart markers and partitions that separated the staff from the guests.
We had a smooth check-in, and continued on to our room, which was located in one of the casitas – perfect for social distancing, as each room in a casita (there are 4 rooms to a casita) has a private, outdoor entrance. Mayakoba is very big and spread out, and you get everywhere either by walking outside or golf cart. We were taken to our room in a golf cart, and mask wearing was mandatory on the cart. Inside our room was a health kit with sanitizer, wipes, gloves.
From there we went to explore Mayakoba and the Fairmont, and I just have to point out, this part of Mexico was made for social distancing. Everything is spread out – there’s the jungle and then the sea, and it’s not tight-knit living. There are 5 pools, the beach, nature paths, biking paths, a tennis center, golf course, all spread out from one another. I couldn’t picture a better place to be for this trip. The staff were amazing, and made everything so easy. Not once did I see a staff member with mask down.
The Fairmont has several restaurants, and before entering each restaurant you must take a temperature check and sanitize your hands. The tables are spaced apart, and never did I feel as if I was in a crowd of people. Sometimes there was a 10 minute wait to get into La Laguna, where breakfast is served, but it was never longer than that. Everything else we made a reservation for, which was key, as due to limited tables, you have to book a time slot ahead of time.
We took a day trip to Tulum with a private guide, and before we boarded the van, we had our temperatures taken, along with hands sanitized. We first went to the Tulum ruins, and there were two points at which we had to take temperatures and sanitize our hands – before we boarded the shuttle that takes you to the ruins, and again at the entrance with turnstile to the ruins. Mandatory mask wearing was enforced everywhere, and it’s all outside (except for the tourist shops, which of course mandated masks).
When we drove into the actual town of Tulum, we asked our guide to take us to a low-key local restaurant, and temperature check and hand sanitizing was required there too, along with masks when we weren’t eating. No matter where we were, we felt like the virus was being taken very seriously, despite Mexico’s reputation as being lax. Maybe it once was, or maybe it is in other areas, but in the places where we were along in the Riviera Maya, the safety precautions were loud and clear.
At the end of our trip (which was amazing – post to come), 2 days prior to departure, we had Covid tests taken at the hotel. They were complimentary (for stays 3 days and longer, Covid tests are complimentary), and very easy. I scheduled all of our appointments (our family friends too) online on Fairmont’s website before going to Mexico, and all we had to do was show up in the lobby, fill out some information, and take the test in a nearby room that had been converted into a testing room. We had the hotel print out our results so that we had a hard copies.
When we arrived to the Cancun airport to fly back, it was very busy. The line to check in was long. There was a very nice staff person helping out at the kiosks who did an amazing job – he gave us a health form to fill out, as well as checked our Covid tests. We then got in line and had to wait for a while. When we got to baggage check-in, the staff checked our Covid tests again, as well as our health form and passports. Tip: bring a pen with you to fill out the form.
At security, we had to show our health form, and when we boarded our flight, we had to show our passports along with boarding passes. We did not have to show our Covid tests again. The airplane was big and full, like the first one, but again, everything was well managed that I never felt fearful. When we landed at JFK, we had to fill out the U.S. health form (via our phones) and we moved pretty quickly. I was never contacted by the Department of Health (though I know many people have been).
The trip to Mayakoba was one of our favorite family vacations, and I have so much to write about this unique area in Mexico. I am so glad we did it. Though I was nervous before going, the moment we got there, the Fairmont, Mayakoba and Mexican people made us feel safe and well taken care of. We were probably much safer there than we would have been in other areas of the U.S.
My take-away would be – if you are ok with flying, then I would highly recommend Mayakoba as a destination. It’s made for social-distancing. If you are fearful of flying, then I always say as a travel advisor – wait, and travel when you feel ready. Everyone has their own comfort zones and it’s ok if you’re not ready yet. There will be plenty of time (and that time is coming soon, as the vaccine continues to roll out), and the destinations will still be there.
Tip: Pack plenty of pens! This applies to travel in general. There are forms you need to fill out, restaurant bills you need to sign, purchases you make with a credit card, etc. It’s best to have your own pen.