Vacation Or Staycation during COVID? Check This Article to Find Out Pros and Cons

Though staycations will definitely be remembered as the biggest tourism trend of the year, 2020 offered a unique, almost one-in-the-lifetim...

Though staycations will definitely be remembered as the biggest tourism trend of the year, 2020 offered a unique, almost one-in-the-lifetime opportunity to see the Canada’s best landscapes without millions of international tourists. I obviously feel terrible for the loss or unearned revenue that COVID-19 brought to the Canadian tourism sector and am sincerely willing to chip in some extra cash from my taxpayer’s dollars to support the suffering industry, but man, those iconic Canadian places look so good without excessive crowds, long lines, always full parking lots, and overpriced hotel rooms! That's what lured me into committing to a road trip in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies in August 2020. But, first, let's understand how the global pandemic shaped travel experiences for those, like me, willing to venture beyond day trips from home.

No one would argue that traveling during COVID-19 is quite different from traditional, pre-COVID-19 trips. On one hand, you are faced with more restrictions and closures and have a higher chance of your travel plans being wracked or you or your travel buddies getting sick. On the other hand, it means fewer fellow travellers per square mile which someone like me would greatly appreciate.  
While sealed borders for some smaller nations seem like a confinement, Canadians had their vast and beautiful country all to themselves this year. With some exceptions, obviously, as some parts of Canada still remain closed for certain groups of people depending on where they are from.
Speaking about traveling within Canada's borders. At the time of writing this article, most Ontarians could only travel to Quebec (merci, mes copains), Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia without having to self-isolate for 14 days. Québécois are in the same boat, by the way.
Our friendly Manitoba created a travel gap for those in Eastern Canada willing to hit the road to the West. People from Western Canada have relatively more freedom and can travel as far east as the Province of Quebec. All four Atlantic provinces live in their own travel bubble, don't let anyone in, but can travel to the rest of the Canadian provinces except Manitoba.
Canada North (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) pretty much self-isolated from the rest of the country to protect remote communities in case of a virus outbreak as they have quite limited healthcare.  
Parks Canada, that manages national parks and national historic sites, introduced a number of restrictions at many of their parks due to difficulties to enforce proper social distancing. Wanted to take a peak at  the legendary Peyto Lake with its turquoise water? Try again in 2021. Another big draw to Banff National Park - Johnston Canyon - can only be accessible on foot or by bike. Not a bad idea, actually, considering that the Bow Valley Parkway is closed for motorized vehicles. 
Other popular attractions - Whistler's Cloudraker Skybridge, Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, the fabled hot springs resort in Banff - all make the list of the attractions closed in 2020. I call those places "next timers" as there is always a next time, right?
The success of your trip during a global pandemic relies not only on thorough preparation, but also on a great deal of good luck. Because many things simply remain beyond your control. 
This happened to me two weeks before my flight to British Columbia: Air Canada decided to cancel 3 out of 4 direct flights between Ottawa and Vancouver and re-book me with a 15-hour stopover in Toronto. For a return flight, they just said 'Sorry, your flight has been cancelled' without offering an alternative. Obviously, something like that can throw a monkey wrench into all your careful planning. In case you're wondering what happened next - after 4 hours on the phone, I was able to get tickets on that only remaining direct flight between Ottawa and Vancouver.
But what if someone in your group has a little bit of a cold on a day when you are flying back home? You can instantly lose thousands of dollars by having to book another flight and paying for extra hotel nights as your airline simply won't let you board the plane. 
By no means am I trying to discourage anyone from traveling - I'm just pointing out to some additional considerations you need to be aware of when traveling during a global pandemic. Know what can go wrong, have your plan B and even plan C, and you'll be cool!
Let me share some tips and tricks that bought some peace of mind to me personally before and during my trip to British Columbia this year:

1. Book a reward ticket with points. Aeroplan offers unprecedented flexibility due to COVID-19 which allows you to cancel your flight and get a full refund even if you already checked in for it. Your second best option is to book directly with Air Canada. They are also pretty flexible this year due to COVID-19. Consult aeroplan.com and aircanada.ca for current deals, terms and conditions. 

2. Book refundable hotel stays. It might be a little bit more expensive, but you won't lose any money if your travel plans change. Check with the official (government-run) travel resources to find some money-saving deals: TravelAlberta.com, HelloBC.com. 

3. Only reserve your rental car, do not pay for it in advance. Although usually cheaper to pay upfront, the gain is minimal comparing to a potential loss if you're re-booked an a different flight or if you decide to cancel your trip altogether.  

4. Use credit card that has travel benefits such as trip interruption or trip cancellation. It can be pretty useful for those expenses that cannot be refunded in full or if circumstances change and you have to pay extra cash (like taking a cab to your hotel if an airport rental car office is already closed - happened to me once).

5. Pick a "base"a hotel or Airbnb centrally located to more than one attraction from your to-do list, and stay there for as many nights as possible instead of hopping from one hotel to another every day. It may require a bit more driving, but it will save you time on check-in / check-out and packing / unpacking your stuff. More strategically, it will also help you increase your chance to avoid "bad" weather by choosing your day activities based on weather forecast. Trust me, it works in almost 100% cases: it can't be raining everywhere, you'll be able to find a dry, warm and sunny place.

6. Dress according to weather conditions. Chasing a good weather in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies presents a challenge as warm sunny days in the summer can be best measured in day or weeks, not months. Rain normally means colder temperatures, wet clothing and higher chances to become sick. The latter is the worst thing that can happen to you while traveling during COVID-19. Dress in layers, avoid cotton clothing, and take your rain jacket wherever you go in the mountains. If you happen to feel unwell, drink plenty of hot tea with lemon and ginger and take Vitamin C or anything else that can give your immune system a boost. 

7. Purchase a medical insurance that covers COVID-19. If you become sick with COVID-19 and need hospitalization while traveling, the last thing you want to worry about is having to deal with your medical bills. By the way, Air Canada and Aeroplan now offer a complimentary medical and quarantine insurance from Manulife on all international flights booked before end of October 2020. 

8. Check upfront if your attractions are open and whether it requires any advance reservation or ticket purchase. While COVID-19 means fewer tourists, it also means fewer tours and fewer seats. Your attraction can still quickly sell out, especially at iconic places like Maligne Lake. Also, you'd better familiarize yourself with BC Ferries and their booking system well in advance if your trip includes visiting Vancouver Island on summer weekends.
If everything I told you now didn't discourage your from thinking about or planning your trip in Canada, stay tuned for the next article where I will walk you through my 9-day awesome jam-packed itinerary in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies! 

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