Return to Travel 2023: Opportunities and Challenges

-by Ron Jeffery

This year has seen a return to travel by ARTA members, whether it be a visit to family, a long-delayed vacation to warmer climes (during winter), or travel to a bucket list destination. What is clear, is travel is back and dusting off our luggage and passports is underway.

On March 1 of this year, my wife Linda and I hosted a group of thirty retired teachers and their partners from across Canada on a Merit Travel long stay to Carvoeiro in Portugal. There was eager anticipation as we gathered in Toronto to board our flight to Faro, in the Algarve region, and then our transfer to the Monte Santo resort. What struck us all was the anticipation, post-pandemic, of not only being in a group but also on a long-haul flight. Our last long-stay excursion in 2020 was cut short by COVID-19 as we scrambled to return to Canada from Greece.

Despite being a “group”, everyone was independent each day to do their own activities. Many rented a car and explored; others found new friends to have dinner with or walk into town or hike the many trails and beaches.

And yes, COVID-19 was still with us. I tested positive my FIRST day in Portugal and immediately isolated. As we were in Toronto for three days before leaving for Portugal, I have to assume I contracted it in either the airports, on the plane, or in Toronto. No others tested positive for the first several days. That changed quickly. The group that went to Spain and Morocco came back with the virus. In total, we had five who tested positive and isolated. The resort was very proactive and provided test kits and required a negative test to enter the dining room to protect staff and other guests. In a “photo op” of our negative tests, one member of our group held his up — and it was positive! After an expletive, he retired to isolate. So, yes, COVID-19 is still a factor in travel.

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful month away despite these lingering travel issues in 2023. The weather in the Algarve region was magnificent (sunny and warm) and the group picture above illustrates the smiling faces and environment.

Are there still challenges? Of course. Is it safe to travel? Yes, with some cautions. Here is my advice:

Use a travel agent. If things go wrong (illness, flight delays, cancellations, etc.) having a backup to call and help is advised. Booking online has its risks.

Consider group travel for security and cost savings. If you are an individual, you may feel safer traveling with others — particularly if there is a host with whom you can go to with any concerns.

Be realistic about the rigors of travel. We are “senior adults” and there are some limitations we all face (though we may not like to admit it). When far from home, it can become an issue. Can you climb stairs or hills? Portugal is a hilly country. Do you require assistance with your luggage or aids? Do you have medical or dietary issues that might need addressing while on tour? Make sure the tour company or hosts know about it so they can help or react in an emergency. This is not the time to hold this information back.

Be patient and be flexible. Things happen as the world recovers post pandemic. The aftermath of the pandemic is likely to carry well into 2024.

Ensure you are fully insured. ARTA insurance is excellent, but you still must know your policy. Ask the questions before you leave.

Are there still opportunities? Of course.

The most important thing is to set your travel goals. They change as we age.

Is this a holiday? A family visit? A bucket list trip? A tour or long stay? A themed tour to explore something like food, history, or religion? Is it a generational tour? What type of transportation will you use?

Don’t forget to budget. It can be highly stressful if you go on a holiday that stretches you to the limit.

Regardless, do ask for help and assistance in your planning, be it research online a travel agent, or family and friends who have been there before.

So, dust off that luggage and passport and hit the road!

Happy travels.