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Travel in the time of a pandemic: Is it worth the trouble?

After eight months of staying at home, anywhere out of the city sounds like a trip to the Great Outdoors. 

So when the government started easing community quarantine restrictions, four friends decided to pack their bags and go on a road trip to Nueva Ecija.

The view of the mountains from the room made the road trip worth the preparation and expense.

We are sure many would like to drive out too, to breathe fresh air or just to enjoy the view of forests and open space.  What do you need to bring to cross the borders? What will the hotels or resorts require you to bring? And how can you avoid the chance of meeting strangers and thus, lessen your risk of getting the COVID-19?

Get some answers from the story of Aaron (he is hesitant to divulge his identity for fear of being called “socially irresponsible” in social media) who went out of town soon after the National Capital Region was declared under the general community quarantine (GCQ).

Aaron told the Manila Bulletin that he had been daydreaming of sunny skies and tranquil beaches after the first community quarantine was imposed mid-March. He usually goes out of Metro Manila during summer.

When he learned that hotels and resorts were allowed to operate on a limited capacity and had started accepting guests again, he began searching for the best place to go.  His research focused on places that would be the least crowded.

Documents to bring

Finally, he and three friends settled on a recently-opened resort and spa in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija. They made the booking online and they were told to bring two things – a travel pass and a medical certificate.

The resort explained that the group has to present these two documents in case they get stopped at a checkpoint.

While a swab test is not mandatory for the medical certificate, Aaron said they took the test anyway for their peace of mind, and for the peace of mind of their families, who were initially reluctant to let them go on a road trip.

For the medical certificate, they needed to go to city hall. The interviewer asked if they had the flu or cough, or if they were feeling feverish. After they answered no to all those questions, they were given the medical certificate.

This was then presented to their local Philippine National Police (PNP) stations, where each person in his group was given a travel pass.

Only one checkpoint

Surprisingly, Aaron said there was no checkpoint on the way to Nueva Ecija but they encountered one checkpoint on their drive back to Manila. He said the police officer only asked them where they were going and asked to see their travel papers.

The resort

They were happy with the resort which they only found online, although he noted that it was a bit more on the expensive side. But after the months cooped up at home, the money was worth it as they all felt completely safe there.

The clean air, the space — that’s what we didn’t have for many months under lockdown.

“At the resort gate we were asked to fill out the health declaration form and our temperatures were checked. Every area has a disinfecting station and all counters have glass barriers. All members of the staff wore face masks at all times, and we could see the areas being sanitized from time to time,” he said.

Signs that made us feel safe — health and safety protocol practiced inside the hotel at all times.

On the way to their room, Aaron said he observed that the other rooms were being cleaned with a misting machine.

He appreciated how everybody in the resort adhered to health and safety protocols.

Signs that made us feel safe — health and safety protocol practiced inside the hotel at all times.

Aaron admitted that apart from the constant wearing of face masks and face shields, as well as the social distancing measures observed, their vacation actually felt quite similar to the ones they had taken prior to the pandemic.

He observed that the resort’s occupancy rate was not at full capacity. “The resort just recently opened and there were guests for the weekend,” he said.

How to avoid face-to-face contact with strangers

Although the facilities like the pool and jacuzzi were available for use, they chose not to use it. “The four of us just wanted to spend time together, have a few drinks in our room, and sleep in late,” he said.

The swimming pool looked so inviting but there will be another time to take a dip.

To avoid the presence of strangers, they also requested the hotel not to allow housekeeping staff to come in and clean their room. They also avoided eating breakfast at the dining room and instead ordered food through room service.

Aaron and his group stayed indoors most of the time, although when they felt the need to stretch their legs, they would walk around the resort and admire the view. Had the trip been taken prior to the pandemic, Aaron said they would have definitely planned activities outside the resort and probably extended their stay.

Socially irresponsible?

Aside from the fear of contracting the virus, Aaron said that one of the biggest drawbacks to traveling nowadays is the fear of being judged in social media. In order to avoid this, the four friends all made a pact not to post anything online.

A cart to take guests around the resort but many guests chose to walk, after months at home.

He said he knows people who had parties and traveled for leisure who got criticized for being “socially irresponsible.” Aaron thinks that is an unfair conclusion.

“Not everybody who travels is pabaya (careless). The four of us went on a road trip but we were very careful all throughout,” he said. “We don’t want to get COVID-19 and we don’t want to bring the virus back home to our families.”

As their first road trip was a success, Aaron said that they are already planning their next out-of-town trip. In fact, they are already checking out the resorts in Batangas. With Boracay now opening itself up to tourists, Aaron said they are also considering flying there as well.

He knows that a lot of people have concerns about traveling now, especially since there is still no vaccine in sight. His advice to those who will opt to have a road trip soon is: Be more discerning on the choice of hotel or resort. And always be conscious about the mandated health and safety measures.

“Even with the restrictions and additional requirements, it was still worth it to get away even just for the weekend after being in lockdown for months,” Aaron said.

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Article and Photo originally posted by Manila Bulletin last October 9, 2020 10:20am and written by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki.