Travel in 2021 | Traveling in a Pandemic: GeoEx Staff Stories
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Travel in 2021: GeoEx Staff Stories

By GeoEx Staff | September 8, 2021

View over the Hunza Valley, Pakistan

We never stop exploring at GeoEx. There is always a new destination to discover, or a deeper dive into a favorite corner of the world. Pioneers since our founding in 1982, we are well acquainted with trailblazing new territory and managing risks. Over the past year, we have continued to pioneer, testing the waters for our guests (and sometimes delightedly finding you right out there with us!) and investigating new protocols and restrictions as destinations reopen.

We have mindfully packed our bags, taken our tests, and stepped onto planes to see what has changed while the world was shut down, and to learn the best ways for travel to return so that it protects visitors and locals, nurturing your wanderlust, their livelihood, and the places we all enjoy.

Our fervent hope is that this brief interruption will allow us to start over with a new awareness of how we travel and a deeper intentional connection that respects and sustains the places and people we visit.

To impart a sense of what travel is like in the wider world right now, we present here a round-up of notes and observations  from GeoEx staffers’ recent explorations. 

Brady Binstadt: Pakistan, August 2021 

Towering mountains in the Hunza Valley, Pakistan

Just a few days into my journey here, this note is an opportunity for me to take a deep breath. The feeling of exploring the world again is pretty wonderful and most certainly worth the required hoop-jumping. And Pakistan is reminding me in spades what incredible experiences we offer to our travelers: the colorful bazaar with rich smells of apricot, the calls of prayer filling the air five times a day, the jagged giant peaks surrounding me, the warm smiles of so many people on the streets.    

I am also reminded how important our local connections are to us—the safety and comfort they provide when you arrive on a flight at 4 a.m., the care they give on hectic and narrow highways filled with goats/motorcycles/trucks, the little tea houses they take me where I’m instantly welcomed. 

Tina Liadis: Peru, August 2021 

GeoEx staff member Tina Liadis at Machu Picchu, Peru

I am LOVING my first trip to South America! The food, sightseeing, and people are all wonderful. Right now, they’re allowing only 40 percent of the number of visitors into Machu Picchu that they did pre-Covid. On my visit, there were people there, but it wasn’t crowded, and this was an incredible way to experience it for the first time! I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream, and yet I realize that there is a lot more here than I expected and that I am only scratching the surface. I may need to plan a second trip!

Jesse Knight: Brazil, August 2021

Platform walkways at Iguazu Fall, Brazil

Brazil is off the radar for foreign travelers right now. We visited Iguazu Falls on two different days and saw a grand total of six other visitors—it was like a private viewing! Iconic sites such as Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf were virtually empty too, giving us a rare chance to see them crowd-free. We were equally happy to see that masks and other Covid protocols were widely enforced in hotels and restaurants.

Katie Stoyka: Alaska, July 2021 

Glacial waterfalls in Glacier Bay, Alaska

We were the only boat in Glacier Bay! The large cruise ships still hadn’t resumed operations, leaving the Inside Passage relatively empty and offering us a true wilderness experience. While we occasionally crossed paths with another small ship, most of the time we were completely alone in vast jaw-dropping scenery—sliding between icebergs into narrow fjords, paddling kayaks by blue glaciers, walking softly through old growth forests as bald eagles flew overhead. 

With unlimited fresh air and fellow passengers who were each required to be vaccinated and tested before boarding, we enjoyed a soothing level of comfort I haven’t felt in a long time.  

Scott Montgomery: Rwanda, July 2021 

Young mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

This was my first trip in 18 months, and it was so worth any Covid-related hassles to get back out into the world.  Rwanda has done good work controlling the spread of Covid and has roughly 9 percent of their population vaccinated. 

I was hugely impressed by the Rwandan government’s focus on protecting their primates. We were regularly tested in-country and were required to wear approved-masks during our mountain gorilla and chimp treks. Particularly given that there are only around 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world, I greatly appreciated the focus on ensuring Covid doesn’t spread to the gorillas. Given humans and mountain gorillas share so much of the same DNA, scientists believe Covid-infection could easily occur. 

I truly believe that every dark cloud has a silver lining, and the silver lining of traveling during Covid was the lack of crowds. Typically, lodges in Rwanda are packed. When we were there, the lodges were a bit over half-full. Normally the mountain gorilla trekking is done in groups of eight, but due to fewer travelers, our group of four friends had our own group. It was a joy to have more space, and fewer people, throughout our trip. 

We were told that, due to Covid, we should maintain at least a 10-meter distance from the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees. The mountain gorillas had not read those guidelines, however, and one brushed right by our group, lightly pushing us out of the way, as he headed for a particularly appealing patch of bamboo. That was quite a thrill! 

The lodges in Rwanda are top-notch and provide a wonderfully comfortable environment for relaxation after morning and afternoon hikes. Outside dining was regularly available, a plus during these times.   

The chance to be back out in the world, after long months of isolation, was incredibly sweet. I felt recharged and energized by the opportunity to explore our beautiful world again. 

Kim Keating: Namibia & Botswana, May 2021 

GeoEx staff member Kim Keating exploring Botswana and Namibia

The last time I traveled internationally before my recent GeoEx trip to Botswana and Namibia was with my dad on our GeoEx trip to Chile in 2019. That was an incredible trip to experience with my dad, who loved hiking and open landscapes almost as much as he loved chocolate. A few weeks after we returned home, he started to have serious stomach pain, and a few weeks after that, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Saying we were stunned feels like an understatement. It seemed impossible that he could be diagnosed with a terminal illness so shortly after hiking approximately five times faster than me on every single excursion we did in Patagonia. 

After giving it his absolute all, with positivity and patience, my dad passed away in September 2020. I spent a lot of time anticipating, and quite frankly, dreading, my next trip out of the country. Traveling internationally again meant I would no longer be able to tell people that my last trip abroad was an epic Chile trip with my dad. A trip he loved so much that he continued to talk about it for months after we got back (even though I relentlessly teased him about his snoring and the rain skirt he insisted on wearing when so much as one single cloud appeared in the sky). I was convinced that traveling again without my dad would put me one step further away from him. It would be official that my now “last trip out of the country” didn’t include him. 

But somehow travel always finds a way to be both rejuvenating and healing. It turns out that traveling again made me feel even closer to my dad and his memory. I laughed on the flight over thinking how insane he would have thought business class seats on Qatar Airways are (he also would have greatly appreciated the amount of superhero movies they had on board!). I thought of how much fun he would have had hiking up the iconic Sossusvlei dunes in Namibia. How much he would have loved ATV riding through the never-ending Skeleton Coast dunes. 

This trip also reminded me to appreciate every single moment we get in this insane and wonderful life because things can change in the blink of an eye. Something we’ve all seen over the past year-and-a-half during Covid. Many thanks to my dad, Ken Keating, whose spirit I felt every step of this journey. And many thanks to Africa, which never fails to make my heart feel absolutely filled to the brim with joy—even in the craziest of years. 

Tina Liadis: Maldives, April 2021 

Looking out over turquoise waters from One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives

I was so excited to travel again that I almost forgot how, packing twice as much as I needed and arriving at the airport so early the check-in counter wasn’t open yet! Once I was on my way it all came back, and it felt wonderful to be traveling. In the Maldives, the new procedures were simple and easy to follow, almost everything was open to the sea air, and staff were appropriately masked, so all in all, I felt quite comfortable.

Glenn Ringer: South Africa & Zambia, April 2021 

Guides in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Our stay in Lower Zambezi National Park was full of firsts. We were honored to be the first international guests since 2019 and to share the thrill of the camp’s first (since 2019) canoeing expedition and walking safari with our enthusiastic guides. You could feel their delight in making these memories! We truly enjoyed being part of the experience marking the return of international travel to a region that depends on it to sustain conservation efforts and community.  

* * * * *

The world is as full of treasures as ever, but at the moment, there are fewer travelers vying to experience those treasures. We believe that carefully planned travel can take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity, minimizing risks and maximizing safety, and we have the expertise, experience, and passion to do this for you. Contact us at 888-570-7108 to start crafting your next adventure.

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