This story was written before the state of Oregon reinstated a ban on cruising due to a rise in Covid-19 cases and American Cruise Lines postponed its sailings until the ban is lifted.
How drastically travel is going to change post-Covid-19 has been a topic of nonstop discussion the past three months.
Yet despite all the stories we and others have written about health protocols and other changes, the reality of just how abnormal this new normal will be didn't really hit home until last week. That's when my confirmation arrived for Saturday's sailing of American Cruise Lines' American Song, which is expected to be the first U.S.-based ship to cruise since the mid-March travel shutdown.
Along with my cabin confirmation for the sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest came a very detailed health letter, asking first that anyone with any of a long list of potential Covid-19 symptoms call for a fee-free rebooking.
In the mail, along with the usual welcome packet and luggage tags, came a bag with personal protective equipment, or PPE, along with instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on practicing safe travel.
Then came the phone call. I had somehow missed an emailed questionnaire, the answers to which the company is required by the CDC to collect. When I asked that they resend it to me, the customer service agent said she was happy to take the information by phone.
We ran through all the expected questions: recent travel history, any fever or flu-like symptoms, etc. Then we got into a few slightly more personal questions, including one asking very specific details about recent bowel movements.
"That was the awkward question," the woman said, in a light but professional tone that, to her credit, kept it from being just that.
After the call I went back to review the health letter, which asked that, if possible, guests self-quarantine for seven days before departure and get a Covid-19 test four days before sailing.
It also reminded guests to limit contact while traveling, gave detailed instructions for hand-washing, mask wearing and safely sneezing and informed me that temperature and oxygen-level checks would be administered preboarding.
My first reactions to the recommendation for the pre-sailing self-quarantine were, "but what about my long overdue hair appointment and pedicure?" And, "what good does self-quarantine do if I have to fly to get there?"
But as I thought about it, I realized that while some of the rules under the new normal are going to feel arbitrary and sometimes conflicting, they are a good reminder that every encounter outside our bubble still carries risk, so every precaution helps before heading back out into public spaces.
While I am confident in the measures American Cruise Lines has adopted to protect its staff and guests, there is only so much any one travel company can do. The rest is up to us. So I did my part and canceled my hair and nail appointments.
After all, if we want the resumption of travel to succeed, the final question for those of us anxious to get back on the road shouldn't be "Is it safe for me to travel?" but rather "Am I safe to travel?"