With the State Department last week advising U.S. citizens to avoid international travel and return home promptly if they are traveling outside the U.S., travel advisors have been working to meet their clients’ needs.

Becky Gillespie, owner of For Love of Travel in Nevada City, Calif., had clients depart for Barbados on March 18 for a birthday vacation, just a day before the State Department advisory. Her clients decided to cut short their vacation, and she was working to get their flight changed.

Laurel Brunvoll had clients at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico when the alert came out. The owner of Unforgettable Trips in Gaithersburg, Md., texted and emailed them about the situation and started looking at Friday flights home. 

In the hour it took between her initial message to clients and their callback, the flights were full. Luckily, Brunvoll was able to book them on Saturday flights. 

Monika Leuenberger, an advisor at Avenues of the World in Flagstaff, Ariz., found herself in a sticky situation.

Leuenberger had four clients in South Africa scheduled to come home March 30. They didn’t want to cut their trip short. Last Thursday, she expressed concerns with that plan, and they agreed via email at around midnight local time in South Africa. They said they’d speak with Leuenberger in the morning.

“A few hours later, it became clear that we did not have the luxury to wait as flights were filling up,” she said. 

She decided to change their return flights for March 23 and charged their cards. The airfare was around $1,000 per person. She was “sweating bullets,” hoping they would approve.

They did, and later thanked her for her service.

But not all travelers want to return to the U.S.

Samantha McClure, owner of Small World Travel in Austin, Texas, is currently helping a mother and her children on an around-the-world trip, one of McClure’s specialties.

The New York residents are about one-third of the way through a seven-month trip that’s had a few disruptions of late.

Earlier this month, Bhutan closed its borders. With her clients headed that way -- in the air, in fact -- McClure quickly got in touch with her supplier partners in Southeast Asia to design an entire itinerary in Thailand to replace Bhutan. She told her client as soon as they got off their flight.

“They’re incredibly flexible and courageous,” she said, and on they went to Thailand.

They were next supposed to head to Indonesia, but McClure got word that Australia would likely close its borders soon, so she routed them there, some 14 hours before the country closed to international travelers.

“That was a great call,” she said.

The client is scheduled to remain in Australia through mid-April. Even on the ground there, things are changing, like a planned trip to Tazmania, which closed its borders.

“The key is, we know our clients, so we know what they like,” McClure said. “We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know them and what they would like and not like.”

Also key are McClure’s supplier partners, jumping in to assist whenever necessary, she said.

McClure’s clients are going ahead with the rest of their trip, even though it will likely undergo even further changes. They don’t have any desire to return home to quarantine, she said, and everyone they’ve met on their travels so far has been welcoming and helpful.

Their next stop was Europe, but that will change. Africa was scheduled after that. But for now, they remain exploring Australia.

“It’s challenging,” McClure said, “but to be honest, it’s so exciting to have somebody that’s still traveling and still excited to travel and not scared. For me and my team, I think it’s actually been an incredibly healthy part of what we’re going through, because almost everything else we’re doing is canceling and rebooking.”


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