I started Truvay Travel 7 months ago and have barely been able to keep up until last week, when the travel industry essentially had its version of a massive market crash, the result of a microscopic spec, the COVID-19 coronavirus.  By all accounts, C-19 has sent world travel, if not the larger economy, into a tailspin.  People have lost their lives.  At chaotic times like this, information – accurate or not – spreads quickly and can change minute to minute.

I’m not an alarmist but, as the impact of C-19 sunk in, I had a moment of real sadness when my main thought was about the unfortunate timing of it all.  Having found a business that I love to then have it feel as though it’s disappearing in front of my eyes is tough.

But that indulgence was brief.  Instead I chose to think about how can I best help my clients and myself through this period.  I determined I needed to:

EDUCATE – myself & my clients
COMMUNICATE – with my clients, partners & colleagues
APPRECIATE – my clients’ situations and my partners’ generosity and business pressures
MEDITATE – continue to journal daily to keep my mindset in a good place

I chose to get to work educating myself about how C-19 would likely affect travel and helping my clients figure out their options.  There were immediate needs – clients who had just put down their deposits, others who were about to put down big final payments, and even others about to leave on trips imminently.  I spent the first half of this week responding to their calls and messages and going through each and every one of my clients to find out the status of their bookings and deposits, the relevant cancellation policies and reviewing key dates.  I then sent a letter to each person to assure them I was looking into their travel, and would update them with any relevant info as I learned it.

My clients had a wide range of reactions – all of which are justified and understandable.  One cancelled a trip going out this week, others took a wait and see approach, and others inquired about the workings of travel insurance and what it covers. Even so, some of my more intrepid clients replied, “We can’t wait to go on our trip!” and others continued to book travel further out or changed plans to the US.

Personally, I haven’t cancelled any of my upcoming travel plans.  I’ll admit that Italy wasn’t on my schedule or I would have made a different call.  But I have many events coming up that I’m really looking forward to: a 50th birthday party in Cartagena, a wedding in Bogotá, admitted students weekend at my daughter’s university, a family adventure through Costa Rica and a conference in Argentina.  For now, these trips stay on my calendar.  However, I have been thinking about taking my daughter to Bhutan for her high school graduation gift and that’s now off the table.  I have looked into Iceland as a replacement, but I haven’t booked it yet, and so it remains in the wait and see category for at least a couple of weeks.  Unfortunately for some people, their trips are getting cancelled for them –  work conferences, music festivals, my daughter’s school trip to Puerto Rico to rescue stray puppies.  Each cancellation carries its own disappointment that reverberates widely.

I’m not a psychologist (just minored in college), but I can understand and empathize with the range of emotions people have under the circumstances.  In this case, I get to be the rock staying steady in the midst of chaos.  My role as your travel advisor is to share objective, accurate information and facts on the ground from the countries where my clients are going, to help them understand their options, assess possibilities and make informed decisions.  And then, to support them in their decisions.

To accomplish all of this in timely fashion, I get amazing leverage from my colleagues at Brownell, as well as our in-country partnerships and lately my relationship with Sean, my contact at Travelex, our main insurance provider.  Sean has generously answered many of my questions and hopped on the phone multiple times to talk with my clients about “what if” scenarios.  Brownell has been proactive about keeping us all informed and providing up-to-date information.  https://www.brownelltravel.com/covid-19-coronavirus-update/

My outlook on life is that every challenge can be understood as a learning experience.  This is one more of those moments.  One of my strengths that comes out in these times is an ability to objectively evaluate options and to strategize alternative solutions.  I flexed that muscle a lot this week.

I feel so fortunate for my health and my family.  There’s a quote out there somewhere about people’s true colors come out in times of crisis.  In these moments, I feel blessed to be a part of the Brownell family.  My colleagues at Brownell have graciously shown their collaborative spirit as we help each other steer our clients through uncertain times.  Many of our partners in countries around the world are small organizations – some just a few people, some 100% dedicated to Italy.  They have shown extraordinary generosity – modifying cancellation and change terms for the benefit of our clients to preserve the clients’ investments in their family vacations.  Words cannot express how appreciative I am of them.

Looking forward
I know everyone will travel again.  My clients have expressed their appreciation for being kept informed and the help in evaluating their options.  I have an amazing network of colleagues and partners that I know I can count on during difficult times.  People in my network – clients, colleagues and partners are showing their true colors and I could not feel more fortunate.

The 100mph that I felt like I was going 2 weeks ago has lulled quite a bit.  So now is my time to take advantage of that.  This weekend, I worked on a helpful school calendar that I’ll be sending to my clients in Hanover.  I also had time to continue my education – diving deeply into learning about the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.  My partners have been so helpful in educating me on a range of topics – best times of the year to see different animals, how each island differs, differences in overnighting in Guayaquil compared to Quito, land-based and cruise-based options, cool experiences to tack on to the beginning or end of a trip.  And I’ve been working on one of my favorite things to create – a “cheat sheet” – a massive spreadsheet outlining how 45 qualities of 22 different Galapagos ships and land-based options compare.  I was excited to learn that some of the ships have triple cabins, which can be ideal if you have 3 kids so you aren’t paying a single supplement, what “all inclusive” actually means (something different on each ship) and some inside scoops for each option.

As I look forward I will continue my daily meditation practice and strategize about how best to make lemonade out of lemons.  Now may not be the time you are thinking of traveling – I get it.  It’s a good time to sit tight and see what happens.  It’s also a good time be reflective, appreciate your situation and even to plan ahead, especially for big trips like the Galapagos.  Know that I’m here for you to talk through how the current events impact your personal travel, whether you are my client or not, or when you want to think about your next big trip.

Stay healthy!

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