Well … it’s happened again. Yet another trip to Hawaii has been cancelled thanks to COVID.
Back in April 2020, like everyone else who had made spring travel plans, Fat Papa and I were struggling to cancel flights, hotels, and reservations made before anyone even knew what COVID-19 was, let alone that it would turn into a pandemic. At that time, we accepted credits, delayed bookings, reschedules, whatever we could, thinking that in just a couple months, certainly by the summer, we would be able to rebook everything and travel again.
BOY WERE WE WRONG!
Luckily in the end, we really didn’t lose much. Nearly every reservation became refundable and as Hawaii and the rest of the world headed into lockdown, almost no one kept our deposits. So we hunkered down, stayed local, and enjoyed the great outdoors within our little corner of the world. Then the vaccine started to be released. Suddenly there was a way for us to fight this horrible disease that had killed so many, sickened and injured even more, and had kept us all grounded and in our homes. Fat Papa and I made appointments to get our COVID vaccines as quickly as possible (which wasn’t very quick at all). Once I had my second shot in my arm, I was ready to travel. But there were a few problems…
Fat Papa was in the midst of horrible work deadlines and was not able to take the time to travel with Itsy Bitsy and me in April 2021. If I wanted to go somewhere, and wanted additional parental support, Gigi and/or Pappy needed to come with.
While vaccines were available to adults, they were not, and as of my writing this still are not, available for kids under 12 years of age. So Itsy Bitsy would be traveling unvaccinated.
Even though we practiced safe masking in all our local travels, as of April 2021, Itsy Bitsy had not been asked to wear a mask for more than a couple of hours at a time. Would she be able to get through a masked plane flight?
Not even a month before getting my second COVID shot we walked through an indoor shopping center to get to a furniture store (we desperately needed a new couch). While walking in this enclosed space, I experienced a small panic attack and ended up power walking (this Fat Mama doesn’t run) to the nearest exit. Was I going to be okay in an airport, let alone on a plane?
Travel During COVID
It seemed like the impediments to traveling were just adding up, so I did what any good Fat Mama would do … I put on my lab coat, grabbed my magnifying glass, and gloved up for a deep dive into the travel-during-COVID-facts. Okay, I didn’t do any of that. I sat down at my computer with a BIG cup of coffee and researched the mother clucking duck out of traveling to the Hawaiian Islands curing COVID.
What I found reassured me (the vast majority of my data came from the CDC website; you can visit the website here for the most up to date information: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health). As of March/April 2021, science answered 3 main questions I had about safe travel during COVID.
Are masks really working to protect us or is this piece of cloth on my face just a wonderful security blanket? Answer: YES! Masks are working, OMG keep wearing them. ALWAYS.
How high is my COVID risk when eating outside at a restaurant or playing in the pool? Answer: According to the CDC website, if dining and exercise are outside and social distancing is practiced, then our exposure risk is low.
Is masked travel on an airplane safe? Answer: Its complicated. Certainly, airlines that require testing prior to flying reduced our risk of COVID exposure, and regular hand washing, sanitizing, and mask wearing help reduce our risk more … however, flying kind of flies in the face of all the social distancing guidelines. But we couldn’t get to Hawaii without flying, so…
This all made me feel better about traveling. Now I needed to figure out what island was going to be best for this COVID-anxious Fat Mama.
Maui is the island we go to the most, and we had been scheduled to vacation there in 2020 when we had to cancel due to COVID originally. But Maui was reporting high tourist numbers and difficulties with car rentals, so Maui was out. I was really tempted to go back to the Big Island but wanted to wait until Fat Papa could join us since he loves volcanoes and wanted to share that with Itsy Bitsy. That’s when I started looking at exploring an island I hadn’t been to before. O’ahu was quickly crossed off my list because its more urban feel seemed like a negative during COVID. So, that left Kauai; and the more research I did on Kauai, the more promising this island became.
For this Fat Mama, Kauai had 2 BIG selling points. First, I found the most amazing resort with one of the top-rated swimming pools in the country. Itsy Bitsy is obsessed with swimming pools, so I figured if we arrived and I had a panic attack about leaving the resort, at least we would have a nice place to stay and plenty of entertainment at the pool. Second, Kauai was far more laid back than the other islands. There was less tourist activity, more rural areas, and most businesses were still closed due to COVID (in fact, many shops, restaurants, and activities had only reopened a week before we arrived). This seemed like the perfect tropical escape during a pandemic. We could be safe and have fun at the same time. And you know what? We did!
Itsy Bitsy did great on the plane. Gigi and Pappy came out with us to provide extra support. Fat Papa was even able to take a few days to join us at the end. Just enough activities were open for us to explore the island in a safe and responsible manner. We spent tons of time in the pool and Itsy Bitsy learned to hold her breath underwater. No one got sick and the vacation was a huge success!
Lightning Strikes Twice
So now you are thinking, “Well, that’s great, but what about the cancellation … I thought you said something else got canceled?” You are right, dear reader. Something else did get canceled. We had such a great time in Kauai that we decided to book ANOTHER trip to the islands, this time to the Big Island. Fat Papa’s projects were wrapping up at work, he hadn’t taken a real vacation in over two years and had a TON of PTO saved up, so I splurged and booked us 16 nights in a Waikoloa oceanfront suite at a beautiful resort for September. We had planned to go all out for this vacation … snorkeling, helicopter tour, dolphin experience, luau, shopping, poolside cabanas, on-the-beach spa treatments … I was ecstatic!
I mean, lightning never strikes twice, right?
NO! That thing about lightning ... totally false. Google it, I learned some really interesting facts about lightning. For us, lightning did strike twice. In the summer we started hearing reports about a new variant of COVID, the Delta variant. Suddenly, the number of people in the United States getting their COVID vaccinations had plateaued, then was declining. Now, the brand-new Delta strain of COVID was accelerating because it is way more contagious than the original variant, and because so many people were refusing to get vaccinated. It felt like April 2020 all over again. We had saved up PTO that we couldn’t wait to use, a fabulous vacation booked and paid for, and now, once again, the Governor of Hawaii is asking tourists to please stay away. But unlike April 2020, Fat Papa and I didn’t feel panicked about getting refunds or canceling our travel plans. Why?
Travel the COVID Way
COVID has taught us to travel and plan for travel in a different way. Before COVID, we would book trips or activities with The Hunger Games mantra in our minds -- “may the odds be ever in your favor” -- as we assumed the odds of us getting sick, needing to cancel, bad weather, whatever, were extremely low. Now, we follow a trip planning mindset more aligned with Forrest Gump’s mama’s advice that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know when a pandemic is going to hit.” Okay, so Ms. Gump didn’t say it quite like that, but it totally works, and someone absolutely needs to put that on a t-shirt. But how did this new outlook change the way we looked at canceling our Hawaiian excursions between April 2020 vs. September 2021?
First, there are a few differences between 2020 and 2021. As of this writing, Hawaii’s ICUs are near or over capacity (some reaching 130% capacity), the state is preparing to receive 500 healthcare surge staff, and the number of daily COVID cases are consistently more than double what they were at the state’s previous high point (with a cluster of days reaching more than triple the previous high).* This is far different than in April 2020 when COVID was still emerging, we knew very little, and Hawaii was shutting down in hopes of AVOIDING a massive outbreak, not in the grips of one.
Now Hawaii, clearly in the midst of a COVID crisis, MUST focus on the health, care, and wellbeing of residents. As heartbroken as we might be, Fat Papa, Itsy Bitsy, and I want to be good citizens of the world and help Hawaii combat the growing COVID crisis, not be part of the problem. This time around, the choice to cancel is based on real tangible facts, not a nebulous threat that we don’t understand. We ourselves live near a tourist area (Santa Cruz, CA), and all the locals freak out every holiday weekend over the tourists coming in bringing who-knows-what variant of COVID into our communities that, as of now, our healthcare workers have been able to handle. So far, our ICUs are doing okay; but I feel for Hawaii, as we could be in the same boat.
So, once again, we have canceled a fabulous Hawaiian vacation. Fat Papa and I decided that for us, the right choice was to answer the Governor of Hawaii’s call and stay home. Yes, Itsy Bitsy cried because she isn’t going to get to see the dolphins. But we assured her that someday we will get back to Hawaii and we will make it up to her … that and an ice cream mostly cheered her up. For us, this feels like the right call, and unlike in April 2020 when the science was so unclear and so much was unknown about COVID, now in September 2021, we have the facts on our side and much more is known about how to combat this virus.
But there was another big difference between April 2020 and September 2021. We went into our vacation planning differently. When I researched, planned, and booked our Hawaii trip, I did so knowing that COVID is still a thing, that life is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get,” and that, let’s face it, the odds are NOT always in your favor. That being said, I booked smart. I made sure to only book accommodations that we could cancel. I purchased airline tickets that could be credited if we needed to make a change. I reserved activities that didn’t require payment ahead of time. And I was surprised at how easy this was!
During these times of constant global flux in the midst of a pandemic, we are all so ready to get back to some form of normality and to resume the activities that make us happy and bring joy to our daily lives. For so many of us that means traveling again. But at what cost? Before booking travel to Hawaii, Fat Papa and I asked ourselves that very question. At what point do we accept the loss and chalk it up to bad luck? Is there an acceptable dollar amount where canceling just costs too much? $1,000? $2,500? $5,000? $10,000?
Fat Papa and I chose a number and then booked accordingly. In all, the pre-travel funds that we committed, and could potentially lose if we could not travel to Hawaii in September 2021, were less than our agreed upon acceptable loss number. And this was so freeing! It meant that when the Governor of Hawaii asked tourists to NOT come to the islands, we had already planned for this possibility and were easily able to answer his call.
Thus far, it looks like we will be out less than $775. Between our hotel rewards, frequent flyer miles, travel credit card coverage, and various reservation cancellation policies, we will receive a refund, credit, or voucher for almost our entire vacation. We are choosing to be good citizens of the world and help Hawaii by staying away. And you know what? It feels good!
I’m going to get up on my soap box for a minute here … which being only 5’4 will really only make me the height of an average human being, so it will still be easy to walk past me if you don’t want to hear what I am saying … So here is some Fat Mama advice, from me to you, dear reader. Decide in advance what your money number is for cancellations; how much is too much for you to lose to make canceling a planned trip not worth it? Then, don’t spend or pre-commit more than that amount. By having an “acceptable loss” dollar amount already designated, travel planning becomes so much easier. Then, plan accordingly. By making these decisions in advance, when something unexpected does happen (***wink, wink*** COVID ***nudge, nudge*** natural disaster *** tap, tap *** humanitarian crisis ***) you have already made the decision; now you just have to act. So much easier this way. Thank you, I’m stepping off my soap box now.
Life will eventually evolve into something that allows us to travel safely again. That time just isn’t right now for Hawaii and this Fat Mama. So, while I might not get to sip pina coladas poolside while watching Itsy Bitsy go down the waterslide for the (no joke) 50th time while Fat Papa joyfully cheers her on, I know that someday soon I will. For now, I will be a good citizen of the world and not travel to Hawaii.
* Data obtained from https://health.hawaii.gov/coronavirusdisease2019/