“I’m planning to take a river raft trip with 14 passengers. We would be on rafts all day then camping several days close together. I am fully vaccinated but I won’t know about others as the tour company does not require vaccinations. Is it safe to go?” Sue C., Sequim, Wash.
You never know what you’re going to get with a tour company group trip until you get there. Even if you choose a highly specific option, your trip will vary depending on the operator you go with and the individuals who join you.
The first one I took — trekking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro — had a mix of teenagers from Australia, retirees from the U.K. and everything in between. Another one to Australia’s Red Center was almost entirely made up of honeymooners; I was a 25th wheel.
Pre-pandemic, choosing a group travel adventure may have come down to categories such as destination, common interests or age group. Now there are coronavirus concerns to factor into your planning. Will the others be vaccinated? Will they be anti-vaccine? Do other people’s vaccination status matter if you’re vaccinated?
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s point of view, the unvaccinated people on the rafting trip are the ones that need to be concerned about safety issues. Because you are fully vaccinated, you can travel safely within the United States and go back to doing the things you love without wearing a mask or physically distancing (except where there are local rules to do so).
However, some health experts still think it’s a good idea for fully vaccinated people to be mindful about reducing risks. I spoke with Antonio Crespo, an infectious-disease expert and medical director for Orlando Health Medical Group, about your rafting trip, and he said while your risks are minimal, he does encourage you to wear a mask in situations where you will be indoors with many strangers. That could include taking a bus with your rafting group or going to bars and restaurants in places where coronavirus cases are high.
“Vaccines are very effective, also very safe, but they’re not 100 percent,” he says. “So you still need to try to minimize the risk.”
For example, Intrepid Travel has adjusted many itineraries to avoid crowded locations and to favor venues and transportation with enhanced ventilation standards. Their customers have to provide proof of vaccination, a negative result from a coronavirus test taken no more than 72 hours before the trip or proof of recent recovery from a covid-19 infection.
Guy Young, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold also requires guests to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to join their group tour. Additionally, they have added a dedicated well-being director to their on-the-road staff to answer safety questions and make sure guests and staff comply with coronavirus protocols.
Although there is no guarantee, you may find that more people on your trip are vaccinated than you assumed. In the approximately 15 trips Insight Vacations has run since May, Young says about 90 percent of customers have been vaccinated, “so that obviously takes a lot of the pressure off of our guests,” he says.
You can check with your rafting trip operator to find out exactly how they are addressing coronavirus concerns to get a sense of what you’re getting into. If at any point on the trip you’re not feeling comfortable with your surroundings, recall Crespo’s encouragement and mask up.
To prepare for whatever 2021 throws your way, or if you decide traveling with unvaccinated people is too stressful, make sure your rafting trip has a flexible booking policy. Can it be canceled? Rescheduled? Can you get a full refund?
“Even though we know about the recommendation from the CDC for fully vaccinated people, I think traveling is still something that people need to think very carefully about before they make a decision,” Crespo says. “There has to be an understanding that there is an increased risk when you travel no matter what.”
According to Alisa Cohen, founder of the Virtuoso travel agency Luxe Traveler Club, you should be able to find fully refundable airfare and hotels, but a tour or ticketed experience may require a deposit that is tough to get back. She recommends purchasing travel insurance that covers “cancel for any reason” and other coronavirus variables for more protection. Don’t forget to read the fine print before putting down your credit card for the adventure or its insurance.
Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.