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Traveling with Covid: a cautionary tale

Once home after a recent trip to Spain, I tested positive for Covid after feeling unwell the last few days of the tour. It was my first time with Covid and I have been careful over the past 3 years to avoid it. I since reread the RSE health and safety guidelines which emphasized how important they were to each tour and that anyone on the trip who appeared sick would be required to be tested. Unfortunately, that didn't appear to happen. From the first meeting and throughout the entire trip, one person had a persistent cough that only lessened in severity as the trip went on. By the end of the two weeks, several others were coughing as well. Since our guide did not follow protocol, I wish I had said something to cause this to be addressed early on. Since we travel as a group, and share meals, we cannot avoid close proximity; therefore it is very important to act responsibly with others in mind. If someone is coughing, for whatever reason, they should be wearing a mask to protect others; hand sanitizer should be used liberally. Times have changed and so must we--we can't be shy. My take away is to follow these adages, because my health depends on it: if you see (or hear) something, say something; and take nothing for granted!

Posted by
8659 posts

I hope that you are feeling better at this time. There is that constant dilemma between speaking up and not saying anything on so many issues in life. It is really hard to know in the moment what is the best course of action. It is possible that your guide asked that individual to test, they tested negative, and you just don't know about it. There are privacy issues.

I agree that a private word with the guide expressing your concerns is always appropriate on tour, on almost any subject. A quick self-check to make sure that it isn't a "grump" complaint and then go ahead and speak to the guide. It will provide you the answers you seek and probably important feedback to the guide.

Posted by
318 posts

We were traveling pre Covid and had a similar situation. A tour member arrived with a severe cough and actually had to be taken to a hospital after passing out on our first walking tour. She was in the hospital overnight and then returned to the group. Although the group was discussing what was going on, everyone was afraid to be labeled a "grump" and we're afraid to speak up. By the end of the tour a large percentage were sick. I am hoping that since Covid there is not the stigma of speaking up that there was pre Covid. Concern for your health should not be considered grumpy.

Posted by
256 posts

The reality is that contagious illness has always been a risk of group travel. In the 5 RS tours I took pre Covid, there were always a few people coughing and sneezing. Same situation in my 4 post Covid tours. The difference is that now those testing positive for Covid are removed from the tour. The unintended consequence of this policy is that some people hide their symptoms thereby increasing risk to other travelers. I wish RS would allow those with any respiratory illness, including Covid, to stay on the tour provided they mask on the bus, dine at separate table and avoid close contact with others. In all my pre Covid tours, sick people made efforts to avoid infecting others and no one expected them to be booted out of the group. In my first post Covid tour, we lost over half our members and our guide due to Covid protocols thereby ruining the group dynamic which is the heart of RS tours. There must be a way to mitigate health risks while keeping everyone on the tour.

Posted by
496 posts

My partner had a consistent cough for years, sounded awful. I never caught it though because heart disease is not contagious. There are many reasons for a cough, not all are contagious.

Posted by
6 posts

Freaktraveler
Yes. Agree completely! It's better to speak up and at least know that you did the right thing. I don't think doing so is "grumpy". The days of not saying d sad one thing out of "politeness" no longer apply in this current Covid era. There was a cough I kept hearing on my recent tour and I was going to ask the guide if this individual had taken a covid test. (I got sidetracked and never did this.). Even though there are other causes of a deep cough; in this era one has to think of all the germs that spread from coughing without a mask. With 26 people riding a bus and eating together, we have no choice but to be proactive and vigilant. The end of story-I got home July 2nd and was Covid + for the first time July 4th. Not saying there is any correlation, but without the test being done, it is a distinct possibility.

Posted by
932 posts

The reality is that contagious illness has always been a risk of group travel.

Not just group travel, but any travel that involves airplanes, especially in the winter months.

Pre covid, from 2016 to 2019, we alternated between Paris and London every December before XMAS, really loved being over there then for the food, drink, and fun. However, only in three of those four years at least one of us get sick with at least a bad cold, and in the worst case my wife caught the flu in London in 2017 that somehow I avoided. After 2019, we pretty much decided we would avoid traveling to Europe during the dead of winter and cold/flu season again, having never once gotten sick on dozens of trips to Europe from April to October...and then a few months later Covid hit...and we are a little bit older and now even less inclined to travel to Europe in winter.

Posted by
4482 posts

When I had Covid, my cough was much less severe than the cough I had with other respiratory illnesses(in the past 12 months and both produced negative Covid tests) and weather changes. Coughing or lack of coughing may not tell you when someone has Covid. I do agree that such people should wear a KN95 mask when with a group.

Posted by
604 posts

Like it or not, the world, including the travel world, has changed as a result of Covid. For many, it hasn’t been or may not be ‘like other respiratory illnesses’ because we now know the Covid virus is a tad more complex than the influenza or cold ones. The way to navigate group travel is both an individual decision and a company’s one. There are different risks, because of Covid, of air or cruise or group tour travel that most of us did not need to consider prior to 2020. We cannot put the Covid genie back in the bottle. Just because many ‘have moved on’ doesn’t mean Covid has. My spouse was at a medical appointment this past week and learned from a nurse that there are indeed still ‘Covid wards’ in hospitals, including here. But no one wants to know that anymore. (And as someone who worked in a large hospital for 30+ years, we never had ‘influenza’ or ‘cold’ wards although sometimes nursing home floors had to go into isolation because of a flu or norovirus breakout).

Posted by
2147 posts

“I wouldn't dream of asking a guide or a tour participant about any coughing or sneezing that I might overhear on the bus”

Jessicaf227, I’m happy to read your response. We are seriously considering cancelling our upcoming tour. The thought of other tour members keeping tabs on us is very concerning. We did nine RS tours prior to Covid and the “no grumps” policy was already waning during the last few trips. In this case, I think folks should focus on their own health and not be concerned about reporting other people.

Posted by
256 posts

Donna, no need to cancel your tour. The comments on this thread and the Forum in general are NOT representative of the vast majority of RS travelers. I have taken 4 tours post Covid and none of my fellow travelers were interested in booting people out of the group. All were happy to manage their own health.

Posted by
8659 posts

Everyone must decide their own comfort level with group travel. There will be those who are uncomfortable with lack of protocols and those that feel any protocols are unnecessary. The key here is a willingness to accept the protocols that are put in place ( you know them in advance) and abide by them.

Don’t waste everyone’s time by repeatedly stating your positions on this forum (often in violation of guidelines). Think through what is important to you and make your decisions.

Back to the original post- no one should hesitate to privately discuss concerns regarding aspects of the tour with the guide, particularly regarding tour policies. You have paid a great deal of money for your tour and a respectful private question is always in order.

Posted by
54 posts

Consider these quotes from this travel forum and the RS Tours website:
The posted observation: “…therefore it is very important to act responsibly with others in mind. If someone is coughing, for whatever reason, they should be wearing a mask to protect others; hand sanitizer should be used liberally.”

And then there is this view:
“I hereby release, agree not to sue, discharge and hold harmless RSE, its employees, agents, and representatives, of and from …any Claims based on the actions, omissions, or negligence of RSE, its employees, agents and representatives, whether a COVID-19 infection occurs before, during, or after participation in any RSE tour.”

If the above portion of the RS Tours “COVID-19 Waiver of Liability” is equitably applied, shouldn’t tour members also be held harmless for their “actions, omissions, or negligence” ? Why is “infection control” the sole responsibility of the tour members ? How many “personal service/travel/food service/hospitality” companies would be held harmless if 33 to 50% of its clients caught a serious disease, all within the same time period and same setting/venue ?

Posted by
302 posts

I follow the COVID- related posts with interest until they (usually) devolve. Here is the link (dated 7/6)
https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/on-the-road-reports to the most recent % of reported cases.
Question: were these cases reported only during the tour ( and these folks then had to leave), or, as with several recent posts pertaining to COVID, does it include those who reported to the RS office once returned home? I have a hunch it's the former. Regardless, on this link, RS takes credit for their policies being the reason for the 50% drop from last year.
One of the requirements currently listed to join a RS tour is to agree take care of other members' health and safety. One issue might be that the guides are not consistently following their own RS protocol? It would be difficult to know if a coughing or sneezing member has privately been asked by the guide to test, for example. Do all the guides give the same information about this at the first welcome meeting?
Pre- COVID, I never worried about getting sick when traveling solo, on the RS tours or other companies'. I used my tried and true combo of products and overall healthy immune system and never once got sick after a trip in over a decade. I am not that person anymore and will keep my N95 firmly plastered to my face, no indoor dining, group meals- until this virus behaves more predictably. That could be a very long time!
Which leads to the grump factor. If I always have my mask on, want to sit alone on the bus and take a My Way tour to avoid group meals am I actually now a grump, even if I am pleasant in every interaction and don't complain about schlepping my luggage or anything else? I'm not being facetious here, the world HAS changed and I don't know if RS ever had an actual definition of a grump. I always thought it meant keeping an open mind and being willing to try new experiences. I think being the COVID testing police could "read" as a grump, but fault the guide for not reinforcing protocol and reminders along the way.
It's really tricky to navigate as both a business and a customer. I think Rick has done a phenomenal job considering how fraught it all is. I think the company's integrity is admirable. (But he might need to rethink the grump thing? It's not so easy anymore...)

Posted by
27451 posts

I haven't taken a tour since 1972 (obviously not one of Rick's), but my interpretation of "grump" in this context is "complainer".

Posted by
20 posts

We did the London trip last spring, which was wonderful, but we were quite discouraged by the first meeting and a guide who pretty much pooh poohed Covid and told us to be adults. We had a couple of people coughing all week. No mention of testing. Hard to know what went on privately but with her initial comments, we doubted it was ever confronted. Covid is something we are all learning how to live with and it seems group travel where we share buses and dinner tables deserves a bit more stringent attention than it is getting.

Posted by
684 posts

We are at breakfast in Norway. No one else is in the room. We rented a car this trip instead of a tour or public transportation. I miss the opportunity to meet more travel friends, but I'm not afraid of being 'booted" out of the car;)