In the massive pot of "life sucks" stew that's been brewing since the pandemic began, we can smell such staple ingredients like anxiety, panic, restlessness, and denial.

Rather than lingering around in a pool of negativity, travel enthusiasts are counting down the days to freedom with a smile.

And no, not the kind of freedom that will allow them to leave the house, but the more ambitious kind that will let them leave the country.

When the time comes, what's this going to look like?

Most countries are lifting local restrictions in a staged approach, and international travel will be similar. We can expect that states will first form agreements with neighbours by opening borders to create "travel bubbles."

We're already seeing this with Australia and New Zealand, and a popularity spike for the idea between the US and Canada.

Travel bubbles look like they'll initially be less of a bubble and more of a bilateral agreement, but expanding will be natural—the ABC's broken down the possibility for expansion to the Pacific Islands, in Australia's case.

"But Sah, I want to actually travel, not just go to my neighbours. When can I go to Asia, South America, or Africa?"

Good question, imaginary reader.

Just like real bubbles, these travel bubbles will expand over time, and although we can't tell the rate of expansion, we can pin down the variables at play and make some decent predictions.

The recipe for a bilateral agreement or the inclusion of a destination for your country's travel bubble will depend on a few things.

  • Proximity
  • Economic relationship (tourism especially)
  • The number of tests/cases (in both countries)

Disclaimer** These are uncertain times, and the information below heavily relies on predictions based on current information, and heavy speculation. I don't own a DeLorean that runs on plutonium.


Phase 1: Holiday Hot-spots

Every considerable economic power has a "go-to" holiday destination. These places usually rely heavily on tourism, have low populations, and are of proximity.

These are hardly the places we're imagining when thinking of backpacking or travelling. But they are poised to open first.

Why? A good analogy is that they're like businesses that aren't diversified.

Tourism contributes massively to these local economies, and when the stars align, these locations will open first.

Phase 2: Direct Flights & Handshakes

After these hot-spot holiday destinations open up, the bubble will expand, but it might start looking less like a circle and more like a star with an unknown amount of points. More on this soon.

As the infection rate and cases decrease, the local restrictions lift, and the testing capabilities rise worldwide. We'll start to see two things.

  • Countries comparing each other's response efforts and numbers
  • Countries striking deals based on these response efforts and numbers

There'll be a lot of factors when assessing these responses. When restrictions lift, we'll likely see localized outbreaks of the virus here and there.

In some cases, we'll see communities and provinces, or even states to whole countries open locally too early. We saw this in Hokkaido, Japan, where they had to go into lockdown twice - and we'll likely see this again and again.

When we account for all of this, we'll see some countries being able to strike bilateral agreements with each other. These agreements will be with states that:

  • Are a direct flight away from your country
  • Don't have agreements with other countries deemed unsafe
  • Offer incentives and deals to tourists
  • Have a set of rules and regulations that are COVID-19 specific

Japan is a direct flight away from Australia, both countries are transparent about numbers, and both show stabilizing conditions. So when Japan says that Australia is one of the first countries that it'll strike a tourism deal with, it's because of these factors.

7 News, in the article above, also highlights the fact that Australia and Japan are in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement with several other Southeast Asian countries.

The already existing trade agreements, productive relationships, and clear communications between these countries are a fantastic sign that they'll likely be in this phase of the travel bubble expansion.

Couple this with the amount of testing done, and stability in numbers, and we've got a great path to a broader bubble.

Australia and Japan are just an example. You'll start seeing similar agreements being struck among other countries too.

If you're from the US, expect South America to be a talking point when it comes to expanding travel bubbles. Unfortunately for Americans, the COVID-19 numbers aren't stabilizing just yet, and there aren't any official agreements that are in the works.

If you're from the UK, however, travelling within Europe will be a reality in the coming months. Officially speaking, under EU Guidelines, countries are allowed to re-open borders on the 15th of June, 2020, according to Forbes.

We're already seeing groups of neighbouring countries forming travel bubbles. For example, the Baltic states have done this recently. It'll only be a matter of time when backpackers can start taking off, even if it's a relatively close destination.

Phase 3: The New World

I'm just being dramatic; it'll be the old world with a few little changes.

Yes, there will be changes in how we travel, what rules will be in place, and the destinations that we're allowed to visit - but it will be in the short and medium terms.

Vaccine breakthroughs are happening weekly and you can track these with a dedicated page updated by The New York Times. And as of the 27th of May, 2020. The World Health Organization has 135 candidates for the COVID-19 vaccine - things are looking up.

Travel bubbles will gradually expand as cases slow down, countries stabilize, and the masses adopt anti-spreading behaviour. The first round of vaccines will start to come around to seal the deal and re-open previously thriving tourism hot-spots.

What can we expect in the short and medium terms?

After phase 1 and 2, we can expect a few changes in how we travel.

  • Countries that do open their borders will require travellers to be tested, regardless of the length of stay
  • Some states will require self-quarantine in the short term, which will likely lead to travellers taking longer-term trips rather than opting for two week holidays - the holidaymakers might opt for more popular destinations that open in phase 1
  • Although countries may open, there will be internal restrictions on where you can go, we see this in the proposed travel agreement between Australia and Japan
  • Travel insurance will either be much more expensive or won't be on offer at all. In fact, this happened almost immediately once COVID-19 hit the mainstream
  • There will be a polarizing mix of Visa's that are either granted much faster than usual or waiting periods that will last months at a time.
  • You may experience some form of racism and xenophobia, especially in countries that were hit hard and regularly see tourists not adopting the cleanliness/courtesy relating to masks and other distancing measures
  • Off the back of that last point, this is very much a global issue. There were countless articles of discrimination against "foreign-looking" citizens or tourists in this time of panic; this has happened in Australia, UK, Europe and the US. It may happen to you abroad as well.

Maybe the last couple of points weren't warm and fuzzy to end on, but let me adjust your mood for you. Although we're not in the clear yet, things are doing much better.

As a fellow traveller, I've got my hopes up, and these predictions aren't pulled out of thin air. I genuinely believe that we're getting towards a stage where travel will be the norm again.

Like we mentioned before, we can expect a whole host of incentives to restart the industry.

  • Cheaper flights
  • Cheaper Hotel/Hostel deals
  • Fewer people in hot-spots letting us truly see places like never before
  • Some countries are even prepared to reimburse up to half of the travel costs for tourists.

Off the back of massive global challenge, us travellers will be able to look at a whole host of silver linings. Until then, keep up to date, stay safe, and get excited!

Thanks,

Sah