Thomson Co-founder Judi Wineland (right) on the Salmon River with another traveler
As we plan for life after the pandemic, one thing is certain: travel is going to look differently than it used to. But the joy of getting outside will be just as good as ever. Take it from Thomson co-founder Judi Wineland: in late August, she flew to Idaho for an AdventureWomen rafting trip on the Salmon River. Joining a group of 15 women and 7 guides, she spent a week navigating Class II-IV rapids, sleeping in a tent and enjoying the outdoors.
We caught up with Judi for a firsthand account of what travel is like right now, what to expect at the airports and what safety measures she experienced before, during and after her trip.
Q: Why did you decide to go on this river-rafting trip now?
A: It’s wonderful to have a nice, big backyard, and three dogs I can stay home with, and an air-conditioned home. But there is something so lacking without the wilderness, and the great outdoors. I needed to be out there. I also wanted to see how other companies and industries are enforcing new Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs]. What works and what doesn’t. I’m very confident in the SOPs we have for our Kilimanjaro treks, but I thought, maybe I’ll learn something new, see something I haven’t seen that might affect how we do things. So I went, and it was wonderful.
Judi setting up her tent
Did you have concerns about traveling on airplanes and in airports?
I did a lot of thinking on this. I had been watching for many, many months, what airlines like Delta and KLM are actually doing to protect travelers. I choose to travel with Delta because of what they are doing with social distancing, what they are doing for hygiene. They have high-quality filters in their planes, and they have promised to put no one beside you unless you are in a bubble. Of course, everybody has to wear a mask.
[Read: What You Need to Know About Air Quality During Commercial Flights]
My friends were saying, “Does she really want to get on a plane?” But I probably felt safer on the plane than I do going grocery shopping. The place had been totally cleaned. At the airport, everybody was social distancing. Everybody was masked inside the airport.
The first thing they hand you on the plane is a little packet of hand sanitizer and a wipe for armrests, knobs, window shades, screens and anything else, even though they’ve wiped everything down before you get on.
Here’s something I never thought about before: on the plane, they boarded everybody row-by-row from the back first, so people are not passing each other along the way. These airlines are taking safety seriously. They have thought about everything.
What was the flight like?
The flight was uneventful. The airports and planes are not full. When the flight attendants brought you food, it was prepackaged in a Ziploc bag. They had gloves on. You’d open the bag yourself to eat and drink. The food itself is not touched. They want you to throw your trash away as soon as possible, just to keep whatever you touched away from everything else.
When you fly with an airline such as Delta, KLM or Qatar, who have the resources to provide as much safety as possible, the flights are not stressful at all. It felt the same as any other flight in my life, except that I wore a mask and took precautions. That was certainly a fine compromise to get outdoors.
Navigating rapids along the Salmon River in Idaho
How was the trip?
It was such a great trip. We forgot about COVID when we were traveling. It just wasn’t a topic anymore. We camped on these sandy beaches along the Salmon River. Many of us slept without a tent – we slept in a sleeping bag under the stars. The key thing is, just for now, to find places that are in the outdoors. A tent is the perfect way to be out and traveling right now.
Judi’s group on the Salmon River
Did you see any protocols or procedures that changed the way Thomson Safaris might do things?
Yes! For now, there will be more distancing between guests and staff at Thomson Safaris, especially when it comes to food service. We have been working on how best to provide food to our guests in camp. For now, we believe our staff can’t be serving guests at the table. We will either have family style serving if the guests are traveling in their own bubble, or buffet style where guests point to what they want, and our staff puts the food on their plates. This is what happened on the river, and all servers were masked during food prep and during serving.
Did you encounter large crowds or other travel groups on your trip?
No. We saw a few people going down river with their dogs. The only other time we saw other people would have been at our hotel in Lewiston, Idaho, this little tiny place. We saw nobody else – just us and nature!
Did you experience any moments that made you feel unsafe?
No. We were all diligent. Even when we were on the trip, the guides wore masks while they served food. Out of all of the times in my life when I wanted to make sure the food was being prepared carefully, this was it. And I never felt at risk. The likelihood of me getting the virus was very low. This let us feel incredibly comfortable among each other.
Navigating rapids along the Salmon River
Were you required to quarantine, or take a COVID-19 test, at any point during your trip?
Massachusetts, where I live, asks you to fill out a traveler form if you are coming from an unsafe state, and Idaho is considered to be unsafe. On my return flight, I learned that I had to fill the form out online. You receive something every day that says, “Remember, you have to quarantine, or you have to show that you have had a negative test done.” I had a test done and it was negative, so I’m allowed to be out of quarantine. I’m still being safe and not spending time with people.
[Read: Traveler Safety Recommendations and Protocols by State]
What would you tell someone who is hoping to travel in the next year?
Traveling is a personal decision, we get that. But if you are wondering if it’s safe, I can tell you: this is a great time to travel. The airlines provide safety and comfort, and few people are traveling. Do as much as you can in the great outdoors.
Internationally, you better begin to think of where you’re going to travel next year. Once the vaccine comes out, there will be such pent-up demand. Most of our travelers have decided to postpone their trips, and they’re first in line to go [on safari/on a trip] when things open again. We will probably be sold out in 2021 because of the demand.
June, July, August – if you are thinking of traveling internationally, you should make a reservation. Once the world opens, it’s going to be like the floodgates opening.
Judi Wineland and her group of 23 travelers went river-rafting in Idaho in late August
Learn more about how we’re preparing for the return of world travel on our COVID-19 information page