Why the Travel Desk is Ending Its Pandemic Tip Sheet

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Hours before President Donald J. Trump blocked nonessential travel from Europe on March 11, 2020, in response to the spiraling coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times’s deputy Travel editor, Elisabeth Goodridge, flew to her home in New York from Brussels, where she had been vacationing with her family. “Countries started shutting down,” Ms. Goodridge remembered.

Ernesto Londoño, then The Times’s bureau chief in Brazil, wrote Ms. Goodridge an email about travel restrictions also taking effect in the Caribbean and South America. Ms. Goodridge asked Mr. Londoño to make a list of the new restrictions and assigned the reporter Aimee Ortiz to cover travel restrictions in other regions, including Europe and Asia. “I have a little PTSD looking back at my Slack from that weekend,” Ms. Goodridge said in a recent interview.

Just three days after the travel ban was announced, the Travel section published “I’m a U.S. Citizen. Where in the World Can I Go?” The master list, which started with changes in 35 countries, outlined not only where American tourists could travel but what restrictions were in place, if any.

“It really just blew up,” Ms. Goodridge said. “So many different countries were shutting down their borders and evolving their rules.”(The State Department released their own list a few days later.)

In the more than two years since it was published, the list has grown to include over 150 countries and has been Travel’s most viewed story since the pandemic started. And on July 1, it will end, signifying a new phase of travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Keeping track of international tourism restrictions was a team effort. For the past two years, about a dozen reporters contributed to the list, working to update it on a weekly basis. “At the very beginning, it was all hands on deck because things were changing so fast,” said the Travel editor, Amy Virshup. In 2021, the most consistent contributor was the freelance reporter Karen Schwartz; the freelance reporter Paige McClanahan took over in December 2021, and she has been maintaining the list since, from her home in the French Alps.

Ms. McClanahan said that, to update the article, she would go through the list alphabetically, aiming to update information on 10 to 12 countries every day. She would call or visit the websites of U.S. Embassies, government health and foreign ministries, national tourism boards and airlines in search of policy changes. Then, she would read Twitter, the news and an email inbox that the Travel desk had set up for reader-submitted tips. “I learned to get a sense of when rules were going to shift,” she said. “Regions tend to move together.”

When the Omicron variant started to spread in December 2021, “it was a story of barriers going up,” she said. “Gradually, it shifted. As February and March came around, countries started opening.” She said some countries changed their restrictions every week.

Throughout her tenure, Ms. McClanahan said, readers would email the Times travel inbox to share their own experiences or ask her to look into certain destinations. Sometimes, a reader’s question sparked a larger conversation, like when John Henretta, a 75-year-old Floridian, wrote in asking whether he would be able to go on his hiking trip to Switzerland nine months after receiving his booster. “You would think it would be a fairly straightforward question to answer,” Ms. McClanahan said. But the answer turned out to be complicated enough to warrant its own article about vaccine timing and international travel.

Readers often wrote in with very specific or personal travel questions. “I felt like a therapist,” Ms. McClanahan said. “You could just really sense people’s confusion around this and their anxiety over the rules.”

Though the list has been a trusted source for travelers, a new chapter of tourism in the pandemic has begun. According to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint metrics, travel is approaching prepandemic levels. Ms. Virshup said the turning point came in mid-June, when the United States dropped its testing requirement for re-entry. And, at this point, most countries require only proof of vaccination to enter, said Suzanne MacNeille, an editor on the project. “We’re in the process of seeing everything simplified,” she said.

“Now, the big thing for the travel industry is trying to keep up with the demand,” Ms. Virshup said. And with fewer restrictions to track, the Travel desk will be staying on top of emerging tourism trends as well as airline issues like delayed flights and lost luggage.

“I think people turned to the list as a way to look for guidance on the Covid travel rules themselves, but also just to navigate this world that we’re living in now,” Ms. McClanahan said. “The end of this column does feel emblematic of the freedom that we’re returning to, even if there is some uncertainty that comes with that.”

“Covid isn’t going away,” Ms. Goodridge said. “People are just trying to learn how to live with that. And one thing they did realize — millions of people — was the importance of travel in their lives.”