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Escapes: Navigating travel in the time of coronavirus

More questions than crystal-clear answers these days when you’re pondering whether to travel.
There are more questions than crystal-clear answers these days when you’re pondering whether to travel.
(Lisa Kogawa / For The Times)

How do you know what’s the right thing to do?

You’re a traveler, and you like to go and do. That’s a basic premise. But with the novel coronavirus, the message is clearly not to go (on cruises, for instance) or do. (Witness the number of cancellations and postponements as well as the president’s announcement that the U.S. is suspending travel from most of Europe for 30 days.)

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I am the worried travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. I wasn’t around for the 1918 pandemic, so I don’t know how this song goes, not really. I do know that people are confused.

No one can tell you what to do. You have to do what’s right for you and your travel companions. To do that, you have to look at yourself in a psychological mirror. We have some advice this week on how to reach those decisions and what to do if you ultimately decide to cancel in the face of this pandemic.

If you need to get away, a car trip might be just the ticket, so we look at a couple of splurges to soothe our coronavirus-upset souls. Christopher Reynolds compares the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite and the Inn at Death Valley. Closer to home, we also suggest a weekend trip that will put the sunshine back in your psyche. And if there is any good to be gleaned from this public health mess, it is this: Airfares are dropping. Plus, in the End paper, a tip on how not to let the world know you’re a jerk.

Veritable rays of sunshine, we are. And given the forecast, that’s saying something. But be of good cheer. Use your time to plan (and buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance) and dream of better times ahead.

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Should I stay or should I go?

And if I do stay, can I get my money back?

Mary Forgione and I tackled these questions in two articles that are designed not to give you the latest coronavirus numbers but to help you if your plans seem wobbly. I turned to business executives and a business professor from my graduate studies for help in formulating the questions so you get the answer that’s right for you. Forgione offers strategies and tools for trying to make yourself financially whole if a trip proves a nonstarter.

If you do decide to go, you’ll find some pretty great airfares out there, Michael Hiller writes. (He’s not kidding — I just found a round-trip ticket from L.A. to Toronto, where I need to be in about a month, for $301.) Here’s something you won’t find: buffets at the MGM properties. For now, they are closed, Jay Jones writes.

If you would like to keep up with the news of the coronavirus, sign up for our Coronavirus Today newsletter for updates and answers to your questions every weekday evening.

Buffet offerings like these at the Bayside Buffet at Mandalay Bay will be unavailable effective Sunday as MGM Resorts closes buffets at seven resorts along the Strip.
Buffet offerings like these at the Bayside Buffet at Mandalay Bay will be unavailable effective Sunday as MGM Resorts closes buffets at seven resorts along the Strip.
(Jim Decker)

The urge to splurge

When times are tough, a little reward is a wonderful thing. We offer a couple of options: the venerable Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite or the Inn at Death Valley. But which one? Christopher Reynolds stayed at both and renders his opinion on whether they’re worth it. (Of course, one is in Yosemite and one is in Death Valley, so they already have that going for them.)

Don’t miss the background story on both lodgings — some delights, some skeletons.

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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Easier to exit from LAX

When ride-hailing and taxis were moved to the LAXit lot in the fall, cab devotees were not happy. Getting on a shuttle to go to the place where a cab could pick you up seemed contrary to what cabs were all about.

Now LAX is trying a pilot program that lets cabs pick you up in a couple of places at the main airport (besides LAXit), Reynolds writes. Here’s what you need to know.

Plastics make the world go aground

As part of the relaunch of the Travel section as part of the Saturday section, we joined in the discussion of how plastics are affecting our world. I was horrified at how much I contribute to the problem that I looked at in my On the Spot column, which also examined how plastic restrictions are making our world better, one disposable bottle at a time.

It’s a whole new world

Also from the “how-does-it-compare” department, L.A. Times game critic Todd Martens evaluates how the Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure might stack up against, say, Harry Potter at Universal and Disney’s own Star Wars and Avatar worlds.

Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park
Avengers Campus will be a new land dedicated to discovering, recruiting and training the next generation of heroes, opening this summer at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim.
(Disney/Marvel)
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Hit the beach

Dana Point is a whale of a place, even without the gargantuan mammals. But the Orange County town comes with those as well. It’s a good getaway for parents and kids and won’t strain your budget. All this and heaven too, Anne Burke writes.

Water sprays from the blowhole of the gray whale that wandered into Dana Point Harbor and navigated its way out before circling back into port and then heading out to sea again.
Water sprays from the blowhole of the gray whale that wandered into Dana Point Harbor and navigated its way out before circling back into port and then heading out to sea again.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

What we’re reading

Maybe you had a little too much to drink, or you think this would be a great souvenir, albeit one that’s pretty much forever.

We’re talking about tattoos, or, at least, Afar writers Nicole Antonio and Mekalyn Rose are. They remind you of what to pack (clothes that don’t bind on the new artwork, lots of moisturizers) and suggest some of the best places in the world to find top-notch inkers (San Antonio and Berlin, among others).

On a plane recently, while thumbing (or fingering) through a list of movies in my seatback entertainment, I wondered, who chose to include this one? Unkind thoughts, I know, but really, something from this century is always a good idea. Why does an airline choose what it chooses? Some airlines, notably Delta, work directly with the studios; other airlines work with a third party that works with studios. And about those movies with airplane crashes? Well, read what Afar‘s Mike Arnot has to say.

People! People! Get a grip! How could anyone say nasty things about our national parks? They can and they do on “give-our-opinion” websites everywhere. Now, artist Amber Share offers us a guide to the dopey, snotty things people say, illustrated in a way that makes them ever dumber and funnier, Jessica Leigh Hester writes for Atlas Obscura. To wit, one visitor’s criticism of Yosemite: “Trees block view and there are too many gray rocks.” You have to see these gems of wisdom to believe them.

“Too many gray rocks.” Yep, that’s what one person thinks of Yosemite National Park, where the skies behind majestic Half Dome take on an eerie glow as the sun sets on another beautiful winter’s day.
“Too many gray rocks.” Yep, that’s what one person thinks of Yosemite National Park, where the skies behind majestic Half Dome take on an eerie glow as the sun sets on another beautiful winter’s day.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Other things you could be reading

Besides our coronavirus newsletter, mentioned above, we have other non-coronavirus newsletters that run the gamut. Something for every taste, and some for when the world is too much for you. They’re fabulous and free.

The L.A. Times is all about everything, but it’s also about one thing in particular, and that’s you and your life. Where else can you find something made just for you? Please subscribe.

And finally, you could be reading your letter, suggestion or complaint in this newsletter. We do want to hear from you (no name-calling, though) with ideas, suggestions for better content and the like. Write to travel@latimes.com.

Why do we ask you to do that? First, you matter. Second, what you have to say will be 10 times more interesting than the people who send us emails that say, “Good day. We would like to ship 10,000 units of 6-32 x 1 ½ screws.”

End paper

I recently had lunch with a friend who ordered a plant-based burger. When it arrived, it had what looked like two large pieces of bacon. She asked me whether that was, indeed, bacon, and I said, “Couldn’t possibly be.” At her urging, I sampled it. “Couldn’t be bacon,” I said. “It tastes great, but why would they put bacon on a plant-based burger?”

Because, the server said, maybe they just want to see what a plant-based burger tastes like and they’re not really ordering the burger because they don’t eat meat.

Yeah, that makes sense. The same kind of sense it makes to complain there are “too many gray rocks” at Yosemite.

Trying to get my own head clear to collect the questions people need to ask and answer honestly as they decide whether to take a trip or cancel it, I picked up a small book called “As a Man Thinketh.” Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be drawn into something that (a) has a sexist title and (b) was written in 1903 (but rewritten in modern language). Life now can’t be anything like life then, can it?

It can, and it is.

I was struck by the sincerity of James Allen’s words and their common sense and by several passages, including this one: “Circumstances do not shape us so much as they reveal us. As the masters of our thoughts, we are the authors of our environments. As the sole gardener of your own mind, you have more power than any other force in shaping your environment and your destiny.”

For travelers, I wonder how many meltdowns about a flight that’s late, a ride-share that didn’t come, a piece of luggage that went astray have revealed who we are.

I also wonder — because I also have revealed myself several times in unattractive ways — whether, once we know we are unveiling our true character, we can still stop mid-rant. Better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought a fool, the old saying goes, than to open it and remove all doubt.

I’ll work on that. And I hope the drunken bozos who sat behind me on the plane home Friday night will, too.

Meanwhile, travel safely and, well, and remember that we will be here to welcome you home.


Newsletter
Get inspired to get away.

Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter from travel editor Catharine Hamm.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
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