Escapes: Untangling travel isn’t for wimps

An escalator leading to the Grand Bazaar Shops and Bally’s in Las Vegas has gone quiet.
(Aaron Mayes / UNLV Special Collections and Archives)

This is what the new world looks like: Empty. Quiet. Finite.

That’s the calamity of the coronavirus. If you’re a traveler whose plans have been upended, hang tough. These aren’t easy times. And let us know if we can help. We don’t have all the answers, but here are some of the things we can tell you:

What’s open? What’s closed? Can I get a refund for a cruise I didn’t take? How about for a vacation home where I didn’t stay? For my tickets to Disneyland? Will the federal government force airlines to give refunds for canceled flights?

What if I need a passport and the State Department isn’t issuing them? What if I’m stuck in a foreign country where I’ve been living? What should I consider?

What are they doing with all those cruise ships that are not sailing? What do we do with a cruise ship that’s headed our way to drop off passengers?


Most of all, how the heck do I keep myself calm?

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Several people have asked whether I have my feet up on my desk during this unanticipated break in the action, as it were.

Um, no. My colleagues and I have never been busier. We are scrambling to educate ourselves about topics you’re asking about, which are topics we never knew we needed to know. (Why else would you be on a call at 7 a.m. to learn about airline finance in the time of coronavirus?) We can’t stop the madness, but we do know that having knowledge can help tamp down that rising scream in your throat.

Click through those links above to find answers to your questions. If you don’t see your question, write to us at and ask. We’ll try our best to be a resource for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and if you’re still reluctant, check out the End paper, which comes, not surprisingly (although isn’t everything a surprise these days?), at the end.

And keep moving ahead. You don’t want to have slashed through the jungle only to stop just before finding the clearing, do you? I thought not. Onward.

Putting it all into perspective

A reader wrote to me after last week’s newsletter using in the salutation the term I used to describe myself. It made me smile.


But more to the point, this note summarizes every traveler’s regret and every traveler’s hope. I share this with permission.

“In late January I signed up for a trip down the Usumacinta River in southeastern Mexico. The listing was part of the Tours & Cruise column, this one by Rosemary McClure. The company is Far Flung Adventures of New Mexico. We returned March 2.

“My great thankfulness is to now have the memories of the Maya sites, the river, the camaraderie to balance the peril of where we are now, using these images to fortify myself in thinking of a return to safer times. It has once again taught me about chance. My Guatemala trip of March died (as was necessary).

“My friends from the Mexico trip are scattered within their own lives, and the Mexican people will experience whatever will be visited upon them.”

Tobi Taboada
Yucca Valley

What we’re reading

Here’s a blast from the past. Eastern Airlines has repatriated thousands of U.S. citizens from more than a dozen countries, Paul Brady reports for Travel & Leisure. You may remember predecessor Eastern Air Lines, whose chairman at one time was astronaut Frank Borman. The company suffered after airline deregulation and went belly up in the early ’90s. When it’s not helping get Americans home, this newest incarnation works from Central and South America to Miami.

National Geographic calls them the “most powerful photos of the decade.” I was in awe — not of all of them, but certainly of the ones involving animals, especially the one shot in Riverside. Take a look for yourself, and imagine having to whittle these down from 21 million images.

This isn’t a new story, but I just stumbled across it. It’s by Sarah Souli for the Outline, and it’s about a language on a small Greek island that isn’t spoken but whistled. The language is called sfyria, and it’s dying. If you don’t know what you’re listening to is a language, you’ll be oblivious, Souli writes. If you click through to the story, there’s audio (which awakened my feline assistant from a dead sleep for some reason, so you might want to be prepared).

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What you could be reading

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The letter you just wrote to us. See Toni Taboada’s missive above. She wrote to Let us know what’s on your mind.

End paper

One of the ongoing truths about being on the road is that travelers who ask for help are rarely turned down, whether for directions or a suggestion on where to buy something. Kindness, I think, is built into everyone’s soul.

There are people who are reluctant to ask for help, and I understand that. But as I have aged — gracefully sometimes, gracelessly more often — I have more often come to believe in what I learned from P.M. Forni, a professor of romance languages at Johns Hopkins. That was his day job. His other job was co-founder of the Civility Initiative, as it was later called, which aimed to help integrate good manners and common sense into everyday living.

I was sorry to learn he died two years ago. My interviews with him were life-altering and helped me frame such issues as “air rage” in the proper light. He told me this story in one of those interviews as he recounted his forays into elementary classrooms to impart his knowledge.

He would pose this scenario to the children: A cat comes into the room and you begin to stroke it. Now what happens? All hands would shoot up and there would be shouts of “The cat starts to purr,” which he said was absolutely correct.

Then he would ask, “What happens to you?” A little girl — he said it was almost always a girl — would raise her hand and say, “You feel good too.”

He let that sink in for a couple of moments before explaining to me that the person who asks for help is not the only one who benefits. The person who gives the help is rewarded too.

If you refuse to ask for help or won’t accept it because you feel as though you are imposing, you’re denying that other person a chance to feel the reward of doing good and, yes, being good.

A friend called Sunday while I was on another call and left me a message saying she was sewing face masks; did I want one? I had worn a scarf over my nose and mouth the day before; it was OK, but I had to keep messing with it. (I wore this while I was picking up supplies at the drugstore for making masks; surgical pads and hair elastics will work OK.) I hesitated.

I’m still such a dope about asking for help that it was hard to say, “Yes, I’d like a mask. Thank you.” When she answered the phone, I did my best “Fiddler on the Roof” impression, singing, “Mask maker, mask maker, make me a mask!” Somehow it then was easier to say yes, please, I’d like a mask.

I am glad to have the mask, and I hope she, like Forni’s cat, feels good too.

In these troubled times, we are all travelers trying to find our way.

Wherever you are, be safe and well, and when you next are on the road, accept kindness as a reaffirmation of the world that awaits us. And be sure to tell us about it when we welcome you home.