What is it Like Being on Cycling Tours in a Pandemic?
With the successful conclusion on our first two pandemic-era tours, I reached out to our tour leaders and TDA’s Operations Manager to get their thoughts on how they made it work. Early feedback is showing that people not only felt safe (both tours were covid-free from start to finish) but that sense of freedom and discovery – so integral to our tours before covid – still exists even with a few necessary new protocols.
“The staff were vigilant but calm and gentle with reminders. They followed protocols consistently themselves. Balazs was particularly careful with the lunch and dinner services. Additionally, when one of the riders was ill, they cared for him and also got him tested promptly.”
“The fact TDA thought about it thoroughly, put together a practical program of action and followed through was quite effective in my view. And the staff leading by example helped”
Emily Currie from South Africa led the riders across the southern US in our first-ever Great American Roadtrip. In an email as she was furiously preparing for her next assignment – leading the Pura Vida in Costa Rica – Emily explained what was (or wasn’t) different this time from all the trips she has led in the past. “Surprisingly, not much! Pre–tour I was quite nervous as I thought that everything would be different and that we would have a hard time getting riders to comply with all the ‘new rules’, however I was pleasantly surprised with how effortless it all happened.” Emily said there were a couple occasions where staff did COVID-19 tests on a participant but they came back negative each time. For those still a bit nervous Emily pointed out that “the airports, airlines and countries themselves have quite rigorous safety procedures and once you join the tour you will be in a group that have all agreed to adhere to TDA’s own safety measures.”
Gergo Szanyi from Hungary is our longest serving tour leader and I think he might have been able to lead the Trans-Europa with his eyes closed if he wanted to. But he kept them wide open this September and October leading our first European trip in over two years. “We are (and always were) strict about hand washing protocol at lunch, and this time we rearranged the table layout to give somewhat more space for the riders.” And did anyone get COVID-19 during the tour, I asked? “Luckily no! Not one person in the group. On a few occasions we did rapid antigen tests when somebody developed related (respiratory) symptoms, but the results were all negative. Coughing, sneezing and sore throat were probably caused by the cold mornings, and not by the new virus.”
Gergo shared these final thoughts for people still considering a trip but feeling unsure when it’s safe to jump in and register. “[W]e are just riding our bikes all day long, enjoying the scenery and the daily ride. We only launch a tour if we truly believe it can be completed during these times. If you are cool about to travel, just follow the recommended protocols. If they ask to wear a mask, do so. It’s easy as that! Oh, and and enjoy the ride! :-)”
Finally, I asked TDA’s Operations Manager Miles MacDonald how the protocols were created. How do you balance safety with the freedom to enjoy the ride? He said it was a long process. “It started essentially in March 2020…As each month went by we learned more about COVID transmission, and during early 2021 learned more about the vaccines available and their effectiveness. The first decision was making COVID vaccination mandatory for all participants and staff. This was a key element of reducing the risk of severe health outcomes for everyone on tour, and reducing the risk of transmission to local populations. From there we learned from our local health authorities the key elements of reducing transmission. Wearing masks while in indoor public settings or while in our tour vehicles and in addition a strong focus on hand hygiene.”
Miles also shared his advice for those contemplating their first covid-era tour. “It is normal to feel anxious about travelling during this time. As the organizers we definitely experience anxiety in the build up to the tours, as we think through every conceivable outcome, both positive and negative that could transpire. However once you are fully vaccinated, and participating on a bicycle tour that takes place mostly outdoors, enjoying the incredible freedom of travel, even while following COVID protocols during the tour, it does not feel as overwhelming or scary. Risks due exist, but we all work together to minimize these.”
So with COVID-19 being addressed with simple protocols, riders on the tours were able to get back to just enjoying the open road. Here are a few comments we got from Trans-Europa riders in their post-tour feedback…
“The Trans Europe tour was everything I expected and more. I expected quaint towns, interesting cities and a safe riding route and the Trans Europe was all of that…Every member of the TdA staff treated each of us with kindness, consideration and attention to whatever it was that we needed. I have done other tours with other companies and nothing in my experience compares with the quality of the tour they provided.”
“It was so great to be on the bike again, and experiencing a TDA road trip: great scenery, great food, and the best support staff. There is nothing that beats getting on the bike every day and knowing everything is taken care of and all you have to do is enjoy the ride!”