A recent loosening of my employment and relational commitments has afforded me the opportunity to do some unencumbered international travel. My intention is to spend a month or more in a single locale so I can get to know the culture and learn from their perspectives. This is something I've wanted to do for a while, and this would be the perfect time, but... COVID-19.

How COVID-19 changes things

New failure modes:

  • I get turned away or quarantined upon arrival in my destination due to outbreaks in the US, particularly in the Bay Area (which has the most cases in the US so far, not to mention being a densely-populated metropolitan area with a lot of ties to China).
  • There's an outbreak in the country I'm visiting and it becomes difficult, expensive, or impossible to return to the US due to travel restrictions.
  • I carry COVID-19 to a new location and become responsible for a new outbreak.
  • It becomes more difficult to socialize at my destination due to fears around COVID-19.
  • I contract COVID-19 during travel due to the cramped/crowded conditions.
  • I develop pneumonia from COVID-19 in a country where:
    • I don't know anyone who can take care of / watch out for me.
    • I don't know how to navigate the medical system and/or don't have medical insurance coverage.
    • The hospitals are insufficiently resourced to be able to handle my case.

New benefits:

  • Cheaper flights due to other people's travel cancellations.
  • Escaping the Bay Area during the possible pending outbreak.

My questions

  • Should I go?
  • Where should I go?
  • Is there poor thinking or relevant information I haven't considered?

Should I go?


  • Any of the bad scenarios listed above. I realize some of these can be mitigated, but not all.
  • I have traveled abroad before, but always with a group that had established connections and a clear itinerary, so this is a self-stretching exercise to begin with.
  • I am a software engineer, so I can probably get a job that permits full-time remote work, enabling me to do this at a later time. But I will still have the obligation of work, and I may also become committed to relationships that make this much harder. I may not get another chance this good.
  • Timing: It seems the best policy is to get out of here ASAP while the likelihood that I am infected remains minuscule and travel restrictions/quarantines can be avoided. But the longer I wait, the more information will come out about the virus, and the more time I will have to plan for contingencies.

Where should I go?

My criteria for places to visit:

  • Spanish language (strong goal to improve my proficiency)
  • Decently developed (low crime/disorder, and importantly in this case: good hospitals)
  • Hot, dry climate (poorly-suited for viral transfer)

Current plausible candidates include Spain and the west coast of South America, though outbreak in Spain seems likely now that some travelers to/from Lombardy have tested positive. Absent COVID-19, my first choice would be Buenos Aires, but the climate isn't as hot or dry. That said, maybe I'm overweighting that in the decision (last I heard, the magnitude of the weather effect is very uncertain). I also worry that the particularly handsy and cheek-kissy South American culture could be a much more important factor in viral transmission.


I am currently very conflicted about this but leaning towards stay. I'm sure there's more clarification I could do around this, so I welcome further inquiries. Thanks for your thoughts!


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I carry COVID-19 to a new location and become responsible for a new outbreak.

I don't think this one makes sense as a significant consideration at this very moment, because the absolute number of cases in the US is currently quite small. The odds you have it right now are very low. However, the nature of exponential growth means that the odds of you having it in the near future are potentially much bigger. So I guess what I'm saying is if you're going to go, this is an argument for going ASAP.

But in terms of insulating yourself from COVID-19, wouldn't it be better to hole up in your apartment and order all your food online than travel somewhere for the purpose of socialization?

If I had to chose a place to go to, I might choose Singapore. They clearly have some cases but they are also seem to have their act together more than any other country. They have published some amazing contact-tracing graphs and seem to have managed to get ahead of the virus and contain it in a way other countries have not. I visited it this summer and left very impressed. It is a totalitarian city-state with a government that seems to try to do it's very best to do a good job, and errs on the side of being overprotective/overbearing.
It feels like a beyond-first-world country. Surveillance cameras are everywhere and it seems like everyone is constantly tracked. It's also very warm, though moist.

I don't know though if you should leave especially if you would just be staying in like a hotel or airbnb for months in another country. I'm facing a similar conundrum - wondering whether to retreat to my parents house in the virginia suburbs.

1 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:36 PM

Life is risk. Go.

Just be prepared - financially and in terms of other commitments - to be delayed by quarantine, etc.