I spent most of the pandemic in my own backyard, wondering if I would ever get to travel again. Closed borders and restricted movement made travel seem impossible, while new outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns pushed back the timeline for any quick return to the kind of low-stress globetrotting we used to do.
My desire to travel has not changed, but the world has. As months passed and the pandemic spread, my original travel plans evaporated. Eventually, I learned to accept the new tourist dynamic: Destinations sought to protect themselves against outside infection, while travelers assumed a greater risk and accepted a greater responsibility in not becoming vectors of the virus.
Navigating that risk, I felt the best thing I could do was shelter in place until I found a way to travel safely and responsibly. That’s what led me to Korea. While my home state of Virginia grappled with thousands of new infections per day, I watched Korea as they contained the disease and maintained a daily infection rate of less than 100 cases per day—in a nation of 51 million people.
Korea’s remarkable achievement caught the whole world’s attention and led me to wonder: What was it the Koreans were doing that made their country so much safer? How did the country open up for smarter tourism and what can we learn from their example. I was curious to know and learn firsthand how a major tourist destination country like Korea was navigating the threat of COVID-19.
And so I stepped onto an Asiana Airlines flight to Korea. Coming from a high-risk country, I knew the price of entry—a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a government isolation facility. Lucky for me, the facility turned out to be a nice hotel near Seoul Incheon airport. My quarantine came with a beautiful view of the sea and mountains (as well as high-speed Internet), and allowed me to experience the fastidious health and safety measures instilled by the Korean government. My reward for completing quarantine was the chance to do what I love most—to travel freely and take part in this exciting moment as tourism transitions.
As a travel writer, I’ve been fortunate to explore over 100 different countries, reporting live from all seven continents. But traveling to Korea during a global pandemic offered me a glimpse of the future and the plain reality we must all face as we learn to travel safely and with minimal risk.
While wearing masks, constantly disinfecting our surfaces, social distancing, or undergoing extended quarantine may not feel like a normal part of the travel experience, it is the new normal for most travelers now. Korea’s strict health protocols allowed me the safest opportunity to travel while teaching me how to become a smarter and more sustainable-minded traveler in the future.
That is why I came to Korea—to visit a remarkable country, to get a taste of the vibrant culture, and to learn for myself how the Koreans are managing visitors like me. While aspects of my journey may appear unconventional, Korea still offers up all the things that compel us to travel: to be surprised by a different way of life, to be astonished by unknown beauty, to make new friends, and to come home with a broader mind and expanded knowledge.
For more information, visit english.visitkorea.or.kr.
Andrew Evans is an author, travel writer, and TV host for National Geographic. He shares stories from around the globe on pixel, paper, and screen. Evans has completed some 50 assignments for National Geographic, reporting live from all seven continents and over 100 countries.