As you may have gleaned from some of my previous posts, travel planning is something that is pretty important to me. Even when I go for a more free-form type of travel, I still at the very least try to figure out the general outlines of trip and plan for the most important eventualities. That being said, there are times when, despite one’s best-laid plans, greater forces intervene in unexpected ways. Two recent examples come to mind: one that affects U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba and one that affects my upcoming trip to India.
Changes for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba
Due to various U.S. policy restrictions, U.S. citizens have long had a difficult, if not impossible, time visiting Cuba legally. Usually, for U.S. citizens without Cuban relatives, travel to Cuba was limited to educational purposes–in fact, my own trip to Cuba was through an educational program with my university. While President Bill Clinton, in 1999, loosened the travel restrictions on U.S. citizens wanting to visit Cuba, President George W. Bush reversed course four years later.
Thus, at the beginning of last year, President Barack Obama’s reinstatement and expansion of President Clinton’s policy was met with great fanfare. Companies such as Insight Cuba and Road Scholar began leading intrepid travelers from the U.S. on “people-to-people” tours to Cuba that, while limited in scope, still allowed Americans to finally step foot on Cuban soil without having to look over their shoulders to avoid trouble from U.S. authorities.
Unfortunately, it looks like U.S. travelers are going to be, yet again, hampered in their attempts to visit Cuba legally. While President Obama’s policy remains in place, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has, most recently, not renewed the licenses required for “people-to-people” tour operators to run their trips to Cuba. While some of the tour operators are sitting tight and hoping for the best, others have already canceled their upcoming Cuba trips. In the meantime, dozens of U.S. travelers who thought that they would finally have a shot at legally visiting Cuba are now in limbo. Fingers crossed that the OFAC starts renewing licenses soon so that no more travel plans have to go awry!
Temporary ban on tiger safaris in India
As for me, personally, a recent Indian court decision may affect my travel plans. In the next few months, I hope to visit India. I am super-excited to, amongst other adventures, check out the splendors of Taj Mahal, the mysticism of Varanasi, and the beautiful beaches of Goa! One of the highlights of my trip (as planned thus far) would be getting a glimpse of a tiger in Ranthambore National Park. There are, obviously, no guarantees when it comes to spotting wildlife, but it certainly can’t hurt to put myself in good spot and hope for the best!
A few months ago, though, the Supreme Court of India placed a temporary ban on tourism in “core areas in tiger reserves” in order to address issues related to environmental impact on the habitat and breeding grounds of India’s tigers. The ban, which entered into effect on July 24, was originally due to end on August 29; however, the ban has now been extended to September 27, when the court is now expected to give its final verdict. The timing of the end of the ban is critical because most national parks in India, which close in July for the duration of monsoon season, reopen on October 1.
Especially as a lawyer, I can fully understand the court’s motivation in this case. Tigers are endangered, and, since India is home to half of the world’s tigers, India obviously has a responsibility to see that the animals are protected. On the flip side, many argue that, without ecotourism, tiger conservation efforts would be worse than they are now, if not non-existent; further, if the ban continues in place, many people who make their livelihood from tiger tourism may find themselves impoverished. It’s definitely a tough situation all around.
Keeping an open mind
In the end, I’m still going to go to India, no matter the outcome. Heck, the ban might be lifted far before I even take off my trip. In any event, these stories about Cuba and India illustrate that, when it comes to travel, you can never be too rigid in your plans. It’s best to keep an open mind about both your destination and the activities that you’ll enjoy once you get there!
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Have you ever had forces beyond your control affect a trip that you planned? Share your experiences in the comments!