As travel restrictions are changing rapidly around the world, many travellers are a bit apprehensive about spending their holidays abroad. However, Berlin-based travel startup Tourlane has unveiled a list of the safest destinations for international tourists.

The rankings, overseen by Tourlane Head of Safety Johann Jones, assemble data collected on Aug 10, and analyse various metrics that can affect one’s holidays overseas amidst the coronavirus pandemic. These criteria include hours of sunshine per day for outdoor activities as well the national 14-day notification rates of new Covid-19 cases published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Also taken into account for the list are each country’s population density and its International Health Regulations capacity score (IHR), which evaluates a country’s ability to respond to public health risks and emergencies of national and international concern.

Thailand was ranked the safest destination in the world to visit during the pandemic, with the Asian country sitting on top of the list thanks to its IHR score of 85%, moderate population density and very low number of Covid-19 cases. It is also worth noting that the Thai borders are currently closed to all but a handful of diplomats and business people, making any holiday plans in the country very unlikely until 2021.

However, Tourlane also revealed that Jordan and French Polynesia were the second- and third-best destinations respectively for international travellers looking for escapism despite the global health crisis. Greece is the European destination with the highest ranking (number four), followed by Italy (number six) and Ireland (number nine). Meanwhile, Uruguay is the only country from Latin America to appear on the list (number five), as the region continues to experience rapid spread of the novel coronavirus with 576,583 new infections reported in the last seven days.

According to the rankings, the 10 safest destinations are: 1. Thailand 2. Jordan 3. French Polynesia 4. Greece 5. Uruguay 6. Italy 7. Cambodia 8. Japan 9. Ireland 10.Botswana

Beam him up

Richard Branson could be on his way to space on his Virgin Galactic aircraft as its first passenger early next year, the company said, potentially blazing a path for commercial flights. The company has repeatedly pushed back the date it will take the first tourists outside Earth’s atmosphere and said 600 people have forked out US$250,000 ($34,332) to reserve a seat.

Virgin Galactic said on Aug 10 it “expects to advance to the next phase of its test flight program” in the fall with two manned flights. “Assuming both flights demonstrate the expected results, Virgin Galactic anticipates Sir Richard Branson’s flight to occur in the first quarter of 2021,” the company added in a statement.

The groundbreaking flight by Branson — Virgin Galactic’s founder — would pave the way for commercial voyages to begin. The programme has been hit by serious snags, however, with a devastating crash in 2014 caused by pilot error delaying the development of passenger aircraft SpaceShipTwo.

But getting tourists into space is not a simple exercise. The spacecraft will be taken up by a special plane and released at high altitude. Seconds later, the spaceship — part plane, part rocket — will ignite its engine and blast upward with an acceleration of 3.5g, meaning three and a half times that of Earth’s gravitational force.

It will then cut off the engine, which will create a feeling of weightlessness for a few minutes as the spacecraft reaches its highest point — about 80km above the planet — and then begin its descent. The spacecraft will glide to land at Spaceport America, built in the New Mexico desert.

Branson has set a series of aviation and nautical adventure records, although he failed — despite numerous attempts — to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a balloon. These exploits brought Branson close to tragedy in 1998 when he and his co-pilot had to ditch their balloon in the Pacific Ocean after low pressure forced the craft down.

Last Blockbuster store lists ‘1990s sleepover’ on Airbnb

Looking to go back to a much simpler time? The last Blockbuster store on the planet is offering guests a chance to roll back the clock to simpler times with a 1990s themed sleepover, it was announced on Aug 12.

An Airbnb listing for the holdout video rental shop in the north western US state of Oregon promises to convert the store into a makeshift living room “with a pull-out couch, bean bags and pillows for you to cosy up with ‘new releases’ from the 1990s.”

For just US$4 a night, four spaces will be available over three nights in September. According to the listing: “When you call dibs on this stay, you’re booking a night back in the 1990s, but this time you won’t have to beg your parents to rent the latest horror flick — we’ll give you the keys to the entire store!”

The store in Bend, located in the US state of Oregon, is the last of a chain that once boasted more than 9,000 worldwide outlets at its peak in the early 2000s. Blockbuster suffered a precipitous decline with the advent of streaming platforms such as Netflix. However, residents of Bend have remained loyal to its time-honoured process of browsing for physical DVDs and VHS tapes before returning them through a slot days later. It has also become a popular tourist destination: In recent years, an endless stream of nostalgic fans have posed for selfies outside, and popped in to buy kitsch confectionery and view retro movie memorabilia including Russell Crowe’s jacket from Les Misérables. But with the pandemic stifling tourism, “we’ve been missing the regular visits from friends, neighbours and tourists from around the world,” the listing said.

Still, safety is important as the advert also promises to sanitise the store before each set of guests arrive, and provide face coverings, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser as well as free snacks and video games. “And remember, the store is all yours for the night!” it says. “So, let loose, blast the boombox and wear your favourite 1990s denim so that you feel right at home in another era.”