WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN TRAVELING (OR PLANNING TRAVEL) DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
Let’s be real- travel has been and will continue to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future. For those of us who love to travel and desperately need a vacation, this last year has been quite the challenge. Travel in 2020 was non-existent for some while others took advantage of travel promotions and the ability to experience once crowded, now nearly empty destinations. I have no interest or authority to opine on what is or isn’t safe but what I can do is help you navigate the new pandemic travel landscape. With a vaccination rollout underway, many of you are beginning to plan travel but totally overwhelmed by all that needs to be considered- from deciding where and when to go, understanding travel bans & restrictions, flight safety, testing protocols, hotel safety measures and what to do when you return. Read on for my advice on what to think about when traveling, or planning travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
When to Start Planning?
Planning a future trip might be just the mental health boost you need to get through the winter. In Pre-pandemic times, I always had my winter and spring break travel booked many months in advance. But given current uncertainties- the trend now is to wait and in some cases I would recommend it- especially with larger resorts and destinations that have healthy flight inventory. However, if the idea of booking that future trip brings you joy, cancellation & deposit policies are favorable and you can handle the ambiguity around a potential cancellation, by all means, book in advance! If you are eyeing that ultra exclusive resort (Amangiri I see you) or traveling during a peak season then you will need to book in advance.
Where To Go?
Take stock of your comfort level around exposure, what you are looking to accomplish on your trip and how a particular destination aligns with your goals. Be aware of the covid rates in the destination that you are considering. Study up on that location’s approach to tourism- what are their testing protocols, capacity limits, etc.? If you can, get feedback from people who have traveled to that destination recently. Consider your accommodation style-for example, if you haven’t been to the grocery store since last winter, chose a location with cottage or casita style accommodations that are accessible from the outside instead of that high rise resort in Miami.
Buy Travel Insurance
Buy trip cancellation coverage (this covers up to 75% of your deposit should you need to cancel after the refund period has expired) AND post departure coverage (covers you for losses and medical costs incurred during your travels). Make sure said policy does not contain a pandemic exclusion and consider purchasing ‘cancel for any reason coverage’ if it’s available and makes economic sense. Besides being a no-brainer in this time of uncertainty, many countries (Aruba, Costa Rica and Tahiti for example) are requiring proof of international medical coverage upon entry and in some cases you must purchase a local health policy as well.
Hire a Travel Advisor
There is a glut of information to unpack around travel right now and it’s is constantly in flux. Consider hiring a travel professional to support you before, during and after your travels. We are master dissectors of those cancellation & deposit policies and it’s our job to stay on top of travel bans, restrictions, openings, closures, and testing protocols. We collaborate with colleagues and suppliers on a daily basis and receive real time feedback about specific destinations if we haven’t traveled to them ourselves. If you do need to cancel or make a change, your travel advisor is there to advocate on your behalf.
Traveling During the Pandemic
If you do opt to fly to your destination, pick an airline that you trust and ideally, one that limits capacity. Delta has always been my go to and they are the only airline to make the commitment to keep middle seats open until March 30th, 2021. Wear a N-95 mask (and possibly a face shield) and wipe down your seats and sitting area with medical grade wipes. I love these. If you can, eat prior to your flight to maximize your masked time. Be sure to bring snacks if your flight is longer because meal service has been severely cut back-even in first class. Prior to flying, keep on eye on your plane seating chart-if your section starts to fill up, move your seat. Lastly, be prepared for last minute flight changes. For example, if your non-stop flight is undersold, it might be cancelled and replaced with a connecting flight.
Most destinations outside of the country that are welcoming tourists require a negative PCR test prior to arrival. Be well aware of these protocols and don’t wait until the last minute to order or schedule your test. Be clear on the specific rules for your destination- for example Hawaii only accepts tests from specific providers. And be responsible-even if you aren’t required to take a test to enter the destination, if you are flying I strongly recommend it.
Manage your Expectations and Plan Ahead
If you can, book as much as possible ahead of time! In some cases restaurants are operating at a lower capacity than hotels so getting seated can be tricky- even as a hotel guest! This also applies to spa treatments, excursions, on-site hotel activities, gym time and in some cases pool loungers need to be pre-reserved. Be flexible and courteous to resort staff- they are just as frustrated by all of these changes as their guests.
Once back to reality, be aware of your home state’s quarantine guidelines. In most cases, you’ll need a negative test result to preclude the 14 day at home quarantine. If you can, take a test prior to returning home and again 3-5 days after you return. Stay home while you await these results and if you’ve traveled with kids, plan to have them virtual learn. Be respectful to your community and take precautions above and beyond what state guidelines require when it makes sense!
I hope that I’ve shed some light around traveling during the Coronavirus pandemic and provided valuable advice for you to use when you do decide to travel again. Safe travels!!