Coronavirus has flipped the travel industry on it’s head. Airlines are struggling and nationwide lockdowns essentially ceased all but non-essential travel for a good while there. Are you thinking about going on a trip and are concerned about the restrictions and safety of this new environment? Here are my top tips as someone who has done a couple of trips during the summer of 2020.
Check country restrictions before booking
Gone are the days when all you were checking before booking flights was whether you needed a visa. Entry requirements for countries are now super convoluted and changing daily so it can be hard to keep up. My favourite resource is the UK government travel advice site which shows up to date info on whether countries are open to tourists or not as well as any pre-requisites to entry. Check this before you book anything and ensure you are aware of the status of the country you are intending to visit as well as your own. Is your home country beginning to spike, meaning it may be blacklisted from entry? Assess the risk and book only if you are happy to take the chance of any quarantines upon return or entry being imposed.
Decide whether you can commit to a 2 week self-quarantine upon return
A lot of countries, particularly in Europe, opened their borders to encourage the tourism their economies rely on over summer. Rather than flat out blocking flights from different countries, the commonplace approach is now to impose a 2 week quarantine on people arriving from certain locations. If you are visiting a country with a worse COVID-19 status than your own, it is likely you will only be asked to self-isolate when you get back rather than when you arrive. Is it feasible for you to stay at home for 2 weeks following your trip with your job and responsibilities? Make sure it is before you hit that reserve button. If you need to quarantine 2 weeks at your destination, if the intention is travel, don’t do it. Two weeks in a hotel room is miserable.
Be aware that refunds may take time
Lots of airlines are cancelling flights these days given they can’t fill all the flights they would normally have scheduled. If this happens to you you are entitled to your money back, however, given all the travel disruption during this pandemic airlines are being slow to process these refunds. A lot of airlines are also pushing to give their customers vouchers for future flights rather than cash. I advise patience with the travel industry at this time and some empathy for the pressure it is under. Only choose to travel if you are in a position where you can comfortably wait for any refunds to be returned to you in months rather than days.
Check your travel insurance and get cancellation cover
If you want peace of mind, ensure your travel insurance offers some COVID cover. Not all companies offer support for cancellations or getting ill when abroad so make sure you are informed and have coverage you are comfortable with. I would also advise paying that little extra to secure cancellation cover for your flights during these times. Even if there aren’t formal restrictions on travel, you may decide against your trip and will only get your refund with this kind of protection.
Check country requirements 72 hours before flying
Countries are now implementing self assessment forms for people looking to enter. These forms typically ask you to confirm that you have not had any COVID symptoms in the last 48 hours and that you haven’t been to any countries they deem high risk in the last 14 days. Often upon completing these forms you are sent a QR code which airline staff request to see before allowing you to board. Check the UK travel site to ensure you have the required forms completed WELL AHEAD OF TIME. Some countries request you complete their forms 48h before departing. Don’t rely on your airline to inform you about these forms as it is on the passenger to be prepared for their flight. Also be mindful of any forms you may need to fill out on your return to your home country, for example the UK requires forms to be filled to confirm where you will be self-isolating when returning from countries that demand it.
Bring a medical mask
If you have a cute, quirky, and/or washable mask by all means bring it with you, however, ensure you also have at least one medical grade mask in your carry on. In all the airports I have visited masks are mandatory at all times as well as on your actual flight. When returning from Sardinia recently I was also stopped and told I could proceed without a medical mask, and thank goodness I had one with me!
Go to your gate as soon as it opens & board early
If you have done your due diligence, you should have everything you need to board your flight without issues. My advice is to not leave anything to chance. I missed a flight because I didn’t have a form filled out and sat waiting for the boarding line to recede before approaching. The airline shockingly didn’t announce that any forms needed to be presented and when I finally joined the queue towards the end of boarding, the staff were unhelpful and I had the gate close on me 1 minute before I had the form filled out. If you are missing anything and you find out towards the start of boarding, you have time to figure it out.
Bring your own food on the flight
I tend to do this anyway because flight food and airport offerings can be expensive and mediocre at best. In this environment there are limited food options at airports and if you bring your own food you reduce your interaction with others and thus the risk of contracting the virus.
Give yourself extra time for security checks
It isn’t guaranteed that the security check process will take longer than normal. Actually a lot of airports have more security lanes open to encourage social distancing. However, the only constant throughout this pandemic is unpredictability. It is better to be safe than sorry, so give yourself some extra time to get through the airport, especially at smaller airports.
Be smart about your itinerary
If current pandemic restrictions allow you to travel, do so responsibly and respectfully. The effects of the pandemic are here to stay and my approach is to work with this new normal. I don’t want to stop doing something I love if I can do it safely for myself and those around me. Yes, these are weird times and most destinations won’t be what they usually are, however, this does not make them not worth visiting. Take advantage of the fact that top tourist destinations will be less busy and focus on more nature heavy and outdoors itineraries when thinking about travelling. Bank on the fact that many places will be closed, this is not the time to do a city escape packed with museums.