Should I stay or should I go now? That’s the conundrum for people longing to travel internationally.
Plans to take at least one vacation with family and friends in the next six months is a priority for more than 4 in 5 people, according to Expedia. Roughly half of millennials (49%) and Gen Z (47%) are likely to travel internationally or already have an international trip booked.
The inevitable questions: Is it safe to travel internationally? And what’s the best way to navigate the myriad of ever-changing restrictions set by countries, airlines, cruise ships, hotels, shops, and restaurants along the way?
It’s complicated. Here’s how to stay ahead.
Know your destination’s travel requirements
“Check testing and travel requirements obsessively as they can change quickly,” said Gerri Detweiler, a resident of Sarasota, Fla., who resigned from her position as education director for the Nav site in December and has been traveling with her husband and daughter in Europe.
“No matter how well you try to plan, things can go awry,” she wrote in an email from Portugal. “Testing requirements from country to country are confusing and can be frustrating.”
Many countries, in fact, now only allow vaccinated travelers to enter.
Effective February 1, for example, U.S. citizens can only travel from the United States to Spain on non-essential travel if they show proof that they’re fully vaccinated and have received the last required dose of their COVID-19 vaccine no less than 14 days and no more than 270 days (9 months) prior to arrival.
On the flip side, some countries, including England, Ireland and The Netherlands are relaxing restrictions once you’re there.
How can you keep track? The State Department website offers country specific information about COVID restrictions. The embassy website, or the country’s official government site, of where you’re heading also typically provides the latest travel requirements and any forms you might need to fill out.
Online travel sites also offer current country details for tourists. Kayak and Sherpa, for instance, regularly update information on entry restrictions and travel requirements for countries around the world.
Meantime, airline and cruise ship websites list their specific protocol. Holland America, for instance, requires passengers to be fully vaccinated and provide a negative viral COVID-19 test result taken within 48-hours before setting sail. Passengers also must wear face masks in indoor areas of ships, except when eating or drinking or in their own staterooms.
Monitor changing risk
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides an interactive world map with its up-to-date Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by country.
On January 18, it added 22 countries and territories to its highest travel risk category, “Level Four: Very High,” due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant. Many of the popular destinations were in the Caribbean, including Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Turks & Caicos, and Saint Lucia.
The agency now has over 100 countries and territories at Level 4. It earmarks countries as Level 4 when more than 500 positive cases per 100,000 residents are reported in the previous 28 days. The CDC recommendation: if you travel to a Level 4 country, you should be fully vaccinated.
Cruisers, take note, the CDC still says it’s not safe to cruise, regardless of vaccination status.
Guides for pandemic travel
European Union countries encourage people to carry an electronic health pass that is uploaded on your cell phone and displays a QR code that you present at shops, hotels, and restaurants that you visit. The EU digital COVID is also now used in non-EU countries, including Israel, Morocco, and Panama.
The certificate also makes it easier to travel across borders, but it’s not mandatory. You can generally purchase one at a pharmacy upon arrival. Some embassies will provide access to signing up for a free pass before your departure from the U.S.
Now also might be the time to consider travel insurance. Flight cancellations and even the chance of testing positive for COVID and having to delay a flight and quarantine can disrupt the best planned getaway. The airlines, in general, have been flexible about penalty-free flight changes to date, but the cost of extra hotel nights and meals can add up.
Standard trip insurance plans generally cost 4% to 8% of your non-refundable trip costs. Shop for a plan that offers “named- perils” coverage that provides trip cancellation, travel delay, and trip interruption coverage. The travel delay benefit, for example, can cover the cost of your accommodations and meals during quarantine if you contract the virus. There are, however, usually daily limits on the amount you can shell out.
Buying “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) coverage will usually give you up to 75% reimbursement for your prepaid expenses no matter what your reason for canceling, but the coverage is pricey, often 40% or more on top of your basic coverage. One place to research coverage is at Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison provider.
Patience and flexibility
Navigating the airport checkpoint is a significant hurdle.
“The challenge right now with international travel is getting from one country to another,” said Kathleen Peddicord, founder of Live & Invest Overseas. “The airport experience is more complicated, and frankly, frustrating than it’s been in decades.”
Another issue is a dearth of flights.
“There are way fewer flights and less staff on the ground to help travelers,” Peddicord said. “You’re going to have to be flexible on travel dates and be more open to connections because there aren’t as many direct flights, even to very common and popular destinations.”
It’s not likely to be smooth for most air travelers. “Build in more time for the air experience than ever,” she said. “If you used to arrive for an international flight two hours early, allow three hours. The lines to check documentation are very, very long.”
For those who opt to set sail on a cruise, flexibility is the order of the day. It’s possible that itineraries can change on a dime due to a port closure, or a sudden new onboard COVID related protocol. And if you do test positive while onboard, you will be quarantined in your cabin.
Returning home from international destinations has its own set of hoops to jump through. The CDC requires that all travelers coming to the United States provide official proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their flight, or documentation of recent recovery from the virus, along with a letter from a health professional certifying that the person is cleared to travel.
Many U.S. embassies provide lists of approved local testing providers. Airlines also provide information about testing requirements and airport testing options. Then too, many hotels have the return testing process set up for their departing guests. For the record, you can’t use at-home tests you packed to board a flight.
“We paid €30 each for our pre-flight home tests, taken at the pharmacy right inside the Charles de Gaulle airport concourse,” said Bill Dant, who recently returned to his home in Boston, Va., from a three-week trip to France. “The wait for results was only 15 minutes. You get a printout on paper that you present at check-in.”
Overall, traveling during COVID may be a hassle, but the hurdles can be surmounted.
“If you’re comfortable with the potential risks, put your blinders on, make sure you’ve got the current information on travel requirements, have your documentation ready, and accept that your airport experience is going to be a very painful three hours, but it’s only threehours,” Peddicord said. “When you land at your destination and head off on your vacation, you see Paris is still Paris and Italy is still Italy, and traveling is as great as it always was.”
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