Oh, what a difference a year makes. It seems after more than 12 pandemic-filled months of wish-listing and bookmarking trips and exotic getaways, many (but not all) can finally find themselves green-lighting their travel plans. Yes, the rollouts of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, reopening of cities and countries around the world, and the softened regulations of the CDC have people ready to get moving again — and the numbers don’t lie. According to a May 2021 report by the U.S. Travel Association, nearly nine in 10 American travelers have plans to travel in the next six months. And with most states across the country dropping mask-wearing mandates for fully vaccinated people (meaning two weeks after your second Pfizer or Moderna shot or two weeks after your Johnson & Johnson), one might think life and travel are back to their fancy-free pre-COVID ways. But, travel experts and medical professionals say there are still things to keep in mind before hitting the road.
First and foremost it’s important to note that while being vaccinated makes you less likely to spread and get COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states that international travel can still pose additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might still be at risk for getting and possibly spreading some new strains of the virus. “The COVID-19 situation, including the spread of new or concerning variants, differs from country to country,” reads the site’s advisement on travel. “All travelers need to pay close attention to the conditions at their destination before traveling.”
Furthermore, although 47% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated (according to CDC data) at time of publication, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world. In fact, newly discovered variants of the virus are forcing cities in Australia and across the Asia-Pacific region into strict lockdown mode. And, many countries still require masks or face coverings in indoor and outdoor places, with bars and nightclubs remaining closed, while others are slowly opening, but with capacity restrictions.
“Because vaccines are less widely available abroad than in the U.S., Americans should be cognizant that the freedom of movement, without masks, without restrictions (aside from doctor's offices) is not the norm overseas,” says Warren Jaferian, Dean of the Office of International Education at Endicott College to TZR. “While Europe is opening to American tourists and other non-essential travelers, many restaurants, hotels and other tourism-dependent locations may be shuttered, permanently, from a practical and logistical standpoint. Expect social distancing, hand-washing, and masking to be in place, and other restrictions Americans were all too familiar with during our first and second waves of COVID-19.”
Also something to expect: quarantining. “Even if your destination is on the green list, things can change quickly,” says Dr Daniel Atkinson, general practitioner and clinical lead at Treated.com to TZR. “If you’re expected in person at work, or have other commitments like pets to feed, make sure you’ve got arrangements in place should you need to self-isolate unexpectedly.”
In fact, Dr. Atkinson goes so far as to note that, if you can hold off another six months, one might consider postponing international travel until 2022. This is mainly due to the influx of foot traffic filling up airports and hotels. “This is down to personal preference, but it’s worth bearing in mind that when travel restrictions to a country are eased, there will be a rush of people booking to visit that location,” he says. “We saw it earlier this year with Portugal.”
That said, should you need to make sudden changes due to travel restrictions or anything else, you’ll find many airlines like Southwest and American as well as many hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott offer flexible cancellation policies that include refunds or credits on non-refundable flights and no-fee refunds on hotel stays up to 24 hours in advance. And as flights fill up to full capacity again, airlines are also making moves to help make staying safe and healthy as convenient as possible. Delta just announced a new partnership with digital health technology platform AZOVA to provide rapid-testing options for travelers.
If checking all these boxes seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. In addition to adhering to CDC guidelines, travel agent and owner of LaVon Travel Tiffany Layne says it’s crucial for travelers to research the official government sites of the countries or destinations they’re eyeing. “Every country has their own entry and testing requirements which many travelers should be aware of based on where they choose to travel,” Layne says to TZR via email. “Every traveler should consider using a travel professional to help navigate these fluid times as well as ease the stress of planning.”
On that note, many hospitality companies and establishments are also stepping up their game to help you fully prepare for travel this year. Airbnb recently announced its partnership with global travel advisory platform Sherpa, an online tool that provides travelers with real-time travel rules for their destinations. “Travelers can explore destinations and get information on corresponding COVID-19 related requirements, such as testing, quarantining, and mask guidelines,” states an official press release from Airbnb. “The integration of Sherpa into our platform is another resource for our community that will help support the return of international travel over the coming months.”
Oh, and last but certainly not least, make sure you get travel insurance. According to a May 2021 report published by Adroit Market Research, the global travel insurance market was “pegged at $21 billion in 2019, and is projected to garner $40 billion by 2028 owing to increasing levels of tourism globally.” Yes, Dr. Atkinson explains that while considered an unpleasant inconvenience pre-COVID, getting sick or stranded abroad became a lot trickier post-March 2020. “With coronavirus around in greater numbers in some countries, variable vaccinated populations and variants popping up in different parts of the world, the net risk of ending up in a foreign hospital has probably risen,” he explains. “And with that comes medical costs. So if you normally chance it on short trips by not taking out a policy, I would definitely advise against doing that now. It’s not worth it.”
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.