Check your insurance policy
“Travel insurance should always be on the top of your checklist before any trip abroad,” says Daniel Ross from expert travel site The Points Guy. “Because we’re in the midst of a pandemic, having the right travel insurance and knowing exactly what you’re covered for is more important than ever.” According to Daniel, it’s important for two main reasons: coverage if something goes wrong – especially if you need medical assistance – and if you have to cancel your trip for whatever reason. “Whether you already have an existing policy, or you would need to take out a new one, be sure to check out which policies cover Covid-19 first.”
Inspect your airline’s coronavirus rules
The inflight experience is currently very different to what it was a year ago, and it’s worth remembering that any protocols currently in place might not stay the same – plus, they likely differ from airline to airline. “Airlines around the world have implemented a number of changes to make flying during a pandemic safer for passengers and crew,” explains Daniel. “The most fundamental and widespread of all is mandatory mask wearing inflight. Whether or not your airline is enforcing it, it’s common courtesy to do so when flying during this time.” While some airlines are slowly bringing back inflight catering, many airlines have stuck to just a skeleton service such as bottled water – it’s worth checking so you know whether or not to bring food with you, and what the rules are for consuming it on board.
Book with a reputable company
Back in the day, tourists often took managing their holiday booking into their own hands, choosing to contact airlines, hotels and car rental companies individually to get what they believed to be the best deals. If that’s still your preference, just be aware that getting your money back in case of cancellation could be a whole lot more complicated. “Beyond booking a package holiday, it’s important to pick a tour operator that has a good flexible booking policy,” agrees Rory Boland, a travel and money expert at Which? “Almost every tour operator now offers one of these policies – but choosing the right one can mean the difference between getting a full refund and being left with no holiday and no money. Look for those that are clear about refunds when FCDO advice changes and what your options are if you don’t get a test result back in time or test positive and have to quarantine. The very best policies can cover all of these scenarios; the very worst none of them.”
Pack some necessary extras
Going anywhere these days requires a little extra thought when it comes to what you need to take with you. If you’re going abroad, you’ll likely be flying, so Daniel recommends packing the following items in your hand luggage:
“You’re likely to already be wearing one on your journey, but it’s highly advisable to pack at least one extra per person just in case – it’s better to be safe than sorry when flying during a pandemic. A lot of airlines are not providing them either so you might be able to help out a fellow passenger who forgot one.”
“Make sure you have easy access to hand sanitiser for when you might need it. Try to get a bottle that’s below 100ml, too, so you won’t have to throw it away when going through security. If you’re taking hold luggage, then pop a couple of extra bottles in there as well for when you get to your destination.”
“Though many airlines are ramping up their cleaning, it might be worth bringing your own antibacterial wipes to give the high touch point areas around your seat an extra once over, just for peace of mind.”
Look at quarantining
Only a few weeks ago, the government released its list of green, amber and red countries which spell out how long and where passengers will have to quarantine on their return. “It’s possible that this list of countries could change several times again over the next few months, so before booking a trip, make sure to double-check with the government’s latest advice,” recommends Daniel. It might also be the case that certain countries require arrivals to quarantine – either at their hotel or at a separate facility – which might alter whether or not you think the trip is worth it. Be aware, too, that just because some countries are on the green or amber list from the UK’s perspective, doesn’t mean they’re actually allowing foreign tourists in. Likewise, prime minister Boris Johnson recently recommended UK citizens not holiday in amber list countries like Spain or France, and travel should be kept to emergency or essential trips only.
Ask about your hotel’s hygiene protocols
To minimise the risk of infection and prolonged exposure, it’s important to consider a hotel or an Airbnb’s sanitation standards. “Make sure they require masks in public spaces, have hand-sanitising stations, perform temperature checks, take social distancing seriously, and practice contract tracing,” advises travel writer Karla Alindahao. “Plus, extra points if you’re staying at a hotel with its own on-call doctor or nurse, in case of emergencies. Beyond that, if you’re only staying a few days, try to decline daily housekeeping to reduce interactions.”
Plan more of your trip in advance
Before you decide on a destination, it might be worth spending a bit of time researching if there will be enough for you to do once you get there – especially if certain areas in the UK or places abroad find themselves having to abide by local lockdowns. Daniel recommends tracking down answers to the following: Are the beaches open? Do you need to book a time slot at the pool? If there are big tourist attractions that you want to visit, will they be open? That way, you won’t run into problems once you arrive, and can stick to a safe itinerary for the entirety of your trip.
Download some helpful apps
Many companies have used the pandemic as an opportunity to develop apps that aim to help monitor and mitigate Covid-19 transmission, and Karla believes some are certainly worth a shot. “Apple’s Covid-19 application – created in collaboration with the CDC, FEMA, and the White House – provides helpful tips regarding best practices and resources.” In the UK, downloading the NHS app no longer just helps you to check in and out of certain places so restaurants, bars and shops can trace infections, it also has a new feature granting vaccine passports for anyone who has received two doses.
Book a test
Most countries, whether they’re on the green, amber or red list, now require all arrivals – regardless of quarantine plans – to present a negative PCR test at departure (i.e. before they even board the plane). Most results must be delivered within 72 hours of your flight, and the cost of a test is down to the traveller. Rapid or lateral flow tests don’t count, and you won’t be allowed to travel without the relevant paperwork. With that in mind, make sure you check out where and when you can take a test and be sure to get a booking in plenty of time. More information can be found here.
Stay up to date
It should really go without saying but staying up to date – either with the situation in the UK or in the country you’re hoping to visit – counts for a lot. The sooner you see a situation worsening, the sooner you can make a decision about cancelling or postponing your trip. Depending on how soon your particular journey is will influence your choice, but know that the closer you leave it, the more difficulty you might have in getting your money back.
For more information on travelling during the pandemic and in 2021, visit ThePointsGuy.co.uk, Gov.uk, Which.co.uk or follow @KalindaHao.
DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Italy is currently on the amber travel list, so is subject to change. Visit Gov.uk for more information.