Like a lot of people, I spent the majority of the pandemic dreaming about traveling, preferably to as many far-flung locations as possible. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination — before everything shut down, I was spending the majority of my time exploring countries other than my own. (My comfort with living life in the air was so pronounced that at one point I even flew from Tokyo to Helsinki for a weekend to see a friend — because why not?) All that to say, if there’s anything I’m looking forward to post-Covid, it’s getting my passport stamped as often as possible.
With 48.2 percent of Americans fully vaccinated and a host of countries opening their doors to visitors from abroad, our dreams of finally leaving home are no longer entirely out of reach. (And if you haven’t started budgeting for your dream trip, now is the time.) Of course, rules and guidelines are changing rapidly and can be hard to keep track of — especially given the new Delta variant — but that doesn’t mean international travel is entirely off the table.
Ready to take the plunge and book your dream trip? We got you. Here are a few ways to navigate Covid restrictions before and during your first trip abroad.
While many countries welcoming visitors request a negative Covid test or proof of vaccination, getting vaccinated will act as your fast pass to travel, especially as concerns about the Delta variant arise. Keep in mind, you’re not only protecting yourself from getting sick, but you’re also helping prevent the spread of disease in vulnerable populations. As Stacey Leasca, a travel and lifestyle journalist, notes, protecting the people you visit should be at the forefront of every traveler’s mind.
“While I’m excited to travel, I am also very aware of the perils of travel, not just for me but for local populations as well,” she says. “I believe it’s imperative that travelers take every precaution to keep both themselves and those they are visiting safe. This means testing before travel, getting vaccinated if they can, researching local masking and social-distancing rules and what may happen if they fall ill while traveling. For example, in Portugal travelers can register with the Portugal Health Passport, which provides access to private health care if needed. While Covid has made trip planning a bit more complicated, it has not deterred my excitement to see the world, experience new things, and connect with others all over the globe to find our commonalities.”
Protect your vaccine card
If vaccines are your passport to adventure, then your card is the proof that you have science flowing through your veins. Avoid laminating it (until we know if boosters are required), and store your original card with other important papers. However, be sure to keep a photocopy in your bag or well-lit photos of the card on your phone in case airlines, immigration agents, or resorts require documentation. For a more high-tech solution, you can turn a photo into a widget on your iPhone for easy access, or create a digital certificate that can sit in your Apple Wallet or Google Play. Many states are rolling out digital proof of vaccinations in the form of a QR code. Visit your state’s department of public health website to check the latest on whether this is available to you.
Check the rules and guidelines of the location you’re planning to visit
When in doubt, start by checking publications like Frommer’s and Travel and Leisure, which have been keeping an updated list of travel restrictions. However, as David Zapata, the CEO, founder and partner of Zapwater Communications, notes, your best source for updated location information is your airline — after all, they have a vested interest in getting you to your destination safely. Having recently traveled to Mexico, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, he has racked up plenty of frequent-flyer miles post-vaccine.
“Travel is a big part of me personally and professionally,” he says. “It is really a signal, even just a slight bit, of a return to normal, even though the process of traveling certainly isn’t normal anymore. Airlines are great at letting you know [what you need]. My family is going to Aruba this Saturday, and United sent us a note that it will be admitted into Aruba — you need a PCR test within seven days. … There are still countries that are not allowing anybody in. I know there are definitely some countries in northern Africa and the Middle East that I am eagerly anticipating going to in the next year, but right now their borders are closed.”
Currently, leaving the country usually means producing a negative Covid test taken within three days before departure. (A negative test is also required for travel to Hawaii.) This requirement isn’t waived for vaccinated travelers, so plan ahead. Many major airports are offering on-site tests, which is great for last-minute emergencies. However, it’s worth playing it safe, particularly if you’re jetting off to a dramatically different time zone. Thankfully, unlike a year ago, your choices for testing are abundant. Hit up your local pharmacy or health-care center, get the test, and then — like your vaccine card — be sure to store the paperwork in a safe location.
Finally, consider buying travel insurance
Having travel insurance to cover the occasional sprained ankle or lost bag is a good idea in any circumstance. Bonus: Most policies now cover Covid as well, meaning in the rare case of infection, your bills are taken care of, something that many carriers are announcing in large, bold font across their websites. But, as Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of travelinsurance.com, points out, in pandemic and post-pandemic life, it can be make-or-break — and not just from a medical point of view.
“A lot of airlines and a lot of airports have basically been on furlough for the last year and a half, or not operating at full capacity,” he says. “There’s going to be hiccups in the system, and so a standard travel insurance plan is going to give you delay and baggage-loss coverage. [There’s] a whole host of [coverage options] outside of the main benefits of emergency medical coverage.”
You may have to deal with longer hold times
In the event that you have to change or cancel your flight, be prepared to potentially wait on hold for longer than usual. As flights get canceled due to new outbreaks and restrictions, and as people voluntarily change or cancel their plans due to Covid, hold times are getting increasingly longer for many airlines.
Calling first thing in the morning is your best bet, and typically, if you just keep calling over and over (as annoying as that is), you’ll eventually get through to someone. If all else fails, you can always just head over to your nearest airport and speak to someone in person.
Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based travel writer with bylines at Fast Company, BBC Travel, and Thrillist. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea. Follow her adventures on Twitter.
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