Traveling abroad in Covid-19 times
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 and the disease caused by it, COVID-19, have drastically changed the way we live. The impact on travel was even more expressive and the effect will be felt for months and maybe years to come.
Hundreds of thousands of people are infected. The pandemic has put life on hold throughout the world. It is common sense to say that we are not going to go back to normal; but, rather, to a "new normal". Virtually all business segments were affected, but no other industries have been hurt as hard as travel and entertainment. The very nature of the travel industry - getting out and venturing somewhere else (wherever this somewhere is) - entails a highly risky behavior in the presence of an infectious disease.
So, is travel over? Are we ever going to venture out in the world again? Well, clearly not. Some ways of traveling will take longer to reemerge or to reorganize themselves in the face of this "new normal", other ways of traveling will be created, but we will keep wandering the world, this need to keep exploring is still inside many of us.
In this post, we want to focus on the current state of international travel, in order to give people who need to travel now an overview of the situation and tools to navigate it. We also want to provide those who want (or need) to go back to traveling in a few months an understanding of how things are evolving.
The first recommendation for people traveling abroad is to check if you can enter your country of destination. During the pandemic, a number of countries established entrance bans on people coming from highly affected locations. 14-day quarantines are common now, for example. You should be aware of the rules of the country you are going to, so that you can factor them into your travel. In addition to the new rules in place due to the pandemic, all other requirements regulating international travel remain in place - if you require a visa to get somewhere, that is still needed.
You can find updated information about travel bans or restrictions in this wikipedia article, in this public database or on the site of the International Association for Air Travel - IATA. A number of travel websites are also monitoring the situation and updating their lists (Trip.com, Kayak, AirBnB). In addition, I recommend visiting official government sites of the country you plan to travel to, so that you have the most accurate and updated information available. Check often. Europe, for example, is planning to reopen for some nationalities on July, 1st. Things are changing fast.
The most important thing to check for international travel is probably flight availability, which has been reduced to under 10% of what it was prior to the pandemic, in April. In May, things slowly started to reopen, with a few major airlines resuming regular flights, but stories of people who were caught somewhere by the pandemic and could not go back home are all over the news. Even now, in the first half of June, you will find that there are very few international routes with daily flights, and that cancellations are common.
So, when planning your flight, find out which company or companies are flying the route (this is the most recent article we found on the topic). I wasn't able to locate a comprehensive database easily available, so I suggest first visiting an online travel agency (Expedia, Booking, Kayak etc) and finding out which tickets are available for sale. Once you have chosen what you want, go to the airline website to confirm that the flight exists and is in operation. Once you find a flight that suits your needs, check the frequency of that flight and make sure you have a plan B - are there other airlines flying the same route? Cancellations are still very common, and many routes only have flights a few times a week.
Don’t forget to check for any new travel rules - many sites have a "pandemic FAQ", since airlines have recently implemented a number of measures to improve health security: many require that you wear masks, some have specific rules on food, some no longer let you take a carry-on etc. Be prepared. It is a new normal already. On the bright side, many airlines are being more generous with their cancellation and amendment policies, so, keep an eye on that too. For additional information, click here (paywall).
If you need an accommodation, you need to book before you land, it is no longer advisable to look for a place only when you arrive. Supply has changed, don't assume you know a destination - many places haven't reopened yet or may be operating with lower capacity to comply with current health and security rules. Speaking of health and security, it is important to find out what measures the accommodation is taking to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus - and how these measures impact your stay. For example, can you get meals at the hotel? The hotel may be allowing delivery services, but may not have a restaurant open. The positive side is that a lot of accommodation companies and online sites are also offering looser cancellation and amendment policies. So, whatever you are booking, make sure it is safe (following international health guidelines) and look for flexibility, since unpredictability has increased a lot. This article brings some other interesting topics (paywall) about the issue.
So, if you need to travel, research very well the best and most reliable way to do it, and be prepared to reschedule and replan. It is not the easiest of times, but there are a lot of people working hard to guarantee that essential travel does not stop. So, if you have to go, do it.
If you have any questions, or any tips we didn't add here, please leave a comment.