For the first time in a long time, travel is becoming a real possibility.
The pandemic hasn’t disappeared (and it’s not going away any time soon) but we’re turning a corner. More of us are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, and more of us have a ready-to-travel mindset.1
After months of doing everything from home, we’re ready to get out — and really get away!
And we’re not wasting time. About 2 in 3 folks say they have a trip planned within the next 3 months.1
Most are looking to get out of state or go abroad. That’s more than since the beginning of the pandemic.1
TSA airport screenings are up.2
As excited as we are to get out of our COViD-19 caves, we’re also anxious. We’re worried about getting sick or stuck in our destination. And we fear the unknown.3
These worries are valid. But we can manage our stress about traveling by taking action. The right planning can help us manage our anxiety and prepare for the changes that will come with post-pandemic travel.4
So, if you’re just starting to think about getting out or you’ve already booked a trip, here are some of the most important things to consider so you can make smart, safe choices and still have a great time.
How far away do you want to go, and how will you get there? These are always key questions to consider when planning a trip. These days, though, they carry more weight. Will you need to quarantine after your arrival or before your return? What are the chances of having to stay longer than expected?
Think about these possibilities as you make your plans. Also, consider the positive impacts that your choice in destination can have. Where could your tourism dollars do more to help harder-hit places and add that much more value to your trip?
TIPS: Check the U.S. State Department's website for travel restrictions and bans. Also, look at the CDC's Travel Recommendations by Destination to see how risky different areas may be. You can make better choices about where to travel and enjoy a great getaway if you have a better idea of how restricted, risky, or safe different places are.
How at-risk are your travel companions or the people you plan to visit during your trip? Does anyone need a COVID-19 test before traveling?
Also, what do your travel companions need in order to stay healthy and safe during the trip? Think about the medicines and personal protective equipment everyone will need. And don't forget about mental health and what your companions may need to cope with travel anxiety or jet lag.
TIPS: Check in with your doctor as you plan a trip, and encourage your travel companions to do the same. Pack extra medication for your trip in case you end up staying longer than anticipated. And read up on local health care at your destination so you know what to do and where to go if anyone does need medical attention during the trip.
Will you need proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination to enter your destination — or to reenter the U.S.? If you need to bring medications with you, are those legal in your destination, or do you need to bring special documentation?
Also, think about who's traveling with you and what you plan to do. If you're traveling with a minor, you may need a written, notarized letter from a parent (or the other parent, if it's your child). If you plan to drive abroad, determine whether your destination recognizes U.S. driver's licenses; if not, you may need an international driving permit.
TIPS: Make copies and take pictures of all your travel documents. Store the backup copies in secure places, separate from the set of travel documents you carry with you. And consider filling out any paperwork you need to enter another country ahead of time.
How much risk do you want to take on during your getaway? Do you want to be in a high-rise hotel, with shared elevators and crowded spaces? Or do you want private, remote accommodations to avoid crowds and have more space?
Beyond where you plan to stay, your mode of transportation and your excursions can bring risks too. Think about these up front and consider what you and your travel companions need to feel safe and comfortable while you're away from home.
TIPS: Ask how flexible cancellation policies are up front, and consider accommodations that give you more functionality, like rentals with kitchenettes. Also, think about the options for outdoor activities and excursions that are lower-risk, and have a plan ready for how you'll deal with unexpected travel stress if it does arise.
If things don't go as expected, what's your Plan B? Or your Plan C? Think about this for various points of your trip: the mode of transportation, the accommodations, your plans at your destination, and your return.
You may want to travel somewhere close to family or friends in case of a lockdown. Or maybe you'd rather be in a remote area where you can be outdoors if your destination shuts down. No matter what suits you, a backup plan can save a vacation if things go off the rails.
TIPS: Consider travel insurance so you're covered in case of a medical emergency or cancellations. Also, you may want to sign up for the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It's a free service that keeps you informed of the latest security updates from local consulates and the nearest U.S. embassies if you go abroad. It can also help the embassy get in contact with you if there's an emergency.
You can't totally avoid risks in traveling or in life, but you can manage them better with thoughtful planning.
Traveling can be a wonderful, deeply enriching experience. It’s an exciting way to recharge, enjoy the world, and open up to new perspectives.
It also takes us out of our element. By nature, traveling puts us in unfamiliar places. There’s always going to be some level of uncertainty when you take a trip, because there’s no way to be 100% sure that everything will go as planned.
The pandemic only amplifies that. But it doesn’t take away our ability to deal with it.
Despite the new risks in post-pandemic travel, it’s not the first time many of us have had to deal with more travel anxiety as a result of current events.
If you flew after 9/11, you saw firsthand how tense airports became and how much changed.5,6
I remember traveling on business to London. On my way way back, prior to 9/11, you could check in your luggage, get your plane ticket and hop on the train to Heathrow from Paddington station. Well, that all changed.
Still, we found ways to cope and overcome. We made new plans and adapted to new travel screenings and restrictions. And some of the changes we made became our “new normal” for traveling. We’ve been taking our shoes off for TSA airport screenings for about 20 years now because of a single incident in December 2001.7
You can’t totally avoid risks in traveling or in life, but you can manage them better with thoughtful planning.
The truth is that the choices you make as you prepare for your trip can affect your whole experience — from the risks of getting stuck, to how prepared you are if the unexpected happens.
And, although there’s a lot you can’t predict, you do have total control over your decisions. You can make more informed choices about where to go, how to prepare and get there, and how much risk you’ll take on to get where you want to be.
That doesn’t just apply to post-pandemic traveling. It can help you be better at facing many other uncertainties life throws your way.
David Uhlmann, MSF, CFP®, APMA®, AAMS® Synergos Advisory LLC
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