It’s reasonable to assume that most of us don’t take advice from those without experience. Thankfully if you’re looking to travel during Covid-19, you don’t have to fret because there are plenty of advisors who “have been there and done that” recently and are willing to share all they’ve learned.
Here are their top takeaways:
1. Stay informed
With information about testing requirements and documentation changing almost daily by destination, the best way to ensure you are gathering or being fed accurate and timely information is to rely on your travel advisor. These experts have been working diligently to make sure they have the most current and factual travel protocols and restrictions at hand. And they are not alone. Travel advisors are constantly being briefed on the status of airlines and destinations by their tour operator partners and the destinations and carriers themselves, making them the keepers of all the knowledge. While going online to do your own research might seem like a good idea, it can prove disastrous if you are led down a path of deception and misinformation. Oh, and by the way, all the rules you might have read online: they could change tomorrow or at the very least, by the time you’re ready to leave.
Sue Burns, branch manager at Wings Travel in Bluebell, Pennsylvania, said her biggest concern is making sure her travelers have all of the proper paperwork prior to traveling. Some advisors, like Burns, are sending their clients links and printed forms in advance of their trip so there are no surprises.
“Doing your homework as a travel consultant on exactly what the requirements are avoids any problems for your clients,” stressed Burns.
2. Social distancing is the new normal
There are many reasons why all-inclusives are winning during Covid-19 travel and a strict adherence to social distancing is high among them. Travelers who are eager to hit the road but still anxious about health and safety measures in place can rest assured that most destinations and resorts an advisor will recommend are going to great lengths to earn their trust. Furthermore, some operators have put seal-of -approval type programs in place so travel advisors who haven’t visited a particular property yet can rest assured it has met all the standards required by their travel partners.
“Things have definitely changed,” said Shayla Northcutt of Northcutt Travel Agency in Cypress, Texas, an advisor who has been on multiple trips in the past few months, scrutinizing dozens of properties during hotel and site inspections. “The distancing between guests has been so helpful during such a stressful time, as has the level of cleanliness at resorts. It’s nice to be able to keep a distance if you want to and know that once they have sanitized each room, they lock it up.”
Northcutt also acknowledged other changes that might be surprising at first to new Covid-19 travelers but, as she notes, can only be viewed as a positive.
“If you’re at a resort, there might be a buffet, but it will be served to you. Or some resorts might have you order off a menu (some with a QR code), but at many properties who opt for this over a buffet, you can still eat as much as you like. It’s just another health precaution that’s going to keep people safer in the long run.”
Steven Eidelberg, director of marketing and partnerships for Cruise Brothers, based in Vero Beach, Florida, recently returned from his first familiarization trip to Mexico during Covid-19 and said he was “pleasantly surprised” at how seriously everyone was taking the health and safety protocols. “It eases people’s minds. I couldn’t have had a better experience not only being at the resort but also the transfers from the airport with how [the handlers] wiped down the luggage and wore masks. I was very impressed.”
3. There are no exceptions
Running a slight fever? Have a covid test result that you think is permissible but not quite sure if it makes the grade? In the days of Covid-19 travel it’s critical travelers understand that the rules don’t bend. Don’t head to the airport if you are running a temperature because you will be checked and denied boarding (even if it’s not covid-related). Don’t assume your particular covid test is acceptable to the airline or the destination you’re traveling to, unless your travel advisor has confirmed it is the appropriate test. Did you know some destinations require that the consulate provide permission for you to gain entry? All of these requirements are critical to you safely and effectively making it to your final destination. Why leave it to chance when you can consult an expert?
4. Preparing to fly
Mask requirements from the time you leave home to your final destination can change dramatically. Trying to navigate the dos and don’ts can certainly be overwhelming, not to mention the anxiety it can create. For example, from the time you step on to the airplane, your mask needs to fully cover both your nose and mouth and remain there. Lack of adherence to this rule can result in removal from the plane or your name added to a “blacklist” of travelers that carriers will ban from their aircraft indefinitely.
On a lighter note, Julie Miller, president and owner of Unlimited Vacations & Cruises in Akron, Ohio, shared her advice about flying. “You have to have a comfortable mask because you have to wear it the entire time you’re on the flight. It’s kind of like how you don’t buy a pair of shoes before you walk all over Europe. Don’t buy the mask the day before. Also, be sure to pack multiple masks because you might need to wear 6 or 7 while you’re [at your destination] and won’t have the ability to wash them.”
In other airport updates, Miller added that travelers should note the availability of food at certain terminals is not what it used to be. Some restaurants and food service facilities that were once open round-the-clock now offer only limited hours. Takeaway here? Be prepared by packing a snack or eating before leaving for the airport.
Finally, as more carriers start to do away with leaving the middle seat open, travelers should note that particular safety measure is soon to expire. As of press time, Delta and Alaska remain the only carriers keeping that policy in place into the beginning of 2021.
5. Rules vary … follow them please
Travelers should be mindful that mask protocols are as changing as the wind, depending upon the property you choose to book. However, your travel advisor knows the drill and will be sure to inform you where and when it needs to be worn. For example, at many resorts, advisors reported back that masks were required in the lobby but not poolside or on the beach. Bottom line: listen to your advisor and you’ll be an educated traveler.
“Our clients aren’t caught off guard because our job is to keep them informed,” said Eidelberg.
6. Insurance is not exactly optional anymore
While it can be done, it’s not recommended to travel during Covid-19 without some kind of insurance coverage. Travel advisors are strongly advising their clients and even in some cases not booking travel for a client unless they agree to obtaining at least a minimal insurance policy. The upside? On top of traditional providers, many operators and destinations are now offering their own insurance policies, making it that much more affordable and convenient to gain coverage during Covid-19.
7. Travel during Covid-19 remains fulfilling
Although the landscape for travel is different today, once you’ve consulted with your advisor and checked off all of these items, one thing remains constant: a fabulous vacation awaits. All of the advisors that TMR spoke to who have had the personal opportunity to experience travel recently returned with positive feedback.
“I think getting away from it all now more than ever might feel more like a vacation. Just to have that time to reset,” said Miller. “During the times I was traveling, I found my regular life to be much more disruptive than my vacation life. I think that was more of a normal experience, which was more relaxing.”
And for travelers wondering if the checklist is worth it?
“Every single client that I have sent, even if they had to go through hoops on getting permission or tests to gain admittance, came back 100 percent glad they did it. I haven’t had any complaints!” said Burns.
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