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Ready for a Vacation? 5 Tips to Consider Before Traveling Again

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Note: Information in this article is current as of the publication date. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most up-to-date travel and health guidelines. 

With warmer days ahead and more people getting vaccinated, many of us may be raring to hit the open road and skies once again. As US cities begin to fully reopen, it’s starting to feel like things might be slowly returning to normal. 

But what’s “normal” these days is probably a little different from pre-pandemic life (or the “before times” as some would like to call it). This is especially true when it comes to traveling. 

In the before times, travel planning usually means deciding where you want to go, counting your travel points and figuring out a budget. But now, there are also Covid-19 safety precautions to think about, and you’ll have a few extra logistics to check off before taking off.

While there’s no singular guidebook for traveling during a pandemic, there are a few basic travel tips to keep in mind as you plan your next destination. Let’s go over these and get you on your way!

1. Review the latest health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

Keep in mind that even though the Covid situation is generally improving in the US, the pandemic isn’t over. Many US states and countries still have some travel restrictions in place (more on this later). So before you actually book anything, head over to CDC.gov for the latest travel advisories and requirements.

Now, for the big question: Is it OK to travel again?

The CDC recommends that you hold off on traveling, both domestically and internationally, until you’re fully vaccinated. And this may be obvious, but it’s worth repeating: Do not travel if you’re sick, think you’ve been exposed to Covid-19 or are waiting on your test results.

Once you’re fully vaccinated, whether or not you’re traveling, it’s still good practice to: 

  • Wear a face mask, covering your nose and mouth, when you’re in public.
  • Avoid crowds whenever possible and practice social distancing from anyone who is not traveling with you.
  • Wash your hands often.

Good to know: Keep your Covid-19 vaccination card in a safe place in case you have to show proof that you got your shot(s). The CDC also suggests taking a picture of your card as backup. 

2. Be aware of any travel restrictions for your destination(s)

As we mentioned earlier, many places, especially international destinations, still have travel restrictions in place. If you’re planning a vacation in the US, the CDC has a travel planner that lets you look up Covid-19 restrictions by state. 

Thinking about going abroad? Depending on where you’re going, you may have to follow certain mandatory testing and quarantine rules, which will vary from country to country. If you’re headed to a place with a mandatory quarantine period upon arrival, you’ll want to take those extra days and hotel costs into account. And you may want to think about whether your dream destination is still worth it (at least at this time) if you have to quarantine in a hotel for a week or more. 

Remember, these destination-specific rules aren’t a “suggestion.” If you don’t follow them, you may not be allowed into the country and could even be sent back to the US. And that’s the last thing you’d want after spending all that time and money planning your vacation! 

This is important: If you do go somewhere outside of the US (and plan on coming back), you have to get a Covid-19 test no more than three days before your return. The US requires you to show a negative Covid-19 test or proof of recovery from the virus before you could get on a US-bound flight. 

Good to know: Here are the current international travel notices from the CDC, which gives you a general sense of the Covid situation around the world. The CDC recommends against traveling to a number of high-risk countries. So before you start planning and booking flights, definitely give this list a careful review.

3. Prepare for high demand when booking reservations 

Booking early is probably something you’ve already been doing – pandemic or no pandemic. But this can be especially important when there’s pent-up demand for travel. Flight or hotel availability may be limited, as things could sell out a lot quicker than you expect. And if you are planning to travel, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling for flights and other reservations at the last minute.

Air travel

If you have travel vouchers or credits from any unused trips in 2020, now might be the time to dig those out! 

For people who choose to fly, be aware that each airline has their own Covid-related safety precautions and requirements. At the start of the pandemic, many airlines blocked the middle seat and limited food and beverage service to help reduce risks. Over time, some airlines have relaxed these rules. Still, it’s important to be aware that these rules are always subject to change depending on the latest developments.

Consider road-tripping it to your vacation spot if you don’t feel comfortable being on a long flight. 

Booking early gives you a chance to review current safety policies and decide which airline makes sense for you, your comfort level and budget. Here are some questions you might want to ask ahead of time:

  • Is the airline blocking middle seats? If not, could you pay extra to have an empty middle seat?
  • Will there be onboard food and drinks service? 
  • What’s the airline’s policy on baggage fees? Cancellation or change fees?
  • What are the airline’s cleaning protocols?

Now, we know packing isn’t exactly the most fun part of a trip. But on top of your usual haul, think about throwing in some extra face masks, hand sanitizers and wipes. Masks are still required to be worn on all flights and while you’re at the airport. 

For whatever reason, if you don’t feel comfortable being on a long flight, you may want to consider road-tripping it to your vacation spot (assuming you can drive to your destination!). The classic road trip has made a comeback during the pandemic, as many heeded the call of the open road. For those who need to rent a car, you’ll also want to book ahead given that there have been reports of a rental car shortage in the US.

Hotels (or other lodging)

Many of us are excited to travel again. But you know who’s probably even more excited about this? Hotels. It’s no secret that the hospitality industry took a big hit last year. And hotels are especially eager to welcome back travelers. 

Many major hotel chains have implemented safety protocols to help their guests feel at ease. Some are even offering complimentary Covid-19 testing services for a limited time at certain locations. 

Before making a reservation, don’t be shy to ask about what steps they’re taking to help reduce risks for guests. Some safety protocols you might see include:

  • More frequent cleaning of rooms and common areas
  • Social distancing or capacity reduction in certain public spaces (think: lobbies, restaurants, gyms, pools, etc.)
  • Modified food and beverage service
  • Contactless check-in/check-out
  • Health screening for hotel staff

If you’ve found a hotel that fits your needs, try to book ahead of time. This could help ensure rooms are available for the dates you want. (Some hotels might choose to limit capacity in order to help reduce spread.) 

You may also want to ask the hotel if they have a flexible reservation or deposit policy. This could help you avoid any potential cancellation fees if you do need to scrap your trip at the last minute. 

For people who are looking to go abroad, know this: If you’re headed to a country that requires you to quarantine upon arrival, chances are you’ll have to pay for those extra nights at a hotel. So again, definitely check the rules for any overseas destination you have in mind.

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4. Consider trip cancellation insurance

How many of us have ever given trip cancellation protection offers a dismissive wave? These days, you may want to give it a second look. 

With travel restrictions all over the place, you never know if you’ll need to reshuffle your plans. Delaying or canceling a trip is already a huge bummer. But losing money you’ve already put down for a trip you can’t take (like hotel deposits, flights, rentals, etc.)? Frustrating!

At the most basic level, trip cancellation insurance can reimburse you for some or all of the prepaid costs of a trip. Keep in mind that coverage and reimbursement details will depend on your specific insurance policy.

5. Think about using a travel agent if it makes sense for you

With so many free self-service booking platforms online, travel agents may seem like a thing of the past. But agents are definitely still around and may be making a comeback. 

You can probably tell that planning a vacation during Covid-19 can be complicated and time-consuming. There’s just so many changing rules to be aware of. (You may need another vacation just from planning your vacation!) This is why you might want to think about using a travel agent who can help you navigate the latest rules and restrictions. 

Have a certain destination in mind? Working with a budget? Or maybe, you prefer to stay at a hotel with certain safety protocols in place. A travel agent could do the homework for you and give recommendations on things like transportation, lodging and local excursions. Even if you don’t have something specific in mind and simply want to “get away,” travel agents can also suggest vacation packages (such as all-inclusive deals) for various destinations. 

They can also come in handy if you need to rebook flights, hotels or rentals at the last minute. (Nobody wants to be put on hold and listen to elevator music at a time like that!) 

And perhaps, most importantly, if you’re going abroad, travel agents can tell you what travel documents you need for your destination (think: passports, visas, etc.) and keep you updated on any local Covid-related restrictions or requirements you should be aware of. In short, many travel agents have the industry expertise to help you navigate this new normal in traveling.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.