The pandemic has drastically affected our lives. From the world economy to our mental health, the toll COVID-19 has taken is enormous. Suppose you are juggling the stress of military life (whether it is another PCS, deployment, or countless TDYs) on top of the pandemic-induced stress. In that case, you are probably feeling long overdue for a vacation at this point. You are likely itching to go somewhere [read: anywhere].
Now that the distribution of vaccines has begun in many countries, things will hopefully start to return to normal soon, and we can start to see a glimmer of hope. Many countries are also widening their doors regarding traveling and tourism.
Since the world has not entirely reopened yet, you may be wondering, ‘When it will be OK to travel again? How can I possibly plan a much-needed vacation amidst so many unknowns?’
Here are some practical tips and advice for you to keep in mind when booking travel, shared by yours truly – a military spouse and travel agent.
**Note: Please consult your unit and their travel requirements as each command (and the host country, if overseas) can have different policies and protocols.
Deciding Your Travel Destination & Style
There are currently several countries open for travel, including Mexico, Costa Rica, and many of the Caribbean islands. Before deciding on your destination, you will want to read up on whether the borders are currently open to Americans. At the time of writing, Europe remains closed to travelers from the U.S., with a few exceptions.
Moreover, before booking your trip, consider your travel style. You may choose to forego crowded resorts or theme parks, instead now opting for accommodations that allow you and your family to have their own space. If you had purchased shared transportation or activities to save some cash in the past, this would be a great time to upgrade to private options for increased social distancing while having an enhanced personalized travel experience.
Check for Regulations and Guidelines in the Area
The countries or local regions where you visit may have some restrictions in place, such as mandatory quarantine, wearing masks, or compulsory testing requirements. These regulations may differ from region to region and country to country. Only your temperature will be checked in some places, while at others, you might be quarantined and tested for COVID-19. Others may require a negative COVID-19 test to allow you entry. Arm yourself with the guidelines and requirements of your chosen destination so that you can keep yourself prepared and plan accordingly.
If testing is a requirement for entry, it is vital to refer to the country or local government’s website for the latest details on which types of testing are needed.
In some cases, a rapid test may not be accepted! If you are traveling internationally, refer to the U.S. State Department country-specific recommendations and links to local policies.
On January 26th, a new order was implemented by the CDC, which changed international travel requirements into the United States. A negative COVID-19 test is now mandated for all travelers coming from a foreign country. Fortunately, many countries have been quick to respond to this new order, making it easy (and free in most cases) to obtain the required testing in the comfort of your resort.
Although there may be some hurdles, travel is beginning to increase more and more. We are seeing TSA checkpoint numbers now hovering around 45-50% compared to the prior year. This is a stark contrast to the 3% we saw back in April 2020.
Book with a Reputable Travel Agent or Travel Company
For some peace of mind, plan your vacation with a reputable travel agent or company with all the requisite training and one who takes proper measures to protect your vacation investment. Working with a knowledgeable travel expert will save you a lot of heartaches since they can advise you on the terms and conditions for each element of your trip, as well as travel insurance.
You know all of that fine print we usually just scroll past and agree to without reading?
Well, those pesky terms and conditions of booking are now even more critical than ever to read thoroughly. Understanding the deadlines and requirements for cancellation will help ease your mind in case plans have to change.
Travel agents have had the first-hand experience with different companies and travel brands during the pandemic. They should be able to advise you on which companies treated their customers fairly during the pandemic. The right agent will also help guide you on the entry requirements if applicable. If you have never used a travel agent before, this would be the ideal time to find one that you can trust. They are worth their weight in gold!
Flexibility is Key
As is standard, you need to plan ahead for your trip. Keep a tab on all the places you will visit, their COVID-19 status, and all the pandemic related regulations and guidelines in effect there.
However, you will have to ensure some level of malleability in your plans since circumstances can change. If you are a military spouse, I have no doubt you understand this and have become accustomed to plans changing.
Flexibility is one of the most important aspects to look at when booking travel at the moment. Therefore, it is recommended that you research thoroughly and look for hotels and airlines which offer the most flexible booking options. If working with a travel agent, this is something on which they should be advising you.
Fortunately for travelers, the travel industry’s landscape has changed and become more traveler-friendly regarding cancellation and change policies. For example, many airlines are now waiving change fees giving passengers ultimate flexibility. Yay for a silver lining!!
Don’t Assume All Travel Insurance Policies are Created Equal
There are a lot of misconceptions about travel insurance, as it is a very complex product. Most insurance companies do not cover cancellations related to pandemics but may provide coverage if someone becomes ill before travel or while traveling. But since each policy has so many intricacies, it is best to confer with the insurance company for any questions you have. Do not assume you will be covered.
That being said, there are still a few “Cancel for Any Reason” policies available depending on the type of trip you are planning. When available, I highly recommend looking at these policies to give you peace of mind, especially if you have planned a more expensive trip vs. a weekend getaway. It is essential to read the plan documents to know what kind of coverage it includes before purchasing.
In the end, travel insurance is still beneficial as it can cover you for pre-existing conditions, military leave being revoked, and pregnancy.
With the advent of vaccinations, many countries are looking forward to further opening their doors to travel and tourism.
Ultimately, the choice to travel is a personal one involving many considerations: from personal comfort level to your own risk assessment. Once you feel comfortable traveling again and are ready to escape the pandemic-induced cabin-fever, consider these top tips to protect you and your family as you enjoy your much-needed vacation.
Jennifer Barnard is a travel agent specializing in Europe. She lived abroad in Spain during college & has traveled extensively before starting her travel agency, Endless Routes Travel, in 2018. She is also a military spouse of more than 13 years to her husband in the Air Force. They are currently stationed at Ramstein AB, Germany, with their two daughters, ages 4 & 5. Jennifer was as recognized as a “Top Agent of 2020” placing her in the upper 1% of over 6,000 agents. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
Download your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Europe for Military Families.