Well, it looks like 2021 keeps throwing up roadblocks. Literally. Going abroad this summer isn’t the easy ride we all hoped it would be. Whether you want to visit family back home, or you’re yearning for your first summer holiday in two years, Covid-19 is trying its best to stop your plans in their tracks.
After a devastating and tragic 18 months—and counting—of the Covid pandemic, we understand why you might need (and 100% deserve) a break abroad. However, it’s not simple to travel abroad right now.
Luckily, we’ve got a few tips up our sleeves to help you get planning—and not get stuck.
Check if you even can travel abroad
Rarely before (if ever) have we had our travel plans cast in so much doubt. But that’s what living amidst a global pandemic does to you. So if you only read one piece of our advice, make sure it’s this: to check, check, and please check again before you travel.
Check with your government
There are Covid third (or fourth?) waves, border closures and traffic light systems popping up all over the place right now, and it’s hard to predict what will happen next. So, before you make any fixed plans to travel abroad, check your government’s website for travel advice.
If you’re UK-based, this page is quite useful, listing countries alphabetically and updating every country’s travel page whenever anything new happens. And you can even subscribe to their email updates (we have!). They also provide advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office which, if ignored when booking, can invalidate any travel insurance policy you take out.
Check with your destination’s government, too. Make sure you’re happy with the rules they have in place, and that the services, domestic transport and entertainment you’re looking for will actually be open when you visit.
Check the map
The travel website Kayak has a great map of travel restrictions across the globe. With every country colour-coded and the ability to select the country you’re travelling from, it’s easy to check at a glance where a good holiday destination could be—just look at the greens, steer clear of the reds and rethink the ambers. At the time of writing, only 5 countries in the world are green—open—for people coming from the UK. Eek.
Bear in mind, though, that countries without restrictions may still turn you away or impose quarantine if you test positive for Covid. Meanwhile, partially open countries may only let in people travelling from certain countries, based not on your nationality but on where your journey began. This makes multi-country trips especially tricky—so stick to one destination to keep it simple.
Though Kayak’s map is useful, still make sure to check official government sites. After all, they have the ultimate say and the most up-to-date information.
Yep. This is a tough one. Most countries now have entry requirements, and some require you to take—and pay for—Covid PCR tests before you depart for that country, and even once you arrive. And, then a few days later, too. UK—we’re talking to you.
With travellers footing the bill of their own PCR tests—NHS tests aren’t valid for crossing borders—it’s down to us to make sure we’ve got deep enough pockets. Which most of us might not have, especially if we’re making a round trip back to the UK.
The average cost of a PCR test varies from country to country, with review site Which? finding that the average cost in the UK could well be £120. And that’s just for one test. If you’re entering the UK from a country on the amber list (see here for details), you’ll need two tests after arriving in the UK. And if you’re coming from a red list country, things get even more pricey for you—you’ll need to take those two tests, but also quarantine in a hotel selected by the government for 10 days. And you’ll need to pay for this yourself. These rules could all change, of course, but they’re correct as of 8th June—and may be in place for some time.
Elsewhere, PCR tests in Italy cost around €86 and the average cost of a PCR test in Spain comes in at around €55. According to the Irish Times, the cheapest PCR test can be found in Riga airport, where you’ll pay just €35 for one. But that’s still €140 for a family of four.
And that’s just the testing. Add the cost of the plane, train, coach or boat. Then the accommodation. We’re not saying don’t travel. We’re just saying be careful with money if you do. And, most of all, stay safe and help others stay safe, too. That’s the point of all this testing, after all.
Choose free cancellation
If you’re booking accommodation, choose options that allow you to cancel for free up to a few days before the booking begins. Many travel sites like Booking.com and Trivago have filters for free cancellation, so make sure you tick that box. We recommend putting that cancellation deadline in your diary, with alerts in the days leading up to it—just so you don’t forget to cancel if you need to! Trust us—we’ve made that mistake before.
Some hotels won’t refund you for a cancelled booking. However, they may let you rebook for another time in the summer, or within the following 12 months. But don’t count on it! It’s just a case of good luck, and you can’t guarantee all hotels will be that flexible.
Opting for free cancellation is advisable—especially if your savings are going on all those PCR tests you’ll have to take…
Make contingency plans
Read up on the various types of transport that can get you back home. The last thing you want is to be stranded in another country, and unable to work or see your family. It might be that airports aren’t allowing flights in from certain countries, but you could cross a land border by bus or train. Or, perhaps, you’re stuck in a country you’ve travelled to until the border reopens back home, and you can’t afford to stay in a hotel until travel to that country resumes. But you could return to the home of whoever you were visiting. Or, if on a work trip, you could ask your company to cover the costs of accommodation until they can get you home.
Above all, make sure you have a backup plan and a valid passport. Most importantly, ensure that you’re taking safety precautions to keep yourself and others safe and healthy.
Choose your travel destination wisely
Obviously, if you’re going home to visit family and friends, or travelling abroad for work, you won’t be choosing your travel destination. But we always recommended checking out the virus levels in the country you’re travelling to. Make sure you keep as safe as possible.
The Politico website uses data from John Hopkins University to measure how many new cases are appearing across the world, and how frequently. It’s very insightful. As of the time and day of writing (8th June at 15:55 BST, to be precise), here’s how frequently new cases of Covid-19 appear:
- Latvia has a new positive case every 720m 0s
- Nigeria has a new positive case every 4m 27s
- Poland has a new positive case every 2m 51s
- Mexico has a new positive case every 23s
- Romania has a new positive case every 7m 33s
- India has a new positive case every 8s
- The Maldives has a new positive case every 139m 21s
- Greece has a new positive case every 96m 0s
- Lithuania has a new positive case every 172m 48s – strangely, Lebanon shows the exact same number
- China has a new positive case every 216m 0s
- France has a new positive case every 2m 53s
- Ghana has a new positive case every 5m 44s
- Finland has a new positive case every 61m 43s
- Turkey has a new positive case every 1m 35s
- Russia has a new positive case every 10s
Some of these figures are very concerning, but others offer hope. The problem with viral infections is that they spread exponentially. This means that infection hubs can appear within days, having seemed unlikely before. For those of us hoping to travel abroad at some point this summer, or later in the year, this means the uncertainty is set to continue.
Check your emails
Most airlines contact customers by email with any cancellations or changes to their schedule. So if you’re flying, check your emails regularly on the days before you’re due to fly. Plus, if your flight is cancelled, the faster you request a refund, the faster you’ll be reimbursed when airlines (eventually) get round to processing refunds.
Stay safe, and good luck with your plans to travel abroad in 2021 (and beyond).