The last few months of travel have put us in unfamiliar territory, to say the least. Countless flights have been canceled, airports are far less crowded, and in the midst of all this uncertainty, travel and tourism have taken blow after blow. As huge proponents of traveling far and wide (but as even bigger supporters of safety), we’ve created this up-to-date guide to help you through these surreal and unprecedented times.
On a personal level, we’ve been feeling restless and stuck without being able to travel the way we once could. From premature farewells with friends, to future flight cancellations, COVID-19 has put the privilege of being able to travel into perspective. We are using this time of pause to reflect on where we’ve been, and look forward to a future filled with many more adventures.
Read on to learn how you can stay safe, savvy and ready for anything that comes your way as you navigate the new normal of travel.
FIRST AND FOREMOST
You should always consult your local government’s travel information and advisory pages before jetting off on your next adventure. The information provided in this blog post is gathered from credible sources, however we always recommend doing your own research ahead of time. Due to the ever changing nature of COVID-19 travel restrictions, requirements can change on a dime. Please remember to do your due diligence and stay safe!
WHERE CAN WE GO?
Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from contracting COVID-19, but for some, the decision to travel internationally is a necessary one. Be sure to follow our Instagram page @kosantravel for daily updates on openings and closures around the world. Don’t forget to check out our weekly round-ups featuring the latest travel news and advisories on the Kosan blog, too!
As so many countries remain shuttered to foreign visitors, domestic travel is on the uptick! What better time to take advantage of the unique and beautiful region you call home? The safest activities are ones that get you out of enclosed spaces and allow for social distancing. Why not embark on a roadtrip to hidden gems across your state or province, order takeout for a picnic in the park, or sleep out under the stars (if only in your backyard).
Additionally, this map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes destinations around the world by high, moderate, and low risk for COVID-19 transmission and is a great place to start. Requirements for entry and exit vary greatly depending on your points of origin and arrival, so be sure to consult your local government’s website for relevant and reliable travel information. And of course, expect the unexpected as you navigate the new normal.
LET’S GET A MOVE ON
Gone are the days of roaming mask-free down the aisle, wiggling your way through jam-packed stanchions, and snuggling up in your airline provided blanket. COVID-19 is causing profound changes to the way airlines, hotels and other groups conduct their operations. In 2020, travellers need to be equipped with a brand new set of tools. Read on for your COVID-19 travel toolkit!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel:
- Maintain a distance of 6 feet (2 meters) between you and others as much as possible.
- Avoid contact with anyone who is sick
- Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, elevator buttons and kiosks. If you must touch these surfaces, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands afterward.
- Wear a cloth face mask.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Clean your hands often. It’s especially important after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub your hands together until they feel dry.
You should follow these steps any time you’re out in public, just to be safe!
AT THE AIRPORT
Times have changed, and airline travel is no longer soaring at the same heights as last year. On a single day in June, the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 502,000 people, down from a typical day of 2.5 million a year prior, according to New York Magazine. When traveling by plane, you should follow all of the above recommendations from the CDC, but there is even more you need to know before you travel by plane in 2020!
If you’ll be boarding a plane in the near future, we recommend downloading your airline’s app for digital documents, touchless boarding, and up to date information on the status of your flight. Not only are airlines changing their operations, so is the TSA.
The TSA has made several changes to the screening process, including but not limited to the following:
- Travellers may wear masks during screening. However, TSA employees may ask travellers to adjust or remove masks for identification purposes.
- Instead of handing boarding passes to TSA officers, travellers should place passes (paper or electronic) directly on the scanner and then hold them up for inspection.
- Each traveller may have one container of liquid or gel hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces (about 350 milliliters) in a carry-on bag. These containers will need to be taken out for screening.
- Food items should be transported in a plastic bag and placed in a bin for screening. Separating food from carry-on bags lessens the likelihood that screeners will need to open bags for inspection.
- Personal items such as keys, wallets and phones should be placed in carry-on bags instead of bins. This reduces the handling of these items during screening.
ON YOUR FLIGHT
In addition to new screening procedures, there are new requirements for face coverings beyond the security checkpoint. Policies differ by airport, airline, and location, but most passengers are being asked to wear masks throughout the airport as well as aboard their flights. Despite most major airlines implementing rules for masks, not all airlines have rules in place to support social distancing.
“There is no government mandate for social distancing on planes,” says Henry Harteveldt, an aviation expert and research analyst. “Neither the CDC nor the US Department of Transportation have said airlines must leave middle seats empty. Therefore airlines will only support those distancing measures that do not interfere with their bottom line.” This is something to keep in mind, as middle seats have already begun filling up across many airlines. When booking a seat, we recommend checking flight loads in advance to see which rows are the least crowded. Historically, the ‘less desirable’ seats like the ones near the back of the plane might be your best bet for a socially distanced flight.
Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses don’t spread easily on flights. About 40 percent of a cabin’s air gets filtered through this HEPA system and the remaining 60 percent is fresh and piped in from outside the plane. Officially, certified HEPA filters “block and capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles over 0.3 micron in size,” says Tony Julian, an air-purifying expert with RGF Environmental Group. HEPA filtration systems on airplanes are highly effective in replacing cabin air when teamed with good mask wearing practices by passengers and airline staff.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE COVERED
Now that you have your mask, hand sanitizer, sealed plastic bag of food, airline app, up to date government recommendations, and a solid grasp on the 6 foot rule, you’re almost ready to take off! Just one last thing before you go…insurance.
While travel insurance is available through some companies, it won’t necessarily protect you in the case of trip disruptions related to COVID-19. As long as government travel advisories recommend against traveling to certain countries, recreational travellers may face difficulties in purchasing insurance that will cover medical costs in the case of hospitalization.
According to their respective websites on September 2nd, 2020, World Nomads and SafetyWing are two insurance companies that currently offer insurance plans with COVID-19 coverage for residents of the US and Canada. Keep in mind that if your flight is cancelled due to COVID-19 or you contract the virus while abroad, those costs may not be covered by your insurance company unless explicitly stated in your policy.
Be sure to check the fine print for airline cancellation, refund and rescheduling information. Even if you have flown with a certain airline before, many airlines are updating their procedures, so we recommend reviewing your chosen airline’s policy or third party site’s policy if you’re not booking directly with the airline.
PACK YOUR FLEXIBILITY
It can be fun to take advantage of some of the deals floating around (Kayak, Skyscanner and Expedia are good spots to start looking), but with all the unknowns, it’s important to plan ahead in case things don’t pan out. For example, one of our founders booked a trip to Antigua with WestJet in November. While travel to Antigua is currently allowed for Canadians, we’re not sure if that will change, so thankfully the tickets have a 100% refund policy if they need to be cancelled for any reason. Sometimes it’s worth spending a few extra dollars to go with an airline that allows for flexibility, especially in the current climate.
Changes to your travel plans might come up at the last minute – literally. One of our Kosan travellers was heading to Slovenia, and despite having government approval to enter the country, was turned away by the gate agent in Amsterdam. He then had to spend a full week in Amsterdam (not that he was complaining). When attempting to return back to the US, he passed through the airport in Istanbul and was required to spend 2 weeks there before connecting through. An unexpected 3 week travel extension could spell disaster for some. Remember, you’ll need to stay flexible!
Not only is travelling to your destination a brand new experience, your accommodations will probably look a bit different, too. Many hotels around the world have implemented many changes to their day to day operations, including:
- A touch-less check-in process: Either digital, or with safety glass installed to protect both guests and employees
- No more buffets
- Emphasis on distanced outdoor dining
- Sanitizing stations throughout the hotel property
- “Absolute privacy” signs. Requested services will be met, but, like room service, delivered only to your door. No hotel team member will enter your room during your entire stay unless requested to
- Improved room cleaning protocols
- Chances are high that COVID-19 will put an end to in-room coffee table books, magazines, and maybe even mini-bars (!!!)
AirBnb has rolled out new cleaning protocols for their hosts, which include step-by-step checklists and education regarding proper sanitization in rental properties. Hosts with eligible listings who commit to the cleaning checklist will display a special badge on their profile to let you know that they take your safety seriously.
Hostels are in a difficult position to adapt to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, as guests typically utilize so many shared spaces. Many hostels are adapting by booking their bunk rooms at half capacity, requiring masks in shared spaces such as the lobby and kitchen, and limiting the number of people who can use these shared spaces at one time.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Whether you’re flying to faraway lands, or embarking on a roadtrip to the next town over, travel looks a little different these days. It’s normal to experience sadness and anxiety in the midst of so much change and uncertainty. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan or look the way they used to; we’re all in this together. Take time out of your day to do something that makes you happy, like going for a walk, making a cup of tea, or curling up with a good book. Your inner voice will thank you for it!
THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL
If you’re a traveller, your biggest question is probably “when can I get back out there?” No one knows for sure, but travel will likely recover in stages and vary greatly by region. There are so many additional factors to consider going forward, such as whether social distancing on planes is economically viable for carriers, the reliability of antibody tests, and if immunity actually lasts, to name but a few.
Maybe one day we will all have individual pods on airplanes, or we’ll have to walk through sanitizing mist as we enter the gate. Whatever the future of travel may hold, we will be there, passport in hand, with the same adventurous spirit we’ve always had.
A FINAL NOTE
The information outlined in this post was gathered through researching credible news sources and government websites. Please consult your local government’s travel information and advisory pages before jetting off on your next adventure. Although some countries and regions are beginning to lift restrictions, the safest option we have right now is to stay home. International travel for pleasure is not recommended in most locations at this time. We hope this guide will serve as a useful tool for all those who need to travel at this time.