Traveling can certainly be daunting during coronavirus. Besides the actual fear of catching the virus itself, there’s the constant changing of rules, policies and border closures. Some of these regulations are updated daily, which can make it hard to keep up. But there are ways you can travel safely and relatively hassle-free. Here are some essential tips for traveling during the age of COVID.

Planning

Make last-minute bookings

While the anticipation of a vacation can be almost as exciting as the trip itself, booking last minute holds many perks in the coronavirus era. First, you may get a very affordable deal on a flight, train, hotel or rental car. Apps like Hotel Tonight specialize in these types of last-minute bookings, offering deals and discounts. 

While rules can change at any time, booking last-minute also gives you a sense of power over the constant fluctuation of well, everything. It’s a lot more likely rules will change for a trip planned six months out than for one next weekend. Still, keep abreast of any regulations that could pertain to your trip, especially if you’re leaving the state or country.

Finally, while flight schedules can always change, there may be a better chance of avoiding flight cancellations and time changes if you book closer to your date of travel.

Book refundable or amendable everything 

Many travel providers are changing things up to be more customer-friendly, allowing for cancelable bookings to be made. Airlines like United have permanently eliminated change fees, and hotel chains such as Hilton are continually amending their cancellation policy to adapt to a COVID-19 travel world. 

It will make things much easier for you if you do need to cancel if you’ve already booked a rate that offers this option, rather than arguing for a refund or sitting on hold for hours waiting to speak to cranky airline representatives.


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Book directly

It’s easier to amend or cancel travel plans when you book directly through the hotel or airline. Third-party booking sites or OTAs (online travel agencies) mean there’s another hoop to jump through. These agencies may not always have the most updated information, and sometimes, there’s confusion if you have to cancel directly through the airline or hotel or with the third-party provider. Skip the middle man, and book direct.

Know the rules

Make sure to check on any travel advisories the U.S. may have, especially when traveling out of state or country. Confirm with the airline what documentation you’ll need to board your flight, and contact the embassy of the country you’re visiting to find out what you’ll need to enter. Some states and countries are requiring negative coronavirus tests; others have implemented mandatory quarantines. Some destinations are not allowing U.S. citizens to enter at all. So check before booking travel, and then check again before actually traveling to make sure nothing has changed.

Consider insurance

Although travel insurance policies that cover COVID-19 costs are few and far between, it may be worth getting one if you’re worried about falling ill while traveling. Some hotels, cities and countries are offering free COVID medical treatment if you do become sick in hopes of luring more tourists to visit, so make sure to find out if this is a possibility.

Air travel, flight tips and seat selection during COVID.


Flights

Flying can be intimidating during a global pandemic. However, once you do it, it actually doesn’t seem so bad. Most, if not all airlines require masks, so it may even feel safer than other activities you can engage in that don’t require a face cover.


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Seat selection

If you’re traveling with one other person, an easy trick is to book the window and aisle seat. While some airlines block middle seats, many don’t. This way, if the flight isn’t full, you’ll likely end up with the middle seat empty as most airlines won’t seat someone there unless the flight is filling up. If it does become occupied, you can always offer to swap and sit next to your travel buddy.

Bring extra masks

On my first flight post-pandemic, my husband tore his mask when it got caught on his bulky noise-canceling headphones. Luckily, I’d packed several extras in my carry on so the problem was immediately solved.

Double up on masks

Many European air passengers are double masking when flying. This means you simply put two surgical masks on, or a surgical mask over a cloth mask for extra protection. Is it actually safer? Here at Winetraveler, we’re writers and travel/wine aficionados, not scientists or medical professionals, so we can’t really tell you. But it certainly makes you feel safer, and anything that makes you feel calmer and better about travel is a win.

Sanitize your area

Consider purchasing disinfecting wipes and under 3-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer prior to any air travel you have planned. While most airlines are already taking many sanitary precautions in this regard, it’s worth the added peace of mind to wipe down tray tables, seatbelt buckles and armrests. 

Eat & drink pre-flight

If you’re worried about eating and drinking during your flight, just make sure to sip some water and eat before flying. This way, you won’t have to take your mask off to do so.

Or bring your own food onboard

If your flight is longer, you may have to eat or drink while on board. Bringing your own food and water is key. Some airlines have drastically cut back their offerings, or don’t offer any food or beverage service at all on shorter flights. Most airline food was already unappealing anyway, so your own food will likely taste better. And, you’ll have less contact with airline staff and more control about who’s been in contact with your lunch.


Hotels & home rentals

Right now is actually a great time to stay at hotels. In many cases, it’s easy to socially distance as shared amenities like swimming pools or fitness centers remain delightfully empty due to fewer guests. Home rentals are for those who really want to socially distance. You can take a look at some top-rated hotel recommendations around the world here.

Call the hotel and confirm

First, you’ll want to make sure your hotel is actually open. There have been reports of guests booking hotels and arriving to find the hotel has shut down. During your call, you’ll want to confirm what services and amenities may be affected by COVID, especially if certain things are important to you. After all, if you’re booking a hotel for the pool or its buzzy breakfast buffet, it would be extremely disappointing to arrive and find out the pool is closed or the buffet is unavailable. 

Inquiring about the rules of the hotel, like if masks are required in the fitness center or if temperature checks are required is also a good idea so you can arrive prepared. Finally, if COVID hygiene procedures or cleanliness protocols are important to you, you can always ask about those too.

Bring your own disinfectant wipes

In a perfect world, you’d arrive at your hotel or rental and everything would be spotless. But if that isn’t the case (or even if it is, but wiping things down yourself still makes you feel better), having some wipes to quickly wipe down key spots — the remote, door handles, the countertops — can help.

Wine Tasting

Make reservations

Many wineries are limiting group sizes for tours and tastings, so it’s important to reserve your visit ahead of time. 

Call and ask

Feel free to call the winery and ask about group sizes, if tastings are done outdoors, and what the hygiene protocols are to set your mind at ease.

Avoid cheers

Avoid touching your glass with any others, especially once you’ve sipped. Skipping the cheers may just keep you healthy in 2020.

Make choices right for you

Travel is a choice, and it’s a personal one. Perhaps you have COVID antibodies or are youthful, healthy and ready to hit the road. Or maybe you have pre-existing conditions, live with elderly parents and would prefer to wait to travel. Weigh your options and know that the above tips can help you travel safely and calmly if you decide to do so.

Remember, what’s right for you may not be right for others, and avoid travel shaming or putting yourself in any situation that leaves you uncomfortable. Whatever choice you make, travel smart, follow the rules, stay healthy and have fun.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lori Zaino is a travel expert that's lived in Madrid, Spain for over a decade. A self-taught oenophile and culinary connoisseur, she's just as comfortable backpacking through Latin America's wine country as she is demurely sipping Champagne in French castles.

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