As the weeks of shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders stretch into months (with some cities, states, and even countries extending those orders into mid-May), many of us might be starting to feel a bit antsy. It’s hard to sit at home without much to do for extended periods of time, and that’s especially true since there’s still no clear answer on the horizon as to when life can resume. That uncertainty not only pertains to seeing friends and family and returning to work, but also when we can start traveling again.
When shutdowns first started in March, the general assumption was that by summer, things would improve enough that we could still take summer vacations, either domestically or internationally, and take advantage of the insanely low prices on flights that are available now. But with the stay-at-home extensions and many countries calling for longer lockdowns, will the world be open again for travel anytime soon, and if so, when? We have the answers.
Could I book a trip for the next few months, including June or July?
There is no clear-cut yes or no answer to that yet, but it’s trending toward no. With the outbreak at various stages of increasing, plateauing, or declining at different points all over the world, nowhere is fully safe; an infected traveler could kick-start another wave of infection in a particular region, or take the virus to a place that had previously not yet been hard-hit by the pandemic.
But since many states still recommend staying home through May and some countries like New Zealand don’t anticipate reopening for several months, it’s unlikely that June or even July will be safe enough for travel. So perhaps it’s best to let go of those summer vacation plans rather than start planning something big and exciting only to be disappointed.
Can I book a trip later in 2020?
Some tour operators and travel advisors have reported that travelers have been looking toward booking trips for August or later, with the end of the year being assumed to be far enough in advance to be safe. But that’s a bit too far ahead for anyone to say with certainty it will be fully safe, especially as studies like those carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Imperial College of London warn that we may need to go through several periods of social distancing and lockdowns, with brief stages of normalcy in between. This is because the virus could spike again later in the year, so even planning a trip for November could end up being during a time when, once again, we’re being told not to travel and to be socially distant.
With the safety of their customers as their highest priority, many tour operators don’t even want to speculate yet about when it would be safe to travel. “It is hard to predict how the pandemic will play out. In the current situation, we cannot be confident in estimation when a recovery is likely and in which regions. We prefer to not make any assumptions and comments about it at the moment,” says Caroline Mongrain, the North American Marketing & PR Manager for the globally renowned small-group adventure tour operator, World Expeditions.
So, when can I book a trip?
Some experts have said that the outbreak could last up to a year or longer (hence the talk about multiple periods of shut-downs, the need for a vaccine, and the unknown timelines for countries reopening), so it could be a year until you can feel 100% safe booking a trip. Since domestic travel will be more accessible, affordable, and arguably safest first, it may make sense to plan something closer to home if you want to travel anytime soon.
It may make sense to plan something closer to home if you want to travel anytime soon.
But if you do move forward with booking a trip in the immediate future or later in the year, it’s important to get insurance to cover your flights and hotels in the event of further shut-downs and closures. Unfortunately, many travel insurance companies have completely stopped selling policies during this time or have added COVID-19/pandemic-related restrictions, so you may not even be able to purchase a policy in the event that your trip needs to be canceled again.
It is frustrating to not know when we can treat ourselves to a trip after this, but the most important thing is that we all need to prioritize the health of ourselves, our communities, and our global community right now. Things will undoubtedly be different on the other side of this pandemic, but the world isn’t going anywhere.
What if I already have a trip booked within the next few months? Should I cancel?
As the global tourism economy has already been heavily impacted by COVID-19, the mantra right now for travel-lovers should be: Postpone, don’t cancel. If you have a trip planned in the near future and things don’t look like they’re shaping up to be safe in time, contact your travel agent or tour operator (or if you planned the trip yourself, reach out to the different services you booked, e.g. hotel, activities, tours, etc.) to inquire about postponing the trip until a later date. Many travel industry companies have adopted more flexible cancellation or rescheduling policies right now, so it’s extremely likely you’ll easily be able to push those travel dates back without fees or penalties.
It will also help those businesses survive until you can take that trip; instead of requesting a refund, postponing the trip means the money stays with the hotels, airlines, and tour operators, allowing them to continue paying their staff and bills. One in ten jobs around the world is generated by or related to tourism, so you’re helping support the destination’s tourism economy that keeps people employed, fed, and housed.
How will I know when I can start looking to book travel again?
One indicator will be when stay-at-home orders in your area and the overall country are lifted and schools, businesses, and normal functions of life start resuming. Staying up-to-date on local, national, and global news is important for that purpose.
Another will be when health and travel authorities have lifted their warnings. Currently, the U.S. State Department has a Level 4 travel advisory in place due to COVID-19, warning people to avoid all international travel. The World Health Organization similarly cautioned against it. And it’s not just for going abroad: The CDC also issued a warning against domestic travel around the States. So both domestic and international authorities would need to rescind their statements. Once all three of those organizations have given the all-clear, that is a good indicator that not just the U.S. but other countries, organizations, and agencies have deemed it safe to open borders and start traveling at will again.
However, travel of any sort — either domestic or international — will still carry some degree of risk until there is a vaccine.
If I can’t travel, what can I do in the meantime?
Research and plan! Being stuck at home provides the perfect opportunity to plan out that dream trip you’ve always wanted to take, or research about a place you’ve never been before that you might want to add to your travel list. Plus, planning a trip is half the fun, so the anticipation and excitement of roughly sketching out a future trip could be a huge mental boost right now. Moreover, there are tons of ways to armchair-travel from the comfort of home that you can take advantage of right now to take the sting off those canceled plans.
And, if you really feel like it and know for certain a place you want to go, you can do things to help the local tourism economy survive until such time as you can make the trip, like purchasing a gift certificate toward a stay at a nice hotel and pre-booking a flexible travel itinerary.
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