The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to overseas travel. Worldwide, international visitor numbers were down by more than 70% in 2020 and that trend continued well into 2021 as second and third waves swept large parts of the globe.

But now, largely on the back of vaccination roll outs, the majority of countries have started to ease restrictions on foreign visitors in line with their own domestic rules being relaxed. The international tourism industry is, tentatively, open for business again. But insiders are warning that it might never be the same.

A big reason for this is that the travel industry is not just up against unpredictable COVID outbreaks and a patchwork of different rules country to country. It also has to contend with travellers themselves being much more cautious about jetting all over the world.

Many people are, of course, itching to indulge their wanderlust again. But it’s only natural to have reservations. What if you do get stuck somewhere where there is a serious sharp outbreak and lockdown rules leave you unable to get home? Countries like New Zealand and Australia have shown a willingness to suspend all travel in and out as part of their containment measures.

And then there’s the risk of catching the virus itself. There’s no two ways about it – having 100+ people cooped up on a plane for several hours creates the perfect environment for it to spread. Even if you have been double jabbed and don’t have any fears about getting seriously ill from COVID, catching it raises the prospect of having to self-isolate while feeling pretty rubbish for a large chunk of your trip. That’s not the way anyone wants to spend their time away.

There is a strong appetite for ‘getting back to normal’ after 18 very disrupted and at times difficult months. But certainly when it comes to travelling again, it pays to take a cautious approach. Get back out there, by all means. But make sure you are prepared.

Here’s an overview of some things that will help you travel safely in the post-COVID era.

 

Up-to-date country-by-country COVID information

This is not necessary something you need to take with you, unless you are planning on travelling to multiple countries on the same trip. And as it is information you can easily access on the internet, if you take a smartphone with you, you’ll have it to hand anyway.

The point is, when planning on visiting this country or that, you should check out what the latest COVID situation is there. Are cases rising? Is there any talk of restrictions being reintroduced or tightened?

The CNN Travel site has a great destination-by-destination breakdown of all latest travel rules and advice, which is regularly updated and provides a fantastic resource for travellers.

Another place to look is the website of the foreign office or department of your home government, which will have up-to-date official travel advice for every country. In the UK, for example, the FCDO site includes information about countries which are on or are likely to be added to the so-called ‘red list’. This is important to know, as travelling back to the UK from a red list country requires mandatory quarantine in an approved hotel, at a cost to you of £1,750!

 

Travel insurance

An absolute must for any post-pandemic travel plans is insurance. If you have in the past been blase about the need for travel insurance, you really should reconsider. Those scenarios we described above where you catch COVID and end up having to self-isolate in a hotel? Well what if that meant you missed a connecting flight elsewhere, or couldn’t board your plane home?

Or, as most countries now require a negative PCR test as a condition of entry, what if yours is positive and you can’t board your flight out?

In all these cases, whether you have to cancel your trip completely or have to pay for new flights, you could end up being seriously out of pocket – not to mention the potential cost of medical assistance, paid for at private rates, if you are ill with the virus while abroad.

Travel insurance will pay out in all of these scenarios. Read up on the terms and conditions relating to COVID cover and pick a policy which gives you a decent level of protection.

 

Mask and sanitiser

It’s a message that has been drummed into us since the start of the pandemic – keep your distance from people, wear a mask, and sanitise your hands to minimise the chances of the virus spreading. While various countries are starting to back away from making mask-wearing in public mandatory, for the COVID cautious traveller it should be a no-brainer.

Think about that cramped, crowded plane again – you can’t completely neutralise the risks, but you can lower them by wearing a mask and sanitising your hands. Besides, some airlines – and some countries – are still insisting on people wearing masks, especially in indoor public spaces, so don’t get caught out by not packing yours.

As well as hand sanitiser, it is also a good idea to pack some disinfectant spray or wipes to give your luggage a wipe down after every leg of your journey. You don’t know who has handled your bags in transit, or how COVID-safe they have been. You can also give surfaces in your accommodation a once over when you arrive, just to be extra safe.