Traveling during Pandemic

At this point, it’s safe to say this we’ll be dealing with this pandemic for awhile. So if you are ready to get back to traveling in 2022, things are going to look a LITTLE bit different than they used to. In fact, it kinda feels like you have to re-learn how to travel! But our guide can reduce your worries and keep your family travels running as smoothly as possible in this strange time.

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Tip 1: Set us extra travel planning time

Travel just isn’t as simple as it used to be. With varying Covid-19 rules and regulations, labor shortages, flight cancellations, and shutdowns, you just need to be more prepared than you used to.

And the tough part is most of this planning can’t be done far in advance because the rules are ALWAYS changing. So prepare yourself for a little more last-minute planning than you usually need to do. Maybe even schedule a day off for yourself to work out the last-minute details so that everything goes smoothly.

But don’t get discouraged. You can still have a great family vacation! But your expectations will need to be adjusted a little bit.

Tip 2: Check Cancellation Policies

Before you start booking your trip, make sure you carefully read all cancellation policies. At this point, we recommend only booking trips that are fully refundable. You just never know what is coming, and you don’t want to risk your entire vacation budget.

Flights

For airline tickets, there are multiple categories with different price points. ‘Basic’ economy are usually non-refundable, non-changeable. Unless the price is really low, we recommend avoiding this category right now. Other options include nonrefundable tickets that can be changed (e.g. if you need to cancel your flight, you can get airline credit with an expiration date – usually 12 months), or a fully refundable flight.

As you move up to more flexible flight options, the prices do go up. However, it can save you a lot of money in the end if something unexpected happens.

Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you read the fine print and understand what risks you are taking, when you will be eligible to cancel for a refund, etc. Sometimes, for a low-cost ticket, it might make sense to take the gamble on a non-refundable ticket. Just make sure you are making an informed decision.

Hotels

For hotels, cancellation polices vary. Marriott offers a lower prepaid, nonrefundable rate, or a slightly higher refundable rate. Hyatt rooms are usually refundable until 24 hours before check-in. Each hotel will have slightly different policies, so you’ll just need to read and understand the policies for your hotel before you book.

For my family, it makes sense to make sure we choose refundable hotels, or room categories for longer, higher cost stays. We might consider a non-refundable room for a lower cost, one-night stay.

Vacation Rentals

Vacation rentals are tough. Cancellation policies are usually not great. Many are fully non-refundable, and others are refundable only 30+ days out. So for unexpected changes, sickness, etc, you may be out of luck. There are still a few out there that allow for cancellations closer to your travel date.

Make sure you read the cancellation policy carefully and even check out multiple booking options. We recently saw the same property on both VRBO and Airbnb, but with different pricing and cancellation policies on each booking site.

Everything else?

For activies, excursions, theme park reservations, etc., pandemic times can be particularly frustrating. Often these things are non-refundable. So ideally, you’d wait until closer to your travel dates to book to avoid losing money. HOWEVER, because of capacity restrictions and pent-up travel demand, many activities are booking months in advance.

So what are your options? Book refundable, or at least changeable activities where you can. Otherwise, consider carefully selected travel insurance.

Tip 3: Consider Travel Insurance

During these times of neverending cancellations and changes, travel insurance can be a great option. But there is an important caveat. Not all travel insurance polices are created equal. In fact, there are a lot of policies that WON’T cover Covid-19 related cancellations.

So what does travel insurance cover? It depends. You’ll definitely want to consider what MAY happen as you choose a plan. For example, if you decide that travel is too risky because cases have spiked, you’ll need a ‘cancel anytime’ policy. This article helps explain what type of travel insurance you’ll need.

Travel insurance is expensive though. And if most of your travel expenses are already refundable, AND you don’t need the travel medical insurance, you might be able to skip it. But if you have lots of non-refundable travel expenses, it can really help you protect yourself.

Tip 4: Be Prepared for Flight Cancellations and Delays

These days, flight cancellations and delays are becoming pretty common, unfortunately. Before you board, check out the airline’s Contract of Carriage, so you know what you are owed, and what the airlines obligation is to you in the event of a cancellation or delay.

Tip 5: Be Flexible

Traveling in 2022 means a lot of things are still unknown. You have to be ready to adjust when necessary.

Costs

When planning your vacation, you might find that prices can go way up or way down as your plan. Travel pricing is more volatile than ever. Sometimes there are great deals on last-minute travel, or on travel booked far in advance. But sometimes, travel can be much more expensive than ‘normal.’ For the best deals, try not to have your heart set on a specific destination or date. This can be really tough with kids, and school schedules. But, you can always consider changing destinations rather than dates, if it helps keep costs in line.

Expectations

With changing rules and policies, and even changing entry requirements and limitations, it’s important to always keep your travel plans a little bit fluid. If your vacation destination closes to tourists, see if you can shift and vacation somewhere else. If your top restaurant pick ends up having to shut down due to Covid-19 exposure, be ready to move on to another great option.

If one change to your travel itinerary is going to ruin the trip for you, you might consider delaying that trip a little bit longer. These last couple of years have brought us all more than enough disappointments, but if you can adjust and go with the flow a little bit, traveling (even during a pandemic) can still be really fun.

Tip 6: Understand the Local Rules

Covid-19 related rules vary widely by city, county, state, and country. It can be pretty surprising moving from one area to another with completely different rules. So be sure to thoroughly research the requirements before you reach your destination. And some destinations are still not even welcoming visitors. Make sure you do your research before you travel.

Entry Requirements

There may be entry requirements for your destination. For example, when traveling outside of the US, proof of vaccination is likely required, and additional paperwork and testing may be required. Some countries are not even allowing American tourists. Even within the US, there may be entry requirements. For example, When visiting Hawaii, domestic travelers currently need either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 through their testing partners.

Google your destination and read the official policy from that destination, if available. Sometimes news articles or blog posts won’t have the most up-to-date information. Make sure you go right to the source, where possible.

These requirements can be confusing, so you’ll need to make sure you read them carefully, and follow them exactly. You don’t want to end up like this family who didn’t get exactly the right type of test and was sent home.

At your destination

Once at your destination, there may be mask mandates or vaccination mandates. Some areas even regulate what type of mask you wear (N95 masks required, for example). Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what the rules are. In fact, in my own state, I missed the news on a mask mandate change. The rules can be set by the country, state, county, city, or even by individual businesses, making things particularly confusing.

We find it’s best to check a few different sources to make sure you understand the rules. First, just try a google search for ‘mask mandate’, ‘vaccine mandate’ etc. for your destination. Sometimes, you’ll get useful information quickly and easily. Additionally, you’ll want check the websites for restaurants or activities you’ll be doing. Sometimes, you’ll find a ‘Covid-19 update’ section that will explain any rules that you’ll need to follow while you are there.

At this point, it’s best to just be prepared. Make sure you always have masks for everyone in your family (even if you don’t THINK there is a mandate). If you are vaccinated, bring your vaccine card just in case you need it. We love these vaccine card holders to keep them safe in your bag. We put everyone’s vaccine card in one holder to save space in my bag.

Playing with Play-Doh on the airplane. Traveling during the pandemic means always having a mask.
Make sure you have plenty of masks to stay comfortable on the plane!

Tip 7: Bring plenty of masks

Traveling during a pandemic usually means LOTS of mask-wearing. And, particularly if you aren’t used to wearing masks all day, every day, it can be an adjustment.

A few mask tips:

  1. Masks can get damp in humidty or in cold weather where your breath can cause condensation on the mask. Have enough to change it out at least every couple of hours for comfort.
  2. Ear loops are often the most comfortable, but those ears do get sore. Try a mask extender like this or a around the head mask like this to take the pressure of the ears for a bit. I like to switch between around-the-head and ear-loop types for comfort.
  3. Keep extra masks in a ziploc bag so they’ll stay dry and clean. Keep an extra ziploc to store your mask while you eat, if you intend to reuse. If using cotton, I like to use a laundry bag like this to air out used masks.
  4. Make a plan to wash cotton masks, if you are using them. I use travel sized castile soap and wash in the hotel sink.
  5. Have your younger child practice wearing a mask, and explain to them that they will need to wear it on the plane and anywhere else masks are required. Children age 2 and up must wear a mask on the plane. Bring a few different styles to so they can be as comfortable as possible.

Tip 8: Read the news for your destination

As your trip approaches, make sure you keep up with the news for your destination. During this pandemic, things are changing fast, and everyone is handling things differently. Reading the news will help you get a feel for how things are going, and if any of the rules are changing. For example, are there new indoor dining capacity restrictions? Changes to mask or vaccine mandates? Is it possible the destination will close to tourists altogether?

It’s also great to understand how things are being handled at your travel destination for your own comfort. You’d hate to reach your destination and realize that safety precautions are not at all what you expect. So you end feeling nervous, and cannot enjoy any of your planned activities.

Outdoor activities work great, even during a pandemic!

Tip 9: Keep activities Covid-friendly

When you are planning out vacation activities, keep Covid-friendliness in mind for all your activities. Not only are you less likely to get sick, but Covid-friendly activities are also less likely to be canceled than non-Covid-friendly. Outdoor, distanced activities, and those that allow masking make great pandemic activities because they’ll likely keep you healthy, and reduce your chances of disappointments if you aren’t able to do the activity.

Squeezing into a small indoor space, or group eating/drinking activities are risky, and they might end up being shut down, or suffering staffing shortages or outbreaks.

Tip 10: Have a backup plan

Traveling in 2022 means there are a number of things that can go wrong. For example, a positive test result and/or sickness, a canceled flight that leaves you stranded, or just missing out on a number of things you planned to do.

You can’t have a contingency plan for every single thing that can go wrong. But it doesn’t hurt to have backup plans for a few of them. And those plans don’t have to be detailed. But it’s nice to have some idea what to do next when something goes wrong and the panic sets in. This is especially true if you are traveling with children, who will probably need more of your attention right at the moment you need to be figuring out what to do.

Take a look at the rules at your destination. If you test positive, what type of isolation is required and when will you be allowed to go home? If your flight is canceled, is there a nearby hotel that will work well for you (if the airline doesn’t give you a voucher)? Anything you need to bring with you just in case?

Traveling in 2022 is still pretty different from ‘normal’. But if you are eager to get back out and travel, there are still lots of great adventures to have. Keep an open mind, and travel can still be lots of fun!

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