Should I Book a Holiday?
Preparation is a must before you decide to wanderlust! Travel Expert Rob Staines is here to help.
After nineteen long weeks of non-essential foreign travel being illegal, the government in England has finally lifted the ban. With Scotland and Wales following suit and Northern Ireland tipped to follow, this means we can be reunited with family and friends or enjoy a well-earned break following a cold and grey winter of lockdown. But whilst borders are slowly and cautiously re-opening, it’s important to know that pandemic travel can be confusing and fraught with difficulty against a backdrop of uncertainty. Views about the necessity and safety of travel are polarized, but if you’re thinking about it or in the process of booking a trip, here’s what you need to be aware of before confirming!
Traffic Light System
The UK Government is working to a colour coded system known as the Traffic Light System. As of May 17th there are only 12 countries which do not require quarantine on return, but you must take a test before you arrive back on British soil and a PCR test taken within 2 days of arrival. Amber list countries form the bulk of countries where travellers returning must take a predeparture test, and quarantine at home for 10 days with a PCR test on day 2 and 8. There is also the option of taking an extra test on day 5 which will reduce the quarantine period if negative. The government is keen to point out that they do not want people travelling to amber countries for the purpose of a holiday, even if FCDO advice allows it and travel firms are selling trips. Finally red countries - from which only essential travel is permitted - face the dreaded hotel quarantine for a minimum of 11 nights, with a test on day 2 and 8. This comes with a hefty price tag of £1750 per person and it’s important to know that if a day 8 test is positive the ordeal starts all over again - although the government will offer financial support in this situation. Although the list is reviewed every three weeks, all countries will be under constant scrutiny and the government will not hesitate to place a destination on the red list should infection rates rise dramatically or a variant is discovered.
It’s really important to know that just because our government says it’s ok to go to a country, it doesn’t mean we will be allowed in – each country has their own restrictions including quarantine on arrival, testing regimes or simply closed borders – as is the case with Australian and New Zealand which are currently on our green list. Always check your destination’s entry requirements and be aware that these can change at the last minute!
Package Holiday vs DIY?!
Given the unstable nature of travel, it’s advisable to book a package deal by combining elements of your trip into one booking. This will offer you greater financial protection under the Package Travel Regulations and always check that your trip is ATOL and ABTA protected – meaning you’ll get your money back if your holiday firm goes bust. Package providers follow FCDO advice, so if the Foreign Office advises against travel, your trip will be cancelled. If you do opt for a DIY holiday, always book with flexibility and be aware that even if your destination goes on the red list, your airline may still fly there meaning you won’t get a refund. And on that note – we are seeing levels of flexibility from booking policies that have previously been unheard of. The travel industry has reacted quickly to gain trust from consumers and offer them greater protections should things go wrong. Not all policies are created equal so it’s more important than ever to read that tedious small print, so you know what your options are if your country changes category, if you have to self-isolate, or if you simply decide not to go. Also remember that if your holiday or flight is cancelled by the provider, you are due a full refund within 14 days. For instances where you are not entitled to a refund, factor in whether you can afford to take a voucher (and make sure that’s an option before booking!).
Testing and COVID Passports
Our government is insistent on using PCR tests when returning from other countries, even those on the green list. PCR tests offer greater accuracy and are analysed in labs where variants can be detected. We have some of the highest costs in the world when it comes to these tests, averaging around £60 - £100 per test. Many holiday firms are doing all they can to drive prices down with some even subsidising costs, but even the cheapest option can dramatically up the budget.
Many countries are requiring arriving passengers to be fully vaccinated. If you’re in receipt of both jabs you will need the NHS app as proof. It’s important to note that this is not the NHS COVID app so make sure you’re downloading the correct one. It’s all pretty simple – your vaccination details will already be recorded once you’ve signed in – no need to call your GP. If you prefer, you can call 119 for a paper version, but make sure you do it in plenty of time! Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that vaccination status means you’ll skip testing – even into England you will still have to test regardless. And top tip for your test results – take a screen shot of your result on your phone, just in case you have no Wi-Fi or signal when you get to border control!
Yes I know – it’s a boring subject, but it’s crucially important this year! Many insurers have adapted their policies since the pandemic began and no policy is going to cover traffic light changes or every eventuality. There are various levels of protection out there so I always advise using a price comparison site. Think about what you’re most concerned about and make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for – for example will you be covered if your test result doesn’t come back in time for boarding? You must also be aware that if you travel against Foreign Office advice, your insurance will be invalid – another reason to keep up-to-date!
Are you prepared for a different holiday experience?
Whilst undoubtedly enjoyable, foreign trips will be different this year. Enforced mask wearing -possibly even whilst strolling along the beach - social distancing measures, limits on social gatherings and stricter hygiene regulations. It’s important to know the local rules and regulations before you book. Be prepared to waive the small pleasures which are important to you – the buffet will most likely be off the cards, some all-inclusive resorts may limit the amount of alcohol consumed, there will be limits on the number of bathers in the pool. Assess all the possible scenarios where your enjoyment or quality of your holiday may be compromised.
So you will agree, this year travel is far from risk-free, but there are certain steps you can take to try to protect yourself before booking. You may decide to skip a foreign break this year or stay closer to home and that is understandable given that travel is not going to be easy. But if you do decide to roll with it, make sure to take plenty of pics, smile like it’s the first day of summer, and keep those memories forever in your heart. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us not to take for granted, it’s how enriching and rewarding travel really is.
Rob is a Travel Expert and Presenter who's visited over 70 countries whilst working in the travel sector. A rejecter of the wanderlust culture, Rob believes the true essence of travel cannot be experienced through a lens. You can follow him on Instagram @rob_globetrotter and Twitter @RobTravelExpert