Travel And COVID-19: What You Need To Know

The following phrase is beyond cliché, but rings true regardless: we're living in strange times. Airlines have slashed flight routes by as much as 80-90%. Travel companies the world over are closing their doors. And of course, people around the globe are being told to stay put, and simply not travel.

To say the future of travel will be different is an understatement. Vacations, weekend getaways, and bucket list trips are on pause for the indefinite future. That pill is a tough one to swallow, even for once-a-year wanderluster. One thing is for sure though, the will to travel won't be shaken. 

It must be emphasized: keep those spirits sky high. This pandemic is finite. We will get through this. Exploring our beautiful earth will be possible again – granted, in a completely different way. Here is everything you need to know about travel and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Note: the information in this article is current at the time of publication. Check and adhere to your national government advisories and other relevant information (e.g. airline policies) before making any decisions around travel.

Should you still make future travel plans?

For international travel, the short answer is no. The timeline for recovery from this pandemic is too uncertain. Although some countries are recovering quickly (e.g. New Zealand and Australia), international borders will remain closed for quite awhile longer. And when they do re-open, restrictions will prevent visitors from countries that are still highly infected (e.g. the US).

Domestic travel will be first to recover, but if you live in a country where infections continue to rise (e.g. the US), predicting a safe time to travel is difficult. Make sure that anything you book has a flexible cancellation policy, and don't take any trips if government advisories still deem travel unsafe.

If you decide to plan travel for the future anyway, follow our tips below to protect yourself from cancellations, keep yourself and others safe, and of course, to stay thrifty.

Know where you can and can't safely travel to

This is the most important point before considering any form of travel. In most countries, unnecessary international travel is currently not allowed. If you are considering global travel, ensure that it is safe and legal. Check policies in both your home country and your intended destination, since regulations are unique to each country. Prepare also for the potential of policies to change while you are away, which could affect your ability to return home.

Domestic and local travel is in no ways assuredly safe to do either. In some countries, interstate travel has been banned. In other regions, people have only been permitted to leave the house for essential reasons. Keep this in mind before exploring near or far.

When reviewing up-to-date guidelines on travel restrictions, only use information from official governing bodies. National government websites tend to be the best sources of current advisories. Here are suggested regional resources:

  • U.S.A.
  • Canada
  • Australia
    • All current advisories & travel restrictions on SmarterTraveller (official government website) here
  • Europe
    • Respective countries in the EU and their current travel information listed here
  • Asia
    • Check respective government websites for bans as restrictions are constantly changing from country to country

Understand airline cancellation policies

As COVID-19 advisories, cases, and situations change, airline cancellation and delay policies are also changing daily. Policies vary by airline, so any specific info should be checked directly with the airline. Skyscanner has compiled a highly comprehensive list here.

Protect yourself with health & travel insurance

Travel and/or health insurance is not an assured protection amidst coronavirus. Many policies have fine print that does not cover COVID-19 related cancellations, delays, hospitalizations, etc. Before making any future bookings, check COVID-19 related fine print.

Our top travel insurance choice, World Nomads, is one of the few providers that will actually cover claims related to COVID-19 for US residents (full FAQ page here). However, their coverage isn't available to residents of countries outside of the US right now. While some travel rewards credit cards also include travel insurance, these policies may be modified as well.

Score cheap flight & hotels deals where safely possible

With the tanking of the travel industry has come major discounts from airlines and hotels. These can be used to your advantage and booked safely provided you follow current guidelines and exercise common sense.

Our favorite flight deals site, Scott's Cheap Flights, is still going strong, but only sending out deals that are at least 3-4 months away. They're also prioritizing flight's with companies that have flexible cancellation policies. You can learn how to find more flight deals in our guide, as well as our general guides on booking cheap flights and hotels.

As mentioned earlier, any cancellations or changes lie in the hands individual airlines and accommodation. For change and cancellation policies of individual airlines, see Skyscanner's thorough list here. For hotels, consult the hotel of consideration. HotelsCombined has a small list here.

Lastly, this must be reiterated: only travel and make bookings when it is safe to do so. Follow government advisories and use your best judgment on how this applies to your intended trip.

Use the safest means of travel

Safety of yourself and others is critical during this time, and can literally be the difference between life and death. Most people should not be travelling anywhere at the moment, but when you need to and it's safe to do so, review the following points.

Avoid congested spaces

High traffic areas increase one's potential exposure and spread of coronavirus. For this reason, the busyness of a place should be considered. This includes tourist attractions, national parks, theme parks, and more. Remember, just because a place is open doesn't mean it should be. Check local news, phone ahead if you can, and use common sense.

Choose less confined modes of transport

Besides destinations themselves, the way you get there is equally important to review. For instance, even though you may be exploring locally, public transit crammed tightly with people is a higher risk environment. Consequently, local travel doesn't necessarily mean the safest.

What to do? Where possible, get where you need in a way that avoids crowded spaces. That could mean driving, biking, walking, or taking an Uber. Again, only get out when it is safe and follows guidelines.

Don't visit areas with high case numbers

New COVID-19 hotspots are constantly appearing, both domestically and globally. Keep tabs on case numbers from official bodies (see previous resource listings). Currently the United States has the highest COVID-19 cases in the world, with ever-shifting hotspots. Various countries have high rates but have not necessarily closed their borders, so keep up to speed on these factors.

Plan travel safely for next year

Realistically it is looking as though leisure international travel isn't a likely possibility for 2020. Still, with careful planning, penalty-free bookings can be made for the anticipated trip (whether this year or next).

As mentioned, travel insurance can address potential coronavirus related speed bumps. There are also “Book Now, Pay Later” options, and as mentioned, clear change and cancellation policies listed by airline.

Cruises will likely be slowest to open up again, so review of COVID's impact is key to know. All-inclusive resorts will likely too be opened quite gradually, given the confined setting.

The Thrifty Gist

  • Most international leisure travel isn't safe right now. Current advisories from your departure and intended destination must be reviewed for domestic and international travel
  • Airlines and hotels have new change and cancellation policies, review and book accordingly
  • Insurance can sometimes cover coronavirus related changes, but assess this thoroughly in advance
  • Avoid crowded spaces and modes of transport to prevent spreading and contracting coronavirus