After a year in close quarters, many Americans are ready to travel again. Some are staying close to home, perhaps heading to nearby lake or seashore destinations. Still others are heading further afield, even to other countries. Regardless of your plans, travel this year brings with it new complexities. In addition to the normal considerations, COVID-19 has introduced another dimension to deciding where, how, and when to go somewhere. If you are dreaming of a getaway, here are seven tips to help you vacation successfully.
The travel situation and requirements both here and abroad have been fluid and subject to rapid change. Staying up to date on travel recommendations and restrictions can help you decide what you are comfortable doing in terms of travel and help you prepare if you do decide to venture somewhere. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website provides guidance for those traveling both domestically and internationally. If you are vaccinated, it’s a good idea to have a picture and physical copy of your vaccine card (most experts advise you to leave the original card at home) with you. We also recommend finding out well in advance what rules, restrictions, and requirements are in place for your intended destination.
If your travel plans include a flight somewhere, check your airline’s travel requirements. Each airline has its own policy regarding COVID-19, including seating, sanitation, testing/vaccinations, and available onboard refreshments. Research beforehand will help you be prepared for any situation, from hand sanitizer to snacks! As a side note, the TSA is allowing travelers to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in carry-on luggage at this time (all other fluid restrictions still apply). Finally, check your travel identification to ensure it is still valid, not expired. After all, state-run and federal agencies were closed to in-person renewal appointments for most of the pandemic. You may have put passport or trusted traveler renewal on the back burner over the course of the last year. The State Department is still experiencing processing delays, so get your passport applications in as soon as possible, even if you don’t have travel on your immediate agenda. The requirement for REAL ID to access federal facilities (including TSA checkpoints) in the form of state-issued drivers’ licenses has been postponed to May 3, 2023. Carry paper or digital copies of your passport and other identity documents to facilitate replacement if lost.
Leaving the country adds another level of potential complication related to both your destination country, as well as your return to the U.S. Conditions, restrictions, and/or requirements (proof of vaccination and/or a negative test) vary from country to country. You can find information by destination on the State Department website, as well as by checking the U.S. embassy website for a specific country and/or the country’s equivalent of the CDC. When entering the U.S., the State Department currently requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test if you are arriving or returning from an international destination, even if you have been vaccinated. See also: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/coronavirus
After a dearth of movement, for financial institutions, such as your credit card company and bank, any travel is likely to trigger automated alerts. This could leave you temporarily without funds or unable to complete a time-sensitive purchase. While some credit card companies, such as American Express, do not request notification prior to travel, others do, so it is good to double check. Most institutions allow you to do so conveniently, online or by phone, at any time.
Now more than ever, cash is NOT king. Contactless payments are on the rise, especially in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Mastercard reported a 40% growth in contactless transactions worldwide in the first quarter of 2020, largely due to the pandemic. If you have a contactless chip card, digital wallet, or peer-to-peer payment application, you are ready. You should still bring a physical credit and debit card, for ATM access and other instances where you might need to show a card.
If you have travel on the agenda, get organized before you go. Make sure your finances are in order, bills are paid, and your legal documents are up to date. Provide a trusted individual with your travel itinerary and contact information so you can be reached in case of an emergency. Confirm any travel-related insurance coverage you may have through your personal insurance, healthcare benefits, and credit cards to understand what is covered, especially if you are traveling internationally. Supplement insurance coverage of high-cost itineraries with a dedicated policy, if appropriate.
Cyber thieves are more inventive than ever, and, if you are traveling, it may be tempting to use publicly available wireless networks for transactions and other business. Using your own hot spot or secure network is a good idea, where you can. As you travel, it is also possible your phone or tablet could be lost or stolen. It is important to take steps to keep your devices and any information on them as secure as possible. A useful article on these topics from Rick Steves can help keep you and your data safe.