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Indagare’s Guide to Traveling Safely and Responsibly During Covid

Since March 2020, the global travel landscape has been ever-shifting and challenging to navigate. Covid-19 has changed the way we travel—perhaps forever in some instances—and has made considerations of when and how we go where more complicated than ever before.

And the landscape is still shifting, and we know hopeful travelers have questions.

Indagare is here to help. We cannot make decisions or recommendations about your future travels, but we can offer advice, based on our experiences and the intelligence we have been gathering from our team and our extensive network of partners on the ground around the globe.

In the last year, our team has personally spent time on the ground across the United States—California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming—and in other countries, including Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Kenya, Mexico, Rwanda, Tanzania, the UK and multiple Caribbean islands. In that same time, we’ve also successfully helped hundreds of members travel to to 40+ countries

We’ve gathered answers to your most-asked coronavirus travel safety questions to help you make sense of the current situation—and what is being done to ensure that travel is as safe as possible across the industry. Below you’ll find answers on everything from destination entry requirements, testing protocols, cancellation and insurance policy news, the impact of vaccines and much more, in order to provide thoughtful advice to help with your trip-planning and decision-making. We’re also identifying trends and assessing the best hotel and private villa options, along with private experiences for the near-term.

Traveling feels different now, but Indagare’s Trip Designers are here to be a resource for you to advise on how to travel as safely, responsibly, and meaningfully as possible—whenever you decide you are ready.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new COVID-19 hotel policies, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

Indagare Members can also see our curated list of Indagare’s favorite destinations open to U.S. passport holders now: Coronavirus Travel Information: What’s Open To Americans

So You’re Vaccinated…Now What?

A growing number of destinations are opening their borders to travelers with proof of vaccination. Iceland, for example, allows anyone who is fully vaccinated to skip its otherwise required PCR testing and quarantine. That is welcome news for many, but does come with caveats. Fully-vaccinated travelers (anyone who has had their final dose for at least two weeks) are still at risk of getting Covid-19, especially new variants, according to the CDC. Furthermore, travelers who venture overseas will still need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test result upon return, regardless of vaccination status. And for families, unvaccinated children will still need to comply with the existing protocols in destinations that are welcoming jabbed adults. In other words, just because the parents are vaccinated doesn’t mean the whole family can enjoy the looser regulations. 

We turned to infectious diseases expert Manisha Juthani, MD, from Yale School of Medicine for her take on how vaccinated parents (a full two weeks after their final dose) should think about traveling with unvaccinated children now.

There are several things to consider, she explains.

First, what is the Covid test positivity for the destination, and what is the trend? “The lower the rate of new COVID cases, the safer your destination will be as a vacation spot, not only for your kids but for you too. Even though being vaccinated offers a lot of protection, nothing is 100 percent,” she says.

Second, what is your risk tolerance for yourself and your children? “Based on this self-assessment, you can decide what types of activities you will be comfortable with. Are you planning to enroll your kids in a kids club or are you more comfortable with a secluded, private residence? Choose your activities accordingly.”

Third, how will you be traveling? She recommends road trips, but notes that flying as a family is also safe “with all the measures that are in place.” 

And finally, what are the children’s school return policies? “Current CDC guidance asks for 7 days quarantine plus a negative COVID test after returning from a trip. Keep this in mind if your children will need to return to school, camp, or other activity.”

What About Europe removing the U.S. from its Safe List?

On August 30, 2021, the EU reinstated its recommendation for member countries to impose travel restrictions on U.S. arrivals. Thankfully, it’s become clear that most European countries will continue to welcome American visitors, with extra precaution in place to protect both U.S. travelers and European citizens. See our full guide to visiting Europe this year here.

Related: Traveling to Europe in 2021: What to Know About the New Restrictions

Deciding Whether—and When—to Travel

Traveling in the time of Covid requires careful consideration and is a deeply personal decision. At Indagare, we know many members of our community are waiting until they have had vaccines or until immunization is more widespread to travel, while others feel more comfortable traveling either closer to home or venturing further away. Because of our own experiences and practices in recent travels, we believe that, so long as both host and guest are following protocols and acting responsibly by following recommended guidelines for PPE and testing protocols, it is possible to travel responsibly now. And while in 2019 we were worrying about the harmful effects of overtourism, now we face the impact of undertourism. Fully 10 percent of the world’s GDP comes from tourism, which employs millions of people, giving a viable economic lifeline for vulnerable communities and a more sustainable alternative that allows for increased environmental and heritage preservation.

“The cleaner waters in Venice and the Mediterranean, where sea life is returning, and the clearer skies in Nepal and Kenya, where Everest and Kilimanjaro can be seen from great distances again, are blessings and must serve as a wake-up call,” says Indagare CEO and founder Melissa Biggs Bradley. “But if the pendulum swings too far, the ripple effects of undertourism will be tragic for the people and places that tourism abandons.” We are already seeing record drops in school attendance in some countries and an increased risk of malnutrition and starvation in others, as well as higher rates of illegal poaching. This is one of the reasons that some members of the Indagare community have taken to the road again and joined us on Insider Journeys in Kenya and Rwanda. Others are traveling to be with loved ones; while many are waiting for their vaccines or for the majority of a destination’s population to receive their doses. Everyone has to make the right choice for themselves while bearing in mind the safety of others.

Related: The New Dangers of Undertourism in the Wake of COVID-19

CHOOSING THE RIGHT DESTINATION FOR YOU

The world has reopened in fits and starts since last summer, when the U.S. State Department lifted its Global Level 4 Health Advisory. While many countries still prohibit travelers from the U.S. from entering, the list of destinations accepting U.S. passport holders continues to expand. For example, much of the Caribbean (including Antigua and Turks & Caicos) is open to anyone with negative results from a PCR test taken within a few days before traveling, and makes for an ideal vacation (or temporary office) with great hotels and luxurious villa rentals. Similar entry requirements exist for countries like Ecuador, Montenegro, Kenya, Rwanda and the Maldives. Read our compendium of destinations currently open to Americans here.

A few questions can help any potential traveler wade through the options.

Am I comfortable getting tested for Covid-19 (before, during and after travel)?

Your answer here could determine whether you can travel out of state or internationally, depending on where you’re traveling from, and rule out certain destinations which monitor travelers while on the ground.

Am I comfortable traveling on a plane?

Multiple studies have shown that modern airplanes pose limited risk of transmission when passengers and crew wear face coverings. One recent study from Harvard’s Aviation Public Health Initiative found that planes’ high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters remove more than 99.97 percent of virus and bacterial particulates in the air. That makes an airplane cabin cleaner than a grocery store, although it also assumes mask-wearing is enforced and doesn’t take into consideration potential crowds and lines at the airport itself.

Before you board, airlines have amped up efforts to keep aircraft clean. Delta and United, for example, are using electrostatic fog spray before every flight. And to minimize inter-passenger contact, most airlines have transitioned to a back-to-front boarding approach. Furthermore, in-flight services have been reworked. Meal and beverage offerings have been scaled back in all seating cabins. For everyone’s safety, airlines require flight crews and passengers to wear face coverings except when eating (and enforcement has become stricter in recent months).

Some airlines, including American, have gone back to full-capacity, while others, like Delta and Alaska, are still blocking off middle and select window and aisle seats. Meanwhile, Etihad and Emirates have prioritized vaccinating flight crew: Etihad became the first airline in the world with vaccines for all of its operating pilots and cabin crew, and Emirates is not far behind.

Of course, one way to avoid dealing with crowds is to fly private. Charter companies have boosted their own sanitation measures, enacting many of the same policies as commercial carriers (less human contact, more stringent cleaning, etc.). Interest among Americans has been growing, according to David Zipkin, co-founder of Tradewind Aviation, which operates private flights in the Caribbean and the Northeast. In 2020, the company saw “significant uptick” from new customers looking for a “safer and more secure method of flying,” he says.

Related: The Benefits of Going Private

Am I comfortable visiting destinations where I may encounter locals or travelers who aren’t behaving responsibly?

Many destinations are enforcing recommended healthy-safety protocols more than others. Indagare staff and members have reported that Covid policies (testing requirements, social distancing and using PPE, anti-bacterials, etc.) are being widely followed in places such as Aspen, Vermont, Kenya and Rwanda, for example. Rwanda was “extremely organized in its approach to Covid, making one feel very safe,” explained one of our members after going on our Insider Journeys trip there in December.

Meanwhile, some beach destinations like Miami, Puerto Vallarta and Tulum, have received attention for the unmasked party scenes still present there. But just because there’s a rooftop pool party or a crowded restaurant doesn’t mean you have to join in. Indagare’s team and many Indagare members have found it easy to minimize their risks in these destinations by opting for quiet, outdoor restaurants, selecting specific hotels and steering clear of the crowds throughout their stays.

Related: Aspen Winter News: What it’s Like This Season; Dispatch from South Florida: The Latest from Miami & Palm Beach; 7 Reasons to Travel to Rwanda in 2021

Am I comfortable staying at a hotel?

Hotels are implementing stringent new sanitization procedures to comply with CDC guidelines and internationally accepted protocols and cater to their communities’ needs. The cleanliness of guest rooms will be the top priority, with the addition of new measures like using air purifying devices and sealing the room after housekeeping has exited until the guest arrives with a 24- to 72-hour window before entry. Many hotels are also introducing such policies as limiting housekeeping services to between stays (unless expressly requested by a guest) and adding new roles like “hygiene managers” and on-property nurses to ensure all measures are being followed properly. You’ll also likely see staff cleaning surfaces such as empty pool chairs and tables between diners.

Most hotels now require guests to wear face coverings in public spaces, especially when engaging with staff. In turn, it’s now common for hotel employees to undergo frequent temperature checks, and for hotels to require they wear face coverings and gloves at all times. In Africa, many of our favorite safari lodges test all staff before they’re allowed on property, and keep the staff together as a pod to limit possibility of transmission.

Many properties have moved to contact-free systems for check-in and check-out, with formalities being carried out over email or in controlled environments like cars or protected areas. Temperature checks upon arrival—with guests who do not pass the screening not be allowed on the premises—are also relatively common. And at many properties, digitized room keys, itineraries, menus and other documents allow guests to move about freely and make requests from their phone instead of in-person—while other hotels will now give guests “welcome kits” upon arrival with the tools they need to keep themselves sanitized and safe during their stay.

Hotels have also redesigned their public spaces and adapted facilities to maintain social-distancing amongst guests. Hands-free sanitizing stations are now a common sight everywhere from the lobby to the pool deck. High-contact areas like gyms, spas and bars remain closed at many properties, while others have new reservation systems through which guests may book time to enjoy these spaces privately (with sanitization windows in between sessions). Other hotels have installed medical-grade air filtration systems in their public spaces.

For extra privacy, a hotel with standalone villas or a home rental may make more sense. Indagare has access to top vacation rentals around the world and here in the U.S., including many at affiliated resorts for maximum amenities, and others that are entirely remote.

The Indagare Take

“Out west this summer, I learned firsthand the value of staying in a freestanding unit, cabin or lodge. My own behavior and comfort levels shifted when I was in a hotel, even with stations of Purell and everyone wearing masks, guests and staff alike…I would gravitate toward places where I could feel completely isolated—and where I had access to popular nature trails and unpopular trails.”—Lexi Polster, Trip Designer

Related: Our Favorite Hotels in the U.S. with Private Cottages or Villas

Pre-Travel Considerations: How to Make the Trip Go Smoothly

The trip is set. Congratulations! These are the steps we recommend travelers consider before their departure date.

OPT FOR REFUNDABLE TRAVELS

Travel has rarely been so unpredictable. Thankfully, we are seeing more flexibility on some policies from many of our partners, including hotels and airlines. American, Delta and United, as well as Air France, Emirates, Etihad and KLM, for example, have waived change fees. And some of our favorite hotels now let you cancel without penalty up to 24 hours before arrival. That said, we’ve learned that refunds may be delayed.

And for international home rental or yacht charters, many of our partners have added an addendum in their contracts to allow families to cancel should the borders close and prevent them from entering the country. By the same token, if you are able to enter the country but the regulations change while you’re on the ground, there’s often an addendum in place for this as well.

GO FOR THE INSURANCE

If the cancellation policy on your hotel, flight or car rental is forgiving, then it might not make sense to purchase additional insurance. But if there’s a large advance deposit—often required on safaris, villa rentals or yacht charters—or a less relaxed cancellation policy, Indagare always recommends trip insurance. And it’s important to consider that some airline cancellation policies expect you to rebook within a certain amount of time, often a year. If your travels are event-specific and unlikely to be repeatable at a future date, that insurance helps.

Only a few insurance companies are still offering Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policies, but these provide the most security—especially since pandemics and border closings aren’t usually covered by other policies. While you aren’t able to secure a full refund even with CFAR, these policies typically cover up to 75 percent of a trip’s total cost in the event of cancellation.

LOOK INTO GLOBAL RESCUE OPTIONS

Having a sound plan for worst-case scenarios can help bring peace of mind. Melissa Biggs Bradley, Indagare CEO and founder, recommends Medjet, which provides Covid evacuations within the Continental U.S., Canada, Mexico and much of the Caribbean (as well as non-Covid medical transports home from around the world). Global Guardian’s emergency protection services also provide for medical evacuations for travelers around the world. Contact Indagare to talk through your options.

SCHEDULE YOUR COVID TEST(S)

Depending on your home state and your destination, multiple Covid-19 tests may be required before, during and after your trip. Many countries, including the U.S., require initial proof of a negative result from within a few days before travel to enter. This means scheduling one during the right window, while giving enough time for the results to come back, is crucial.

Some destinations, such as Rwanda, the Galápagos and parts of Hawaii, require additional testing after travel. And as of January 2021, all international arrivals—including returning U.S. citizens—to the United States must have proof of a negative test result (or documentation of having already contracted the virus) from within 72 hours of their return flight.

It can be challenging to find test centers, both at home and abroad, but Indagare and our partners around the world can often help recommend and coordinate testing schedules to keep your journeys running smoothly.

One appointment to not forget: In New York, out-of-state and international travelers who enter with a negative Covid test result can test out of a mandatory quarantine after their fourth day back. Scheduling this before you depart can make for much smoother re-entry.

PRINT THE TEST RESULTS…

Most often, your Covid test results will be sent via text and/or email. In many cases, key information such as your name, the test date, or proof of the test being PCR is hidden when presented on a smartphone, making it time consuming or even impossible to pass through health checks. And some destinations require results in paper form. To save time and stress, Indagare always recommends travelers print several copies of any required health forms and test results.

…AND SEE IF YOUR AIRLINE IS USING DIGITAL HEALTH PASSPORTS

Several airlines are now or will soon be allowing for digital health passports. Using apps like VeriFly or TrustAssure, the process lets passengers upload their negative test results and required health forms for the airline to pre-approve in the app. This way, you avoid the stress of showing up to the airport only to realize you don’t have the proper paperwork. (We still recommend bringing hard copies.)

Currently, American Airlines offers this feature for travelers on any flight within or to the U.S., plus international flights to the eight countries (including the UK, Colombia, Jamaica and Chile). Delta and Alaska Airways are set to launch their own programs soon.

SIGN UP IN ADVANCE TO AVOID LINES

While the number of travelers has plummeted since March 2020, airport lines to check bags and go through security can still be unpredictable. But there are a few easy steps to avoid them.

Bag-Check Lines

The bag-check line is sometimes the only place you’ll encounter a crowd at airports. Flying with carry-on only is one answer, but for longer trips, another option is to simply ship your baggage in advance. Indagare can help discuss the various services that do this.

Airport Security

Global Entry and TSA Precheck usually help, but the programs don’t actually guarantee Pre-check every time, and many airports have limited the Pre-check security checkpoints with fewer travelers passing through. Having Clear, meanwhile, guarantees line-free security screenings at more than 30 airports around the country.

PURCHASE THE RIGHT PPE & SANITIZERS

Face coverings are required on flights, and face shields help provide extra protection should you wish to wear them. Another tip: bring antimicrobial wipes for international travel instead of large amounts of liquid hand sanitizer. Not only do they make it easier to give your immediate surroundings an extra cleaning, but they won’t set off any security issues that liquids sometimes can. TSA has expanded their fluid allowance—up to 12 ounces—for sanitizer, but as Melissa discovered on her October trip to Kenya, the team at Heathrow doesn’t make the same exception.

The Indagare Take

“You have to be sure that you have the masks and the sanitizer, and the Lysol wipes, but actually, I was surprised to feel safe, from the moment I got to JFK to getting off my first flight. It’s all about your comfort level. I really loved Delta, with nobody in the middle seat, and I was surprised to find that the passengers (both in the airport and on the plane) were actually very mindful and respectful of each other’s space. It’s given me real hope.”—Diana Li, Marketing Director, who flew to Delta and United for her National Parks road trip

During Your Trip: Minimize Exposure, Maximize Meaning & Go with the Flow

How we travel matters now more than ever, as the global tourism industry—which accounts for millions of jobs and 10 percent of the world’s GDP—faces an uphill battle to regain its staggering losses from 2020.

One way we recommend ensuring your trip is meaningful, is to opt for considered vs. consumptive travel. “Back when it was harder to get places,” says Melissa, “you stayed longer, you looked deeper, you expected fewer habitual comforts and you brought less of your routine with you—instead you surrendered to the foreign.” That’s exactly the type of journey that helps a community rebuild its travel sector. Instead of “hitting the highlights,” trips in 2021 and beyond can be slower, with activities chosen carefully to both limit exposure and maximize impact on projects that are critically important, from conservation campaigns to educational or entrepreneurial programs for women. On our recent Insider Journeys Impact Trip to Kenya, for example, travelers visited and supported various foundations, including the David Sheldrick Trust, Angama Foundation and Big Life and Wilderness Trust to support conservation and community efforts.

Another way to maximize impact: Ask the individuals you encounter—in a socially distant setting—what’s needed most. Learning how Covid has impacted their communities is the best way to help them move forward.

And finally, travelers now need to be flexible about possible surprises during their trip. Flights are canceled more than before, destinations may enforce new regulations—from testing requirements to curfews—at any time, and hotels may close abruptly if guests or someone on staff tests positive for Covid. At every step of the way, Indagare is here to be your advocate to help you find solutions should things not go as planned.

After You’re Home: Share Your Stories

Once you’re back at home, and have respected your local regulations regarding tests or quarantines, share your travel experiences with your network of friends and family. Where did you feel safest? Were there any surprises? How was the TSA line? Sharing these details helps people avoid potential pitfalls and learn first-hand that traveling can be responsible and safe.

Have more questions? Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new COVID-19 hotel policies, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

– Peter Schlesinger on February 24, 2021

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