How to travel in 2021

Information covered in this article:

  • Tools and resources to figure out where you can travel to
  • Evaluating location options
  • What you’ll need to prepare beforehand
  • What to expect while traveling
  • How to stay connected and get help
  • Staying safe and healthy.

I’ve done quite a lot of traveling during the pandemic.
I did two trips back and forth to Europe, and am currently on a flight back to Denver from Costa Rica. I’m not alone. A core group of nomads has continued to travel during the pandemic, to the extent possible. For many of them, going back to their “home country” wasn’t a real possibility. Some were forced to travel to be with significant others. Others hunkered down in a single location for the whole ordeal.

As of now, we haven’t seen the mass global re-opening we’ve all been awaiting. More and more people, however, are looking to travel. Soon the world will be vaccinated to the extent that we can return to normal, or even semi-normal, ways of travel. For those who are willing to be more flexible, it’s entirely possible to travel right now. This article will outline what it’s like to travel currently, and how to do so effectively.

Figuring out where you can (and should) travel to

Travel research tools
Don’t waste your time trying to Google where you can currently travel to. Even an article that has been updated a few weeks ago may no longer be relevant. Fortunately, there are several tools available that keep up-to-date information for travelers.

Flatten the Curve

Flattenthecurve.global is a tool our remote team at SafetyWing built last year, so I’m clearly a bit biased towards it. But it really is the best resource in terms of information. Because it’s built specifically for our community of nomadic travelers, it has all of the information needed to travel. We have a team of incredible researchers and writers to always ensure the information is up to date. The homepage color-coded map will give you a great overview of where you can go. Once you go into a specific country, it gives you information on travel restrictions, COVID-19 restrictions, and testing/treatment information.

All of this information is important to consider. Many countries have specific restrictions for flights coming from certain nationalities. You’ll want to check what your country is currently listed as. Once you’ve determined you are allowed in, make sure you are comfortable with the restrictions. I was supposed to travel to Slovenia in December, but the country had a complete COVID-19 lockdown in place. Had I have gone, I wouldn’t have even been able to leave the municipality I was in.

One of the best features of Flatten the Curve that we recently added is the ability to sign up for email updates. You can get a summary every week of the countries that have opened and closed. It’s the perfect way to monitor travel restrictions across the globe, both for people waiting on a certain country to open up and those who are already abroad. Here’s an example of this week’s newsletter!

Skyscanner’s Travel tool

Their tool has one very useful feature that FlattentheCurve.global does not have, and it’s why I’m including it in this list, despite its heavy flaws. That’s the ability to customize the travel restrictions based on Nationality/country of destination. Basically, if I’m a U.S. citizen currently in the United States, I really only care about where I’m allowed to go. This tool allows you to customize the information based on this.

I say that it’s flawed for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a bit ambiguous as to whether you should set your citizenship or your current destination as the filtering criteria. Most restrictions are in place based on where you are coming from (as long as you’ve been there for a certain time), but not all. It also has some accuracy problems, particularly with email alerts. I’ve found that the map is a pretty good tool when filtered, but the email alerts are fully (and poorly) automated. They are unhelpful at best and incorrect at worst.

I’ll note that Skyscanner is getting the information from Air Travel Association which you can also access directly.

Our World In Data

If you are concerned about the COVID safety of a location, compare and monitor different locations on Our World in Data. You can add multiple countries and view a plethora of information per capita, such as the number of cases, number of deaths, and test positivity rate.

Double-check visa requirements and operation levels

Don’t forget that even when you find a location you are allowed to travel to given COVID, you still have to comply with standard visa laws and regulations. Just because your country isn’t banned from travel doesn’t mean you can necessarily get in visa-free. In fact, this is actually the stopping point for many people traveling to certain destinations still.

For example, a country may allow entry from all countries so long as every person gets tested and quarantines on arrival. If you are a citizen, have residency, or a visa to get in, you can freely go in so long as you comply with those rules. If you need and do not yet have a visa to get in, you’ll have to apply. Many countries are not currently processing certain tourist visa types, even if they are technically allowing nationals from that country in.

The easiest way to solve this is simply to contact your countries embassy and ask. They’ll give you an honest answer, and the next steps given the current state of things.

Preparing for your trip

Making reservations

You should always assume that something will disrupt your trip in some way. While a bit unfortunate to have to plan this way, it’s actually not the end of the world. It just means that you should book flights that are fully refundable or transferable. Most airlines have flexible policies at this point. At the very least they will likely allow you to change your flight. It is, however, best to book directly through the airline so that it’s as easy as possible to make changes. If you are nervous about traveling with the virus, you might want to check whether they do spacing between seats.

Similarly, you should book accommodation with cancelations in mind as well. Some properties and rental sites allow you to pay extra to get more flexible cancelation policies. Do it. If this isn’t an option, understand that you may lose your money or deposit should an emergency or positive COVID-19 test pop up. One way to minimize this risk is to book as last-minute as possible, although this does add the risk of losing out on competitive properties.

Meeting the requirements to get in

Getting the correct insurance
Nearly every country now has an insurance requirement to get into the country. They very, a lot. Some countries have specific local insurance requirements from a carrier partnered with the government. Other’s simply require coverage for treatment of certain amounts during the coverage of your stay. You can find information on these requirements on Flatten the Curve.

Even if your destination doesn’t have specific insurance requirements, it probably goes without saying that it’s more important to have this now than it ever has been. Make sure that if you catch the virus and require treatment, you are covered. Nomad Insurance by SafetyWing is a great option that provides this coverage, and works for many country requirements.

If you aren’t able to determine whether or not Nomad Insurance complies with your travel requirements, just sent an email to support@safetywing.com and the team can quickly figure this out for you.

Covid testing
For the foreseeable future, testing will remain a common requirement for international travel. Many travelers will now need tests before and after departure to travel. For example, to return back to my home country of the United States, I had to get an anti-viral test within 3 days of my departure.

Some important things to note about testing for travel:

  • There are different types of COVID-19 tests available. Make sure you are getting the proper kind of test required by the country you are traveling to. The US recently started requiring a negative test from international travelers (even for the residents) but decided to accept the Rapid Antigen test instead of PCR only. The antigen test is usually a less expensive option and results can be delivered to you within a few hours vs. 24–72 hours turnaround time of the PCR test.
  • Pay attention to the timing — you’ll need to have the test sample taken within a given timeframe. Usually, this is 48–72 hours, however some countries measure it in “days” meaning you have the entire day period to get the test, as opposed to an exact hour cut-off.
  • Make a reservation — it’s common for testing facilities globally to require reservations for the test. Even if not required, it’s best to attempt to reserve a spot since you’ll be dealing with a small testing window.
  • Confirm how you will get the results. Most tests will come through over email, so double-check you have given the correct email so you don’t miss your results.

If you require a test on arrival, be cautious and plan for a positive result. There have been cases in Thailand where the government requires people to stay quarantined in the hospital, even if they don’t have symptoms. You may also be required to stay quarantined in a government-sanctioned hotel, which is likely to be costly.

You also may be required to test again once you arrive home. Some countries still require a quarantine, even with a negative test. Be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary when you return, and remember that things could change while you are abroad.

Health forms/documents
While less of a headache than getting tests, some countries will require a health form to be filled out in advance. It will likely ask you for your personal information, proof of insurance and proof of accommodation. While most can be filled online and can be done at the airport if needed, your travel day will be much smoother if you go ahead and do it in advance.

A new type of documentation that’s becoming more relevant is proof of having had the virus previously, or proof of having received one of the COVID-19 vaccines. If you have either one of these, bring them to be safe. They may get you out of some current entry requirements. Plus you never know if more countries you may want to visit will start requiring these.

Get answers to your questions
Reading about restrictions and requirements is great and needed, but there’s no substitution for the comfort of speaking with people who have successfully done what you are trying to do. I’ve found that the best way to do this is through online groups. I’d recommend joining both the smaller location-specific ones (ex. “Expats in Costa Rica”), as well as larger more general ones. The smaller ones tend to be better for unique questions and staying alert to changes while you are there. The larger more general ones are better for figuring out travel possibilities.

Here are some larger groups you can join:

I usually post about my current travels on Twitter, so feel free to follow me there for information around that!

The nomad community is active and willing to share their travel experience during the pandemic. Many nomads are publishing useful content that can give you an insight into the current situation and restrictions around the world.
Want to travel to Mexico but you’re not sure if that’s the right place for you right now? I guarantee there’s someone on YouTube sharing their experience with getting into the country, restrictions and what life looks like there right now.

What to expect while traveling

I’ve been to 66 countries and still get slightly nervous before I travel internationally. There’s just a lot of variables that can go wrong, from sleeping through an alarm to forgetting your passport. I’ll be the first to admit that these anxieties are compounded while traveling during COVID. Here are some tips to make traveling a bit more pleasant this year:

1: Arrive at the airport super early

I’m always the dad character who arrives early, and that’s especially true now. More often than not I end up waiting for a while, but I’ve found that airports are a mix right now. Some are using the low volume of passengers to accelerate efficiency, and it takes no time at all to get through ticketing, security and customs. Others are in a state of chaos. Err on the safe side.

2: Bring comfortable face mask options

N95’s, while safe, get incredibly uncomfortable wearing for 5+ hours at a time. Get something that will be comfortable. Also, bring several. You never know when you might drop one on the ground or drink coffee without taking it off.

Tip: consider getting a mask that has around the head straps. Or my personal favorite, wrap the ear straps around your over-the-ear headphones instead of your ears to save the aching.

3: Bring lots of snacks

This one also differs by airline, but I’ve had some truly inedible plane meals while traveling during the pandemic. To make matters worse, some airports really don’t offer much in terms of food currently, especially if you aren’t into fast food. Stock up on snacks you are allowed to bring before you leave.

4: Bring sanitizing supplies

Most of the airlines offer you a wet wipe, but if you really want to be OCD, bring a bunch of your own. It feels nice to douse your station in alcohol. Plus, they come in handy when you have to use the bathroom and everything.

Keeping everyone safe abroad

To end, it’s always good to remind ourselves to be respectful of the communities who are housing us while outside of our home countries. We’ve seen that rules and regulations widely differ. Sometimes they might not even make much sense to us. Regardless, it’s important to abide by these rules.

For one thing, we need to keep the communities we are in safe. It was a relief to me traveling to a different country far from my parents, who I was always worried I’d be the one to infect. But of course, abroad I was around other people’s parents and grandparents. This is something important to remind ourselves as we travel: is this how we’d be acting around our own family?

It’s slightly instinctual when you travel to feel as though you have escaped something. This has always been the case, and has been one of the freeing experiences of travel. Just got through a breakup? Lost your job? Lost a friend or family member? Traveling is a great way of coping, even just for a little bit.

The difference now is that we aren’t dealing with a personal problem, but a global one. We aren’t really escaping anything. We’re just dealing with it in a different location. This is especially important as vaccine distribution continues. Sometimes when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you feel as if you have already escaped.

There’s also the symbolic reason to comply with rules. As nomads, we always want to respect the communities that welcome us. Even if we don’t seem to see much logic in certain decisions, complying with them is a way of saying “thanks for letting me be here, I’m doing everything I can to keep things under control.”

If you are bothered by these local regulations, simply go somewhere else! While much of the world remains closed, we still have options. You may not be able to find a place where you can party in a nightclub without a mask on, but you can find a place where you can safely (and legally) socialize on the beach.

Written by: Sam Claassen, Head of Growth.

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SafetyWing

SafetyWing

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Building a global safety net that offers travel medical insurance and global health insurance for remote companies and individuals.