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New year, new outlook, new travel plans.
Now’s the time when many people are typically mapping out the year’s getaways around school calendars and family events and nice weather and big festivals and exhibits and concerts. Once again, Covid-19 did not get the memo.
Heading into the third year of the global pandemic as Omicron spreads around the world, there are STILL a bunch of variables to consider.
Can we even make travel plans right now?
Yes, definitely, says CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
The biggest ticket to smoother travels
In fact, those with some added immunity to Covid might be in a very good position to see the world.
“Those who are vaccinated and then recently got Omicron are unlikely to become reinfected so soon. It would be entirely reasonable for someone in that situation to plan travel,” Wen said, with a reminder to be cautious upon returning and to quarantine and test before seeing anyone who’s medically vulnerable.
No, you should not try to get infected. Here’s why.
Fortunately, those who are vaccinated and boosted are also in a fine spot for travel, said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been advising people to delay travel until they’re fully vaccinated for a while now. Although the agency has not added the booster to its definition of “fully vaccinated,” it recommends one if you are eligible.
So does travel adviser Dave Hershberger, for another reason. More destinations are factoring boosters into their travel rules.
In Austria, for example, visitors need proof of a booster shot or a negative PCR test in addition to proof of vaccination. The Czech Republic allows boosted travelers to bypass a testing requirement for vaccinated arrivals.
Getting your shots is “the first box you should check off if you’re going to be traveling right now,” said Hershberger, owner of Prestige Travel in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Despite the ongoing disruptions and complications of traveling right now, the outlook is completely different than it was a year ago when vaccines were just rolling out.
“Traveling now, if you’re vaccinated, is probably not going to put you in the hospital,” Hershberger said.
Essentials: Research and testing
Travel restrictions are changing, changing again and then once again changing. And there have been some significant air travel disruptions – more about those here.
It’s taking travel advisers two to three times longer than it did pre-pandemic to organize the same trips, Hershberger said. Getting professional help can save you a lot of time.
Whether you use an adviser or do it yourself, patience is key.
“This is not travel in 2019. This is different, and it’s probably here to stay for a while, and so you need to be flexible, you need to do your research.”
You need to know exactly what the destinations you’re planning to visit require. CNN Travel has compiled a list of resources to help travelers figure it out. We also have a series of Unlocking the World destination-specific guides.
“And if you check a month out, you need to check again two weeks out and you need to check again a week out before you go,” Hershberger said.
Even before Omicron, Ashley Les, a travel adviser with Protravel International, was steering cautious travelers toward direct flights to places that required pre-travel testing.
That way nearly everyone on the flight had recently tested negative for Covid-19, she told CNN Travel before the holidays. You won’t get that flying domestically in the United States, she noted.
Now she’s suggesting even more testing.
“Even if your destination doesn’t require a test, TEST!,” Les said this week via email. “That way you know that you are traveling Covid-free.”
Les also suggests minimizing interactions with other people a week before your trip.
Packing a couple of rapid tests in your suitcase for “peace of mind” if you start to feel ill is also a good idea, Hershberger said.
The other safeguard: Insurance
For travelers from the United States and many other nations, testing to return home from an international trip has become standard. And it has become pretty easy in many places, Hershberger said.
“It’s not a horribly difficult thing to get done. If you’re in a resort-type area, it’s very easy to get done. If you’re on a cruise, they’re doing it for you,” he said. Here are all the details from the CDC on acceptable tests for entry to the United States.
The real challenge comes if you test positive, which is not uncommon with Omicron in vaccinated people.
Then you’re going to have to extend your trip and quarantine for some time – often at your own expense, unless you have travel insurance.
“I wouldn’t think about traveling without some type of third-party travel insurance that’s going to help me through something like that,” Hershberger said, specifically about international travel.
Hershberger was recently in Argentina, where visitors who test positive are required to quarantine for seven to 10 days in a state-approved hotel “to the tune of $400 a day, plus you paid for a doctor to come in.”
So travelers could spend an additional $4,000 or more to extend their trip. The right insurance policy from a provider such as Travel Guard, Allianz or Travel Insured International would cover that.
SquareMouth.com allows users to compare travel insurance quotes from different providers.
Les agrees that “travel insurance is a must always.”
Choosing a destination
With more than 100 destinations currently listed as “very high” risk for Covid-19 by the CDC, it would appear that much of the world is off limits.
But we know that people are traveling regularly to and from nations that are constantly moving up and down in risk level based their Covid case numbers. Wen calls the CDC classifications “one useful tool.”
“The transmission rates are one guidepost,” Wen said. “Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there.
“Are you planning to visit a lot of attractions and go to indoor bars? That’s very different from you’re going somewhere where you’re planning to lie on the beach all day and not interact with anyone else. That’s very different. Those are very different levels of risk.”
And the precautions in places where you’re going are important, too. A place that requires proof of vaccination for restaurants or sports venues is making those types of activities safer for you.
Of course, the standard safety precautions still apply – wear a high-quality N95, KN95 or KF94 for air travel and when you’re in crowded indoor settings and follow your destination’s rules.
Rolling with the unexpected is the pandemic way of life, and travel is no exception.
“If you’re the kind of person that can’t handle change, last-minute change, I would suggest that you stay at home for a little while,” Hershberger said. “You’ve got to be able to go with the flow.”
Top image: General view of Mount Fitz Roy, near El Chalten, Argentina, on August 29, 2021. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images)