Maybe, like me, you've embarked on international trips with some frequency throughout the pandemic and have taken the changes in rules and regulations (as well as airport behavior and chaos) in sometimes stumbling stride. Or maybe, like many of our clients, you've stuck to road trips or domestic travel within the borders of your own country. If you put yourself in the latter category and the thought of "getting back out there" on an international jaunt causes your heart rate to rise, here are some tips and considerations to help get you feeling "travel ready" once again.
Check Your Passport Expiration Date
2022 may have seemed a long way off prior to March 2020 but if you've had your passport in a drawer for the past two years, some of its supposed validity may have evaporated. As a general rule, many countries require that a passport be valid for at least 6 months beyond the dates of international travel. If you have travel coming up this year, make sure to check your expiration date now and apply for renewal if needed. The long waits at United States passport processing agencies have normalized and turnaround time is now as noted online if not faster; 8-11 weeks for routine service and 5-7 weeks for expedited service. United States Passport Holders can find more information on renewing, changing or replacing their passports HERE.
When it Comes to Testing, Know Your Stuff
Vaccinated, boosted, or not at all, the travel regulations around Covid-19 vaccines and testing continue to change. While your Outlier Journeys travel specialist will help you navigate the regulations, travelers must assume the responsibility of knowing what is required and be prepared for changes without any notice. Tourism Board or government websites are one good resource for a country's *relatively* up-to-date entry requirements, but they are really only as good as the person in charge of updating the content. Another resource that we like is SHERPA - an independent, unaffiliated operation out of Canada whose mission is to provide travelers with a "guide to getting the right travel documentation and understanding up-to-date travel requirements." Enter your vaccination status, country of origin, destination and any layovers and see what is required. While not infallible, this is currently the best resource that we know of with the largest scope.
Airports: Prepare to Spend More Time or Minimize the Lines
If you flew in 2020 or even early 2021 you'll probably never forget the eerily empty airport terminals and planes. Those days are long gone. Continued confusion over changing testing, vaccination requirements and country-specific health affidavits (and which entity is responsible for checking said passenger requirements), the rapid uptick in the sheer volume of people in traveling, and staffing issues at airports and with airlines can combine forces for an absolute cluster at check-in time. Check-in on line and fly with a carry-on whenever possible.
One solution is CLEAR, a document verification service using biometrics that expedites the first part of the security screening process at airports and sports stadiums. At TSA you enter a special line and head straight to the security screening, bypassing the queue for the in-person passport or ID check. General adult membership is $180 annually (Additional adult family members start at $50 per person while kids under 18 are free) though your credit card or airline mileage program may offer a discount based on your status. This article from Upgraded Points tells you how to "be in the CLEAR" for the lowest cost.
CLEAR will fast track you to the baggage x-ray and body scan, but if you want to keep your shoes on and laptops and toiletries bagged, you need TSA PreCheck to fly through perhaps everyone's least favorite part of airport security. But why stop at PreCheck? Global Entry ($100 for a 5-year membership), a godsend for those long lines at immigration and passport control upon return to the USA, includes TSA PreCheck and the application process just got lot easier. Since September, travelers who have completed the Trusted Traveller Enrollment application and receive conditional approval can opt to complete their in-person interview via a process called Enrollment on Arrival when returning to the US on an international flight via an entry point where it is offered. I did this in February after returning from Ecuador via Houston. After I went through the normal immigration line for US Passport Holders (which was painfully slow), I was called into a separate line to complete my interview. The extra step took about 7 minutes and I received my Global Entry Card in the mail 3 weeks later.
If making a separate trip to the airport for a pre-scheduled Enrollment Interview was causing you to procrastinate on Global Entry, apply for the Trusted Traveler Program HERE and take the first step towards getting your Global Entry approved via Enrollment on Arrival before your next trip out of the country. (Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck eligibility, but travelers still need to add their Global Entry Membership Number into the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking reservations, or enter it into your frequent flyer profile with the airline to link it all together. You still aren't guaranteed to be PreCheck approved every single time, but the likelihood is very high.)
If you plan to get on a plane this year more than once and travel internationally, the $280 you'll spend on CLEAR and Global Entry is well worth the investment.
Travel Insurance is Your Friend
A family member and I recently had a discussion about travel insurance and the perception of its value among her peers - all well-educated professionals who had travelled extensively prior to the pandemic, largely without the purchase of additional trip protection. I empathized with and understood the general feeling that Travel Insurance is just an added cost that really isn't necessary if 1.) one is healthy and feels pretty certain that they are going to take the trip and/or 2.) one doesn't have large "nonrefundable" portions of the trip requiring prepayment well in advance. Previously in "before times" when I designed and arranged trips for two award-winning luxury adventure travel companies, I had clients purchase trip insurance maybe 65% of the time, and mostly for big-ticket trips that were booked and deposited on over a year in advance. That number has jumped way up - probably close to 90% of our travelers opt for insurance now and for good reason. The first involves the unpredictable nature of travel these days in regards to Covid-19 testing. Your bags are packed, you're checked in and you're just waiting for your Covid test results to head to the airport. Surprisingly, the test comes back positive at the 11th hour. No trip and now no refund either from the property you were looking forward to staying at for the next 3 nights, even with their flexible policy of "no penalty for cancellations made by 72 hours of arrival." The concern also holds true for return travel to the United States; as long as the CDC maintains that all arrivals by air into the US have proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to boarding*, there is a real possibility that one or more of your traveling party may surprisingly test positive, (even when fully vaccination and asymptomatic), be unable to board and may be forced to quarantine. Last minute costs of quarantine-approved accommodations may be high (as can the cost of testing in another country) and while most airlines still aren't charging change fees, the fare difference for your rebooked return home may be astronomical. In most cases, a Travel Insurance provider would likely consider this scenario to be trip interruption and cover the additional incurred costs if the trip was appropriately insured. Travel insurance is generally around 8-10% of the total trip cost to be insured, depending on the policy, and under many plans coverage is extended to anyone under 18 at a discounted rate or free of charge (this includes medical as well as financial benefits.) While there are other ways to insure portions of your trip (including by paying for certain arrangements with a credit card that offers trip protection benefits), I have repeatedly found that having a comprehensive travel insurance plan with one point of "in the know" contact to help navigate through the mess when you are dealing with a stressful situation in another country to be well worth the investment. If you have any questions about Trip Insurance, even if you did not book your travels with us, please reach out. Legally we can't get into predicting the outcome of "what if" scenarios but we can send you a policy quote and comprehensive coverage plan benefits. Outlier Journeys is licensed by the State of Washington to recommend and sell Travel Insurance through our partners at TravelEx and Allianz. Purchased policies earn us a small commission.
The world has changed in many ways since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic. But even with the continuation of sad events happening around the globe, we believe that travel is an important part of our humanity. It sparks curiosity and conversation, facilitates empathy and understanding and supports ecological and cultural conservation. When undertaken responsibly, travel nourishes our global community in equitable ways and is a light of hope in dark times. Our lived experiences over the past two years have only strengthened these beliefs and were a key driver for why we decided to launch Outlier Journeys at this moment. If you are considering an international trip in 2022 or 2023, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org We'd love to schedule a complimentary consultation call and see if we can collaborate!
*Current CDC Rules state that all air passengers 2 years or older with a flight departing to the US from a foreign country are required show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 1 day before travel, or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, before they board their flight.*