How to go on a foreign holiday... during a pandemic

Booking a foreign holiday used to be pretty simple – but it has become a whole lot more complicated as a consequence of Covid.

It remains important to plan properly if you are travelling abroad this year. (Picture: PA).

While many of us are relieved we can travel again after months of pent up frustration, the idea of actually going through with it still feels daunting.

Safety, logistics and ethical choices are all key concerns. Here we address some widespread worries…

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Be honest, how clean are planes really?

Places like Greece are popular tourist spots. (PA).

One of the main concerns shared by travellers is the risk of catching Covid in a confined cabin space. Worries about the dangers of inhaling “recycled air” are compounded by a fear of being stuck in a breeding ground for germs.

But the reality is very different. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), cabin air is refreshed between 20 and 30 times per hour – 10 times more than most office buildings, meaning it’s probably safer to hop on a plane than clock in for a day’s work.

As for the air you breathe onboard, 50 per cent is fresh air and the remaining is High-Efficiency Particulate Air with 99.993 per cent of bacteria and viruses removed. HEPA filters have been fitted in aircrafts for some time and are also used in hospital operating theatres.

The seat configuration on planes also helps, with everyone facing the same direction. All airlines still require passengers to wear masks – an additional reassurance – and movement of passengers is kept to a minimum.

Is it better to travel with a tour operator?

Until a couple of years ago, more travellers had been booking their holidays independently. But the pandemic has shone a spotlight on why the role of the travel agent is more important than ever. When choosing an agent, check to see if they are ABTA bonded and hold an ATOL licence. ABTA (The Association Of British Travel Agents) protect bookings for land-only, cruise or coach holidays departing from the UK, while ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) cover packages of flights and hotels or flight only.

ABTA ensures their member agents protect their holidays by law. ATOL protection means that if a travel company goes bust, you will either get a refund or be able to complete your trip at no additional cost. Find more information and travel tips at packpeaceofmind.co.uk and abta.com.

What happens if you catch Covid while overseas?

Anyone who does test positive will need to follow a country’s individual quarantine requirements – even if you have no obvious symptoms.

Tour operators can help you reschedule flights and extend stays, but they aren’t obliged to cover your costs. That’s why it’s vital – more than ever – to have travel insurance. Look for policies that include pre-departure cancellation if travellers test positive, emergency medical care and repatriation should they contract the virus whilst travelling, and any contribution to quarantine costs.

If you’re going on holiday in the EU, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to access public health care services.

Restrictions are probably the biggest hurdle for anyone travelling at the moment, with every country setting its own requirements. First of all, it’s important to work out which countries are open. The UK’s traffic light system signals which destinations can enter the UK quarantine-free, but you’ll also need to check whether the same destinations are allowing British travellers to visit.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website (www.gov.uk) shares details for each country, while IATA have also created a quick view map where you can click on each destination to find all information needed for entry (iatatravelcentre.com//world.php).

Airlines are another useful resource.

Is it irresponsible to travel right now?

Throughout the pandemic, when travel was heavily restricted, anyone daring to make a dash across international borders was being made to feel guilty for going on holiday or working abroad. There were accusations of travellers bringing variants into the country and anger that some people could move freely while others were stuck indoors.

Now, as restrictions ease and people start to move around, there is a growing confidence and greater acceptance of travel.

Vaccination and testing requirements to enter most countries rapidly reduce the chance of further fuelling the pandemic, and anyone still worried about having a negative impact should flip the argument and consider how beneficial travel can be. Many poorer countries – particularly in Africa and Asia – heavily depend on tourism revenue, and often the long-term damage caused by a loss of income is equally as pernicious as Covid-19.