The global coronavirus pandemic has not only changed the world as we know it – it has also created a number of COVID-19 travel risks and restrictions travellers need to be aware of.
Gone are the days when we can jump on a plane with little pre-planning and escape to a destination wherever and whenever we please. Yes, COVID-19 has not only changed the way we go about our everyday lives, it has also changed the way we travel.
Thankfully, with the introduction of travel bubbles and the COVID vaccination rollout, international travel is a possibility again, and many Australians are indulging in domestic travel with trips closer to home. However, heading off on holiday (where local and national regulations allow) will require a little extra planning in a world where COVID-19 exists.
So, if you’re wondering what you need to know when travelling internationally or how to mitigate travel risks, discover our expert domestic and international travel safety tips for travelling during COVID-19 and how to plan for a fun – but safe – trip.
Ready to protect your trip?
Skip ahead to learn why COVID-19 means we now need to:
- Book in advance
- Be prepared to adapt at any moment
- Get pre-departure check-ups and tests
- No longer be reliant on cash
- Pack hygiene items to protect ourselves and others
- Arrive extra early for all types of bookings
- Check-in...everywhere – not just at the airport
#1. Now more than ever, we need to book in advance
Thanks to reduced capacities, fewer destinations to choose from, and short-staffed tourism operators resulting from a decline in international workers in Australia, we’re now required to book our trips in advance wherever possible to avoid disappointment. Yes, it’s now rather risky to walk into a restaurant and expect to get a seat immediately or turn up on the hour to join a guided tour; bookings are essential.
It’s smart to book at least three weeks in advance to guarantee your spot and even farther in advance during peak periods such as school holidays. Thankfully, many places popular with travellers – such as theme parks, islands, resorts and restaurants - have launched their own apps with bookings capabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, making planning ahead incredibly easy.
Being organised is also important for reducing stress and enhancing travel safety during COVID times, making planning ahead the “new travel normal” for all Australian travellers. This especially applies to travellers with specific accommodation and travel needs – such as families – who don’t want to be left in a situation where they’re literally left out on the street.
Hire vehicles are in high demand right now – another way COVID-19 has changed travel. We recommend pre-arranging a rental car when travelling during the global coronavirus pandemic if you don’t feel comfortable catching public transport or if public transport is limited or expensive at your intended destination.
So, if you want to minimise stress, travel risks, and you don’t want to miss out, book ahead to avoid disappointment – just don’t forget to check the cancellation policy of your booking before you lock it in.
#2. We now need to be prepared to alter our plans at any moment
Adapting to frequent changes is a skill we’ve all had to learn throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and with travel restrictions around the globe constantly changing, so do travel plans.
We’ve all witnessed how quickly New Zealand and Australian border restrictions were implemented when was a COVID outbreak, which makes it important for travellers to have a back-up travel plan should this situation affect their trip.
“Part of being prepared to change our travel plans with little notice is gaining an understanding of the existing rules and regulations for your destination/s,” says Rodger Cook, Cover-More Assist’s Security Director.
For example, New Zealand’s border restrictions can typically close with only 24 hours' notice, so be sure to pay attention to government COVID-19 travel tips and advice.
“Australian travellers as advised to check the Government’s Smartraveller site before taking off and also while travelling. On this website, you can access essential, up-to-date information – including COVID-19 travel risks, restrictions and rules at various destinations – what’s expected in your destination, and get a general feel for your destination’s ‘COVID culture’,” adds Rodger.
Because COVID demands extra levels of flexibility from us as travellers, we also recommend you choose travel providers that are also flexible during COVID times and don’t charge cancellation fees should your trip need to be rescheduled or postponed as a result of border restrictions or altered coronavirus laws.
#3. We need to get pre-departure checks and tests
COVID-19 has created a newfound interest in travel safety and travel health risks amongst travellers; they’re now at the forefront of our minds before we even leave our homes.
A pre-travel health check with your local doctor is helpful ahead of any holiday to help ensure a safe trip. But in a world where COVID-19 has changed travel exponentially, visiting your GP or a travel doctor before departing is a great opportunity to ask questions about the destination/s you’re visiting, such as which tests and/or vaccinations are recommended or required as a condition of entry.
“Destinations, airlines and airports may ask travellers for a health declaration form upon entry or boarding to confirm you haven’t suffered from any flu-like symptoms in recent days, and/or ask you if you have received a COVID-19 vaccination that is approved and accepted by your destination,” explains Dr Neil Slabbert, Regional Chief Medical Officer at Cover-More Assist.
If you’re travelling internationally, you may also need to take a COVID-19 PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction swab) up to 72 hours prior to your departure. Some Australian domestic destinations have also required this test for travel as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks, such as Victorian ski resorts.
“Additionally, it’s likely you’ll undergo a temperature check before boarding your flight or cruise – and even at some tourism attractions – in an effort to help keep everyone safe”, adds Dr Neil.
To understand the current entry and exit requirements for your destination/s, we recommend you read the Australian Government's COVID-19 travel advice on smartraveller.gov.au.
#4. We can no longer rely only on cash
Yes, it might be time to ditch your cash – as well as debit or credit cards if you're wanting to be extra cautious.
“Because of the nature of the novel coronavirus and the international travel risks associated with it, some tourist operators no longer accept cash, so secure travel cards are useful for trips during COVID-19 times,” says Rodger.
“We’ve seen a rise in crimes globally as a result of the financial impact of COVID-19 – including cybercrimes – so using a travel card rather than your usual credit card can help protect the entirety of your account,” adds Rodger, who specialises in helping travellers reduce travel risks.
“But, do carry a small amount of US dollars or the local destination’s currency on your person in case of emergency,” he adds.
Never used or seen a pre-paid travel card before? They work in a similar way to a debit card, allowing you to “tap and go” when making a purchase, make cash withdrawals from ATMs, and transfer money from different accounts and in different currencies. Most major banks offer their customers a travel card. To request a travel card or set up a new one for your trip, simply call your bank, visit a branch, or make a request through the bank’s mobile app.
Note: travel cards can take a week to be created and delivered to the address of your choice, so we recommend ordering one well in advance of your trip. Like debit cards and credit cards, travel cards also usually have an expiry date of around two years, so if you’ve used one in the past, double-check it’s still valid as soon as you book your trip.
What you also need to know about travel cards:
- foreign exchange rates can be locked in before you leave
- two cards will be sent in case one is lost – or to allow couples to use the same account
- foreign transaction fees may apply
#5. We now need to pack specific hygiene items for extra protection
The items now needed in your suitcase is another way COVID-19 has changed travel; during COVID times, we need more travel essentials beyond the traditional passport, travel documentation, wallet, and phone.
“The global coronavirus pandemic has made it second nature for us to pack a face mask (or 10) and alcohol hand sanitiser in the bags we use every day, and this will likely be our way of life for the foreseeable future,” says Dr Neil.
“We’ve seen nearly all modes of transport in Australia and other countries adopt face masks to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, so it’s likely you’ll need a face mask in a cab, on public transport or at the airport, and on a domestic or international flight, too,” advises Dr Neil.
“Wearing a mask in enclosed or crowded spaces where social distancing isn’t possible is one of my top international travel safety tips to help reduce COVID-19 travel risks. Face masks are proven to slow down infection rates when used correctly, and its “partner in crime” – alcohol hand sanitiser – should also be carried at all times when travelling and used frequently as an extra precaution.”
When travelling domestically or internationally during the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Neil also recommends packing your COVID-19 vaccination certificate (if you have one), a reusable water bottle to avoid drinking from water fountains, sanitising wipes to use on high traffic surfaces, plus a variety of snacks as some airlines have scaled back their own in-flight meals to avoid contact with passengers.
#6. We now need to ensure we actually do arrive early
Those who are perpetually running late won’t like this way in which COVID has changed travel…
Nearly every activity, restaurant, attraction or flight will now ask you to arrive earlier than usual to allow time to run through COVID-19 safety protocols to reduce travel risks for employees, locals, and travellers alike. Travellers can expect to be asked to arrive anywhere between 10 minutes and all the way up to an hour earlier than usual for bookings, so be sure to allow extra time for these protocols, which may include health declaration form disclosure and temperature checks.
If you’re ever in doubt about what’s required while you’re travelling during COVID, contact the service provider you’ve made a booking with to confirm what arrival time is preferable.
#7. We now need to check-in...everywhere
The novel coronavirus first appeared in late 2019, so we’re slowly getting used to all the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our daily lives. The same goes for travel – whether you’re travelling domestically or internationally.
Be prepared to use QR codes everywhere you go; be it to enter a restaurant, board a flight, or check in to a hotel. Yes, it can get repetitive, but QR codes are an extremely effective tool for contract tracers when or if a coronavirus outbreak occurs.
To use a QR code, simply open the camera app on your smartphone and hold it over the black-and-white-patterned squares of the QR code.
If you’re travelling domestically, it’s important to know Australian states have their own regional check-in applications for contact tracing purposes; if you’re travelling internationally to New Zealand, you’ll need to use the NZ COVID Tracer app throughout the country to help reduce COVID travel risks.
For all other international destinations without “Do not travel” warnings, please check the Australian Government’s advice on local COVID-19 rules in that country – including check-in requirements – before you travel.
Extra QR code information while travelling during COVID-19:
- some restaurants and hotels use QR codes to allow customers access to online menus and ordering to limit contact amongst patrons
- personal information obtained from QR codes is privately held under the privacy act in each country
- QR codes can be used to download restaurant apps, which may come in handy should you plan a second or third visit and you wish to save time re-entering your contact details
Ready to travel safely?
COVID-19 has created a number of new travel risks, making it even more important to consider purchasing travel insurance for your trip. Discover our range of useful benefits – which includes some cover for COVID-19 – by getting a travel insurance quote today.
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