10 Tips for travelling internationally in Covid times

This blog also could have had the title; “Why I will use a travel agent next time” or “Why I should have used a travel agent” or “ How International travel has changed “. Notes from a frequent traveler, I have lived and/or traveled in about 50 countries to date.

I have to travel from Australia to The Netherlands early in the new year to assist my 85 year old mum after my dad passed away in October.

Yes a sad occasion, and because of Australia’s strict lockdown rules I couldn’t attend the funeral. I applied for permission to travel on the day he passed (on a Thursday), but the approval only came the day before his funeral, which was quick (the following Tuesday), but too late.

So I booked a still non existing flight from Brisbane via HongKong to Amsterdam, operated by Cathay Pacific. Local operator Qantas is to this day still not flying internationally direct from Brisbane, and it seems strange flying from Brisbane south to Sydney or Melbourne and then northwards again.

Destination: The Netherlands

After several changes, my layover time in HongKong increased from 6-7 hours to 29 hours and then 3 days…. Seriously? Ok, I had booked using my rewards points so that obviously put me at the bottom of the list of seat allocation when flights were canceled or changed.

In normal times a long layover would have been fine; breaking my trip with some serious shopping and sights to see. But HongKong has mandatory quarantine requirements for incoming travelers, so all I would get to see was the inside of a hotel room, and the shopping would have to be online.

I ended up canceling that flight altogether and booking (again, online via Qantas) a business class ticket with actual cash, on another route, with another operator. As a platinum frequent traveler I had hoped that my status would provide some security, but good old cash is the only thing that matters as airlines are still struggling to survive.

I haven’t left yet, and as I realise, a lot can change in the next two weeks. So watch out for updates!

Time to dust this one off

Lessons learned:

  1. Be flexible, very very flexible
  2. Although you can definitely book your travel online, going via a travel agency would have saved me many hours waiting in phone queues and frantically searching online. I would probably have saved some money as well!
  3. Make sure you are aware of Covid test and entry requirements, not just of your destination but also of the transit requirements.
    • If you need a PCR test, check out the places available to you well in advance AND make sure they are approved by the place you travel through or to!
  4. Travel will be expensive, more than double the pre-COVID-19 prices! Make sure you can afford it, even if it goes up by 50% between your first google and you getting on that plane!
  5. Read the fine print, despite advertised fee free changes or cancellations, the small print indicates that this is often only for use for more expensive seats, or vouchers. So make sure you do have spare cash, and travel with companies you use regularly. I am still waiting on a significant refund (minus $150 pp booking fees) from June 2020 for a holiday that never happened.
  6. Keep trips as simple as possible. It limits the amount of changes possible. The most direct route will also limit the number of people you come into contact with as a Covid19 infection risk, and reduce the number of different entry requirements.
    • I have booked my return journey seperate from my outgoing flights. It actually costs a bit more, which is also different from pre-Covid days where return flight were just two singles. Again, seriously consider using a travel agent!!!!!
  7. Did I mention, be flexible! With dates, times, costs, transits and ever changing Covid related travel requirements. It is not like things used to be! And any changes to your flight are likely to impact your car rental and accommodation requirements.
  8. Insurance; do check the new fine prints on your policy. I have in the past generally relied on my credit card provided travel insurance. Travelling to Europe nowadays I have to face the real risk of catching Covid19, despite my double vaccination status. And I will try and get my third (booster shot) over there.
    • Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement with a number of countries. If you go to the Netherlands you will need to have registered for this and completed an A111 form which entitles you to Zilveren Kruis registered care.
  9. Your hand luggage should now include:
    • packs of disinfectant wipes (to sanitise your seat, tray table, handle to the luggage bin and the door handle to the toilet)
    • small bottles of hand sanitiser (stay below the 100 ml per bottle and carry them in a plastic baggie)
    • Surgical face masks for at the airport and on the plane
    • And more than ever, pack some spare clothes and anything you may need if your luggage doesn’t reunite with you immediately at the end of the trip. There are overall less flights, so it could take some time!
  10. Be aware of the requirements for when you head home again. For Queensland Australia, that is currently a PCR test no more than 72 hours before you fly back home AND 14 days compulsory hotel or home quarantine. Naturally, by the time I am due to travel back that may all have changed again.

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