Walt Meyer is afraid of getting sick when he travels. Too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously, he says.
He’d travel again this year if he could be sure that his fellow passengers were virus-free.
“If they could require everyone to arrive an hour early, get tested, then wait for test results before boarding a flight or entering a resort, it would eliminate some of the risks,” says Meyer, an author and professional speaker from San Diego.
His fears are justified, say experts. COVID-19 will be the number-one travel concern of 2021, particularly during the first half of the year. But there are other concerns. The question is: What should travelers be afraid of?
A recent poll by Travelex Insurance identified the top two travel fears: Getting stuck in another country and catching coronavirus. Travel professionals are trying to help. One solution: Offering a pledge to customers like the one Travel Leaders introduced late last year. Its Book With Confidence program helps its agents advise clients about where, when and how to travel.
What should travelers not be afraid of? The list includes everything from flying to the financial stability of your travel company. And what should you fear? Getting stuck abroad, finding adequate medical care – and, of course, the unknown.
“But there are steps travelers can take to help alleviate these fears,” says Christine Buggy, vice president of marketing at Travelex.
Here’s what travelers are afraid of but shouldn’t be:
Reality: Air travel remains one of the safest modes of transport. And getting COVID-19 on the plane is also unlikely, say experts. (Flying can be safer than grocery shopping, according to a recent Harvard study.)
“It’s not something people should be afraid of,” says John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet. “As long as travelers continue to take the proper precautions, like those recommended by the CDC and other health entities.”
Fear: Not knowing if you’re safe to travel
Reality: Just because you look healthy and are asymptomatic doesn’t mean you won’t spread COVID-19 to your friends and family when you’re traveling. But you can be sure – or more sure – that you won’t, says Irnise Williams, a travel nurse and health law attorney.
“Get two COVID-19 tests with negative results to ensure you do not get a false negative,” she advises. “Wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your gatherings small to ensure you can contact trace just in case you are exposed or if you expose someone.”
Fear: Contracting an infectious disease like COVID-19 while you’re on the road
Reality: If you take precautions – and choose the right destination – your chances of getting infected remain low. A recent study by LetsGetChecked, reviewed 24 years of data to identify the safest destinations.
The safest places included nearby destinations such as Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia, which have seen only one disease outbreak each in decades (see the chart at the end of this story).
Fear: My travel company will go under
Reality: It can if you choose the wrong one, but that’s always been true.
“Even pre-COVID, travel advisors were jittery about who to book with after the collapse of several tour operators, most notably Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings,” says Marnie Brown, CEO of Trusted FIT Services in St. Paul, Minn. “Several smaller operators also went quietly under, taking their clients’ deposits and advance payments with them.” Her advice: Book with reputable names that are financially solvent. If in doubt, ask your travel advisor for guidance.
Here’s what travelers should be afraid of:
Fear: Getting stuck abroad during a lockdown
Reality: “Travelers should be afraid of that,” says Andre Robles, managing director of Voyagers Travel Company, a tour operator in Ecuador.
I agree – I was stuck in Europe during the lockdown last spring. Fortunately, I had coverage through FocusPoint International, a company that provides evacuation services. They got me back to the States quickly and safely.
Some tour operators are making their own arrangements, though: “We have secured agreements with the government of Ecuador to make sure that if there is a new lockdown, humanitarian flights are allowed to repatriate our travelers,” he says.
Medical travel insurance primer: How does it differ from regular insurance?
Fear: Getting adequate medical care when you’re away from home
Reality: That’s a common worry, even when there’s no pandemic. You can address some of those fears with travel insurance or a travel health membership like Medjet.
“Travel insurance can cover medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation for the virus,” says Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners.
But don’t assume your travel insurance covers a COVID-19 infection. Murchland recommends verifying the coverage by reviewing your plan document and asking the insurance company if you have COVID-19 coverage and how it works.
Travel insurance: What it does and doesn’t cover for coronavirus
Fear: The unknown
Reality: That’s a legitimate worry that will never go away.
“I am most concerned about things I can’t control,” says Peter Plantes, a physician executive with hc1, a health care company. It’s the randomness of travel that could cause unnecessary exposures to a disease, like fellow travelers who let their guard down or don’t take precautionary measures. You can’t plan for these variables and can’t anticipate when they’ll become a problem.
Fear: The return of fees
Reality: Be afraid. Be very afraid. Late last year, the major U.S. airlines dropped change fees on international flights, suggesting that the era of big airline fees was over. It isn’t.
Notice that their basic economy tickets are still totally nonrefundable. Do you see the trick? As soon as business picks up, expect to see airlines offer more basic economy tickets – and to get creative with adding new fees. Why? Because those fees represent a significant revenue stream.
The countries at greatest risk for an infectious disease outbreak
A study by LetsGetChecked.com examined 24 years of data from the World Health Organization and 2,800 disease outbreaks to reveal the countries at greatest risk for an outbreak of infectious disease. Here are their findings:
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 242)
- China (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 184)
- Indonesia (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 147)
- Egypt (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 114)
- Uganda (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 77)
- Vietnam (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 66)
- West Africa (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 58)
- United States (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 52)
- Nigeria (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 49)
- Sudan (Number of outbreaks since 1996: 40)