As income tax returns and stimulus checks line people’s pockets, it won’t be long before summer vacations start getting booked.
But it’s important to remember that COVID-19 protocols and closures are still affecting businesses and organizations nationwide, even as optimism grows that we are on the back-end of this pandemic.
“A lot of people are still taking domestic road trips and I think they are going to be this summer,” Outta Here Travels travel agent Michelle Osborn said. “I’ve been suggesting to my clients when they take a road trip to go to a state website, or even the county and local government to check on the restrictions before they leave.
“Check whether there are mandates on masks/no masks, occupancy restrictions (even at hotels), restaurants, shop local when possible and be patient/flexible.”
Whether it’s a short road trip to Amarillo, or an extravagant vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean where tourists flock, it’s important to remember the ones running the businesses are not the enemies. But the great outdoors has also been a popular destination.
“They have to enforce whatever the store or company’s policies are,” Osborn said. “There’s a lot of camping going on. Last year was probably a record-breaking year for state parks. There were a lot of RV rentals last year. So if families want to go camping, check the state’s restrictions and what the state park restrictions are. A lot of state parks have been shut down or require reservations.”
Osborn added many state parks have been filling up quickly for the upcoming summer.
If you are taking air, bus or other means of travel, it’s also important to check on what their restrictions are, as well.
“Those can change day-to-day what airline policies are,” Osborn said. “The airline policy may state you won’t have someone sitting on either side of you. But there are more airlines getting booked up. So if you’re uncomfortable being that close to someone, you may want to re-think flying right now.”
Federal policy still requires masks at airports, regardless of what the state policies are.
Most of Osborn’s clients have limited their international travel to the Caribbean or Mexico. But some areas of the Caribbean has been very strict on their COVID-19 protocols.
“Some of the Caribbean Islands do require testing before you go, like Jamaica,” Osborn said. “Know the destination and what the requirements for entry are. I help clients know what is required before they ever leave or even book.”
Osborn said the United States even requires a test within 72 hours of coming home and if that test returns positive, there is still the 14-day quarantine period.
“I suggest a good ‘cancel for any reason’ policy for travelers going out of the country,” Osborn said. “The medical coverage on that is good and that’s why I’ve been suggesting Mexico or Caribbean Islands. A lot of the resorts are providing free-of-charge or discounted rates for quarantine.”
It’s important to also check with your employer before you leave and insure you will still have a job, should something happen overseas or even on a local vacation.
“If I go and test positive I may have to quarantine for 14 days, will I still have a job?,” Osborn said. “A lot of companies are saying you can take the vacation but if you can’t come back when you’re scheduled to you may not have a job or it may be unpaid leave.”
Ticket prices have been at a low for airlines and that has been a selling point for Osborn.
“Even if you don’t want to go now but later in the year, take advantage now,” Osborn said. “We offer a booklet confidence program to help you know the policies and the rates. I always suggest, get it now, and help them watch any changes going on now.”
Osborn also suggest going to the State Department website for international travel.
“They are great,” Osborn said. “They have a Step Program where you can register and say what destination and resort you’re going to. This way if there is a family emergency back home, the State Department knows where you’re at and the U.S. Embassy can help you and contact you. Hurricane season is coming up and the U.S. Embassy knows you’re there, they’ll be able to alert you and let you know steps needing to be taken to shelter-in-place or come home.”
The website is state.gov and step.state.gov. You can also go to state.gov/traveler.
Osborn said Crystal Cruises has been one of the first lines to require all staff and passengers to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“They are a smaller luxury line so the bulk of their customers are 65 and older and will probably be vaccinated anyways,” Osborn said. “Norwegian has come out and said that all staff has to be vaccinated. There is talk they may require passengers as well.”
Osborn speculates that cruise-lines may not open completely until the fall.
“Many haven’t even done their test cruises yet,” Osborn said. “The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is going to require them to do test cruising to test out the new requirements. It’s going to take time to do that. As far as I know, Royal Caribbean is the only one who hasn’t canceled May cruising (as of last week).”
COVID-19 travel restrictions will not go away
The changes made to travel related to COVID-19 are probably the biggest changes since 9-11.
“Twenty years later we still have to go through all of the security because of that,” Osborn said. “They won’t go away. They’ll evolve and maybe ease up as time goes on. But for right now, they are here to stay.”
For more information
Outta Here Travels and Michelle Osborn has a Facebook page, but you can also reach Osborn at 806-486-1958.
“I share major announcements that come in on that page,” Osborn said. “But on my website I have more niche pages, like ‘Cruising With Outta Here Travels,’ or for family vacations.”