It’s hard not to love international travel. There’s something about crossing a border that boosts adrenaline and stimulates the brain. Every country has a unique vibe, curious cuisine, gaper views, and one-of-a-kind culture. Whether it’s driving from Seattle to Vancouver, catching a cruise from Miami to the Caribbean, or flying from L.A. to Iceland, every trip has the potential to help us to learn, love, and grow. Due to pandemic precautions however, most of us have hovered closer to home. And while many countries are still considered high risk for COVID-19 transmission, other locations have experienced a sufficient decline in cases and a rise in vaccinations. There are about 100 countries that now accept travelers with U.S. passports, and the list is changing every day. If you’re fully vaccinated, free of COVID-19, and willing to put up with more uncertainty than usual, now is the time to consider that trip you dreamed about during lockdown.
Figuring out which countries are open to U.S. travelers, including their COVID-19 risk level and rules about what’s required for entry (and re-entry into the U.S.) is as complicated as calculus. The U.S. State Department is a good place to start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide guidance on international destinations. Check with the government in your intended destination. Don’t forget that you’ll need proof of a COVID-19 PCR test to re-enter the U.S. (or proof that you’ve already had it).
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There’s no doubt that planning for international travel is more stressful now than in pre-pandemic times. But upon reaching your destination, you may find fewer crowds, and a welcoming tourism sector. Here are some tips for planning your next international adventure.
1. Make plans early
There are fewer international flights than ever before as many carriers downsized during the pandemic. Also, it may be harder to find flights for which you can use reward points. If possible, be flexible with your travel objective. An off-the-beaten track adventure might be a better option than a classic tourist destination.
2. Know before your go (and get alerts after you arrive)
Enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Not only will they keep you updated on local situations that could impact your safety, but they will know how to reach you in case of an emergency. The U.S. Department of Consular Affairs’ Facebook page is also a great resource for local affairs.
3. Educate yourself
Read up on your destination. This means more than perusing Michelin or Lonely Planet guidebooks. If you’re heading to Jordan, start reading the Jordan Times. If you are heading to London, The Times is a good place to start. There are English versions of newspapers around the world, from Peru and Pakistan to Jamaica and Japan.
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4. Passport check
Most countries require that your passport is not only valid, but that it has a six-month window before expiration. Most people can renew their U.S. passports online.
5. Travel insurance
You can get insurance to cover everything from the cost of replacing lost luggage to being extracted by former special ops from your Mount Everest basecamp. Travel insurance also helps if you get sick in a foreign country and need medical assistance. World Nomads is a favorite for international travelers as it offers low-cost (sub $100) plans for most international destinations. Global Rescue provides field rescue, local medical support, and a 24/7 hotline.
6. Tailor-made tours
Even if your travel chops rival those of Bear Grylls and Rick Steves, spending time with an expert will not only enrich your experience, but will save time, money, and the potential of walking into a hazardous situation. You might not need assistance for your entire trip, but consider booking a guide for your first day or two. The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has a great solid list of tour operators who can help you with everything from a self-guided trip to a local driver and personal guide.
7. Emotional rescue
Any travel can be stressful, but more so during the pandemic. Everything from parking your car to going through security to claiming your luggage can produce anxiety. Schedule flights early in the day in case of a cancelled or missed connection. Pack early and remember shopping opportunity might be different than your last oversees trip. Sign up for a WhatsApp and Facetime so that you can message and call toll-free to keep touch with family and friends. There are plenty of online resources if you are experiencing homesickness or cultural shock.
9. Meds matter
If you need medication, plan on bringing enough for an extra two weeks in case your return trip is delayed due to quarantine, weather, act of nature or national strike. Always pack your pills in carry-on luggage, and double check with the local embassy to make sure what you are taking is OK to cross borders. And don’t forget face masks and hand sanitizer.
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10. Plan ahead
Things happen. Stay in touch with local news and plan for the unexpected. Download at least one rideshare app that’s available in your destination and carry enough cash to hail a taxi. Make sure someone at home has a copy of your itinerary and shares mutual expectations about when you’ll be in touch. If you’re flying between multiple countries, make sure you have the appropriate shots.
11. Print documents
Computers, cell phones, and smart watches are great for navigation and info. But electronics break, get lost or stolen, or fail when there’s no power source. Traveling with a portable charger makes sense, but bring along a hard copy of your itinerary, passport, vaccine record, and PCR test.
12. Take it easy
Even if you’re a pro athlete competing at a Red Bull event, avoid taxing local search and rescue groups or hospitals. Mountain biking, cliff jumping, climbing, and backcountry travel are all fun, but pushing the limit not only affects you, but could impact an already overburdened medical system.
13. Don’t flex
Social media keeps us all connected, but enjoy your trip and post after you get home. Avoid real-time posts as you don’t want the world to know you’re away from your house or apartment (addresses are easy to find online), or where you are spending the night the while on vacation. Don’t forget, not everyone has the luxury of travel. Instead of simply bragging about your travel spoils, work to educate and uplift to keep these opportunities open.
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