Sunset in Mykonos

Travel in 2021: Vaccines, Testing Protocols, and More

How COVID policies may affect travel in the coming months

In the past week we’ve started getting calls from potential visitors to Anguilla – a few have been vaccinated or anticipate being vaccinated before their trip. How does that affect testing, quarantine, etc? It’s the natural next question for most of us traveling. Widespread distribution of the vaccine seems like the end game for everyone, and the way for the world to return to normal in some way. But for those of us that get vaccinated, will that change travel in the immediate future? 

How will vaccines affect my ability to travel?

Separation Wall, Bethlehem, West Bank

I think about this in our own context with our travel to Kenya coming up in just a couple of months’ time. My parents’ COVID vaccines will possibly be available in the coming weeks, which helps us feel much more at ease with the idea of travel. That said, the global framework and policymaking haven’t caught up yet, so will that change anything in terms of how proof of a vaccine will affect travel? In the coming months, hopefully we’ll see policies being created as more and more people are vaccinated but in the near term, the likelihood is that we’ll still need tests for travel and will need to abide by the rules and regs for the countries we’re visiting. How destinations handle vaccination records will likely differ from country to country, and that may differ from broader policies related to air travel.

ITINERARY: Three Days in Cairo

For smaller nations, the focus is more on when the local population is vaccinated to a certain percentage. In Anguilla, for example, they’re hoping to have 70% of the local population immunized to ensure local health before really altering any policies for travelers. Things may shift on a slower scale, but testing and quarantine protocols likely won’t be done away with entirely until the local population is accounted for. For larger areas where the distribution will take place over a longer period of time, the changes may come in more gradual ways with relation to testing requirements, quarantine regulations, etc.

COVID Testing Required for Return to the US

Sankaty Head Light, Nantucket

Then there’s our newest piece of the puzzle: beginning January 26th, international travelers bound for the US must show proof of a negative COVID test (PCR or rapid antigen tests) taken 72 hours or less prior to travel, which has left a number of people planning their trips a bit concerned. Is this feasible? How and where do I get this done? 

I’ll share some insight in two different contexts: one as a hotelier and one as a traveler. Destinations like Anguilla require an application to visit, plus a fee for said application. The fee covers two tests: one upon arrival and one upon departure (or completion of quarantine, depending on what comes first). Both of these tests are done at your hotel so the process is seamless, and the results are usually returned within 12 hours or less. For us and for our travelers needing tests to get into the US, the process is simple because it’s something we’ve done all along. For other destinations where Americans are the bulk of the audience, if a process like ours hasn’t been in place already, I’d suspect that hotels and governments are working on finding ways to facilitate the process. In destinations where tourism is the heart and soul of the economy, making these processes easier for travelers is the ultimate goal. We’re all trying to find ways to work within the parameters of what’s been outlined by governments, ensuring health but not trying to add obstacles.

That brings me to my experiences as a traveler and travel advisor reaching out to our hotels in Kenya regarding our own exit tests. The US is requiring tests to re-enter the country but Kenya has also recently announced that they’ll require tests to exit the country. Sounds like more of a headache, right? Well, in some ways it actually creates a more straightforward process because it’s been forcing the hospitality sector to think more strategically on how to make the process easier for visitors. When I reached out to our hotel in Nairobi, they noted that they offer to test in the hotel instead of having to visit a clinic. This can be scheduled, done for $95, and results are usually returned within 36 hours or so and sent digitally (some travelers have mentioned an even faster turn around time).

Jaya House Tour, Jaya House Siem Reap

Those anecdotes are just to share a greater message: information is key and communicating with people on the ground related to policies is critical for understanding how our travel will be impacted. While new policies feel like an additional obstacle for travel, I think it’s important to consider that in most destinations where tourism is highly valued, we see tourism boards and hospitality professionals working to ease this process for visitors. We understand the importance of balancing global health with tourism, which is something we’ve been focusing on for the past year. The most important piece of the puzzle is information sharing – we need to know what destinations require, how we can provide it, and take a step-by-step approach to make it happen. When I speak to travelers on the phone – almost daily! – the conversation generally goes from uncertainty and panic around international travel to understanding protocols and policies and focusing on a bite-sized approach, tackling one piece at a time. More than ever, having people on the ground to speak with or an advisor that you trust is key. Utilize your hotel’s concierge and reservations team to understand how they’re operating right now – the services that properties offer and the way that they’re working to simplify things may surprise you. If you have an advisor that you work with, allow them to liaise with hotels and destinations to find out how to ease this process for you and to find out the ins and outs of making your trip possible. We’re living in a world that’s changing constantly and more than ever, the most important aspect of travel is flexibility and allowing yourself to adjust and respond in a managed way. From my perspective, travel (when done responsibly) is the solution to so many issues: it’s a boost for tourism-based economies, and it’s a boost for our own mental wellbeing, and while it takes a bit more work from the outset, it allows us to start to reboot travel in a safe way.

If you’re curious about our past experiences with international travel during COVID, you can read about our recent experiences traveling to Tanzania during COVID, plus what it’s like to travel to Anguilla during COVID for a bit of insight.

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.