We got a look at the new normal when the Centers for Disease Control extended its mask mandate for mass transit. Until at least January, you’ll need to wear a face-covering when you fly, ride a bus, or take a train – no matter what happens with all the covid surges and other uncertainty.
But what else?
“Just as travel changed after 9/11 with increased security and stricter carry-on restrictions, we can absolutely expect travel post-pandemic to be permanently changed,” says Alexis Bowen, a founder of the travel planning platform Elsewhere.
In other words, travelers are realizing that the new normal means adapting to an ever-growing set of new policies and procedures, covering everything from coronavirus testing to sanitation protocols. If you haven’t traveled since the pandemic started, you’ll need to catch up.
Interestingly, many travelers seem unfazed. A new survey of Allianz Partners US customers reveals two-thirds of its customers plan to take a trip between now and November. A majority feel confident in resuming pre-COVID activity levels for travel, including a return to cruising by the end of the year. Allianz says the number of customers planning trips in 2021 tripled in July compared with the number in February.
So what does the new normal in travel look like? Masks, of course. Vaccination passports, too. lots of travel insurance. And where and when you go may never be the same.
► Travel insurance and COVID: What it covers – and what it doesn’t
Bring your mask – and a backup or two
For a brief moment this summer, it looked as if we could leave our face masks at home. And then the delta variant struck. In my travels, I’ve watched the mask requirements go from strict to optional to nonexistent – and back. It’s enough to give you whiplash.
Here’s the thing: You never know when you’ll need a mask. Even if your hotel, airline and cruise line all give you the OK to take off your face covering, you could still wander into a gift shop somewhere along the road that insists you wear a mask. I recommend you pack one and bring a backup or two. (You never know when your strap will break.)
“Wearing masks – especially on planes – should be second nature by now,” says Debbie Pham, founder of the travel agency Live Travel.
Yes, you’ll need a vaccination passport
It’s really just a question of when you’ll need show evidence that you’ve had your shots. Europe and Israel already have vaccination passports for their citizens. Even if the United States never formally adopts one, you’ll still have to show you’ve gotten your shots. This summer, when I checked into the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro, Vermont, a receptionist asked for my CDC vaccination record. My advice: Take a picture of your card on your phone for safety. Carry the real one with you wherever you travel.
► Need to share proof of vaccine? Here’s how to store your COVID-19 vaccination card on your smartphone
“The new normal in travel involves being well educated in each country’s entry requirements and COVID-19 protocols in place,” says Marissa Fontanini, owner of Distinguished Travelers in Cary, North Carolina. “This includes proof of vaccination completed a set number of days before arrival in destination, printed health form affidavits, proof of negative test within a certain number of hours before arrival, and, in some cases, even an app that will generate a QR code to allow entry into restaurants and museums while abroad.”
Travel protection is a must
People are thinking about travel insurance more than ever, but it’s not enough. Sure, a good travel insurance policy will cover you if you get COVID-19 before your trip or while you’re traveling. But there’s a lot more to it.
“Certainly, the new normal is very cautious,” says John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet, a medical transport and crisis response program for travelers. “This pandemic has heightened everyone’s awareness of health and safety and vulnerability while traveling. People are looking much more closely at travel insurance options, as well as additional protection like medical evacuation and security memberships.”
Actually, in the new normal of travel, you have to look at all of your travel needs and every protection product. For insurance, do you need a regular “named perils” policy or a pricier “cancel for any reason” policy? Should you consider a medical transport membership like Medjet or Global Rescue? Or do you need to work with a global assistance company like FocusPoint International? Increasingly, you may need all three types.
This is the new normal for travel planning
The way people plan travel has changed too, and probably permanently. Research suggests more bookings are happening further in advance and closer to home, says Zander Buteux, a manager at VacationRenter.com.
“The last year has created some permanent changes, and not just to how or where people travel, but in the planning and booking process as well,” he says. “The new normal includes traveling in smaller groups, trips that are closer to home and overall shorter getaways – more long weekends and fewer weeklong vacations.”
This last piece of the travel equation is still up in the air. Experts believe that if COVID-19 keeps coming back, we’ll just stay closer to home and take shorter vacations. But it’s hard to know for sure. For now, the new normal is all about face coverings, vaccination verifications and lots of travel protection.
And tomorrow? Who knows?
How to make the most of the new normal in travel
Book the B list. The most sought-after destinations may be too far away – or too dangerous. Better have a Plan B. “We’re noticing more people choosing destinations that aren’t on the top of their travel bucket list, but are a good option now due to the lower number of COVID-19 cases and relaxed entry requirements and restrictions they have in place,” says Barbara Jovanovic, social media and content director at insurance provider SafetyWing.
Zig when everyone else zags. Virginia Tech travel and tourism professor Mahmood Khan says the length of the pandemic has turned some short-term trends into permanent behaviors. “They include taking shorter trips, using a personal car, restricting visits to close family members, and avoiding exotic destinations,” he says. Don’t follow the crowds – zig when everyone else zags if you want to find lower prices and availability.
Business travel is an opportunity. “Domestically, business travel will likely remain lower than pre-COVID,” says Sridhar Tayur, professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. And it may stay that way for a while as employees continue to prefer Zoom over waiting in a long line at the airport. But there’s an opportunity there, experts say. Business travel destinations may offer attractive rates as this trend continues.