Do you have travel plans in the foreseeable future?
Now that restrictions have eased, more of us are booking city breaks, summer holidays or well-overdue trips to visit family members living overseas. However, travelling during our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic comes with its own specific set of challenges that all travellers should be aware of.
The rules and restrictions of COVID add an extra layer of stress and complication. It can be tricky to keep up with government guidelines and know for sure that you’re making the right travel decisions. But organisation is the key to travelling safely during the pandemic – especially since travel guidelines and recommendations can change and update without warning.
Whether away on business or pleasure, rest assured we’ve the all-important information you need to streamline any kind of trip. Think of this as a COVID travel checklist – with easy mistakes to avoid and top travel tips for making sure things go smoothly and as planned.
Here are your 21 hacks for taking to the skies or seas during COVID.
1. Check for Destination-Specific Travel Advice
The most important thing you can do is check specific travel guidelines and advice for the country you want to visit. Carry out research on the country’s COVID restrictions and make sure it’s somewhere that’s safe for you to travel to. Find out the answers to these important questions:
- Does the country allow YOU to enter?
- Are the country’s COVID rates high?
- Need to show proof of vaccination?
- Provide a negative COVID test result?
- Will you have to quarantine on arrival?
Once your flight is booked and plans are confirmed, you should regularly check to see if these rules and regulations have changed.
2. Fill Out All the Necessary Forms
The majority of countries will have an online form that all inbound travellers need to fill out before arriving. These requirements will differ from country to country, so always double-check what you must do – you don’t want to get caught out.
When returning to the UK, you must fill in your passenger locator form online within 48 hours of arrival in the UK. You’ll have to show the form when you check-in at the gate to board the plane, ferry or train.
Don’t worry, it’s free to submit the form. Plus, if you need a hand filling it out, GOV.UK has a helpful how-to guide.
3. Use the NHS COVID Pass App
The NHS COVID pass app can and should be used to prove your vaccination status when travelling abroad to various countries or territories. It’s the best, most simple way of sharing your COVID statuses and is available through the NHS app or online via NHS.UK. (Please note the NHS app is not the same as the NHS Pass app. You should download both).
It’s okay if you’re not particularly good with technology either – GOV.UK has a guide on how to use the NHS COVID Pass app, with everything you need to know. Alternatively, you can get a COVID pass letter through the post if you’re not digitally enabled.
4. Arrange Your Pre-departure Tests
Depending on where you’re travelling, you might need to arrange a pre-departure test. To find out, search the travel information for the country you plan to visit.
Countries vary in the types of tests required – it could be one of the following:
- Rapid antigen lateral flow test
- Supervised antigen test (on a video call with a professional observer)
- PCR test
If you do have to arrange a pre-departure test, just follow these simple steps:
Figure out when you need to take the pre-departure test
Pay particular attention to the pre-travel test window. Different types of tests have different window lengths. For example, you often only get 24 hours for a rapid antigen lateral flow test but 48 to 72 hours for a PCR test. Also check if the pre-departure test window starts before departure from your home country or arrival at your destination.
Make sure you order your test kit with plenty of time to spare
We have calculators to help you work out the timings. And here at C19 Testing, we ship our COVID tests seven days a week by DPD tracked next-day delivery.
Take the test as soon as you can
Try and take your test as soon as your window opens to give yourself more time if anything does go wrong. Time is precious when you’ve a flight booked.
If you’re unsure on how to take the test, there’s no need to feel anxious – we have simple easy-to-follow instructions. It’s pretty straightforward.
Be conscious of delivery times
If you’re doing a PCR test, you need to return your sample to a lab. It’s best you use a lab that’s local, so you can drop your sample off in person and avoid using the post. If you do need to send via post, be sure to account for Royal Mail services on weekends and public holidays. Royal Mail doesn’t deliver or collect on Sundays or bank holidays.
For example, if you send a sample by the last collection on a Friday, it should arrive on Saturday. But if you send after the last collection on a Saturday, it wont arrive until Tuesday.
Take these delivery timings into account. If your sample isn’t delivered on time, you might not get a result in time for when you fly.
Post the sample in a priority post box
When returning samples by post, using Royal Mail, be aware that you have to post them through one of their priority post boxes.
Sometimes these post boxes will state that they have a Sunday collection – but note that this applies to NHS tests only. Royal Mail definitely wont collect or deliver samples to private labs on Sundays.
Please note you also cannot post samples via standard Royal Mail services inside their branches. For health and safety reasons they won’t accept packages containing COVID samples.
Remember you can track the sample return
Most providers include a return Royal Mail Tracked 24 envelope with your test kit. This has a tracking number written on it which you can track online.
Also note that Royal Mail’s Tracked 24 service is not 100% guaranteed. In our experience, up to 10% of samples take over 24 hours to be delivered to the lab.
5. Choose the Best Test Provider
Having a good travel COVID testing experience starts with choosing the right test provider. Are they a trusted company? Do they offer the specific test you need?
It’s also important that the test provider has a good refund policy – COVID travel rules can change overnight, so you might not even need to take your test last minute. Will they offer you a refund for your unused test? A good test provider should also offer a refund if your PCR or rapid antigen lateral flow test comes back with an inconclusive result (a test that you can’t tell is positive or negative).
C19 Testing is one of the most trusted providers in the UK – we have the highest-rated on TrustPilot (4.8/5 with nearly 65,000 reviews). And all our tests are covered by a six-month refund policy because we’re all about honesty and certainty.
6. Don’t Forget About Returning Rules
Once your pre-departure plans are out of the way, don’t forget about returning rules too. Always check the quarantine and return testing requirements for your home country. What do you need to do to return safely and legally? What are the current rules in place? Make sure the important questions are answered, including:
- Do you need to take a pre-departure test?
- What day do you need to take it?
- Do you need to take a rapid antigen lateral flow test or PCR test?
- Will you need to self-isolate once you’ve arrived back home?
7. Rules Might Be Different for Children
Travelling during COVID is a whole different ball game when you’ve children in tow. Not only can it make the journey more stressful, but the rules might be different for minors too.
For example, here in the UK, testing and quarantine rules don’t apply to children under the age of 17. Always check the rules and regulations of the country you’re travelling to, if unsure.
8. Beware of “False-Positive” Results
If you’ve contracted COVID recently, you may still get a positive test result even after you’ve recovered. False-positive results are a particular problem for PCR tests because they can detect genetic material left behind by the virus after the body’s infection – up to 5% of people continue to test positive on PCR tests even 90 days after having symptoms.
However, those recovered don’t typically still test positive on a lateral flow test because these types of tests detect a protein on the virus itself, rather than genetic material.
9. Print Out Hard Copies of All Your Documents
Nowadays, travel documents and certificates can all be accessed on your smartphone. But what will you do if your phone breaks or runs out of battery?
That’s why having hard copies of all documents is one of the most important things you can do. Print out paper copies of your vaccination status, test results, online forms and anything else you need to show when travelling.
10. Pack All Covid Supplies and Essentials
The contents of your suitcase will look a little different when travelling during COVID. To make sure you’re safe and prepared, you need to pack all essential COVID supplies and PPE including:
- A selection of durable face masks
- Hand sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol)
- Antibacterial wipes
- Medication including paracetamols, ibuprofen, cold and flu tablets
These types of COVID travel supplies will help you stay safe during your trip. Maintaining good personal hygiene is especially important when using public transport too. For example, you can use antiseptic wipes to disinfect your aeroplane seat and table.
11. Avoid Visiting Multiple Countries in One Trip
With so many travel rules and regulations in place, it’s best to avoid visiting multiple countries in one trip. Travelling from one country to the next can get complicated when there’s additional tests and quarantines you have to follow. No one wants to spend their precious time away isolating or having to visit COVID testing centres.
Stick to one country or territory for now (maybe two if there’s minimal rules or regulations in place).
12. Take your time when booking
The situation of our global pandemic is constantly changing, as are the governmental policies that regulate the travel industry. You must keep up-to-date with the COVID travel rules of both the UK and the country you’re visiting. Have you done your research? Have you checked their government website for the latest travel advice and information?
Take your time when booking your trip and base your decisions around the latest guidelines. Three things you can do for peace of mind are:
Check the COVID rates of the destination
Global COVID cases may be dropping, but it’s still important to check the COVID status of the destination you’re planning to visit. The countries with the highest COVID cases will likely have stricter restrictions, so do your research.
Check cancellation policies before booking
One of the most important things you can do is double-check the cancellation policies for everything you book: flights, accommodation, car rental, excursion bookings, etc. Cancellation bookings vary from business to business, so always read the small print – especially the terms and conditions of your airline and accommodation host.
There’s also a chance you can lose thousands of pounds if you don’t cover your trip with the right travel insurance. So make sure you choose insurance that covers COVID claims – many travel insurance policies don’t.
Be sure it’s right for your personal health
Once you’ve made your final decisions on where and when to travel, be sure your trip itinerary is right for your own personal health circumstances before you book. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you an unvaccinated traveller visiting a high-risk country?
- Do you have an underlying health condition or a compromised immune system?
- Are you vulnerable and putting yourself at risk?
- How about the rest of your travel party?
Whether your trip is for business or pleasure, your health is your number one priority.
13. Choose COVID-Conscious Accommodation
Your choice of accommodation is just as important as your choice of airline. Make COVID-conscious decisions when choosing where to stay for yourself and your party. Have you read the terms and conditions? Do they have a flexible cancellation policy?
Self-contained and self-catering accommodation such as apartments, villas, and lodges usually have the best cancellation policies to entice more reservations.
Think about your level of safety and comfort too. Will you be more comfortable in a private villa rather than a crowded hotel?
14. Book COVID-Conscious Day Trips
Some of the clever COVID-conscious decisions you can make revolve around your day trips. It’s all about being as safe as possible by taking precautionary measures wherever you go and whatever you do. We can all get COVID anywhere, at any time, so sometimes it’s best to prioritise safety over convenience or pleasure. For example, could you walk the one mile trip to town, rather than run the risk of jumping in a 10 minute taxi ride? These are the kinds of things you should be thinking about.
Also, think twice about the local attractions you visit, activities you take part in, and restaurants you eat at too. It’s best to book trips or excursions that are private or in a smaller group that’s socially distanced. And only eat at a restaurant if you believe they’ve sufficient COVID safety rules in place.
Remember, avoiding COVID during your trip is especially important when you have to test negative before returning home. Always better to be safe than sorry.
15. Support Local Businesses
The COVID pandemic has negatively impacted economies across the globe – especially those belonging to countries that rely heavily on tourism. That’s why it’s great to support the small local business that may have struggled from the lack of tourists since the pandemic started. They’ll appreciate your custom more than ever.
Just remember to stay safe while you support. Choose the businesses that are COVID-conscious and operating safely. You don’t want to put your own safety at risk.
16. Be a Responsible Tourist
As a tourist in a foreign country, it’s your responsibility to be aware of their local COVID laws and safety recommendations. You must follow their rules, not just to keep yourself safe and healthy, but the local population too. The best practices of a responsible, COVID–conscious tourist include:
- Wearing a well-fitted mask in crowded and enclosed public spaces
- Maintaining good personal hygiene: washing your hands thoroughly and regularly
- Avoiding busy spaces and maintaining social distancing
- Using contactless payment methods wherever possible
17. Beware That COVID Might Affect Your Experience
The world has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Have in mind that your new trip during COVID might be different to any previous holiday experiences you’ve had.
For example, hotels will now have certain health and safety measures in place that weren’t there before, such as social distancing rules, fewer dining options (ie. no buffet), or minimised access to facilities like the pool.
It’s best to lower your expectations. Speak to your travel providers if you’ve any concerns or questions about the service you’re expecting.
18. Restrict Contact With Others Before Your Trip
We recommend restricting your contact with others in the run-up to your trip. Do all that you can to avoid contracting COVID – especially if the country you’re visiting requires you to take a pre-departure test. If you do test positive, you won’t be able to board the flight, train or ferry.
19. Choose To Book on a Credit Card If Possible
It may be a safer option to book a trip on your credit card because there’s quicker and more reliable refund options with credit card companies. When you book a trip on a credit card, you may be entitled to claim the money back through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
In instances where your trip has been cancelled due to COVID, or if a travel company goes into administration, you can contact your credit card company for a refund – if a full refund is unavailable with the supplier themselves.
20. Be Prepared for Things to Go Wrong
Travelling during COVID is unpredictable, more so than when travel restrictions and rules weren’t in place. Some things are simply out of your control – they can go wrong and complicate your trip. So prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
21. Don’t Forget to Have a Good Time
Although we believe it’s good to stay vigilant during your travels, don’t obsess. You’ve come away to have a good time – that’s why you’re there, right?
So try and relax…have fun but not in a way that puts you at risk. It’s all about making good choices.
Have you got any COVID travel questions?
Our customer support team can answer any questions you may have or provide some all-important COVID travel advice. Submit a request query and a member of staff will respond as soon as possible. Our core business hours for general enquiries are 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday.
We also have a comprehensive Help Centre. Here you’ll find the answers to the most common COVID travel testing questions. And our reviews can help you see what your fellow travellers are saying about us too.