Corona virus, also known as COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV. The #1 topic everybody seems to be talking about right now. After China, Italy has closed their borders, now US locks down for Europeans and who knows which country will follow? Many attractions in Japan such as Disney Tokyo closed down. Cruise ships are not allowed to dock. Travelers worry about their upcoming trips. What shall we do: to travel or not to travel?
Corona leads to difficult dilemmas since money and health are at risk. Corona and travel is not a desirable combo. I do not have a crystal ball, so I cannot predict the future. Nevertheless I will share my personal thoughts and insights on this type of situation, tips to consider and what we can learn from it?
Like any disaster
This whole situation with Corona may feel new, and in some ways it is (like the mass hysteria on social media), but in general it is not. Crisis situations making traveling more challenging or even impossible occurs more often than many people realize on a daily basis. The escalation of a regional conflict leading to war, Ebola in Africa, SARS in 2003, the volcanic ash cloud as a result of Icelandic volcano eruption, huge fires in Australia and California, terrorist attacks in New York City, Berlin and Sri Lanka… Shit happens all around the world.There seems always to be something bad going on somewhere around the world. Some bigger than others; we will have to deal with them, whether you are just visiting or a local. Only you may not be confronted with it personally, while now with Corona it seems to concern almost the entire Planet Earth.
Without having to sit behind the geraniums for the rest of your life: safety first. What someone considers a safe situation is quite a personal experience and opinion. Life involves risks, travel involves risks; some people are willing to take more risks than others. Nevertheless your Ministry of Foreign Affairs does give official travel safety advice, based on formal contacts in the countries, which is connected to things like insurance. Please consider adhering to those.
- Orange is already questionable, whether you should travel there or not, I would only if absolutely necessary. But try to avoid.
- Red means: no go. I would strongly advise not to travel to any country marked (mainly or completely) red, unless you work as a doctor for the Red Cross or something? Most insurances do not cover traveling to red marked areas and your embassy will unlikely be able to help you there in case of an emergency.
Corona vs. Flu
The travel advice per country given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs may change – like a situation in a country – by the blink of an eye. Now with Corona it is hard to predict where things will be going. Apparently this Corona virus is more than the Flu, mortality rates will rise if the healthcare system cannot cope with the big stream of ill people at once. Thousands of people die every year because of the Flu but no-one seems to worry about that. These viral diseases ask for a similar approach: stay at home and avoid contact with others.
Now with Corona the governments sets formal restrictions in order to limit the spreading. People are worried. (Social) media feeds the mass hysteria. Time will tell where this will end. Let us hope the measures will help and we can go back to normal as soon as possible, but I am afraid this might take awhile. Take care of your personal hygiene, like washing your hands frequently and sneezing in your arm. However I do not feel like hoarding toilet paper, do you? Facemasks are not going to help you much either. Stay at home as much as possible.
This year I have (or should I say had?) stacks of travel plans. After Thailand and Egypt earlier this year, I booked several trips already, like Georgia, Ukraine, Iceland, and was planning for more… No idea if I can still take these trips or not, it will all depend on the situation. As long as Ukraine and Georgia will stay orange, it is not an option to travel there and we would have to postphone at least those trips. The travel industry will be hit hard by the Corona crisis.
Half empty flights, empty squares and closed hotels in ghost towns, the only lines at the airport are at the rebooking desk, a tremendous drop in travel bookings… Airlines like United and Qantas have announced to cut back their flight schedules as a result of Corona virus. No-one knows exactly where this whole situation is going or will end. That it has an impact is a given fact. Let’s hope for the best.
The good sides
This may sound weird but yes there are good sides to this Corona virus for tourists. Like these.
- Flight ticket prices go down as airlines get desperate to seduce travelers to book a flight since many do not dare at the moment. If an airline cancels too many flights on a certain line, they may lose their rights to fly on that line. I saw tickets to Thailand for around EUR 400 which are normally at least EUR 650 or EUR 900 in high season. Set a price alarm on Skyscanner and see what happens! But try to postpone booking until this crisis is under control, or only book flexible tickets for the 2nd half of this year.
- Silence on the streets. Wow imagine how it will be right now to take a picture at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, without any other people on it… Or Times Sq in New York City for example, completely empty. Crazy!
- Less pressure on booking trips for the high season this summer as soon as possible, due to the fact that many people are holding back their travel plans until further notice. So more choice in hotel accommodation for example for those who dare to book now already.
- This is the time to book under better conditions than normal. For rental car bookings, Sunny Cars offers the possibility to cancel up to 4 hours instead of 24 hours in advance. KLM offers free postponement of flights without additional charge. If you can get a voucher, you may be able to rebook for a much lower rates.
The bad sides
The bad sides of the Corona virus outbreak are more obvious, which does not make it any easier to swallow this bitter pill.
- When traveling you may catch the disease and contribute distributing it around the world. People die because of Corona. We all have a responsibility in this. The only ethical question is: to what extend? Many companies force workers to stay at home for two weeks after certain travels for example. It may limit our mobility and freedom temporarily for the sake of our health.
- Lots of insecurity and risks. Incomplete, confusing or no information at all. With countries closing their borders all of a sudden (China, Italy), start to get more selective which countries to allow anybody from (Israel), or temporarily stopped issuing any tourist visa (Vietnam), etc. These can mess up your travel plans tremendously. Or you may even end up in a hospital somewhere abroad.
- When you cannot go on a trip, whether it is your own decision or due to negative travel advice, a lot of costs can be involved. Money you sorked and saved hard for. In addition, for example many companies will not pay their workers while the two weeks at home in quarantine they will demand from those who travelled abroad. Sad.
Tips for Corona & Travel
Cancel or postpone trips and do not book any new trips to countries that are currently marked as red zone by your Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately the list of countries and areas affected by the Corona virus continues to grow rapidly. I would strongly recommend not to book any new trips until the situation improves and is under control.
Try to avoid any travel and stay at home. Especially if you have any symptoms, do not travel at all to avoid disease spreading! If you are pregnant or traveling with young children or babies, have a chronic disease or weak immunity, consult your doctor by phone. Now is not the best time to travel!
Check Facebook travel groups, especially those who are continent or country specific, for the latest news on the status of a country, whether they still admit foreigners, especially of certain nationalities. This may change very rapidly. Despite the fact that Facebook includes a lot of nonsense, it may also be very helpful in avoiding situations like getting stuck somewhere. Nobody can predict the future but additional information on the local sitiation can be useful.
Should you not be able to resist booking any new trip:
- Try to book for a period of time further in the year, like late summer or autumn for example, not for this spring. Even better: wait until things are under control and book last-minute when travel is possible again.
- Book a package trip via a licensed, professional travel advisor; in the Netherlands that should be a member of trade association ANVR, SGR and the Calamity Fund. Package trips are more likely to be eligible for change or refund in case the trip can no longer be carried out by the travel organization due to negative travel advice issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Avoid countries that have Corona cases already. Even if they are not marked red (yet), that may be about to change soon.
- Book trips to destinations closer to home, preferably at car distance, or only a cheap flight ticket (that would not be a disaster to loose).
- Set a price alarm on Skyscanner, but at the end, do not book through a broker website (better direct with airline or reliable travel agent) as brokers are often hard to reach in case if any issues. Brokers are mainly online entrepreneurs, they do not have the staff to service situations like this.
- Check flight ticket conditions carefully; inflexible tickets that cannot be changed at all or only against a high fee are not the smartest choice. A travel agent can help you with this. If you do have such ticket already and are scheduled to fly on short notice, you may want to consider – how terrible this may sound – to take your loss and travel another time. Contacting the airline or broker may be difficult in times of crisis, although worth a shot. You do not want to risk the chance of getting stuck somewhere.
- If you decide not to book via a travel agent, but online at booking.com for example, select and book hotels, rental cars, etc. that can be cancelled for free as late as possible. Be picky.
- Book direct flights, avoid stopovers. A stopover involves extra risks.
- Short term travel: let’s say you are not admitted to country A due to your nationality based on Corona cases, and you have to relocate to country B, if you have a choice, try to pick a country with many natural attractions, low cost of living and good healthcare system. Forests and beaches will not close as quickly as theme parks or museums for example. Although in case of complete lockdown, people are not even allowed to walk on the streets any more.
Do not travel when you cannot afford it. Always make sure you have a financial buffer for worst case scenarios. This counts in general in my opinion, but you would be surprised how many people loan money (whether it is on their credit card or some another source) to catch some sun abroad. In case of health disasters like Corona this can unfold as a financial disaster too. Many insurances cover only a few or no extra hotel nights you have to stay longer at a holiday destination than originally planned due to Corona or another disaster.
A former colleague of mine was in Hong Kong when a typhoon hit in 2018. She had to stay like a week longer in her hotel. Fortunately eventually her travel insurance reimbursed all extra nights, but she had to pre-pay it on the spot herself first. Or for example people now experience this because Corona broke out in their hotel they are staying at, and everybody has to stay in quarantine there, like recently in a hotel in Tenerife for example.
Your government or the tour operator has no control over this situation abroad. You would hope the hotel concerned would not charge you anything for the extra nights, or very low rates, but you may be unpleasantly surprised… In case of a package trip, the tour operator often only takes care of max the extra first three nights you have to stay longer. The return flight, extra meals or other costs are often all for the account of the customers (or their travel insurance – if it covers).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Keep an eye on the Travel Advice website of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stay up-to-date as the situation continues to evolve. In The Netherlands this is website is called Nederland Wereldwijd. This website includes safety information for all countries around the world and now also a particular page about Corona virus in The Netherlands. Familiarizing yourself with the safety in the country you want to travel to, whether there are any red or orange zones, particular safety tips to take into account, etc. is something I would always recommend, in any case, but now with Corona it becomes extra critical.
The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an app called ‘Reizen app Buitenlandse Zaken’ which you can download on your smartphone and set your future destinations as favorites. In case something changes in the travel advice, you get a push message. The app also includes contact information of the relevant authorities and local emergency services, and what to do in case of an emergency like hospitalization or missing passport. In addition they post new messages on Twitter and there is the possibility to register your travels with the embassy.
It occurs more and more often that certain countries no longer allow any person to enter with a certain nationality. It does not matter if you stayed in another country during the last year. Like visa rules. Chinese and Italians hardly enter any country anymore. And that could happen to your nationality soon too. Israel is already ‘threatening’ with it. In such a situation, now moreover with Corona, many travel agencies and airline will not be able to help a customer if they get refused access to the designated country due to regulation. They can carry or carried out your trip properly, it is ultimately not their problem that you have a certain nationality and that you no longer enter the country you chose as travel destination. This may sound harsh but this is reality.
Everybody is losing money because of this lousy situation, except for those who purchased all face masks and now try to sell them for five times the normal price… Rebooking your trip to an equivalent alternative is often not possible, unless you pay a high fee or booked a trip that has such condition standard. Especially challenging shortly before departure. What you see is that some companies make their cancellation policies more flexible to attract customers despite Corona, but that usually only counts for new bookings and not exisiting. Many airports now check people’s temperature upon arrival, who knows what happens when they pick you out?
Make sure you get a good travel and cancellation insurance and check your current insurances carefully, traveling or not. If you happen to be somewhere abroad, and Corona breaks out, you want to be ensured that at least your insurance will cover the costs of your care should you get hospitalized for example, or need pills. Whatever you need to recover and return back home safely and healthy.
Carry your health and travel insurance cards with you always. Make sure you and your travel companion has your travel insurance numbers, or at least the phone number of someone at home who does. A general rule of travel actually, but many forget, now in case of the threat of Corona spreading you should definitely not forget this!
Fear or change of mind are usually not a valid reason for cancellation, thus most insurance companies.
It’s all about the details
Check your travel and cancellation insurance policies. Do they refund any non-package trips? Can you file a claim in case of cancellations due to red zone negative travel advice? Things like that. In The Netherlands there are huge differences between these insurance policies. Independer offers a tool to compare the conditions. In many travel insurance policies, negative travel advice (red) is excluded from coverage. Quite important. In The Netherlands, ANWB’s travel and cancellation insurance is said to be one of the best, but it also depends on the time of booking. Usually the trip and the insurance must have been booked/paid before the issue started. Cancellation insurance usually can only be booked within 7 days after booking the trip itself.
Internationally, when considering a new travel insurance, you may want to look into insurances that offer ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage. Then the standard reasoning that is normally needed for a cancellation insurance to pay out, like the death of a 1st line family member, is no longer needed, then any reason is valid, like fear for Corona virus, having Corona virus yourself or closed borders due to Corona virus? Someone told me that Covermore has a specific travel/cancellation insurance that allows you to cancel your trip up to 48 hours before departure without any reason. I do not have any personal experience with them, but could be worth checking out? I do assume such insurance will cost more than a regular travel and cancellation insurance without this possibility to cancel so last-minute without a valid reason.
Read all about travel insurances in my earlier article Better safe than sorry: travel insurance for dummies.
To me this whole Corona situation confirms again that booking through a licensed, professional travel advisor is a smart idea. I would strongly advise doing so for any future travel plans you may not want to put on hold.
- A good travel advisor can support you no matter what shit happens. You contact them, they will do their best to arrange whatever is possible. This is their job, they have a lot of experience and want to make you as a customer happy wherever possible.
- When you booked your trip via a travel agent, at least you have one point of contact that has connections in the big messy world of travel, and the latest updates in their industry, and/or at least he/she can help you to find out the right/latest answers to your questions. This may avoid having to search online, endless waiting lines over the phone with airlines, etc.
- Sometimes travel agents may seem more expensive than online, which is by far not always reality. But often they also arrange better conditions, with better cancellation policies, enlarging your chances to get a (partly) refund or postpone should you not be able to go on a trip due to the Corona virus. Travel agents know the small letters. Sometimes there will not be a refund possible, but sometimes there will, the travel agent can sort it all out for you.
- Professional travel agents have been educated about and have experience with how to handle travel insurances cases. They can help you with submitting any claim and make sure the insurance does not fool you while you have the right on a refund.
- Listen to your travel advisor at all times. If they advise you not to go to a certain destination that you have booked a trip to, and you decide to ignore that advice, you may get stuck somewhere in Dubai or wherever. Do not expect help then, only extra costs and frustration.
The following are valid for booking with a travel agent in The Netherlands in particular.
- Package deals are more likely to be eligible for a refund or an all-in-one postponement of your trip, at least in The Netherlands when you booked through a travel agent that is an ANVR (Dutch travel association) member. No guarantees but better chances.
- With Corona it is not unlikely that some travel companies may file for bankruptcy at some point. Many companies nowadays depend on their income from tourists. In The Netherlands, book with a travel agent that is SGR member, which gives more security that your money is safe and does not evaporate in case of bankruptcy of the travel organization.
- In case of non-Corona related crisis while traveling, for example because of a natural disaster or serious riots break out your travel plans must change or even go back home earlier, a Dutch travel agent that is a member of the Calamity Fund (Calamiteitenfonds) can help you where your travel insurance may not. Calamity Fund does not count for trips that did not start yet and you should have paid the contribution with your booking via the agent.
- Your travel agent should have information about which airlines stopped flying on Schiphol Amsterdam airport for now. Otherwise this may be a good source.
- Here is an overview of which Dutch cancellation insurance covers what in case of Corona.
Should you live in another country than The Netherlands, it might be wise to check whether there is something similar in your country.
Let me end this article with: stay calm and respect measures to limit the spreading of diseases like Corona. Consider your upcoming travels and your health carefully. Health is always more important than money. Check your insurance. Let us hope and pray that this circus will be over soon. Take care!
Other travel dilemmas
In terms of ‘to travel or not to travel’, climate change is another travel dilemma I recently wrote an article about. Check it out: 20 ideas how to travel climate friendlier (without becoming a smelly hippie or couch potato)
Disclaimer: this blog post reflects my personal opinion only. No rights or claims can be obtained based on this article. This blog post contains affiliate links to support this website. For more information click here.
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