The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about our way of life, and travel is no exception. It was at a standstill for most of 2020 but with the emergence of new vaccines, many of us are hopeful that 2021 can include a bit more movement.

If you are planning a trip for this year, there are a few things you should know about.

Choose flexible fares and booking options

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that more than ever before, flexibility needs to be a key consideration. Travel guidelines and restrictions, and even if your plans appear to be set in stone, a positive COVID test or outbreak in your destination (or the region you live) can turn things upside down pretty quickly.

Fortunately, many airlines have dropped change fees, making it easier and cheaper to simply reschedule your flight if needed, but you should double check this before booking. Also, be sure to check cancellation policies for things like accommodation and activities, especially if you’re booking alternate places to stay through AirBnB and the like.

Stay up to date on travel guidelines

As we learned last March, travel guidelines and restrictions can change quickly, so it’s more important than ever to stay abreast of ongoing developments in both your destination and country of origin.

At time of writing (Jan 2021), UK travellers are not being accepted into many countries, due to the widespread outbreaks of the virus in the UK. Check the government’s Foreign Travel Advice page for up-to-date details on where you can and can’t go.

Travel insurance is essential

As travel agents we would have always said travel insurance was kind of essential regardless of global pandemics – the bills to pay for medical treatment abroad are staggeringly expensive. But it’s now more important than ever to make sure you have insurance, to cover you for cancellations and the like as well as any medical reasons.

Sign up to alerts direct from your airline

If you book through a third party, like a travel agent, the airline may not notify that agent about cancelled flights, especially if it’s last minute. Once you know what airline you’re flying with, you can sign up for text alerts and notifications directly from the airline about your flight.

You can typically do this by either creating an account on the airline’s website and signing up for flight status notifications, or by downloading the airline app and signing up for notifications through the app.

Book now to take advantage of flexibility and waivers

Many airlines have extended their COVID waivers and extended flexible policies into the first few months of 2021, so it’s worth taking advantage while you can. As the world starts to open up again, this kind of flexibility we’re currently seeing likely won’t last, so make the most of it!

British Airways, for example, are currently allowing passengers to change both dates and destinations for no fee.

Understand the policies of your ticket

Airline ticket policies can be confusing, but it’s important to properly understand what your rights are as a consumer during this time, so make an effort to read the Ts & Cs.

For example, while most airlines have waived change fees, you’re not necessarily covered for voluntary cancellations. You’ll typically need to pay a fee to get a refund, but this depends on the airline in question – some of the budget ones aren’t offering any refunds at all, for example.

If you have travel credit, find out when it expires

If you had a trip booked last year that got cancelled because of COVID, there’s a good chance you were offering travel credit, allowing you to use the money already paid to rebook once it’s possible to travel again. When everything kicked off, these credits were generally valid for a year, but since the pandemic is still ongoing, many airlines have extended the validity. Again, though, this will depend on the individual airline, so it’s important to find out where you stand.

Log in to the airline website with your reservation number to view the waiver that applies to your credit, and double check to see when it expires.

Choose a destination that’s open to UK travellers

At the exact time of writing, there are very few destinations accepting UK travellers, and at any rate, UK citizens are currently barred from international travel as per our own government’s guidelines. Things will open up again though as the weeks draw on, and when they do, be alert as to what countries are available and what countries aren’t.

Think local

Again, with movement currently heavily restricted in the UK due to a nation-wide lockdown that looks as though it’ll continue until at least mid-February, even travel within UK borders is out the question for now. But once lockdown is eased again, it’s worth looking around at some of the amazing places the UK has to offer.

Or dream big

We emphasise the word ‘dream’ for now, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you planning that trip of a lifetime and researching all the incredible places in the world you’d like to see. Sometimes the planning is much fun as the real thing (well, not quite, but you catch our drift). Check out some of these places to see around the world virtually for inspiration, and also check out our top recommendations for travel in 2021!

Book early to get a great deal

Once the world officially opens back up with the international rollouts of the vaccines, EVERYONE is going to travel somewhere, and prices will likely shoot up. But right now, deals have never been better, flights never cheaper.

Get practical and admin-y stuff sorted now

Right now is a perfect time to do all that boring (but essential) stuff, so when you’re able to travel again, you pretty much just have to book your ticket. Check the expiry date on your passport – if it’s need renewing, get it done (the passport office isn’t too busy right now, surprisingly enough, so you’ll get it much quicker than usual!). Shop around for the best travel insurance policies. Update your luggage, if it’s seen better days. Consider getting an international drivers license – packed trains and buses might not seem so appealing these days.

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