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How to Holiday Abroad During Covid-19

Stu Jarvis Covid Holiday
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Assuming you are legally entitled to do so, if you want to holiday abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic you most certainly can!

There are amazing deals to be had as, sadly, the global travel industry is suffering badly. The good news for you is that there is the chance to see world famous sights without the normal crush of tourists, upgrade your hotels and enjoy the availability of every flight, train, bus seat and sun lounger that you can imagine.

On a less avaricious note, you will also be providing much needed income to individuals whose livelihoods have all but evaporated with little sign of returning any time soon.

We flew from the UK to Brazil in December 2020 for a month of travelling with our 6 month old baby boy. Whilst that will not be for everyone, this is how and why we decided to travel abroad during Covid-19, with as many useful links included as I can.

Select Your Destination

This is clearly your biggest decision. Assuming that your host country is – and will continue to – accept international travellers, this is how to make your choice.

Formal Travel Advice

What does your government say and what about your destination’s advice? Find your country’s travel advice here.

  1. Your destination is on your government’s ‘safe travel’ list? Go forth and book your trip. Little of this article concerns you.
  2. Your destination requires a Covid test pre- arrival? This is surprisingly easy to do now. If you are in the UK, through personal experience, and heavily based on cost plus speed of response, I recommend Collinson.
  3. Your destination requires quarantine upon arrival? That was a ‘no’ for us but if it was in a villa in the Maldives, perhaps you can make this work for you?
  4. Your government advises, “against all but essential travel.” This advice is for your safety and currently covers most countries in the world, including our destination of Brazil. Read on for how we got comfortable with our destination and what happened when we were there.

Covid Research

Statistics

There are a lot of statistics out there to read. Note, I said statistics. To travel during Covid, you need to make your own mind up and not rely on opinion articles unless they are rigorously based on facts and figures.

I found the New York Times map and data table to be the clearest, most concise and up to date resource. NB: We took the data provided by Brazil to be correct and that in itself is a judgement call to consider.

At the time we travelled, and at the time of writing, Brazil’s per 100,000 infection rate remains below the UK. All things being equal, it was ‘safer’ to be in Brazil than the UK.

Seasonality

The colder winter months seem to have heralded a ‘second wave’ for many countries. Is your destination in the depths of winter or entering it?

Conversely, Brazil was entering it’s Summer with increased sunshine and temperatures hitting 30°C, which seemed a better time to visit.

Host Country Approach to Covid

This may be trickier to discern but worth some Googling. For our destination, Brazilian President Bolsanaro has been (in)famous for down-playing Covid and wanting to see the country open for trade and visitors.

This is a double-edged sword. I did not expect us to find Brazil’s borders closed any time soon or our internal movement around the country restricted. I did wonder, if it meant we would be the only folks wearing a mask and constantly sanitising our hands. The data did not support the supposition that the Brazilian people were not taking Covid seriously, however.

Forced to Stay

Although we viewed it is a remote possibility, we still took our work lap-tops with us and were prepared live in a cheap AirBnB to wait out any border closures in either Brazil or UK.

It is a necessary question to ask yourself: what happens if you need to stay [much] longer than planned? Can you work remotely? Can you afford to pay rent or a mortgage at home and live overseas?

Alternatively, how creative are you at plotting an itinerary back to your home country, navigating various Covid rules and restrictions? I would love to tackle that sort of problem but not everyone would.

Get Insured

If your destination is on the ‘safe travel corridor’ then your normal insurance is probably fine. Just check the small print around Covid and flight cancellations. Make sure it is sufficient for your level of risk tolerance.

If your destination has a ‘travel advisory’ against going there, then you will need specialist insurance.

We used BattleFace, which covers countries to which the UK government advises against travelling and covers Covid illness. There is a useful quote calculator on their website, to see what it will cost. It’s not cheap, however. We paid £300 for 2 adults and a baby for one month in Brazil.

The Airport, the Flights

This is cited by many as their greatest fear but I would argue it need not be so, especially as most airlines are offering very flexible tickets.

Heathrow Terminal 5

We flew from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 which was empty. Everyone wore a mask and everyone socially distanced. Air travel at London’s Heathrow is down 80% meaning the vast terminals are desolate, or closed completely. This is the same story the world over.

We were fortunate to have access to British Airways’ “Galleries South Club” Business class lounge which was, relative to the whole airport, quite busy. The reason for this presumably being that the ‘North’ lounge has been closed, doubling the demand, and business travel is continuing at a greater percentage than recreational travel. On the plus side, the lounge had well considered social distancing measures in place. On the downside, it had slim pickings for food and drink. Just some sandwiches, fruit and biscuits, as well as a solitary barman trying to quench the thirsty travellers.

Airplane Air Supply

There is a long held mis-understanding about the air inside modern passenger aircraft. The air is not recirculated continuously for the duration of the flight, allowing you to pick up a smorgasbord of germs.

Modern aircraft replace all of the air in the cabin within three to six minutes. About 40% of air in the cabin is recirculated during this time, which is run through hospital operating theatre grade HEPA filters. Click here for an article on this by National Geographic.

That all said, airlines will require you to wear a face mask throughout the flight, which helps protect you and your fellow passengers.

Discount Flights

True, some flights have been cancelled but availability is still good, as are the prices; a major lure to travel during Covid-19 pandemic.

SkyScanner and Kayak’s search functions remain the best way to find the best prices. The latter also includes a useful Covid over-lay map, which is helpful.

‘Reward’ Flights

We were flying using airmiles from a British Airways Amex card and a companion voucher. To maximise the value of both, you need to fly further and preferably as far to the front of the plane as your points allow.

The benefit of travelling during Covid-19 to a country not on the UK Government’s ‘safe travel corridor’ was that the availability of ‘Reward Flight’ seats was astonishing. We simply would not have had the flexibility or availability in normal times.

Click here for my favourite website – Seat Spy – for checking what reward flights are available on BA and Virgin.

British Airways, Business Class to São Paulo

This will be an article in itself but suffice to say that the bright side was that cabin was around one third full, with all the usual blankets and pillows provided. I am sure Economy was the same, allowing everyone to stretch out across multiple seats.

The downside for us was that the provision on board does not resemble a Business class experience: no welcome on board drink pre- take-off, no menu card, the wine cellar has been reduced to a choice of two reds and two whites served in plastic miniature bottles. The meal service is no longer white china plates and polished cutlery but an Economy style silver foil container (a choice of meat or vegetarian) on a large tray as the main course.

British Airways Business Class Meal During Covid-19

Brazil Internal Flights

We took four internal flights in Brazil on LATAM and GOL. Every flight was absolutely full, as the airlines’ schedules have been markedly reduced to match their supply with the reduced demand. Whilst the domestic airport terminals were busy, everyone wore masks and hand sanitiser was available every turn.

British Airways, Business Class from Rio de Janeiro to London

There were only two discernible changes to the service on our return flight. One was the addition of a cardboard box in which our dinner was served and the second was that our cabin was completely empty. Not one other person. This allowed us to stand up a little more during the long flight, put our 6 month old baby into his own seat and take comfort that no one bar the fleeting appearance of the flight attendants were ever within two metres of us.

I am quite sure every cabin was sparsely populated and ideal for stretching flat out across multiple seats on a long-haul flight. A genuine perk of Covid-19 travel.

Hotels

Globally, there are some amazing prices and availability on offer. Our average cost per night in Brazil was c. £65 per night over one month, including extended stays at the Sheraton, Grand Hyatt and very well appointed local hotels. I simply cannot see these rates having been available in ‘normal’ times.

Take a look at what is on offer using the Booking.com search box on the top right hand side of this page.

In Brazil, as in other countries, hotel occupancy is restricted to 50%, meaning much more space and calm to enjoy the hotel pool, their beach, their restaurant(s), etc. Do check first if any facility you are looking forward to using has been closed for Covid.

Of note, in Brazil, your temperature will be taken when entering the hotel and the restaurant. Masks are required in all public spaces, including the gym, but not pool side and when in restaurants. Worth asking before you arrive what their protocols are.

[De]- Parting Thoughts

It is not for everyone and not without its risks but, with a little research, you could arrange a holiday of a lifetime at a time when I think we all need it most!

I had a Covid-19 antigen test five days after my return, which came back negative, and we quarantined for the UK’s statutory 10 days. I hope this underscores that sensible and safe travel can be accomplished during Covid-19, allowing you to see parts of the world in a way that you may not have otherwise been able.

The very last word, however, must be that you should only travel when you are legally entitled by your Government to do so. If you are displaying any symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for Covid-19, stay at home. There is a great opportunity to travel the world during Covid-19 but with that comes with an even greater responsibility to ensure that you do so safely.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. jameshutt78
    May 10, 2024 / 12:13 PM

    Thank you for generously sharing your expertise with us. Your article has been incredibly enlightening, offering valuable insights and recommendations that have significantly eased my journey preparations. I’ve been a dedicated follower of your blog for some time now, continually impressed by the depth and quality of your content.

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