A lot has changed in the travel world since the pre-pandemic days of 2019. Should you bring your vaccine card? Do you need additional travel insurance?
Here are some key travel planning and packing tips to navigate the new normal ahead of your next — and maybe first — COVID-19-era trip.
1. Take proof of your vaccination status
International travelers will almost certainly need proof of vaccination as more countries require it and/or a negative COVID-19 test result to enter or avoid quarantine restrictions.
But even domestic travelers may need proof depending on where they’re heading. California requires attendees of indoor events with 5,000 or more people to prove they’ve been vaccinated or show a negative test result. In New York City, you’ll need proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms, concerts and performances, with enforcement beginning on Sept. 13.
Restaurants, bars and other establishments nationwide also require vaccination proof to enter. To avoid such limitations, pack your vaccine card.
If you’re hesitant to risk losing your physical copy, some apps, like Clear’s Health Pass or New York state’s Excelsior Pass, store digital versions of your card and may work at some establishments. At the very least, save a photo of your vaccination card on your phone.
2. Consider purchasing travel insurance
Even if you’ve never purchased travel insurance in the past, 2021 might be your year.
Some travel credit cards include travel insurance as a benefit, which can come to your rescue in case of an unexpected illness, delayed or canceled flights or weather-related events. This coverage could be especially useful if a COVID-19 test comes back positive and you can no longer travel.
Be aware that disinclination to travel because of COVID-19 isn’t usually a covered reason. That’s when “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage — often offered as an upgrade on some travel insurance plans — comes in handy. When you purchase CFAR coverage, you’ll typically get 50%-75% of the nonrefundable trip purchases back, no matter the reason you cancel.
3. Double-check your passport early
Some countries require that passports be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. And considering that passport processing times are slower than usual, you may want to renew your passport now.
Here’s just how bad the backlog is: As of August 2021, the U.S. Department of State says you should expect to receive your new passport as late as 18 weeks after your application is received (it used to be about six weeks, pre-pandemic). While you can pay $60 for expedited service, it could still take up to 12 weeks to get your new passport.
4. Apply for TSA PreCheck
Airport security lines are notoriously long in summer, but the Transportation Security Administration was bracing for especially busy travel through Labor Day.
“For those passengers returning to travel for the first time since 2019, be aware that some processes at the checkpoint have changed and some, like removing your shoes, remain in place,” Darby LaJoye, the TSA’s executive assistant administrator for security operations, said in a statement. “Travelers should plan to arrive early at the airport to complete the airport screening process.”
But you won’t have to remove your shoes or arrive as early if you have TSA PreCheck, which is a security clearance program that lets you pass through airport security in a separate, expedited line.
While the application fee is $85, many travel credit cards reimburse it if you pay with the card. International travelers may consider applying for Global Entry, which will expedite you through security upon returning to the U.S. It also comes with TSA PreCheck, for a $100 fee that’s similarly reimbursable with the right card.
5. Pack multiple masks
You know you have to pack a mask to get on the airplane, but you might need one throughout your trip, as some regions and businesses still have mask requirements. Consider packing extra. You might prefer an N95 mask on the plane, but if you’re planning a hard workout or heading someplace humid, pack some disposable masks you can toss when your face gets sweaty.
The bottom line
Your packing list will likely include items you want readily available in your carry-on bag, like a mask, hand sanitizer and water bottle. But there are other items you can’t just purchase at the convenience store the day before your flight — you’ll need to prepare for these in advance.
An up-to-date passport is imperative for international travel. Domestic and international travelers alike might consider joining expedited security programs, getting travel insurance and taking proof of vaccination to ensure smooth sailing for the trip.
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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.