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Anxious about travelling abroad again? Here’s how to go on a foreign holiday during a pandemic

The world is slowly reopening, but foreign travel is still a minefield. Sarah Marshall addresses some pressing worries.

Sarah Marshall
Wednesday 18 August 2021 07:30 BST
It’s take-off for holidays (Alamy/PA)
It’s take-off for holidays (Alamy/PA)

Booking a foreign holiday used to be pretty simple – a case of choosing the best beach or the cheapest package deal. But it has become a whole lot more complicated as a consequence of Covid.

While many of us are relieved we can travel again after months of pent up frustration, the idea of actually going through with it still feels daunting.

Safety, logistics and ethical choices are all key concerns. Here we address some widespread worries…

Be honest, how clean are planes really?

From sticky fingerprints on tray tables to chocolate wrappers stuffed down the back of seats, planes have a bit of a bad cleanliness rep.  Lately, one of the main concerns shared by travellers is the risk of catching Covid in a confined cabin space. Worries about the dangers of inhaling “recycled air” are compounded by a fear of being stuck in a breeding ground for germs.

But the reality is very different. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), cabin air is refreshed between 20 and 30 times per hour – 10 times more than most office buildings, meaning it’s probably safer to hop on a plane than clock in for a day’s work.

As for the air you breathe onboard, 50% is fresh air and the remaining is High-Efficiency Particulate Air with 99.993% of bacteria and viruses removed. HEPA filters have been fitted in aircrafts for some time and are also used in hospital operating theatres.

The seat configuration on planes also helps; with everyone facing the same direction, seatbacks act as barriers and air is circulated from top to bottom. All airlines still require passengers to wear masks – an additional reassurance – and movement of passengers is kept to a minimum.

Is it better to travel with an tour operator?

With more companies shifting online in the last few years, some travellers had been switching to booking elements of their holidays independently. But the pandemic has shone a spotlight on why the role of the travel agent is more important than ever.

Abercrombie & Kent who have been selling holidays for over 60 years, stress the value of their flexible booking policy. All new bookings made before the end of this year for travel before December 31, 2022, can be changed or postponed for Covid-related reasons up to 15 days before departure. They also have their own global network of ground handlers – rather than relying on third parties – giving them a better handle on rapidly changing situations while allowing a swifter response time.

When choosing an agent, check to see if they are ABTA bonded and hold an ATOL licence. ABTA (The Association Of British Travel Agents) protect bookings for land-only, cruise or coach holidays departing from the UK, while ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) cover packages of flights and hotels or flight only.

ABTA ensure their member agents protect their holidays by law. ATOL protection means that if a travel company goes bust, you will either get a refund or be able to complete your trip at no additional cost. Find more information and travel tips at and

What happens if my pre-departure test is positive?

It’s everyone’s biggest worry: what happens if I catch Covid while overseas? Anyone who does test positive will need to follow a country’s individual quarantine requirements – even if you have no obvious symptoms.

Tour operators can help you reschedule flights and extend stays, but they aren’t obliged to cover your costs. That’s why it’s vital – more than ever – to have travel insurance. Look for policies that include pre-departure cancellation if travellers test positive, emergency medical care and repatriation should they contract the virus whilst travelling, and any contribution to quarantine costs.

2CFR169 Difficult holiday travel during the corona virus pandemic

If you’re going on holiday in the EU, make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to access public health care services.

How can I find out where I can go on holiday?

Restrictions are probably the biggest hurdle for anyone travelling at the moment, with every country setting its own requirements. First of all, it’s important to work out which countries are open. The UK’s traffic light system signals which destinations can enter the UK quarantine-free, but you’ll also need to check whether the same destinations are allowing British travellers to visit.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website ( shares details for each country, while IATA have also created a quick view map where you can click on each destination to find all information needed for entry (

Airlines are another useful resource. Most have a section detailing up-to-date information on every destination they sell.

I’m afraid of travel shaming. Is it irresponsible to travel right now?

Throughout the pandemic, when travel was heavily restricted, anyone daring to make a dash across international borders was subject to “travel shaming” – being made to feel guilty for going on holiday or working abroad. There were accusations of travellers bringing variants into the country and anger that some people could move freely while others were stuck indoors – not helped by images of reality TV stars and bloggers on “work trips” to Dubai.

Whatever the motivations for moaning, it’s a different situation now. As restrictions ease and people start to move around, there is a growing confidence and greater acceptance of travel. So there’s no need to hide holiday plans or turn overseas visits into a covert operation.

Vaccination and testing requirements to enter most countries rapidly reduce the chance of further fuelling the pandemic, and anyone still worried about having a negative impact should flip the argument and consider how beneficial travel can be. Many poorer countries – particularly in Africa and Asia – heavily depend on tourism revenue, and often the long-term damage caused by a loss of income is equally as pernicious as Covid-19.

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