Thinking of taking an international trip? You're such a contrarian. Only about a third of Americans are comfortable with traveling internationally now, according to the latest figures from Morning Consult.
Why the hesitation? It could be all the required paperwork: passports, coronavirus tests and vaccination documentation. But mostly, people are afraid of crossing the border because of changing health and safety requirements, says Greg Pearson, CEO of FocusPoint International, a global assistance company.
"They don't want to get stuck," he says.
But if you can overcome your worries about international travel, there's a reward: lower prices, no crowds and a better overall experience. Question is, how do you get that? It boils down to a few essential tips that will help you survive your next trip abroad. They include acting soon to secure the lowest prices, minding the paperwork requirements, and getting enough protection.
"International travel has always required more planning than domestic in most cases," says Lindsey Roeschke, Morning Consult's travel and hospitality analyst. "That being said, it can still be done."
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If you're thinking of taking an international trip, do it now, experts say. "For the next few months, destinations will remain far less crowded than they were before the pandemic," says Justin Smith, president of The Evolved Traveler, a member of Ensemble Travel Group. "Travelers can have a far richer experience."
How rich? Well, imagine being at the Pyramids with 200 other people instead of 2,000. It'll feel like you have the place to yourself. You may not have that opportunity again for years, if ever.
Just a few extra steps
If you're afraid of the extra paperwork, relax. "Essentially, you can do all of the same things you could before the pandemic, just with a few added steps of paperwork and vaccination proof," says Henley Vazquez, co-founder of the travel advisory site Fora.
For example, the French have required health or vaccine passes for entry to cultural or leisure establishments since last summer (starting Monday, they will no longer be necessary). Getting one was actually easy: you'd just take your U.S. vaccination card into any pharmacy to get the health pass, which you'll then flash for entry to restaurants, museums and hotels. Vazquez says if people understood how little extra effort it took, they might book an international trip.
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Step one to overcoming your fears: Get protection. Lots of protection. Chris Hutchins, creator of All the Hacks, a podcast that features travel advice, says COVID-19-related travel insurance is a must.
"If you test positive abroad, you won't be able to return to the U.S., which means you could be stuck with expenses to change flights and extend your accommodations," he says. He uses Trawick International's Safe Travels Voyager policy and also recommends looking at protection from Covac Global, which will cover the cost to transport you home if you test positive.
There are other ways of making sure you're covered. A membership in Medjet Assist for medical evacuations or FocusPoint's Care & Assistance Plus, which handles security and medical evacuations, can make your international trip as close to a sure thing as it gets.
Book your hotel at the last minute
Hotels are still hurting for guests in many international destinations. That won't last forever. On a recent trip to Costa Rica, Janice Lintz decided to take advantage of the buyer's market. "I booked most of my hotels only a few days in advance, and some as late as the night before arrival," says Lintz, a disability consultant from New York.
She says she saved more than 60% by booking directly with the hotel and about 50% through online travel agencies.
"There was plenty of availability," she says.
Note: If you try this, make sure you're extra flexible, and research the hotels at your destination before you arrive. If they fill up fast, you could end up sleeping on a park bench.
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But book your airline ticket now
You'll need to buy your airline ticket three to four months in advance of your travel date if you're interested in getting the lowest airfare. That's according to Expedia's 2022 Travel Hacks Report.
"Timing is key," says Christie Hudson, an Expedia spokeswoman. "August is the cheapest month to fly internationally. Travelers can save almost 20%, and because this is a less busy time to travel, they’ll likely save a bit on lodging as well."
According to Expedia, Sunday is the ideal day to book an international flight, providing additional savings of nearly 10%.
Make an appointment for your COVID test
Chances are, many countries will still have coronavirus testing requirements in place this spring and summer, says Christine Petersen, CEO of smarTours. "Book a COVID test ahead of time to save time," she recommends. "You could spend hours waiting in line, taking precious time away from your trip." Tour operators like hers make arrangements ahead of time for the whole group so they have more time for a vacation.
Prepare for quarantine
It may seem unlikely you'll find yourself in quarantine, given all the loosening of restrictions and mask requirements. But it's not out of the question. Remember, no one expected the omicron variant. “Have access to funds to pay for unexpected quarantine expenses," advises Dan Stretch, operations manager for Global Rescue. "Pack things to keep you occupied if you’re unfortunate and get quarantined. Ask hotel booking agents what their policy is if you need to cancel or delay due to COVID."
Take a deep breath – if you can
The pandemic has turned international travel upside- down. There are restrictions and vaccination requirements. And one of the worst parts is air travel, says Warren Jaferian, dean of international education at Endicott College.
"Being on an airplane can feel like you're a lab animal," he says. "Just breathe through your mask and try to relax. That's the best medicine."
Actually, that may be the best medicine for any upcoming trip: Just breathe.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: International travel hacks: When to book flights and hotels, more