Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 19th Jul 2021

So you’ve booked your time off from work and you're looking for a holiday. You're desperate to get abroad and you can risk being in an amber country if the regulations change while you're away. But you want to make the most of your holiday without worrying and you want to stay safe. So what do you bear in mind, in relation to COVID-19 and anything else?

Accommodation and activities – what to choose?

If you’re thinking about what type of accommodation to choose and how you’re going to spend your break, there are a few COVID-related considerations.

Many people prefer to stay in hotels because it provides a real break – no cooking, no washing up, no cleaning. In terms of understanding risk, though, visit the hotel’s website or contact them directly to learn more about the COVID-19 measures they are implementing in-property. 

This offers the most flexibility and the chance for you to stay in your established bubble, but of course, there’s nobody to do the washing up if you’re cooking for yourself. And do remember that restaurants may be restricting the number of customers to allow social distancing, so getting a restaurant table if you don't fancy cooking could be tougher. Your risks will be lower if you eat outside, but outside tables are likely to be a premium – do check with the restaurant if you can reserve an outside table. And once again, ask ahead of your visit for the company’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Organised touring holidays
If your idea of heaven is having someone else take charge of the itinerary and provide you with things to do, a package tour maybe your holiday of choice. If this includes coach outings, you will be spending a lot of time on a bus in close proximity with a group of other people. This does pose a risk of infection, but the risk is smaller if it’s the same group throughout the holiday. You’ll basically be forming your own social bubble. Tour companies will have measures and guidelines in place to minimise the risk of COVID-19: do ask them before you book to take you through them, so you are happy before booking and travelling.

Day trips
Taking individual day trips will mean you’re coming into contact with a different group of people each time. You may want to avoid long coach trips, as each trip will mean you’re in close contact with a coachload of fellow travellers. Open-air boat trips, by contrast, carry much lower risk. If you are looking to visit a local attraction or natural beauty site do research ahead of your visit the local council’s or attraction’s website for information about how they are managing coronavirus prevention measures.

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Know your destination

Some countries have more cases than others, and the number of people infected varies all the time. Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for their general advice. Find out about the situation in the country you’re visiting from gov.uk’s country specific. Each country has its own restrictions, and these are changing regularly.

Do visit the official government tourism website of the country you will visit for more information about travel to your destination as guidelines and protocols will differ per country.

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The bigger picture

Of course, if you're just concentrating on COVID-19, it can be easy to forget that other aspects of travel regulations have changed courtesy of Brexit, and that there are still other factors to consider if you have any underlying health conditions.

Whether you have asthma or diabetes, heart disease or depression, allergies or a history of cancer, Medical Travel Compared offers a host of articles to give you advice on factors you need to take into account. You can also find out about travel insurance requirements, what you need to declare and how to ensure your travel insurance is valid if you have an underlying medical condition.

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Getting there - UK

If you’re travelling in the UK, you would normally be deciding between car, taxi and public transport. Because of the need to ensure social distancing on public transport, capacity is currently significantly reduced, and using public transport to travel to a holiday destination could be a challenge.

Taxis are an option but do be aware that you won’t be able to socially distance unless your driver has a screen between the front and back seats.

Remember that if you can’t travel to your UK holiday destination by public transport, neither can anyone else. That means car parking is likely to be busier. Contact your hotel or holiday provider to ask about parking in advance.

If you’re travelling to an airport, the same problems are likely to apply. You may drive to the airport, only to find all the car parks are full. Contact the airport for up-to-date advice on how you can travel there.

Airport etiquette

Airline travel involves queuing at the best of times – for check-in, baggage drop, security, to get onto the plane. Airports will have arrangements in place to maintain social distancing, but this will mean queues are longer.

Questions to consider include:

  • Check-in online and print your boarding pass.
  • Hand luggage. Can you travel with hand luggage only? This will reduce contact with others at baggage drop and collection points.
  • Take a face covering and put it on when you get to the airport.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you and use it regularly.
  • Consider taking food with you for your journey – not only are you less likely to find food outlets open, but queues will also probably be long.
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On the plane

Currently, the number of passengers on planes is reduced to allow people to keep apart. You’re likely to be required to wear a face-covering on the plane.

Airlines are undertaking strict cleaning of planes, but it’s still worth carrying antiviral cleaning wipes to wipe down the area you’re sitting in.

If you accept food etc from a steward or stewardess, clean your hands before eating or touching your face. Do check with your airline what their COVID-19 procedures are - individual airlines have devised their own COVID operational guidelines.

When you arrive

Whether you’re in the UK or abroad, follow all the sensible precautions above about social distancing, handwashing, hand sanitising, and face coverings.

You can read more in my other guide to planning travel during COVID-19.

Risks when you’re there

Again, you need to consider more than COVID-19 when you're thinking about health risks. Some countries (particularly outside Western Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand) have infections that just aren't seen at home.

Secondly (and very importantly) the healthcare services are not the same in other countries as they are in the UK. It has never been more important to have the right travel insurance.

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Eating out

Coronavirus is killed by temperatures above 60°C, so there’s little risk from freshly cooked food. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, food is prepared and served by people, and people can spread the virus. Most hotels and restaurants have strict hygiene regulations for waiting staff and cooks, but hand hygiene is still essential. Do check ahead of time with each venue you intend to visit what their COVID-19 measures are.

If you choose to eat from a buffet, be mindful that the virus can survive for up to 3 days on hard surfaces, including metal, glass, and plastic.

If you do eat from a buffet:

  • use your own utensil to serve yourself (beware of using the same fork or spoon in two dishes if one contains nuts or shellfish – some people are allergic to them, or a vegetarian dish if you’ve touched a meat dish first). 
  • Ideally, don’t lift food coverings other people have touched, and if you do, use a paper towel that you dispose of immediately.
  • If possible, choose freshly put-out cooked dishes.
  • Never pick up any food with your hands.
  • Always sanitise your hands before and after helping yourself to food, before you eat.
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Coronavirus isn’t the only medical problem

It’s easy to forget at the moment that other medical problems apart from coronavirus haven’t gone away. Unfortunately, you are just as likely to develop complications from an existing medical condition today as you were six months ago. And that means you need to take steps to make sure you don’t end up ill abroad without insurance cover.

The first step is to plan in advance and make sure your travel insurance covers you. There are many medical conditions that you’re required to declare: failing to do so could mean your insurance is invalid. Medical Travel Compared has detailed information about a host of medical conditions – not just what you need to declare, but how you can minimise your risks while you’re abroad.

Get a quote

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who are able to cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Some of our providers are able to offer additional cover, such as cancellation cover should you catch COVID-19 or have to self-isolate because of suspected symptoms before departure. We’ll make it clear who these providers are when you’re comparing quotes so you can choose the policy that is right for you.

This doesn’t apply to all insurance providers, so unless otherwise stated, for all other sections of cover, you wouldn’t be covered if making a claim as a result of COVID-19.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

Yes, if your policy has Enhanced COVID-19 Cover this will include cancellation protection. The cover will vary by provider and we’ll clearly show you what is covered when you get a quote. Compare COVID-19 cover in minutes with us today.

All of our quotes will include cover if you fall ill with COVID-19 whilst abroad and need emergency treatment, and, if Enhanced COVID-19 Cover is available, this will be included within your quote too. You won’t have to pay any additional extra.

If the FCDO are advising against all or all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, there will be no, or extremely limited cover provided by your policy.

You can still choose to take out a policy now for a future holiday, but it is very important to note that if the FCDO are still advising against all but essential travel to your destination at the time of your trip, your cover will not be valid.

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