Those vacation days have been building up and some companies have a “use it or lose it” policy. As the end of the year looms, you have a decision to make: is it worth planning a holiday this year?

Global Rescue experts and Safe Travel partners say yes, if you are safe about it.

Traveler Plans

Travelers lost a wide range of opportunities due to the pandemic, according to a September Global Rescue member survey. Missed plans include a bucket list/adventure trip (64%), family vacation (53%), couples getaway (28%) and anniversary, wedding, honeymoon or birthday trip (21%).

Paid Time Off (PTO) left untouched this summer will most likely be put toward travel during the holiday season. Travelers expect to make up for the travel they missed out on in a number of ways between now and the end of 2021.

Domestic trips will happen sooner than international excursions, as 60% plan to take a domestic trip by the end of 2020. International travel will pick up in 2021 with 86% of respondents planning to travel internationally.

Where are travelers headed? According to Virtuoso, travelers are booking leisure trips across all regions, with domestic beach and international island destinations making up the majority of new bookings.

“We’re seeing a maintained interest to travel,” said Alice Howell, vice president at Stoke Broker, a travel company cultivating unique and impactful adventures around the globe. “As of June of this year, 70% of people surveyed still plan to take a leisure trip in 2020. They were likely to avoid crowded destinations and safety will be a leading factor in their decision making.” 

“If you are a nervous traveler or just want to get out there, it can be beneficial to safely change up the scenery over the fall and winter seasons by traveling locally for fall color changes, ski trips or a visit to a wooded cabin,” said Kimberly Franke, a travel specialist with Kanna Travel Services, a full-service travel agency in Bozeman, Montana, specializing in trip logistics for adventure and sports travel. “First and foremost, it is important to understand any testing or requirements.” 

Vacation Considerations

PCR testing is just one consideration before holiday travel during a pandemic. Before you plan your winter vacation, here are a few more recommendations.

Research Your Destination

It doesn’t matter if you are crossing state lines or crossing oceans. Do your research and look at every aspect of your trip with safety, health and coronavirus considerations in mind.

If you are worried about COVID-19, Global Rescue Medical Director Dr. Claudia Zegans suggests looking at metrics.

“Start with population density, then look at the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people,” she said. “See what the rate of exposure is and use the data to guide your decision making. We are in a phase of this pandemic where we have to balance a communitywide assessment of risk and our individual assessment of risk.”

It’s not surprising travelers (35% of Global Rescue survey respondents) are choosing more remote, less crowded destinations. There’s less risk of contagion in areas with a low population density. But the lure of holiday celebrations will tempt holiday travelers to congested, people-packed locations.

“Many will still want to travel to events in major cities and popular destinations, especially during the holiday season,” said Michael Lovely, operations supervisor at Global Rescue.

Determine Your Level of Risk

Have you been potentially exposed? Are you a  want to assess your current state of health before packing a suitcase.

In addition to an annual physical, a travel health consultation with a medical professional will help you mitigate any health risk before, during and after your trip.

Evaluate the Health Care Infrastructure

What matters to travelers during a pandemic? A good health care system. According to a study by Bloom Consulting, more than half of respondents said they are likely to change a destination for one with a better health care system and low COVID-19 cases.

Global Rescue members were less worried (only 13%) about health care infrastructure. This could be, in part, because they already have access to medical advisory and medical evacuation services through their travel services membership.

“A traveler shouldn’t be a burden to a small primary hospital in a remote village in a country with a weak medical infrastructure already struggling with the ongoing pandemic,” Lovely said. Even if there is a solid health care system in your travel destination, “it’s not a guarantee of a favorable outcome.”

Check Health Insurance Requirements

Countries also have their requirements for visitor entry: updated passport, visa, a return ticket and, for many, health insurance. Not only will you want health insurance to cover PCR testing, some countries ask visitors to purchase a policy specifically for the trip.

Aruba, for example, requires visitors to purchase a new pre-determined health care policy offered by the Aruban government, which covers hospitalization expenses to treat severe COVID-19 symptoms, including specialist fees, diagnostic X-rays, lab expenses and nursing costs.

Get Creative

Combine two lower coronavirus risk factors, such as small occupancy lodges with outdoor activities, suggests Howell.

“We are keeping track of who is operating and what they are doing to keep their guests safe,” Howell said. “We are also getting creative with trip planning to prioritize safety and give our guests confidence when they travel. Two ideas we are excited about for this winter: heli-skiing the Ruby Mountains and snowshoeing and glacier trekking from a private remote mountain lodge in Alaska.”

Franke also sees a trend toward small groups.

“We are seeing family groups and small groups booking out ranch destinations or ski lodge destinations where they can all still get out exploring, while responsibility keeping in their own small group,” Franke said. “There are great options for this type of travel.” 

Choose Safety Over Discounts

Now, more than ever before, travelers want comprehensive, mandatory COVID-19 protections. A September Global Rescue survey found travelers wanted coverage for themselves (94%) and all travelers (91%).

One example is Jamaica Cares. Starting in November, visitors to Jamaica will pay a mandatory fee and automatically receive a broad set of services designed to minimize the effects of COVID-19 in the event of an infection.

“If a COVID-19 or other emergency medical situation arises for a traveler, Global Rescue will support Jamaican authorities in providing traveler services from diagnosis through repatriation,” said Global Rescue CEO Dan Richards.  

If you’re traveling to a location other than Jamaica, sign up for a travel services membership. Global Rescue has been providing medical and evacuation services to members throughout the coronavirus pandemic.