Facemasks, Curfews, and Border Crossings

We are starting to travel again.

Uniworld and AMA Waterways have returned to the rivers in Europe. And the EU has now green lit Canadians to enter. Americans can also enter a number of EU countries.

But, the rules are still subject to change at a moment’s notice. That’s one of the biggest challenges to me as a travel advisor right now – keeping on top of the changing entry and re-entry requirements, vaccine and quarantine rules, and testing and more testing. It’s just one more reason why you should be working with a travel advisor.

Let me give you an example. On July 1st, the European Union green lit Canadians to enter again. Yet, it’s up to each member state of the EU to set their own rules, and how/ when they adopt the EU Commission recommendations. Some member states, like Italy, moved to admit Canadians and Americans before the EU recommendations. Other countries like Germany and Austria made moves to implement the recommendations, but it took 9 days or more before their entry requirements started to ease.

It’s still a time where the rules say one thing on Monday, and by Wednesday, we’re in a totally different world of requirements.

As a travel advisor, I’m working on this full time, and I have an executive team I meet with once a week that updates the 900+ advisors on changing requirements – that’s besides multiple status reports by email daily, and updates on changing financial stability of companies that used to be solid pre-pandemic, but now we may have concerns about their health. That’s the insider information you get by working with a travel advisor at this uncertain time.

The one thing I underscore to clients is – yes, you’re double-vaxxed. You’re eager and excited to go. That’s terrific. We can work with that. But I also have to work with you to manage your expectations on what travel is like right now in 2021. It’s a changing world.

Everyone is excited for travelers to return to their hotel, cruise line, tour company, tours, restaurants, countries, etc – and – all the preferred travel supplier companies I work with have worked hard to research, test, and implement health and safety protocols to keep you safe. But, we also have to recognize that things are in a state of flux right now. If you’re used to staying in five star hotels across Europe, having access to top notch service, early access to a room, late check out, etc – you have to recognize that the hotels will still be working to give you the best possible experience, of course, but in properties where staff may have been furloughed/ laid off for 16 months, and are just starting to return to work as revenue returns, there may still be times where the GM of the hotel is being called upon to help change beds.

Every client is different, of course. And I work with you to get to know your likes, interests, needs, and how you like to travel. You, of course, would know what you are like if and when issues arise when you travel, and how you might respond to stressful situations. That’s why I work with clients to match products and experiences, and manage expectations for travel in 2021, so you have the best possible experience for you.

For example, if you’re an idealist, and love everything to be “just so” with perfect service, top hat accommodations, luxurious attention, detailed touring and private car and driver excursions, this might not be the year to plan a multi-country hopping trip to Europe (unless maybe you’re on a river cruise ship who is working to meet each country’s requirements, and you’re in a moving hotel room). If you might get off kilter when things do not go as planned, you might be easily disappointed when hotels/tours do not meet your service needs, then maybe we might work together to reconsider whether Europe is the destination for 2021. If Europe is the destination, we will work together to limit travel to one country, and work to minimize connecting flights.  It might be better for us to work together to focus a trip to Europe on one country this year – ensuring you meet all the requirements for vaccination, testing, entry – and that you meet the requirements to return home too.

On the other hand, if you’re more of a trailblazer, and don’t mind if your day’s itinerary gets moved around, and you’re easy going and don’t mind ‘going with the flow’, then you may be better suited to bigger and moving around trips this year. Can you handle on the fly changes, do you understand travel may be fluid and plans may be cancelled changed without warning, then you might do better with uncertainty within a destination of interest, and may be more self-sufficient, self-helping when and if there are issues.

The one thing to remember is that whether you are Canadian or American, each of our countries have handled CoVid differently at different stages over the last 16 months. There were times when New York City was shut down completely, and even LA County was still requiring quarantine recently. Canadian provinces locked down for entry for Canadians (e.g., Ontarians couldn’t enter Quebec, the Atlantic bubble burst), and Canadians couldn’t travel internationally without quarantining for 14 days upon return (at least until rules changed on July 5th). Every other country and province/ state where you might travel would have their own different rules and regulations too. So it’s important to remember that just because your country may have eased restrictions for you to travel, that doesn’t mean the destination you want to visit has your same rules – or that the rules can’t change, at any time.

For hotels, I remind clients travelling in 2021 that:

  • hotel prices are expected to be up by 30-40%
  • services and staff will be reduced
  • there will be fluctuating exchange rates
  • the capacity control for occupancy will mean limited options
  • there generally is a rental car shortage
  • activities, museums, dining, etc. might be challenging due to limited availability
  • you have to expect changing conditions and protocols
  • you have to keep cancellation terms & rates in mind when booking

For multi-country destination travel in 2021, I remind clients that:

  • the EU reopening doesn’t mean moving country to country will be easy
  • requirements may change at any time for any destination
  • Texas vs. California vs. New York vs. Arizona vs. LA County gave us examples of differences in response to travel around in US during pandemic
  • in Canada, we had Atlantic bubbles created and burst, limits for Ontarians to visit Quebec, and more

For flight availability and schedule changes in 2021, I advise clients that:

  • everything is going to take longer
  • there is reduced capacity to/from Europe and within Europe
  • If your flights are cancelled or delayed, re-accommodation can be a challenge due to capacity issues/ frequency
  • aircraft changes regularly occur
  • we generally recommend (based on our insider knowledge) that folks avoid the budget, discount airlines
  • and we note that Business class for flights within Europe are sometimes cheaper right now than booking economy and paying for luggage

In terms of the overall experience, for travel in 2021, I remind clients that:

  • forms may not be in English (or French)
  • there are multiple layers of authority with frequently changing policies – prepare to hear: “Do you have the form? This is not the right form”
  • your guides, drivers, etc. may be out of language practice – “I haven’t spoken English in a year“
  • many things are still not yet open, and obtaining accurate information can be challenging
  • younger people in the EU (and many places) still seem hesitant to vaccinate
  • curfews, when in place, are a requirement, not a recommendation
  • while in the US and/or Canada, facemask regulations may be loosening, that is not so elsewhere
  • lounges and food/beverage options are open in some airport locations and not others

And then there is testing:

  • testing will be your responsibility – don’t rely on others
  • turnaround timelines can be tight to meet airline/ entry requirements
  • overall travel may be less fluid due to new processes
  • children under age of vaccination will need additional layers of testing
  • testing timeline requirements vary per country and travel type
  • there is a risk of false positives – it can happen with both Antigen and PCR Tests – so, you have to recognize this possibility and plan contingency days in the itinerary, if you are hopping countries
  • you have to allow for extra time in case of false positives
  • and we have to consider testing requirements (if any) if you are transiting countries with connecting flights (and know latest requirements)
  • and yes, while Canada has lifted the 14 day quarantine rule for vaccinated Canadians upon return, you still need to have a test to re-enter (and depending on the European country or other countries you’re visiting, you may have testing requirements to enter too)

The main thing is to be aware of all of these possibilities if you travel in 2021.

  • that’s why it’s going to be important to prepare – and I’ll do my best to help you set and maintain expectations
  • there will be bumps in the road – expect them. And know that you may be paying a premium price, and will not have the exact same 5 star experience you’ve come to know from the past, and might be expecting now
  • things will not be as expected, are you prepared for this? (and do you have a plan B if things go awry)

So, when we are working on your holiday to Europe for the next little while, you’ll probably hear me say “Have you considered?” and “I need you to be aware… ” a fair bit. It’s to ensure you know what to expect, and aren’t taken aback by changes or delays.

But please know, I am not suggesting you will have a bad experience if you travel now in a changing world. Not at all. Travel is still the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. And we all have been cooped up for far too long. It’s just that as the world re-opens, I want you to go into this eyes wide open about potential problems, so if and when they occur, you’re not surprised, you’ve already packed your patience, and there’s a plan b to deal with the situation.

You, of course, know that every European country and non-EU country (Great Britain) has the sovereignty to make any decisions they want about entry into their country, as do individual municipalities (i.e. protocols may differ in Paris than they do in Normandy).  We saw that in Ontario too, when lockdown rules were different in Toronto than they were in Ottawa or Kingston. Just acknowledge and deal.

Please know, too, that what you see in the media today is subject to change tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that… And please know too that there is no official source where you can read everything in cases where the countries themselves have not determined officially what they are doing.  This is the case in MANY European destinations.  And yes, I have background tools like Sherpa and IATA, and I look to embassies for up-to-date info; but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I have been working with clients this week, and contacting European Commission in Canada, along with each country’s embassy to get most up-to-date rules. Everything is changing.

If you know that, and can live in the uncertainty, and embrace what may be a changing world in terms of regulations and rules, then let’s chat, and let’s get your holiday sorted!  It would be my pleasure to help you re-start travelling the world.


With special thanks to my colleague, Shelby Donley, of Direct Travel.