Sometimes I feel like I’m in a 1980s music video with The Clash because frustrated travelers keep asking me the same thing: “Should I stay or should I go?” But lately, the government’s been fielding these questions. For example, the State Department has slapped a "Do Not Travel" alert on all international trips while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says ask yourself a bunch of questions including, “Do you have a plan for taking time off from work or school in case you are told to stay home for 14 days?” before even considering a domestic trip.
Frustrating sure, but don’t just sit there. For travelers, this is the perfect time to plan the perfect trip of the future. Some ideas:
1. Research can be fun
Now’s the time to read some of your favorites travel writers on Lonely Planet and watch those entertaining and informative Rick Steves’ videos. Or get a little inspiration from the movies, like the "Lord of the Ring" films with those gorgeous New Zealand settings, or maybe the Los Angeles of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (yes, it was set in 1969, but a lot of the old and venerable restaurants that Leo and Brad visited are still in business, at least during non-coronavirus times). Make your first post-virus destination worthy of a bucket list.
2. Figure out the best time to go
We’re treading into crystal ball territory, but hopefully the all-clear will come sometime this year. If that’s the case, you have a couple of choices.
· Book now, fly later: At the moment, we suggest flying in the fall, traditionally a cheap airfare season, plus, if it turns out we still can’t fly then, or a flyer changes his/her mind for any reason, several airlines are allowing travelers to rebook without paying the expensive change fee (up to $200 per ticket). Just be sure to consult with your airline before you book and from time to time afterwards because this information has been changing rapidly.
· Wait to book: This will provide a little added security if you wait until you’re absolutely certain planes will be taking off again. And fares should be cheap because airlines will need a way to lure folks back into planes after such as long break. Tip: If you typically don’t fly at Thanksgiving or Christmas because it’s normally way too expensive, take alook at fares for this year; if air travel is allowed to your destination, you might find some excellent holiday bargains.
3. Sign up now for these helpful protections
· PreCheck: If you never got around to signing up for faster security known as the TSA PreCheck program, now’s a good time to get this done. As of now, enrollment centers are open and much of the process is done online anyway. It costs $85 for a five-year membership and it is worth it.
· Global Entry and STEP: At the moment, enrollment centers for the Global Entry program are temporarily closed but keep checking back; it only costs $100 for five years and includes PreCheck membership. Another good thing to do for travel outside the U.S. is to sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) that allows officials get in touch with you in case of emergencies. This is free.
4. If you go, what to bring
Pack that hand sanitizer, especially the wipes which are perfect for cleaning airline tray tables, arm rests, swiping lavatory handles and more. Also, since I’m a worst-case-scenario guy, pack any medication you need and pack enough of it to last you two weeks after the end of your trip. Thanks to coronavirus, I’ve become a big believer in being ready for anything.
Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare.