As a travel professional working for the eco-luxury travel concierge, Authenteco Travel, I have helped hundreds of travelers navigate their vacations during the pandemic. As borders started to close and panic set in, travelers scrambled to decide if they should still travel and how to get refunds on their canceled trips.

There has been a lot of competing information, so the Authenteco team and I started the Coronavirus Travel Support Group on Facebook to offer free advice from travel experts.

To help you navigate this confusing maze, here are four of our insider secrets for travel during chaotic times.

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Get all the insider tips for travel planning during COVID with Shelby, from Authenteco Travel

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1. Try to Avoid Booking Through Third-Party Websites

Unfortunately, many travelers who had booked travel through budget websites never received their refunds.

If they did receive a refund, it often took a lot of phone calls and several months to get their money back. This is because third parties have to work with the airlines or hotels to get the money back to the customer.

These third-party budget websites typically passed responsibility for the refund to the airline or hotel, which caused delays, stress, and frustration for the customer.

At Authenteco, we always book directly through travel providers. If an emergency happens–such as a pandemic, or even something less global and extreme–it is a thousand times easier to receive a refund if the travel was booked directly with the airline, hotel, or tour company.

Many travelers book through third parties to save money, but the cost savings is often not a lot. We agree that every penny counts, but we also believe that time is money.

At the end of the day, we’d rather our travelers easily receive a refund in the event of an emergency rather than save a few dollars.

Two joyful people posing with arms outstretched overhead, with two dogs, all seemingly in the middle of a large desert

2. Buy Trip Insurance

Travelers should always consider trip insurance to be a mandatory expense. But now more than ever, we consider it a non-negotiable given the unexpected, fluctuating travel restrictions during a pandemic.

However, it can be extremely tricky to understand different policies and decide what’s best to protect your financial investment in your vacation.

I remember my younger, budget travel days. I felt invincible and believed nothing bad would happen to me. To be honest, I thought trip insurance was a scam! This translated into years of travel booked without trip insurance.

Then I ended up in a foreign hospital hooked up to an IV with no insurance. I hadn’t realized my health insurance didn’t cover me abroad! *facepalm*

It’s true–most health insurance does not cover medical expenses while abroad, forcing you to pay for health emergencies out-of-pocket.

But trip insurance is much more than just health insurance. A lot of common fears for travelers — such as theft, flight changes, and rental car insurance — are also covered by trip insurance.

Read next: How to budget for travel (25+ expert tips)

For example, if your baggage is lost during a flight, your trip insurance would cover any immediate expenses you might have for toiletries and a change of clothes.

Many travelers during the pandemic were surprised that their trip insurance didn’t cover pandemics, so they were at a financial loss for their trip. Or, even if they had purchased insurance, many travel insurance companies would not accept their claims once COVID-19 became “foreseen.”

Our insurance partner, Allianz Travel, is one of the leading insurance companies in the entire industry. However, even our concierge had to spend many hours on the phone with customer support to understand all of the policy changes since the pandemic.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) is the best policy right now amongst COVID-19 and Allianz offers the best product in the entire industry! They offer 80% coverage on your entire trip cost should you decide the day before that you need to cancel. Other travel insurance companies only offer 75%.
  • Pre-pandemic, you could purchase the additional CFAR coverage within 14 days of purchasing the insurance plan. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. Many insurance companies now require the additional CFAR coverage to be booked within 12 hours of purchasing the main insurance plan.
  • The policies are ever-changing! It helps to book with a travel concierge who can handle all of the confusing policy information for you and ensure you and your investment are protected.
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3. How to Decide Where to Travel During the Pandemic

Coronavirus is still spreading. After 6+ months stuck inside, though, I understand people want to travel again. One of our most frequently asked questions is, “Where should I travel during the pandemic?” Here’s how we recommend you try to decide.

Decide your risk factor.

Everyone’s risk tolerance is different. You must decide where your limit is and what activities are completely off-limits for you.

Think about your typical travel style and then decide if the activities you normally partake in are a “will do,” “might do,” or “won’t do” activity. Are you willing to explore indoor attractions? Fly? Eat indoors? Attend a festival, concert, or live event?

If you’re planning with friends or family, I recommend deciding independently of them what your risk tolerance levels are. After, your group can discuss and decide the risk tolerance for everyone.

At Authenteco Travel, we encourage all of our travelers to follow CDC and WHO health guidelines while traveling. We even send them updates if there are any changes to these guidelines while they’re on their vacation.

Group of friends sitting on a grassy hill with hot air balloons in the background

Consider the local community.

We believe all travel should be responsible travel if we want to preserve our world for future travelers to enjoy.

Responsible travel during a pandemic means considering if the communities we visit want tourists in the first place and if their infrastructure can handle tourists during a pandemic. If the city is spiking in COVID-19 cases, or the local hospital system is overwhelmed, then it’s probably best to consider a different destination out of respect for that community.

Related: Sustainability influencers to follow for inspiration

Check local travel restrictions.

As we enter flu season, and we’re seeing some areas increasing in COVID-19 cases again, restrictions in cities and states may increase.

New York City, for example, requires a two-week quarantine for anyone entering the city.

Many destinations require proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival to actually enter the destination.

Look up the destination’s health department website and follow local news for restrictions updates. Be sure to check that country’s, state’s/province’s, and city’s restrictions. And again, this information isn’t exactly the easiest to find and is always changing–so if you want to make things easy, let a travel concierge plan for you.

Visit less popular destinations.

Safety for our travelers is our #1 priority. That’s why we’re sending our travelers to less popular, and therefore less crowded, destinations.

For example, many travelers rushed to National Parks once quarantines were lifted. That made the parks crowded and it became nearly impossible to physically distance.

Instead of National Parks, try State and City Parks. Instead of a big city, check out some small towns a couple of hours away.

This is a great time to explore the domestic destinations you kept putting off!

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4. Talk with a Travel Professional

Travel professionals have always brought you the best vacations with their insider knowledge. That expertise is needed now more than ever before!

Travel planning during the pandemic can be overwhelming, frustrating, and time-consuming. Everything from popular restaurants that may have closed permanently to restrictions constantly changing as the pandemic evolves…it’s difficult to keep up with it all.

You’re already busy balancing daily life during a pandemic. You shouldn’t have to worry about your travel plans, too!

I hope these tips helped you understand what to look out for in your travel planning. If you need help navigating travel during the pandemic, or planning your perfect vacation, feel free to connect with me!

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