Now more than ever, you need a COVID Plan B when traveling abroad. Otherwise, you could be quarantined, which can feel like jail time.
Susan Bilhorn had a COVID-19 Plan B, which included buying travel insurance, packing extra medicine – and booking her trip with the right travel company. Well she did. While visiting Croatia recently, her travel guide discreetly informed her that she had tested positive for COVID.
A few minutes later, an ambulance picked her up and dropped her off at a quarantine hotel in Dubrovnik, where she spent the next 10 days.
“The accommodations were comfortable and the staff was very welcoming,” recalls Bilhorn, an executive consultant from Laguna Niguel, California. “I had more than enough food – good quality and a good selection.”
So how did her plan B work? Her tour operator, smarTours, coordinated with local authorities for her quarantine. Local medical authorities managed her quarantine arrangements. And her travel insurance company, TripMate, reimbursed pretty much all of her quarantine bills.
“Any effective Plan B starts with visualizing how you would handle every single worst-case scenario you can imagine,” says John Gobbels, Chief Operating Officer of Medjet. “The best way to approach it is to sit down and list each of your biggest fears and create a tangible solution for each one before you go.”
But how do you develop one? It requires some research into the country’s rules and what can happen to you if you become infected. You also need insurance and extra money to survive your quarantine.
“Unfortunately, part of the new normal travel planning involves prior,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance marketplace.
What are the COVID rules in the country you are visiting?
“Your first step is to understand the COVID rules in your destination country,” says Narendra Khatri, Rector of Insubuy, a travel insurance company. “Do they have quarantine rules if you get infected, and if so, for how long?”
This is also a good time to check your travel insurance to make sure it covers living expenses during your required quarantine duration.
“This way, your plan B will at least not increase the cost of your existing trip more than it should,” he says.
What will they do to you if you have COVID?
You’ve probably seen the horror stories of people being sent to COVID prisons when they are infected. Cruise lines are some of the worst offenders. My USA TODAY colleague Dawn Gilbertson recently reported on Brittany and Steven Loiler, who were infected on the Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas. The cruise line forced them to spend the rest of the voyage in a small cabin in the ship’s “red zone”, where crew members in hazmat suits delivered meals.
“If you’re traveling abroad, find out how your destination country will handle tourists with COVID,” says Joe Cronin, president of International Citizens Insurance. “Plan then.”
Some countries may require you to stay in a hotel for which you have to pay. Others can put you in government quarantine with inedible food and nothing to pass the time, and bill you for the privilege, he says. And cruise ships can throw you into quarantine cabins where you have to survive on a diet of cold bagels and prunes.
“Be sure to budget for both situations,” advises Cronin. “You might want to pack entertainment and some shelf-stable food like granola bars if you’re in quarantine.”
Do you have the right insurance and financial resources to quarantine?
Most travel insurance policies cover a travel interruption caused by a COVID-19 infection. But the question is, how much will it cover? Check it out in small print in your policy to see what the limits are. Ask yourself: How far will $ 2,000 go in a quarantine hotel? (In some countries, not very far.)
Katelynn Sortino, a digital nomad living in Morocco, knew that if she caught COVID, she could not trust her local healthcare system. So she set up a savings account to cover the possible quarantine expenses.
“Luckily, my case was really mild and I didn’t need it,” she says. “But I think it’s important, especially for those from industrialized countries who are visiting or moving to developing countries. You don’t want to put extra pressure on the local health service to focus on taking care of its own people.”
Your travel insurance company may offer resources to help you even if you do not have a plan B. For example, Allianz Travel Insurance provides its policyholders with round-the-clock travel assistance and a support team to troubleshoot travel-related issues, such as travel delays and cancellations. You can also access its services through its app. And Generali Global Assistance’s travel insurance plans offer a concierge service that can help.
If you know the rules of the country you are visiting, understand what happens to you when you become infected, and have the right insurance, you are well on your way to having a good plan B when you travel abroad, f .ex. experts.
“When it comes to COVID and travel, plan for the best, but prepare for the worst,” says Carrie Pasquarello, co-founder of Global Secure Resources, a travel security firm. “It’s better to have a plan and not use it, than to need a plan and not have one.”
Expert tips for developing a plan B
Access reliable COVID tests. Do not wing it when you get to your destination. You could end up standing in a long queue at a public hospital and then miss your flight because the results did not arrive on time. Tour operators can arrange for the whole group to be tested at their hotel. “But this service may not be available to individuals,” notes Christine Petersen, CEO of smarTours.
Upgrade your insurance. Again and again I hear from travelers who are unhappy that their travel insurance does not cover fear of traveling. In fact, it is not correct, according to Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners. You can upgrade your policy to a “cancel for any reason”, which covers a percentage of your non-refundable travel expenses when you cancel. “This means that even if you are not ill but are worried about the rate of infection at your destination, you can still cancel your trip due to fear of traveling,” he says.
Bring your laptop. If you have a job that you can do remotely, take your laptop with you – even if it’s a vacation. This is the advice of Charles Neville, Marketing Director at JayWay Travel, a European travel company. “I know you’re supposed to relax,” he says. “But if you end up in quarantine, if you have a job that can be done remotely, you will still be productive.”