The Biggest COVID-Related Travel Mistakes People Are Making Right Now

As vaccination numbers rise in the U.S., so does interest in travel.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1,707,805 passengers on May 9, the highest number since our pandemic era began in March 2020. But as people navigate this era of travel, there are a number of new questions and opportunities for missteps. This is especially true for international trips.

We asked travel experts to share the mistakes they see people making as they plan and go on trips now. Read on for their “don’ts.”

Flouting Local Rules

“I think the biggest mistake people are making when traveling right now is not being respectful of the rules in the place they are traveling to. I’ve been living in Mexico since the pandemic began, and I’ve seen firsthand how much tourists are disrespecting the rules. It’s a tricky one, I know. But often people look around and see others not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing rules, and they follow suit. But the truth is: When you are a guest in another country, then you should research the rules before you go and respect them. If you aren’t prepared to follow the rules of the place you are traveling to, then you should probably stay home or travel to somewhere with fewer rules and regulations.” ― Claire Summers, travel blogger at Claire’s Itchy Feet

“Some travelers think that with the vaccination, they’re totally immune to contracting the virus. Hence, not only are they traveling more, they also don’t respect the local practice such as wearing masks in public places. Where I’m based now in Mexico, I’ve seen such occurrences in Oaxaca City, Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, where locals are wearing masks but it’s more often than not the tourists that don’t.” ― Isabel Leong, travel blogger at Bel Around The World

Failing To Plan Ahead

“Travelers are making the mistake of not planning ahead. The rules are different state-by-state when it comes to capacity guidelines at hotels and restaurants, even state and national parks. We’re seeing this play out with the run on rental cars. Gone are the days of the last-minute vacation. Plan ahead, even if it’s for a trip you plan to take in 2022.” ― Erika Richter, senior director of communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors

“What I see happening a lot right now is a sudden rush to travel. With vaccinations rolling out and outside opening up, people are itching to take their first big trip of the year, but they aren’t doing it with the same level of care or research that they did pre-pandemic. My suggestion is to not jump the gun: Use research tools like Google Flights price tracker, and still book accommodations a few weeks or a month before your trip.” ― Gabby Beckford, travel expert and digital storyteller at Packs Light

Missing Entry Requirements

“A common mistake when traveling internationally right now is to not properly research the destination’s rules for entry. A COVID test is often just one requirement. You may also be required to submit a health form or register online before departure ― and different countries use entirely different systems for this. Not knowing this can lead to sore disappointments! Last summer, a friend of mine had to cancel her trip to Greece, as she hadn’t filled out a pre-departure form that generates a personal QR code (it needs to be filled out at least a day in advance, so you can’t do it at the airport). So, be sure to check the official information, and pay extra attention to any instructions you may receive from the airline.” ― Marek Bron, travel blogger at Indie Traveller

Make sure to figure out whether you need to fill out any forms or collect certain paperwork before heading on your trip.

Make sure to figure out whether you need to fill out any forms or collect certain paperwork before heading on your trip.

Not Being Cautious

“People are so keen to return to ‘normality’ that after almost a year of adhering to lockdown rules, social distancing and mask mandates, they are in danger of rushing back too quickly to what was considered normal tourist behavior pre-pandemic. This is understandable, bearing in mind the past year’s events, but to enjoy the re-opening of borders and travel to our favorite destinations, a certain degree of caution is recommended. Too many false starts have occurred over the past year with second and then third waves hitting many regions and countries to the detriment of tourism. Just because you may be fully vaccinated does not mean everyone else is but as long as travelers respect the local COVID rules and behave sensibly then summer 2021 should be there to enjoy … cautiously.” ― Alan Fyall, interim chair for the tourism, events and attractions department at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management

“The vaccinations are great, although they’ve given a lot of people a false sense of security who think they can’t get COVID and can’t give it to somebody else. When you combine that with the fact that many people haven’t left their house — let alone had a vacation — in more than a year, you’re seeing people get extra excited traveling to new places and not being careful after they arrive. Look at what happened in Miami a few weeks ago during spring break, where the city declared a state of emergency and had to impose an 8 p.m. curfew as a result of all of the parties. But it’s not just college students ― I’ve been on a few business trips in the last six weeks, and I’m seeing people who are not wearing masks in airports, in airport lounges, in Ubers, and in hotel lobbies.” ― Randall Kaplan, founder of the travel startup Sandee and author of “Bliss: Beaches”

Behaving Differently At Your Destination

“Treat the place you are visiting with the same or more respect that you use locally. For example, if you are strict with mask-wearing at home, don’t travel and suddenly let loose and go clubbing and ditch your mask for the whole trip. Follow local guidelines, and even if the guidelines are fairly loose, exercise pandemic precautions that you have been doing on a daily basis for the last year!” ― Victoria Yore, travel blogger at Follow Me Away

Booking Through Third-Party Platforms

“I think a big mistake people are making right now is not booking flights direct with the airlines. I used to love shopping around for the best deals and would often book flights through third-party apps and book the most basic fare that I could. But travel is still so volatile right now that it’s just not worth the risk to save a few dollars. Instead, I strongly recommend booking directly with the airline and make sure you book a fare you can change with minimum fees. It’s also worth paying a little extra for a flexible flight, just in case you need to change it. This could be because you decide the plane is too crowded so you want to take a flight with fewer people, or if you tested positive for COVID before your flight. I think 2020 showed us anything could happen and we really need to learn from that lesson moving forward.” ― Summers

Not Staying Up-To-Date With Changing Rules

“One of the more common mistakes I’ve seen people make when it comes to traveling during this pandemic is not continuously checking entry and exit requirements for the destination they’re visiting and for the destination they’re returning to at the end of your trip. If there is one constant when it comes to traveling during this pandemic, it’s that information is constantly changing. It’s important to understand whether you need to show proof of any negative COVID-19 tests, what kind of test is applicable, if you need to quarantine at any point, and so on. Also, the information you find out today could change in a few days, which is why it’s important to continuously check this information. It can be overwhelming to find the information you need, but make sure to use government websites where applicable, or call your travel providers if you’re unsure where to find the information you need.” ― Tausha Cowan, travel blogger at The Globe Getter

“Things are changing by the minute and it is essential to do research! As we were flying to Jamaica, after many hours of agonizing over correct travel documents, we saw countless fellow tourists getting turned away at the gate as they didn’t have the correct COVID test and documents filled out. In another instance, a fellow travel influencer didn’t do their research and lost out on $3,000+ flights as they weren’t allowed to [have a] layover in a country that didn’t allow their nationality due to COVID. Many national parks are requiring booking tickets, including Yosemite and Rocky Mountains. Disney World requires advance reservations and every day, people book tickets without booking their advance reservation and then are stuck with tickets but no way to use them. It is essential to do travel research when considering venturing out in 2021 as things do change quickly and almost daily! It is better to be safe than sorry!” ― Yore

Not Giving Yourself Grace

“The number one mistake when people resume post-pandemic travel is not giving themselves the grace and understanding that it’s OK for their comfort zone to be temporarily changed. Everyone has had a hard year, filled with isolation and fear. It’s OK that you have a transition period before returning to your old adventurous self.” ― Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of TripScout

You may need to spend a little more time researching flexible flights and making advanced reservations than you used to. 

You may need to spend a little more time researching flexible flights and making advanced reservations than you used to. 

Disregarding The Vaccine Situation Abroad

“The United States is one of the privileged few countries to be far along in their vaccine process ― the vast majority of countries in the world are not. Even wealthy European countries have vaccinated a mere fraction of the people the United States has. Though life is approaching normal in the United States, that doesn’t mean Americans can travel without abandon abroad. American travelers must be wary both of spreading the virus to more vulnerable populations and bringing back dangerous new strains of the virus. Travel is how virus variants spread so quickly ― it’s travelers’ responsibility to try to mitigate that. Remember that the pandemic isn’t over yet, even if it might seem like it. Everyone is tired of the pandemic by now, but that doesn’t mean you have a free pass to throw caution to the wind. It doesn’t matter how desperately you need a break — your vacation should never be at the expense of someone else’s life.” ― Alex Reynolds, travel blogger at Lost With Purpose

Thinking There Are No More Cheap Options

“People assume that flights are going to get expensive now that everybody wants to travel again and that cheap flights are going to end along with the pandemic, but we’re still awash in cheap flights. I think folks got very attuned to the fact that airfare was so cheap during the pandemic and forgot how cheap it was before the pandemic. Forty years ago, airlines made most of their money from economy tickets, but in recent years, they make it selling credit cards and miles, premium tickets like business class, corporate contracts, transporting cargo, etc. It doesn’t matter to them nearly as much what you pay for your economy ticket. So I recommend recognizing that the expensive flights you first see when you search aren’t a permanent thing. Airfare is extremely volatile, so today’s expensive flights might become tomorrow’s cheap flights. Competition between airlines drives down fares due and forces airlines to offer cheaper flights to match each other’s options.” ― Scott Keyes, author of “Take More Vacations” and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights

“People are so eager to get out of the house and onto the next plane that they are taking the first offer they find. Yes, travel deals have been at an all-time low, but not anymore. As more get vaccinated, more and more are traveling and prices have skyrocketed. Be patient and do your research. Don’t jump at the first opportunity. Look into the best times to travel to that location, or even be flexible with your days. Traveling midweek could save you a fortune. We all want to take that trip right now, but you do not want to blow your entire budget or even worse get stuck in an overcrowded city and not feel safe. Be patient and take your time before you book” ― Lindsay Myers, budget travel expert

Not Being Flexible

“Most people’s normal way of searching for flights is picking the destination, picking the dates and then looking at the prices. But to get the cheapest options, flip that order. First ask, ‘Where are cheap flights available out of my home airport?’ Then, ‘Of those places with cheap options, which interests me the most?’ And then, ‘Looking at the cheap dates, which dates do I want to travel?’” ― Keyes

“While we are super excited about travel coming back to life, we’re also realistic that the travel climate is constantly changing. The biggest mistake you can make is investing a bunch of time into planning a trip that has to be canceled due to COVID. You also have to plan things out because you need a reservation for everything. My suggestion is to plan ahead and be prepared for things to change. Have backup options for hotels, activities, even destinations. Don’t get married to a single idea.” ― Stephanie Be, travel blogger and founder of BUENA

Assuming You’re Invincible

“One of the biggest mistakes I see is people assuming that once they have a negative COVID test result, they’re invincible. It’s like getting through the airport is the magic test, and once they’re through, anything is possible. Travelers need to remember that negative tests are only good for that moment, and that they still need to take precautionary measures before and after the test. COVID can take up to two weeks to be detected. Spending more than 10 minutes talking to someone, sitting inside an enclosed space and taking your mask off … those are all possible exposures, and should be treated as such. Negative tests are just one of a variety of safety measures we have to take to stop the spread and travel responsibly.” ― Reynolds

“Many vaccinated travelers believe that because they’re vaccinated they can no longer catch COVID-19. They have a complete expectation of large gatherings like conferences and concerts immediately resuming, the end of all mask mandates, and life returning to relatively normal. Of course, the CDC tells us this is not true. Just because one is vaccinated doesn’t mean that they can’t still catch and become sick with COVID-19, especially with the new variants are appearing. More importantly, you can still infect non-vaccinated people.” ― Beckford

Expecting Things Will Go Fully ‘Back To Normal’

“Another mistake I see is the urge people seem to have to ‘get back to normal’ or ‘pre-pandemic times.’ The systems we had in place pre-pandemic were neither effective nor sustainable, and I think it’s important that everyone truly accepts that things will not fully go back to how they once were, and in a lot of ways it’s a good thing! Heightened hygiene requirements are a good thing. Consideration for others is a good thing. Sustainable tourism economies are a good thing. And just because things are different doesn’t mean they can’t be incredible, but they will be different.” ― Beckford

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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