As countries close their borders and airlines cancel flights, there’s one thing travelers can count on during the coronavirus pandemic: expecting the unexpected. While this ideology may be dogma for seasoned jet setters, navigating an unforeseen travel snafu can be difficult for even the most confident traveler when under the stress of rapidly evolving restrictions and newly implemented laws.
If you’re running into roadblocks while trying to get home from a trip, here are the top tips and resources to help you get back on track, or at least make the most of a tricky situation.
1. Remain up to date on travel changes
During international crises, travel rules and regulations can turn on a dime. Arm yourself with knowledge concerning possible alterations to your itinerary so you can plan accordingly and avoid getting stuck somewhere. The International Air Transport Association is an invaluable resource regarding international travel restrictions and immigration requirements. Check a regularly updated list of airline cancellation policies. For information about the status of a flight, train, or bus trip, always consult the service provider’s website or app – don’t wait to get to the point of departure to find out about a cancellation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes a risk assessment for travel to different countries, is another highly informative resource, as is the U.S. State Department’s list of screening procedures for countries around the world trying to stop the spread of COVID-19.
2. Be proactive if your flight is canceled
As airlines around the globe ground thousands of flights, many travelers find themselves stranded with no discernible path home. If this happens to you, don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands. First, contact your airline. Under their contract of carriage, most airlines have to get you to your desired destination; many will rebook you on the first available flight at no additional cost. If you’re already at the airport, save time by using the company’s digital app or phone service to find a new flight. If the airline has suspended service to or from a region, find out if another carrier has available seats to the destination and ask the original airline to cover the cost. Google Flights is an excellent resource for finding other outbound departures in a jiffy.
Regardless of the outcome, it never hurts to politely ask your airline for meal and hotel vouchers when a flight is delayed for several hours or outright canceled. The worst thing that happens: you get nothing. The best thing that happens: you get some free food and lodging to offset the damage caused by the delay. If the airline is authorized to do so, chances are they’ll do their best to help.
3. Explore alternative ways to get home
A little creativity goes a long way in a travel quandary. When flying home seems shaky, weigh your other transportation options. If you can reach your destination by car, consider hopping behind the wheel of a rental and going for a road trip. Even if it doesn’t get you home, a car can potentially take you to an airport with flights to your hometown. Never underestimate the power of public transit, either. Trains, buses, taxis, and ferries are options worth investigating when all else fails.
4. Contact your local embassy
When you’re unable to resolve a travel problem on your own, call your country’s local consulate or embassy. On top of assisting travelers in finding transportation back home, many government agencies can help travelers get in touch with family or friends and may even provide monetary support for food and other basics if you’re in a pinch. If commercial travel is suspended, embassies also assist in safely evacuating their citizens.
5. Pack extra provisions
New areas around the world are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks almost daily, leading to countries, cities, and towns instituting quarantines that are taking travelers by surprise. A quarantine was recently imposed on hundreds of international guests at a Tenerife hotel amid coronavirus fears, and an American traveler in Egypt was sent into quarantine at a hospital after receiving a false-positive test result for the virus; thousands around the world are experiencing similar situations.
For those traveling away from home and are worried about the outbreak, remain prepared for possible travel restrictions by stocking up on everything you might need. A fourteen-day quarantine is mandatory for potential carriers of the virus, so consider packing enough toiletries, garments, and goodies to get yourself through that time comfortably. For those taking life-saving medications, have at least a month’s supply on hand, if not more.
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6. Get creative about unforeseen costs
If you are stranded due to COVID-19, go over your travel insurance policy carefully. You may find that in addition to, say, emergency medical coverage your policy also covers related costs like emergency transportation. Don’t be afraid to call to get the most specific information possible as it pertains to your situation.
Guests at the Kuredu Island Resort in the Maldives recently found themselves quarantined due to COVID-19 and had to ride out the isolation period in place, for example, but weren’t charged for the extension to their stay. Many cruise ship passengers who have been transfered to hotels after possible coronavirus exposure are covered on lodging expenses by the cruise lines themselves. Your hotel may not cover your stay – but it can’t hurt to ask.
7. Reach out to loved ones
If leaving the area to which you’re traveling is untenable, contact local friends and family (if available) for support. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a strange town without the creature comforts of home and no way to find the essentials. These folks might be able help you get a hold of proper food and lodging to provide some much-needed normalcy to get through a tough time.