PLEASE NOTE: Public health officials advise older adults and people with underlying health conditions to abstain from travel. They also recommend “social distancing” for everyone, which means keeping about six feet of space between yourself and others. That can be hard to do on a plane, on a train, or in an airport. The U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to avoid travel by cruise ship.
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic continues, we’ve been answering a lot of questions as travelers decide whether to cancel trips. In the 30 years I’ve been a travel journalist, I’ve watched viral epidemics come and go, affecting people’s perceptions of huge swaths of the world. I was in Hong Kong in 2003 at the start of the SARS outbreak (the first pandemic of the 21st century), and I was in Panama during the Zika outbreak, and in between I watched H1N1, MERS, and Ebola alarm travelers to the point where they avoided multiple continents. One thing I can tell you is that epidemics eventually go away—so, if deciding to cancel a trip means forfeiting prepaid funds, ask whether those payments can be applied toward a future trip.
DETERMINING YOUR RISK
Different travelers have different perceptions of the risk, as well as different levels of risk tolerance, so whether to forge ahead with a trip or postpone it is a personal calculation. Some WendyPerrin.com readers have cancelled their overseas trips, while others are currently traveling and happy that they decided to do so. In our continuing effort to answer your questions, and to touch base with those who are traveling internationally, we are interviewing readers who are currently overseas. We’ve published interviews with one reader who has been in four European countries since late February, and another reader who is in Paris today.
THE MOST SAVVY LOCAL DESTINATION SPECIALISTS CAN HELP
Every day I’m talking to WOW List Trusted Travel Experts about their strategies for ensuring travelers are taken good care of, whether those travelers are going ahead with their trips, postponing them, or rerouting themselves. I encourage you to talk to your WOW List travel specialist about any questions or concerns you may have; they have on-the-ground knowledge and plans in place.
TRAVEL INSURANCE MIGHT HELP TOO
If you haven’t already bought travel insurance and you are looking for a policy that will cover you in case you want to cancel because of the coronavirus, the only such coverage available to you is a policy with a Cancel For Any Reason upgrade. For more details, see our article “Cancel For Any Reason” Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It Works.
MAKE SURE YOUR RISK PERCEPTION IS WELL INFORMED
To that end, we’ve pulled together reliable coronavirus updates to check before you make any big decisions:
Centers for Disease Control
The CDC has a coronavirus education hub on its website. See its information for travelers. On February 29, the CDC advised avoiding travel to China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea, and to consider postponing travel to Japan.
World Health Organization
In the WHO’s dedicated section you’ll find user-friendly, easy-to-digest tools, including a video explaining what we know about the virus, an FAQ of the most common questions, and a mythbusters page, as well as deeper dives into global research, WHO’s travel advice, situation reports, and the latest news.
The New York Times
In addition to staying on top of the daily virus news with these live updates, the Times has created an interactive map that tracks the confirmed cases of COVID-19. It’s updated often and serves as a good snapshot of what’s happening each day and as context for the news. You can also sign up for the Times’ daily coronavirus newsletter.
U.S. State Department
Squaremouth has a useful article, The Traveler’s Guide to Travel Insurance for the Coronavirus, and InsureMyTrip has published these FAQs on Travel Insurance and Coronavirus. You’ll find our opinion on Cancel For Any Reason coverage in “Cancel For Any Reason” Travel Insurance: What It Is and How It Works. For more general need-to-know intel, see our article How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It.
COVID-19 has seriously affected cruise ships and cruising in general: quarantines, cancellations, ships being rejected from ports, health screenings for passengers. And recently the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens to avoid travel by cruise ship. Cruise Critic is keeping on top of each cruise company’s travel restrictions, itinerary changes, and refund policies with this mega-article, organized alphabetically by cruise line.
Many airlines have clearly marked alerts right on their website homepages to let travelers know about route and flight cancellations, as well as how they’re handling change fees and bookings. United, JetBlue, and Delta are among those offering eliminating change fees for flights booked during a limited time period. Check with your airline to find out the details and what you might be entitled to.
This article was originally published on February 14 and is updated as new information comes in. You’ll find more updates in A Note from Wendy About Traveling—Or Not—in the Time of Coronavirus.