The pandemic sets its own rules for travelers. Since COVID-19 hit the world, there’s been a lot of safety measures and precautions introduced in the travel industry to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

What should you know about traveling this year? How to ensure a safe trip during COVID? Uncover answers in this interview-based article.

I don't think that there is a reason not to travel if you're following all precautions.

PissedConsumer interviewed Latifah Al-Hazza, a Co-Founder of Femscape Sojourns and travel journalist. In this video interview, Latifah explains how to safely book a trip online, how to avoid unexpected situations while you travel, and what to do if your trip was canceled due to COVID.

Questions covered in this interview with a travel journalist:

Introduction

Latifah Al-Hazza: I'm an avid traveler. I like to call myself a travel enthusiast. I'm also the co-founder of Femscape Sojourns, which is a boutique women's travel company. I own it with my mother. That's one job. In addition to that, I'm also a travel journalist. 

You can see my work in CNN Travel, Frommer's Travel Guides, New York Times, World Travel Magazine, and a few inflight airline magazines, and other locations. I have traveled to over 50 countries. And, I've recently this year been named as 100 most inspiring women travel founders, by Travel Massive. So, that was definitely an honor. And I've given numerous presentations and talks about travel.

Elena: What was the most recent destination that you visited, and when was it?

Latifah: Okay. So, I mean, I have been traveling during the pandemic within the United States. So I am currently in Chicago, which is not my hometown, but I'll be here for a month. So, I don't know if that's really as much of a vacation. And, I've traveled to Ohio recently and stayed in a treehouse in the forest, but let's talk internationally. Because I feel like it's a bit more exciting at the moment. International, my last trip was actually in March and I was in Morocco.

How to Plan Your Trip Wisely?

Elena: How does one plan a trip wisely?

Latifah: Planning a trip is definitely very stressful. And, there are many different methods on how to plan a trip, but this is how I like to plan a trip and I mean, how I like to plan a trip in order to have the least amount of issues down the line.

Research the Destination

Latifah: So first of all, research the destination you wish to travel to. And especially during this time, during COVID and even after COVID, you need to figure out, are they open for you to even travel to? I would love to travel to Europe, but I'm an American citizen, so that's not a place I can travel to right now.

Check Safety Measures

Latifah: And during COVID, if you can travel to the destination, what is their testing and quarantine policy? You may not be willing to quarantine for two weeks in a destination, because that's usually the length of time someone has for a vacation.

Or maybe you can get a rapid test and easily go. Has the country had an increase in cases? Because maybe, originally when you thought about it a few months ago, they were really low, and maybe currently they've kind of had an increase, so check that out.

And just overall in general, with COVID and without, what safety measures is the country taking? For COVID or in general, if they're having some turbulence, what safety measures are they taking? That's as far as the destination. 

Read the Airline Policy

Latifah: As far as the airlines, be sure to read the airline policy fully to understand what it offers, so look for, if they have change fees, fair differences, cancellation fees, and even options for airline credit because that will help you in the long run. And pay attention to emails and text notifications, especially from the airlines. So I always highly recommend downloading the app of the airline that you're planning on flying with.

Download the Airline’s App

Latifah: So on my phone, I have an app for Delta, for United, for American. I have apps for international airlines such as KLM, because they constantly give you notifications, and that's kind of the easiest way to stay up-to-date with what's going on with your flight, and that's during COVID and even past COVID, that's always a great option to choose.

Check Your Reservation

Latifah: And, double check your reservation to make sure of the dates, the times, and even to make sure the airport hasn't changed. So this has happened to me personally. First, I've had an issue where I thought I chose the crack day, and I actually chose the same day a year later. So, definitely double-check that.

I've had issues where, for example, flying into New York, there are two major airports there and the airport actually changed on me, because they were having issues. I'm not really even sure what happened. So, I mean, luckily I got a notification in advance, so I was able to make plans for how I was going to get to this airport instead of the one I had planned.

Be sure not to wait until the day before to reconfirm your flight.

Build Flexibility into Your Plans

Latifah: That's very last minute and that will be hard to make last-minute plans. This year especially, advanced planning is not really a deal-breaker. Some people, such as myself, are really bad at advanced planning because I have a lot of changes. Things come up and I'll have to change, so then I'll lose money or whatever.

But, this actually is the best time for advanced booking, because right now airlines are very lenient with their change fees. So, might as well lock in that great deal that you see now, as long as you read all of the stipulations beforehand. And yeah, go for it. And, definitely build flexibility into your travel plans.

So, things come up while traveling, so you don't want to stick to such a strict schedule because then it will mess up the rest of your trip if one thing goes wrong. And, if you're traveling by train here in the U.S., right now during COVID, Amtrak now allows you to see how booked the train is through their app. So that's really great because travelers can choose accordingly like, "Oh, I would like this train because it's only 25% full.

If you're traveling internationally, always make sure your passport is valid for six months.

Those are kind of ways to plan a trip during COVID and some of the same ways you can plan a trip even after COVID ends.

How to Book a Trip Online?

Elena: As a newbie who never planned a trip online before, what do you need to know, what websites to go to, who is trustworthy?

Latifah: So if I'm booking online, I like to look at many different websites. So basically, as if I was going to a doctor, I like to get numerous opinions. So, I look at many different websites to compare, so I do look at KAYAK. And I actually, typically usually book with KAYAK, but I also look at my Momondo.

Check Different Websites

Latifah: I also look at Google. I look at the different websites that many people have had positive reviews from and I compare them, and it really just depends. Sometimes one website is better than the other. And sometimes you might just feel more comfortable with one website because of the layout of how you can see the different pricing.

So for example, Momondo shows like a graph and you can see as a month progresses, what days the prices increase or decrease. KAYAK, they have some days where it shows a red square while others are green, meaning cheaper or less expensive. So, it's whichever you feel comfortable with.

But I mean, I would definitely make sure it's a reputable company. If it's a company you haven't heard of it, do a little Google search. See, have there been reviews saying it's a scam or anything like that. And, that goes for not only booking sites, but also airlines, if you haven't heard of this international airline or something like that, definitely check it out. And also, always be sure it's a secure website.

So, in the little HTML code on the top left, make sure there's a little lock. So, that usually means it's not a scam that they're just trying to get your credit card info.

And then in general, for each site, look and see what their booking terms are, such as the cancellation policy and what's the payment and possible deposit policy.

Check Cancellation and Change Policies

Latifah: Because sometimes, the sites are different than maybe the actual airline, or the actual hotel. So, make sure you're okay with those. And if you're booking a flight online, check cancellation and change policies, check what their COVID measures are right now during this time, because some airlines are taking stronger safety measures for COVID than other airlines, such as Delta, they're blocking out the middle seat, which is very... I think that makes me feel safer when I'm traveling.

Check Location

Latifah: And then for hotels, check out the location of the hotel, check out what the TripAdvisor reviews. Leave the site that you might be booking from, check out what TripAdvisor says about them. And search for if, does this hotel have a concierge, etc.? Because sometimes, these booking sites have different types of reviews than if you go to another booking site, or if you go to a third-party site such as TripAdvisor and such.

Check Online Reviews

Latifah: So, you should really check out all the different reviews. Do some little research, spend some time. And if you're booking a tour company online, check out what type of trips do they offer that you may want? And, do you fit in with them? Who goes on their trips? Are they easily reached?

If there's not a phone number for a company that you're booking for, I feel to me, that's very stressful. An email is fine, but a phone number will give you more of an immediate response, so check that out. Have there been reviews that people have mentioned this company keeps in touch with you from the booking stage to travel date? Because that's always great to me.

Find Out Who’s on the Ground When You Arrive

Latifah: I feel really comfortable when I book a trip, and then I get numerous emails up until my travel date, like reminding me or giving me tips and such. And, if you're looking to book with a travel company, definitely make sure you find out who's on the ground with you when you arrive. The best scenario is there's a tour company with you and local experts.

But check out and see, are you just arriving and you have to get to the hotel yourself or whatnot? So make sure you really... It basically comes down to make sure you really do research about these different places that you're looking into and check out many different sites to find out what best is suitable for you and your type of travel.

What Steps to Take Before Traveling?

Elena: You’ve made a decision on your destination, you get tickets first, then a hotel, then transportation. Does it kind of happen at the same time? How do you normally do it?

Latifah: I think the first step is the destination. I first research and see if this destination has activities I'm interested in. So, once I for sure know it does, then I'll just do a quick search and see the price average of hotels, to make sure they have hotels that are not too luxurious and not too budget, kind of in my range of like the middle.

But also, if you prefer a budget, make sure it has that option. And if you prefer luxury, make sure it has that option. And then, once I do that like just a quick search, then that's when I get to booking the flight.

I usually do destination, choose a destination and then book a flight, then book a hotel, and then do activities from there. Transportation is probably... Actually, I do transportation and then activities, because I need to make sure I can get to the hotel from the airport.

Usually, once I booked the hotel, it's kind of a mix of transportation activities, because I can also contact the hotel and ask them for their advice on, if they offer transportation, if they have a concierge for activities. So, destination, flight, hotel, transportation, activities.

How Long Does It Take to Book a Trip?

Elena: How long would the whole process of booking a trip online take you?

Latifah: I would say it probably takes me about 10 days. It takes me about 10 days. So, it takes me probably three days just to do my research. And then, after I do my research, then I'll book the flight, and then it probably takes me about two days to find a hotel. And then, the rest of the time I'm figuring out activities and transportation. So, I would say a week to 10 days.

What Are Some Unexpected Situations While Traveling?

Elena: Have you had an unexpected situation during one of your travels and how did you find your way out of it?

Latifah: I have so many to choose from. Some are good, some maybe are not so good, but at the end of the day, now that it's over, it's kind of funny looking back at it. 

In 2010, actually I was in Tanzania, I was filming a documentary. And I don't know if you remember, but a volcano erupted in Iceland that year. It was huge. It was all over the news.

A lot of flights were held up because of it. All flights out of Tanzania were also canceled due to the volcano and they were canceled for two weeks. SI was essentially stranded in the country, I couldn't go anywhere. But it turned out to be fun. At the time, I was in school, so I was missing school. Obviously, I loved that. But, I also was able to stay in the hotel with other stranded foreigners.

We kind of made the most out of our time, like we would all gather in the lobby, we would form like little groups to go on trips. So, I actually made a lot of new friends that way. And, but the entire time, we were prepared in case any flights opened, we had everything packed and ready.

I mean, we found out one morning, they told us they were like, "We have a flight for you guys, you need to be ready within six hours." But, we were all already packed. It was like, we were just living out of a bag basically at that time, just so that at any point, we could just get the bag, get our passport and go. That was a really interesting time.

I've also been in Taiwan and there was tension with China. And so, the entire country went under lockdown for 24 hours. We were not allowed to leave our hotel, all curtains had to be closed, lights had to be turned off. Which obviously that's, especially if you haven't traveled and been in the situation can be scary, but we stayed calm and we stayed inside. And within 24 hours, it was over. We also chatted with other people in the hotel. 

So, you really have to make the most out of a lot of situations that you're in and stay calm.

When Do You Need a Vaccine to Travel?

Elena: Places like Tanzania, and let's say Africa or other African countries, what about vaccination? Have you had to have it? How long in advance do you do it? Where do you find what you need for this type of country?

Latifah: My first country that I ever traveled to, that I had to get vaccinated for was I went to Tanzania, Kenya, and Madagascar altogether in one trip. That was in 2010, it was a while ago. But I would say, I got about five to six vaccinations, and I also had to take malaria pills. But I think now there's a vaccine for malaria. That's something you definitely should plan. 

When you're researching your destination, check out the vaccination policy and what vaccines you may need...

...because you may not want to travel to a destination if you need vaccines, or you may be too late in the game. Like, if you're planning on traveling the next week, usually if you need these vaccines… Because of some vaccines, they want you to take it. Like malaria pills, I'm pretty sure you have to start taking it at least two weeks in advance. 

So, that could maybe stop you from even traveling to that destination because you haven't started taking it. I do recommend taking the vaccines that they recommend because I mean, these are destinations that... Maybe the locals have been exposed to this, so their body is able to handle these types of viruses or bacteria. But, if you're from a first-world country or a more developed country, then we may not be able to handle that.

Usually, most places have... What are they called? I think they're called passport clinics. And, they specifically focus on vaccinations for travel. But also, you could contact your primary care physician, and they may be able to give some of the vaccines or recommend a place for you because I do know that a travel clinic can be pretty pricey.

You might want to first contact your local physician. If you're planning on traveling to various places in Africa, I think maybe some places in South America, even in Asia, you probably should plan in advance, because you will need to have some vaccines or pills a few weeks out.

How to Get a Refund for a Canceled Trip?

Elena: Do you have any suggestions, maybe you'll know of some loopholes, maybe some kind of way to handle this better, to avoid the emotional distress and to get at least some money eventually?

Latifah: This is a very tricky question and I mean, it's happening to so many people right now during COVID especially. And, there's not really one answer for everyone because it really depends on who they booked with and what company. But I would say, definitely first off, contact your travel insurance. And, I'm hoping that people did purchase travel insurance or have travel insurance.

First, contact your travel insurance, see what their policy is when it comes to COVID. Every insurance is different, but I have heard about some insurance companies who have been able to really help people get a lot of money back, or at least get some type of credit back for their trips. So I would say number one - contact your travel insurance.

Even if you book through an online travel agency, try contacting the airline directly, even though you didn't book directly with the airline, try contacting them because there have been some airlines who have given credit, even though you booked with an OTA.

It's so much more difficult with an OTA because there are so many more people involved, that's why I suggest going straight to the airline or straight to the hotel, instead of going through the online travel agency. Contact each individual company, if you're able to try to receive some type of refund.

Then, if you can't, I mean, everyone's first instinct is to be furious, to start yelling on the phone, to demand. I know it's hard, obviously losing money is hard, but so many people are going through this, and you have to also understand some of these companies, especially if they're small businesses and such, I mean, they're also losing money. 

So, it's hard for them to also give you a refund and stuff. Obviously, that's hard to take in mentally, but ask for other options, kind of give some leeway. Ask for other options, such as maybe they can give you a credit. Maybe they can give you the same amount of days in the hotel or the same airline flight next year, or whenever you are able to travel again. Ask for a voucher and such.

The bottom line is always read the fine print before booking, and contact the company before booking if you have any questions or are hesitant.

Obviously, no one was expecting COVID or any type of virus like this, but now that we've experienced it, I think moving forward, that's something you are going to ask about. Like, "Okay, if a virus happens, what's your policy, what type of refund and such?” And, you should ask that about everything. Or if you don't want to ask, you should at least read the fine print to make sure it covers everything that could possibly happen on your trip.

Is It Safe to Travel During COVID-19?

Elena: Is it safe to travel right now? And, what are the safe destinations for traveling in your personal opinion?

Latifah: I think traveling right now, really depends on the traveler. If you're a traveler that is able to adhere to policies, then I say travel. If you're taking precautions at home, then you are probably able to take precautions while you travel. If you're someone who gets very frustrated by wearing a mask or having to adhere to some of these policies…

...if you're traveling because you want to get away from it, you probably should not travel, because you're not getting away from it.

There's nowhere to get away from it, and you're just endangering yourself and others, and you're probably, in the long run, going to be very frustrated, especially if you travel and encounter people who force you to adhere to policies.

We really see businesses step up to the plate, such as lowering the occupancy on flights, or on trains, or in hotels, increasing their cleaning standards, constantly sanitizing. I know Hilton hotels are putting a sticker from the door to the wall showing that no one has been in, has broken the seal, basically, seals the word I'm looking for.

Travelers must adhere to these policies and they must realize this is not negotiable, nor is it a political situation. This is for the safety of everyone. And so, if you plan on taking safety measures, all safety measures, I recommend traveling. Why not?

If you know, you can handle wearing a mask at all times, if you plan on sanitizing, hand-washing and are able to refrain from touching your face, yes, travel. If you have issues with any of these or get annoyed by any of these, do not travel. 

To me, the safest directions, as far as traveling, flying, if you're flying within the United States, I recommend Delta. They block out middle seats there. They have kicked out so many people for not wearing a mask. I have flown Delta during the pandemic and I can say, I felt extremely safe.

Actually, I felt like that was my lowest risk location of contracting COVID. But obviously, 

...the safest way to go is road tripping, taking your own car, traveling to outdoor destinations.

That way you're bringing your own food, or maybe only eating outside. And if you need to, you can choose and stay in COVID-selected hotels. So there are hotels like I mentioned Hilton earlier, but there are other hotels that are really enhancing their cleaning standards.

If you're staying in an Airbnb, there are some places, the ones that are following precautions, they have a little label that says, "Enhanced COVID cleaning standards." So, that's an option. And traveling with people in your bubble, that's also the safest way to travel. If you formed a bubble during COVID, that's great. I mean, the bottom line is to travel smart and be mindful of others. I don't think that there is a reason not to travel if you're following all precautions.

Travel Trends for the 2021 Year

Elena: What are the traveling trends or what will be in your opinion, the travel and trends for 2021?

Latifah: I think that travel will definitely change, but it doesn't really have to be a bad thing. I think that there will be a huge focus on road trips and more adventure travel. People will be really mindful of space. There'll be a lot of weekend getaways, so shorter trips. People will still be kind of adjusting to traveling in general.

National parks will also be really popular, and these can also be for financial reasons as well, due to obviously a lot of people having lost jobs and such. I do think that there will be an increase in private jet flights, just because people will feel safer that they're flying alone or with their family. Obviously, for some of us, we can't afford it. But, I think that a lot of flights will maintain their sanitization standards moving forward, a lot more than they did pre-COVID.

There'll be kind of a revival with the travel agents, versus online travel agencies due to having issues getting refunds. Speaking directly to a travel agent will be easier than booking through an online travel agency, like an OTA.

I think cruise lines will probably expand medical facilities on board since they are kind of harder to quickly get off the cruise and move somewhere. I think hotels may kind of open for partial day use as well, to kind of promote a staycation, But also in need of boosting their income, they might open for partial day use.

A lot more technology will be used, so touchless devices. Right now you're seeing in restaurants, you scan the barcode instead of touching the menu, hotels will probably do similar things. I think there'll be a lot of eco-friendly options.

People who are to travel are going to be Millennials and Gen Z. I think they're going to be the very first people to travel because I think the older generation is a bit more precautious about it, which is not a bad thing. You'll see those people traveling first. And, I really think airline travel will take about two to four years to recover. I actually read a statistic recently that said, "58% of travelers said they would restrict their traveling to domestic trips." People will be really budget-conscious, so they might look more to staying at bed and breakfasts, or campgrounds or even all-inclusive, so it's like one big package.

I think as far as bookings, some people right now would book in advance because there are free change fees, etc. But maybe moving forward, I think after COVID, people may decide to book last minute, such as one week in advance, maybe because they are worried about the policies or what may happen. So, they may just book last minute so that they know, oh, the virus is not happening right now.

It could go really either way with that. We'll just have to see how that works. I mean, I think within the U.S., national parks and outdoor places will become popular. But internationally, I really think destinations such as Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, these are places that are also outdoor destinations that offer a lot of space, like wildlife and such. I think those will become very popular.

Of course, I don't really know, but this is kind of where it's trending right now. People are kind of seeming to want to avoid tourist hotspot cities. So, most people love to travel to Europe in the summer. I think that won't be as much of an increase, because that's a large group of people gathered in one place, and I think people will still be a little wary for a few years.

So, I think it's going to be kind of the more places that you hear about that are very eco-conscious, outdoors, like stay in this eco-lodge in Guatemala and such. So, maybe Central South America, as well as parts of Asia, which people will also be kind of wary of Asia as well. But, it really just depends on the traveler.

Elena: Latifah, thank you very much again for the interview.

The travel industry gradually recovers from the pandemic. There’s a hope that the summer of 2021 will provide more opportunities for safe traveling across the world. If you plan a trip, we advise you to follow the above tips from our travel expert.

We thank Latifah Al-Hazza for sharing safety travel tips in our video interview. If you don’t want to miss any expert tips, please follow our YouTube channel. Stay safe!

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