After coronavirus: When is it safe to travel again?

when is it safe to travel

When is it safe to travel again? That’s the $570 billion question.

When the experts say so, that’s when. But figuring out who those experts are during the coronavirus crisis may be as difficult as finding a vaccine.

When is it safe to book a trip again?

Here are three things that must happen for travelers to return:

The State Department must lift its Level 4 travel advisory. On March 19, the government issued a warning to avoid all international travel because of the pandemic. It will have to rescind the warning for travelers to feel comfortable booking any kind of trip again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to give the “all clear.” CDC normally doesn’t issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States. But it did for coronavirus. Once that advisory gets lifted, travelers can resume planning their summer vacations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) needs to give a thumbs-up to travel. The meaning of WHO’s highly technical warnings are clear: Stay home. Monitor its website for a change. When you see WHO’s easing up, it may be time to plan your next trip.

It’s not enough for just one of these entities to rescind its warnings. To be safe, wait for all three to do it.

If you’re a nervous traveler, look for the Canadian government and British government to chime in, too. If everyone is in agreement, you can probably start to feel comfortable about traveling again.

By the way, that half-trillion dollars I mentioned a minute ago is the amount of tourism money at risk in North America this year after the coronavirus outbreak, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), a trade organization. All told, nearly 7 million tourism jobs are on the line.

“The travel and tourism sector faces an economic meltdown,” warned Gloria Guevara, WTTC’s president.

And that’s because your next vacation is history — at least, for now.

Here are other signs that it’s safe to travel

Schools and businesses reopen. When classes resume and you can sit down in restaurants again, things are returning to normal and that it may be safe to travel. China has already done that and at the time of this writing, Italy was scheduled to reopen its institutions in early April. “Once all these things are in place life should resume normally and travel will be safe again,” says Chantelle Kern, CEO of The Italian On Tour, a boutique Canadian tour operator.

Your travel agent will book the trip. Travel advisors will do almost anything for you, but more than anything they want you to come home alive. “The health and safety of our clients is our biggest concern,” says Betsy Ball, cofounder of Euro Travel Coach. She’s obsessing over a coronavirus outbreak map from Johns Hopkins University. And so far, she’s not ready to start booking again. “It will be quite some time before it is safe for people to travel again,” she says.

When you can buy travel insurance. Many travel insurance companies stopped selling policies after the outbreak. Some added new restrictions, especially on “cancel for any reason” policies. “That’s the canary in the coal mine,” says Phil Sylvester, a spokesman for World Nomads, a travel insurance company. When travel insurance providers resume allowing the purchase of policies, it means it’s safe to travel.

When will all of that happen? At least three months, according to the predictive models developed by the travel risk assessment team of, an insurance technology company based in San Jose. “We’re telling our customers to avoid non-essential travel for the time being,” says spokeswoman Rachel Coen.

Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of, says insurance purchases can also be a reliable bellwether. “We are seeing travel insurance purchases primarily for travel after August 1, and many travel insurance policies for travel in 2021,” he says.

OK, so when is it safe for you to travel?

Travelers have their personal lists, too. Lee Richardson had planned to drive from Indianapolis to Tarpon Springs, Fla., on Easter. Her kids forbade her.

“I believe it’s payback for all the times I told them ‘no’,” says Richardson, a retired educator who lives in Indianapolis.

So what would make her go? Permission from her kids and a good word from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, she says.

A lot of travelers will have their own litmus test for traveling again. “I expect there will be a delay between the removal of regulatory restrictions and broad-based comfort with travel,” says Chris Anderson, a professor at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. He thinks most travelers will be looking for reassurances that the travel industry has its act together when it comes to hygiene.

If none of that brings travelers back, then one thing will: a good deal. That’s right, nothing gets travelers back like a cheap fare or hotel rate. It won’t make much of a dent in the half-trillion-dollar loss. But travel companies can always raise prices later. And you know they will.

These are NOT signs that it’s safe to travel again

Reopening tourist attractions

“That has more to do with economics and profit anxiety rather than safety,” says Courtney Kansler, a senior health intelligence analyst at WorldAware. While these events may be greeted with fanfare, it doesn’t mean there’s no risk of infection.

No more coronavirus cases

Even if a particular destination country is reporting no additional cases, travelers are still transiting through airports with thousands of other people. You still could get infected.

When politicians say so

Instead, heed the words of health officials. “They are the experts,” says Alison Hickey, president of Kensington Tours. “When they feel the time is right, they will lift the restrictions on international travel.”

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Global Rescue

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

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Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

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