5 reasons I’m traveling internationally right now

Sep 21, 2021

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A year ago, there were only a handful of countries that had reopened borders to tourists. While many parts of the world still remain closed, the list of reopened countries has grown tenfold thanks to the presence of vaccines.

Still, the big question remains: Should you travel internationally for vacation?

Due to threats of COVID-19 variants and ever-changing entry requirements, you may not feel comfortable traveling or even want to go through the headache of planning a vacation during these times.

While TPG’s Summer Hull wrote a piece on why, depending on your situation, you may want to reconsider international travel right now, for me the situation is different. With some fresh stamps from Iceland, Costa Rica, Italy, Greece and more in my own passport book, I’m here to bring you the contrary perspective — with five reasons why it may actually be an ideal time to travel internationally.

In This Post

I feel safer abroad

Kalamata, Greece. (Photo courtesy of Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

All travel comes with risks, so I don’t think it’s fair to generalize and avoid all international travel. I’d argue that some destinations within the U.S. are much riskier when it comes to potential COVID-19 exposure, but a visit to a national park could certainly be a wonderful vacation if you’re only looking to travel within the U.S. borders.

As an example, take a look at Hawaii.

Since it reopened almost a year ago, it’s been tourist-ridden, resulting in crowded highways and rental car and hotel shortages. Additionally, many other states have reopened completely, loosening all coronavirus-related restrictions with no testing requirements in place.

Colorful road sign along the Road to Hana
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

On the flip side, I have felt safer on my international trips. Since I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in March, I’ve visited a handful of countries and have been impressed with coronavirus protocols every time, from mask-wearing to social distancing measures in place.

Not only that, fewer tourists are traveling abroad than there used to be pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, domestic flight loads have exceeded 2019 numbers. With fewer crowds and regimented entry restrictions abroad, I feel well-informed when traveling abroad.

It’s much easier to find a COVID-19 test

You’ll need a rapid or PCR test to enter the U.S. from an international trip. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the biggest roadblocks of international travel isn’t just about entry requirements. You’ll also have to be mindful of finding a COVID-19 test within three days of your flight departure back home, as you’ll need to present a negative test to re-enter the U.S.

While it’s not too much of a challenge to present your vaccination documents, fill out electronic forms and get a coronavirus test within your hometown (depending on where you live), it can be a bit more work to find a COVID-19 test in a destination where English isn’t the first language.

Although tests were much harder to find a year ago, they are often abundantly available now. On a recent solo trip to Costa Rica, I found multiple testing sites nearby that took walk-in appointments — with guaranteed results in less than 24 hours. I crowdsourced information about testing from my hotel front desk, other tourists at cafés and restaurants, and by calling the local hospital.

Second set of COVID testing signs at Montreal airport
COVID-19 testing in Montreal. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Meanwhile, on my flight home from Greece, I knew that there was a rapid testing center within the Athens International Airport (ATH) that guaranteed results within an hour, costing only $20. Bottom line? It takes a bit of preparation (and you shouldn’t leave it to the last minute), but finding a test to return home is surprisingly simple.

Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I don’t mind getting a test to come back from my travels as it’s the responsible thing to do and comes with the territory of traveling internationally. I don’t anticipate the testing requirement to re-enter the U.S. going away anytime soon, so it’s another adjustment that I’m willing to accept if I want to continue traveling internationally.

Your bucket list destinations are less crowded

See the sites without the crowds. (Photo by bwzenith/Getty Images).

We all have our long list of bucket list destinations we wanted to visit before the pandemic. Perhaps you had already booked a trip (or two) as I did, but you quickly had to cancel those plans — with no idea when it would be possible to revisit them.

If you wanted to make up for lost time, I’d argue that this is as good of a time to cross that country off your bucket list (given that it’s currently open to travelers). For example, Italy had been top of mind for me. Even as Italy was hit hard with the coronavirus early in the pandemic, the country reopened to tourists this past summer. I had the opportunity to visit at the end of June and had a marvelous time.

A popular street in Torino, Italy. (Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

Travel is never as fun when a destination is overcrowded, but I was a little worried that traveling internationally right now would feel like a “ghost town.” Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was a win, win: many other tourists were just as eager to visit, but lines to museums and other popular sites were short and social distancing was achievable.

Fares have never been cheaper

TAP Air Portugal has been offering low fares to Europe into 2022. (Photo courtesy of TAP Air Portugal).

Well, this isn’t necessarily true for this past summer, but flight prices have indeed dropped dramatically as we head toward the off-peak fall and winter seasons. We’ve seen all sorts of deals pass us by. For example, it’s common to find a round-trip flight to Europe right now in the low $200s or $300s, even going into holiday travel.

The same goes for award travel. You can find last-minute availability with exceptionally low rates, and the best part is, your points and miles are likely refundable if you go this route.

If you can, I’d advise you to take advantage of these fares while they’re still low. It also shouldn’t cost you too much more to book a refundable cash fare or purchase cancel-for-any-reason coverage in case you need to scrap your trip last minute. Personally, I’m eyeing winter break travel and thinking of escaping New York for somewhere much warmer.

Tourists are welcome

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

This last reason may not be true across the board, but tourists were welcomed with open arms in every international destination I’ve visited.

That’s likely because many of these countries rely heavily on tourism and are still struggling from the lack of normal levels of tourist-driven revenue over the past year and a half. For example, my tour guide in Aruba was so grateful for my business and thanked me repeatedly for partaking in his snorkeling tour.

Bottom line

All of that said, international travel won’t be right for everyone right now. Even though it is worth it for me, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. In Italy, there was an instance where I couldn’t board my flight due to misunderstandings about a travel form I needed to enter Greece. I then missed the one and only flight that week that was headed to the small island I had planned to visit.

It was important to stay cool, calm, and collected, as I had to quickly make another decision. I immediately booked myself onto another flight that departed Vienna (VIE) right after, then to Greece the next morning — resulting in an unexpected sleep on the airport floor that evening (and a very quick trip to Austria that I had never planned for).

Things happen, but traveling internationally during the pandemic requires that you have the utmost flexibility and patience to deal with stressful matters.

For families with young children and those who are immunocompromised, international travel presents challenges that may not be worth the risks —  and potential hassle — just yet. Any and all trips right now will require a lot of careful planning and require a “worst-case scenario” back-up plan if you do end up testing positive. As a young solo traveler, I have the privilege to be spontaneous and change my plans on a whim.

And right now, my focus is on which international destination I’d like to visit next.

Featured photo by Stella Shon for The Points Guy.

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