Is it time to cancel your next family vacation?
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Planning a family vacation requires so many more considerations than a solo trip, or a trip with a partner or other adults, ever would. Parents traveling with children have to consider their kids’ needs at every turn — when deciding the itinerary, choosing flight times, packing bags, planning for meals (and snacks) — the list goes on … and on. And that was before COVID-19 protocols had us stocking our bags with pint-size masks and boatloads of hand sanitizer.
Despite all of the extra planning, though, parents have been chomping at the bit to get back to traveling. The optimism of the vaccine rollout led many travelers to plan trips months in advance, believing that the worst was behind us. And for a time, that looked to be true. There were multigeneration family gatherings and reunions to be had, and many families got busy plotting out their next adventure together.
However, our progress through the pandemic turned out not to be linear. Some places, even within the U.S., are now experiencing a more intense phase of the pandemic than ever before.
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With everything we know so far about the delta and mu variants and the increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated, you might be wondering if it’s still safe to take your upcoming much-anticipated family vacation — even if you take all necessary precautions to keep your unvaccinated children safe.
The answer, of course, is personal but there are some things you can take into consideration when asking the question: is it time to cancel my next family vacation (again)?
Assessing the level of risk
The level of risk for exposure to COVID-19 while traveling will depend largely on your destination and the type of vacation you plan to have.
According to Dr. Jenny Yu of Healthline Media’s (a Red Venture sister company to TPG) Medical Affairs team, COVID-19 cases in those under 18 years old “are worse in regions where the vaccination rates in the general population have been low, so Southeast states such as Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.”
And the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) says that COVID cases are rising in children across the country, with children under 18 accounting for 28.9% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases recently, the highest number since the pandemic started. And even though hospitalizations for children is less than 4%, that number is still high enough to make many parents of small children want to pivot on plans.
Even in an outdoor setting, it’s not always possible to socially distance in long lines and crowded concession areas.
Summer Hull’s recent trip to Disney World highlighted the challenges of visiting a theme park right now. And even though Disney began requiring masks indoors again at the end of July, some theme parks, such as Universal Orlando, haven’t reinstated those precautions. The sheer number of people returning to theme parks may give pause to those with children who are still too young to get the vaccine.
TPG editor Benét J. Wilson changed her plans to visit some unvaccinated family members in Texas, and instead chose to find a spot where they could safely socially distance themselves. To ensure that they can avoid crowds, they are considering a trip to the beach in Galveston or Marfa to enjoy the outdoor art, avoiding usual family favorites such as Six Flags and the Children’s Do-Seum to avoid crowds, and even skipping busier pools on this trip.
Hotels and resorts — with increasing occupancy rates in popular leisure destinations — may also make it challenging to social distance. Despite the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people in high-risk areas wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, many locales are seeing little to no change in behavior.
If you’re concerned about social distancing in hotels with your family, consider a return to the types of trips that were popular to plan in the early social distancing days of 2020, renting a cabin in the woods or a breezy beach house.
When choosing a vacation destination, it’s important to consider the number of COVID-19 cases as well as mask mandates or other health procedures in place as that variest widely across the country. Health requirements and even the availability of emergency health care also varies by country and even by state.
While this could change, currently, there is no testing required to travel domestically throughout the United States (aside from Hawaii) or when driving across the border to Mexico.
In July, Hawaii dropped the mandatory testing and quarantine requirement for those travelers vaccinated in the U.S. Fully-immunized visitors will have to upload proof of vaccination to Hawaii’s Safe Travels website as well as show their actual vaccination card when they arrive.
Children as young as 5 years old — who are still ineligible to receive the vaccine — are still required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to departing on the final leg (or departure city if flying nonstop) of your itinerary to the islands.
With Hawaii, you only have a choice between approved testing providers such as some that are available at select airport locations, drive-thru testing centers at a list of trusted pharmacies and supervised at-home tests like Vault.
And then there’s international travel.
Many destinations that have reopened to Americans currently require a negative COVID-19 test. Increasingly, destinations are also requiring visitors to be fully vaccinated. And to complicate matters further, the exact policy for your kids may vary from country to country.
Entry requirements are fluid so it’s best to check with the country’s embassy to determine current guidance. You can also check TPG’s country-by-country reopening guide.
Here’s additional news about international travel:
- Traveling soon? Here’s where you can quickly get a COVID-19 PCR test for travel
- It’s getting harder to travel to Europe — even if you’re vaccinated
- You now need to show proof of vaccination to enter Spain
- Some countries are setting vaccine expiration dates for travel
In January, President Biden made it a requirement that all travelers entering the United States by plane would be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than three days before their departure flight to the U.S. — including fully vaccinated individuals. This means that you’ll have to devote time toward the end of your trip to taking an approved at-home test you brought from the states or to finding an eligible testing facility.
A family of any size would need to factor in the cost of testing to their overall vacation budgets as testing for travel is often not covered by insurance.
The popular supervised at-home COVID-19 test from Binax is offered through Optum for $50 for one kit, $70 for two kits and $100 for three kits. Alternatively, you can also purchase six kits for $150 through eMed.
Earlier in the summer, there were reports of hours-long wait times, though the most recent reporting from TPG’s Zach Honig was less than 10 minutes. It may be advantageous to find a testing center at your destination. Some international airports offer PCR tests (though you only need a rapid antigen test to re-enter the U.S.) and you can also find testing centers on the U.S. embassy website of the country you’re visiting.
Note that the requirement applies to all children age 2 and older.
For my own family’s upcoming trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I didn’t realize that my 3-year old would have to go undergo testing to re-enter the U.S. I mistakenly thought it was for children age 5 and older. Even if we could rationalize putting him through a rapid test, or consider visiting somewhere that didn’t require testing, the increasing cases of COVID-19 due to the delta variant were enough for my husband and I to decide that now isn’t the time to travel with our toddler.
Even if a contracted case of COVID-19 was mild for our little ones, as most are, it would still then trigger an out-of-country quarantine, which is what happened to another parent on the TPG staff.
Quarantine and healthcare
So what exactly does happen if you or a travel companion test positive for the coronavirus while you’re out of the country and can’t return?
Procedures for a positive test result when traveling internationally vary by country. Some countries — such as the Bahamas and Aruba — require visitors to purchase COVID-19 health insurance directly from the government when registering for a health visa before arrival. Some coverage includes up to $75,000 in healthcare costs while on their islands. Travelers may also be required to quarantine for up to 14 days.
Other countries like Costa Rica require a mandatory 14-day quarantine regardless of departure date if you test positive while visiting, while Mexico says it’s “advisable” that travelers quarantine for 14 days if they test positive for the virus.
Popular European destinations are somewhat less restrictive — there’s no requirement to have travel insurance to cover the costs of a positive test, but quarantines are mandatory after testing positive in Italy, France, Portugal and others. In this case, COVID-19-related healthcare costs are the sole responsibility of the traveler, which may be enough justification to purchase independent travel insurance in the unfortunate event that you test positive during your trip.
Finally, take some time to evaluate what might happen if you or a family member need to seek medical treatment while traveling — both domestically and internationally. Some hospitals in current U.S. hot spots are operating at or over capacity, while the quality and availability of healthcare services can vary greatly outside of the country.
With ongoing restrictions and travel requirements at the moment, you can’t help but wonder what your experience will be like on your next trip.
When I was in New Orleans in May, we weren’t able to visit any of the popular children’s attractions — including the aquarium and city park — because places were only open on certain days and with modified hours. This really affected our plans for doing things with our kids.
And these policies can change with very little notice. Places like Disney, Las Vegas and Broadway have also implemented or reinstated mask mandates. That will be welcome news to some, but a deal-breaker for others. New York City has also imposed a vaccination requirement for indoor dining and other activities, meaning a family trip to the Big Apple later this fall might be significantly different (and more challenging) than you expected.
In addition to the recommendation that masks be worn indoors again, it’s possible that even more restrictions will follow. Restaurants might return to lower capacity limits, for example, making it difficult to secure reservations.
The cruise industry was almost brought to its knees last year when COVID first appeared but many ships have begun sailing again. Each cruise line has their own vaccination requirement — some even suing Florida for the right to do so — and they vary greatly.
Basically, cruise lines are allowing kids younger than 12 to board unvaccinated if they provide negative test results upon arriving at the pier and take a second test administered at the pier. Anyone 12 or older must be vaccinated (original, physical vaccine cards required) and show a negative test result upon arrival at the terminal. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general rule. Norwegian has committed to an onboard vaccination rate of 100%, which means currently there’s no way to bring kids under 12 on board because young children can’t get the shots.
Disney Cruise Line (DCL) requires that requires guests 18 years of age and older to be fully vaccinated, in addition, they’ve added new rules, such as not allowing drop-ins for kids three to 12 in the Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab if you haven’t reserved ahead. And DCL is also offering a 100% vaccinated cruise — meaning 12 and up only — through the Panama Canal later this year.
What if you decide to cancel?
If you do decide to cancel or postpone your upcoming family vacation, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Wait to cancel your flights
It’s true that nonrefundable airfare is generally just that: nonrefundable. But there are a few instances where you might be able to get your money back when you pay cash for your plane tickets. This is especially true as carriers continue to make schedule adjustments, sometimes just weeks before departure.
The same holds true for operational issues. The silver lining of airlines like Spirit, Southwest and American canceling flights in advance recently is that you could qualify for a refund without having to do anything at all. A little patience could prove fruitful if you wait and see if your flight gets canceled or significantly modified by the airline. If it does, you’re entitled to a full refund.
If you booked your airfare with miles, you should be able to cancel your flights and have the miles deposited into your account — though this sometimes incurs a fee.
Travel insurance with cancel for any reason coverage
“Cancel for any reason” travel insurance is great for protecting your vacation investment when there’s a chance that you might decide not to take your trip. The caveat is that this type of insurance usually has to be purchased within a specific time frame after placing your deposit and must cover the entire cost of your trip. And, it generally only reimburses up to 75% of your trip costs.
Hotel redemptions and nonrefundable hotel reservations
If you booked your hotel with points, then you should be able to cancel your reservation within the specific property’s cancellation window, and those points should be deposited back into your account. And most paid rates offer free cancellations without any penalty, as long as you do so by the deadline on your reservation confirmation.
Unfortunately, if you’ve paid cash for a nonrefundable hotel room — whether directly with a hotel chain or via a third-party platform — it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get a refund (unless you’ve purchased travel insurance). You can always try pleading your case with the individual property, but be prepared to forfeit that cost.
Cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage for specified reasons, but these policies almost certainly won’t be enough to get a refund on a trip that you decide to cancel. Card protections typically cover things like baggage delays; lost, stolen or damaged baggage; and trip delays. Covered reasons for a canceled trip that would qualify for reimbursement vary from card to card, but a voluntary cancellation related to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic is typically not included.
It’s never easy to cancel a vacation that you’ve been looking forward to. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision as to whether you want to pull the trigger on canceling, or postponing your trip a little longer until all your kids can get vaccinated or things just calm down a bit once again. Just be sure to consider all relevant factors to determine the best option for you (and your family).
Additional reporting by Melissa Klurman.
Featured photo by Vidar Nordli Mathisen/Unsplash.
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