As the world’s countries emerge from lockdown, it’s normal to ask: is it safe to travel right now?
Over the past few months, airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses have been working hard to create a safe environment. That said, there are certainly more things to think about compared to this time last year. Whether you’re thinking about heading overseas or would prefer a staycation, read this complete guide to safe travel in the age of COVID-19.
This article was last updated on 16 September 2020. You can find the latest travel information on which countries are open to visitors on our dedicated travel restrictions global map.
Is it safe to travel by plane?
Taking part in any activity that minimises social distancing is risky, but flying is probably safer than you think.
A 2018 study into the way infectious diseases are spread in planes found that it’s unlikely that a droplet-mediated respiratory infectious disease – like COVID-19 – would be able to spread more than one metre on an aircraft. This is backed up by some practical examples. Earlier this year, Canadian public health officials found that there were no new infections on a 15-hour flight from Guangzhou to Toronto, with two passengers on board suffering from COVID-19.
This is because aeroplane air is a lot cleaner than you might imagine. Speaking to the BBC in June, Jean-Brice Dumont – the chief engineer of Airbus – said that all of the air on a flight is completely renewed every few minutes. Air is collected from outside of the aeroplane and mixed with recycled air. This passes through high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters just like the kind that are used in hospitals. The filters are the right size to capture coronavirus particles, so the air should be perfectly safe to breathe.
Air on planes also flows from top to bottom – so doesn’t spread backwards or forwards through the cabin.
In addition, airlines are taking extra measures to make it safer to fly. These precautions include handing out personal protective equipment like face masks (mandatory to wear throughout the flight on most airlines) and hand sanitiser, and asking passengers to socially distance during boarding.
Many airlines have stopped their in-flight meals and duty-free services. Some airlines are keeping the middle seat empty for social distancing and asking passengers not to leave their seats unless using the toilets.
What are the travel risks at the airport?
It’s worth pointing out that you’re more likely to pick up the virus while you’re at – or on your way to – the airport. While surfaces are disinfected regularly, you are in a space that hundreds of other people have passed through. Now’s a good time to practice the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice from earlier on in the pandemic. Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds and don’t touch your face. Keep some hand sanitiser handy, for when you can’t make it to a bathroom.
That said, airports have introduced a slew of new measures to minimise the risks of flying during coronavirus, such as encouraging online check-in before arriving at the airport or using self-service kiosks, and airport staff taking passengers’ temperatures using touchless thermometers before boarding. There are also more hand sanitising stations positioned throughout airports.
More information on flying during the pandemic:
- Tips for flying during coronavirus
- Everything you need to know about food and drink on flights right now
- What to expect while flying during coronavirus: a first-hand experience
Is it safe to travel by car?
Taking your car from the UK to mainland Europe can feel like a safe way to travel during coronavirus, because you’re in your own ‘bubble’ from start to finish. Note that every stop you make increases your chance of coming into contact with someone carrying the virus, but that the chances overall aren’t dissimilar from everyday activities like grocery shopping.
But be informed about infection rates in the areas that you’re driving through, wear your mask each time you stop and wash your hands at every opportunity. And if you’re driving from the UK to Germany, you’ll only be able to avoid self-isolating when you return home if you don’t exit the car in France or the Netherlands.
Both France and the Netherlands have been removed from the UK government’s travel corridors list. This means that if you travel to mainland Europe on the train, entering either of these countries, you will have to self-isolate for 14 days on returning back to the UK. It also means that if you drive through these countries and exit the car, you will have to self-isolate when you get home.
Is it safe to travel by train?
It’s important to note that any kind of shared travel brings with it transmission risks. But, outdoor train platforms and spaced-apart seats can reduce the risk of close contact with others, and mandatory face coverings on public transport in most European countries helps reduce the transmission of droplets.
Increased hygiene procedures and open windows can make train travel relatively safe, but it all depends on whether cleaning protocol has been followed, so protect yourself by keeping your mask on, washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitiser.
Again, travel by train to mainland Europe through France or the Netherlands requires 14 days self isolation on return to the UK.
Is it safe to travel by bus?
It can be difficult to socially distance on buses, and not all coaches have windows that can be opened – limiting fresh air flow, a key factor in reducing airborne virus transmission.
Which are the safest countries to visit?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is in charge of reviewing the ‘travel corridors’ list of countries that are exempt from travel restrictions. You can find an official list on the UK government website. These countries have a reciprocal agreement with the UK, so you don’t need to quarantine when you arrive or when you get home.
Coronavirus is really unpredictable. A destination can go from being considered safe to risky in the blink of an eye. Spain, for example, was removed from the travel corridor exemption list at the end of July – leaving many tourists frustrated. More recently Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece and Portugal were taken off the exemptions list.
Bear in mind that, even if a country has low cases of COVID-19 when you book your trip, it could change in the days before you go. It pays to be prepared and understand that you might need to go into 14 days of quarantine once you get back home. The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re insured – we’ve got some guidance on choosing a coronavirus-era insurance policy.
Unsafe destinations aren’t just overseas, either. Keep an eye on local guidance if you’re planning a staycation. Mini lockdowns have been reinstated across the UK in cities like Manchester, Leicester, Aberdeen and other regions in the north of the country.
To sum up, no country is going to be 100% safe right now, or virus-free. Planning is more important than ever. Always check what’s happening before you travel and invest in insurance coverage.
Read more about choosing a safe destination:
Quick travel safety tip checklist
You can’t do anything about the R number in the place you’re visiting, but you can protect yourself with these simple travel safety tips.
Start by asking, ‘is it safe to travel right now?’ Check the government website for advice on the country or region you’re visiting to make sure there’s no quarantine or local lockdown.
Avoid busy routes and times. Avoid public transport during local rush hours. When you’re choosing a destination, try to go for somewhere a little offbeat – it’s likely the flight will be quieter. Our list of 11 lesser-known alternatives to popular places may be a good place to start.
Check entry requirements. Some countries are ‘open for business’ but with the caveat that you need to have tested negative for COVID-19. Check if there are any extra tests, screenings or quarantine measures in place.
Remember the basics. You might be on holiday, but coronavirus isn’t. When you’re passing through busy places like airports, hotels and shops try to keep two metres (six feet) from other people. Wear a face covering, wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds at a time, and try not to touch your face.
Bring your own disinfectant. Most hotels and restaurants have amped up their cleaning procedures, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Wipe down frequently touched surfaces in your hotel room with antibacterial wipes, just to be on the safe side.
Book in advance. Restaurants and attractions need to limit numbers to maintain social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately this means it’s harder to be spontaneous – check online first to see if you need to book tickets or tables in advance.
Prepare for the worst. If you start to experience symptoms, you’ll need to self isolate and potentially get tested. Pack paracetamol and some non-perishable food so you can limit your contact with others. Depending on how severe your case is, you might need to get treatment in your destination.
Be ready for a longer stay. If a localised outbreak happens, you’ll need to be prepared to stay in your destination for longer. Bring your laptop if you have one, so you can work, and make sure you have enough money to pay for extra accommodation. You’ll also need to stay for longer if you start experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, as it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to fly.
Most importantly, don’t travel if you or anyone in your household/support bubble is experiencing coronvirus symptoms, or has experienced them in the past seven days. We know it’s disappointing to have to cancel a holiday, but you could potentially spread the virus if you do travel.
Do you think it’s safe to travel?
Ultimately, the only person who can answer the question ‘is it safe to travel?’ is you. Equipping yourself with information makes it easier to do a quick risk assessment. Decide whether you’d be putting yourself at any additional risk compared to staying at home. Keep an eye on the latest government guidance and make sure you have a good insurance policy in place, just in case things change unexpectedly.
Travel safety FAQs
It depends on where you’re going. You can fly to any of the countries which show up green on our travel restrictions map. Once you arrive, you’ll have to observe local laws. We recommend spending a bit of time researching lockdown restrictions in the country, region and city that you’re heading to.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently recommends against all but essential international travel, apart from to the list of exempt countries, which you can find on the government website. This list is constantly under review and can change any time. It includes major tourist destinations across Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. As they’re exempt from the travel restrictions you won’t need to go into quarantine, but keep an eye on the FCO advice in case there’s a last-minute change.
You can travel in a vehicle with other members of your household or support bubble. You only need to wear a face covering if you’re in an enclosed space with people who aren’t part of your household or bubble: for example if you hop in a taxi, travel by bus or get on an aeroplane. If you’re travelling in a private vehicle with people who aren’t part of your household, try to keep to small groups so that you’re not all squeezed together. Open the windows for added ventilation, and try to face away from each other if possible.
It depends where you’re coming from. If you’re flying from a country that isn’t on the FCO-approved list, you will need to quarantine for 14 days. Remember that the list of exempt countries is subject to change – look at the list before you travel (you can find it on the UK government website). If you transit through a country that isn’t on the list, you’ll need to isolate for a total of 14 days – this can be split between the UK and the safe country you pass through.
Want to know more?
- Check out the latest coronavirus travel advice
- See which countries are ‘open for business’ with our travel restrictions map
- Update your packing list with the 12 things you should bring if you’re travelling right now