Hunter may be one of hundreds of thousands of travelers relearning the essentials of travel this summer. After enduring shutdowns and travel bans, Americans are on vacation again. Along the way, they discover that they have forgotten things they knew before and there are new things they need to know but don’t.
I understand. I’ve neglected so many basic travel practices over the past few months, it’s embarrassing. I forgot to check in for a flight, forgot to print my hotel confirmation, and returned a rental car without refueling.
So, did Hunter manage to fly away? She phoned her daughter, who remembered that the Transportation Security Administration accept multiple IDs. “I had my Costco card,” says Hunter, an innkeeper of Quincy, California. It worked. “I took the flight with my Costco card.”
She notes, however, that it was not a pleasant experience. A TSA agent searched her belongings and gave her a pat down before she could go through security. And she almost missed the flight.
She is not alone. Kimberly Davis says her clients’ travel skills have deteriorated significantly during the pandemic. “I had to walk customers through some of the most basic travel questions,” says Davis, the travel agency‘s founder and CEO. Find Travel International. “I now insist on seeing their passports before working on a trip with them. It is because of the number of lost, expired or about to expire passports that I have encountered.
Its customers have basic questions about money exchange, packing, immigration clearance and ticket booking. “And those are the experienced travelers,” she says. “It’s like everyone is starting over.”
One of the most common things travelers overlook: visa and passport requirements.
Christina Tunnah, Managing Director of the Americas for a travel insurance company world nomads, says people forget to check their passport renewal dates. “With many passports sitting unused for years due to border closures, travelers didn’t notice they had expired,” she says.
Even seasoned flight attendant Steffanie Rivers neglected to check the visa rules when she recently visited Dubai with her mother.
“Before takeoff, I received an SMS from a company whose name appeared to be from the government of Dubai saying that I needed a visa,” recalls Rivers, author of “Airplane Do’s and Don’ts: A Flight Attendant’s Guide to the Secrets of Air Travel.” “So I rushed to pay over $500 to get my mom and I the visas they told me I would need.”
Why do people become travel illiterate?
“We’ve been out of the travel stream for so long that it was easy to overlook some things that would ensure we were at the top of our travel game,” says Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University. Working from home hasn’t helped either, says Plante. The Americans “lost the step with their daily preparation and their sense of timing”.
But it’s not enough to relearn the old rules of travel, experts say, because there are also some new ones.
“While travel is back, it hasn’t returned to normal,” says travel agency owner Helen Prochilo Prom Vacations. “This summer, we see cruises canceled at the last minute because there are not enough staff on board. We are seeing slow service at resorts and restaurants. And we are seeing massive airline cancellations.
Industry watchers such as Alan Fyall say people have a lot of new information to take in. “Travelers are overloaded with information, with evolving coronavirus testing requirements, local mask mandates, flight schedule changes,” says Fyall, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. “They have too much to think about.”
Consider what happened to one of Marissa Prejean’s clients, who recently attempted to enter the Dominican Republic. At the time, the country required a QR code as part of a traveler’s customs declaration.
“The authorities refused her entry into the Dominican Republic because she did not submit her documents on their online customs declaration portal which generates a QR code,” recalls Prejean, owner of Castles and Cruises Travel Company. “She had not read her travel documents carefully before leaving.”
Prejean sent her client a link and she filled out the form while she waited in the customs area of Punta Cana International Airport.
How to get back into the groove? Make a packing list. Check your document requirements. Check again to make sure you have all your essentials, including documents, IDs, visas and chargers. Assume nothing. And don’t be overconfident in your travel skills.
Even the experts have lost some of their travel mojo during the pandemic.
“I lost training,” admits Harshvardhan Joshi, a mountaineer from Vasai, India. “Particularly in the packaging.” On a recent excursion, he left his iPhone charger at home. “Without the charger, my phone would be dead,” he recalls. “And without the phone, I wouldn’t have any money, since I only use digital currencies and also keep all my documents on the phone.”
The fix: He borrowed someone else’s charger. Then he ordered a new one online and had it overnight at his house.
Joshi shouldn’t feel bad. As I was finishing this story, I received an urgent text message from my cell phone company. My SIM card has expired, and now I’m in a foreign country with no phone connection.
Oops. I might be better off working my travel skills.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advice can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDCs travel health advice web page.