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Fluid travel landscape complicates fall and winter vacation planning

If planning a fall or winter trip seems to have more moving parts than usual, that’s probably because it does. (iStock)

Richard Fink has some advice for anyone planning a vacation. “Even if you’re careful, there’s still a risk,” he says.

He should know. After a day trip to Boston this summer, he tested positive for the coronavirus, despite the fact that he wore an N95 respirator and practiced social distancing. As he plans a fall vacation to New Jersey and New York, he’s guided by that experience.

“It is pretty futile to attempt to avoid a covid hot spot,” says Fink, a former MIT biological safety officer who lives in Andover, Mass. “The best you can do is to be cautious wherever you go.”

As travelers look to their fall and winter trips, they’re trying to do just that — and a whole lot more.

“We’ve entered a different phase,” says Eugene Delaune, an emergency medicine physician in Alexandria, Va., and a senior medical consultant for Allianz Partners. “Early in the pandemic, travel was extremely limited. But with the rollout of vaccines, we are seeing more people making vacation plans. I expect this trend to continue.”

If the widespread lack of availability is any indication, it has.

“If you don’t have your fall or winter vacations planned, it is going to be a challenge securing one,” says Tim Derdenger, an associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “People were booking travel for the summer, fall and winter of 2021 in January and February when vaccines were being distributed. As a result, availability is quite low.”

If planning a fall or winter trip seems to have more moving parts than usual, that’s probably because it does. Guy Young, president of tour operators Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, says the latest coronavirus variants have made planning more important than ever.

“The travel landscape is more complex today,” he says. “Travelers should consider purchasing travel insurance that includes coverage if you contract covid while traveling. It’s also important to book with a reputable travel company.”

Insight and its sister company, Luxury Gold, added a well-being director to its tours. This additional staff member helps cut through the red tape, navigating coronavirus protocols and testing requirements for guests during the trip. The staff member also checks that all hotels, restaurants and other venues that guests visit meet health guidelines.

What kind of insurance do you need? On this point, most insurance experts are unanimous. A “cancel for any reason” policy, which costs between 10 and 12 percent of your prepaid, nonrefundable expenses, is the way to go. Look for a policy that refunds at least 75 percent of your costs. (Some only refund half.)

If you go for a standard travel insurance policy that covers named perils, make sure it covers everything. “We advise anyone who wants to travel now or in 2022 to purchase a trip cancellation plan that does not exclude losses related to covid-19,” says Bailey Foster, vice president of trip insurance at Trawick International.

There are two things you can’t have enough of when planning a trip this fall: flexibility and foresight. Jodi Kennedy Gaffey, founder of the destination management company Epicurean Concierge, is telling clients to be as adaptable as possible.

“Also, don’t wait until the last minute to secure documentation required by your destination,” she says. “Countries are doing their best to balance the importance of tourism while keeping both locals and tourists safe. Requirements for entry can change, so stay calm, and we’ll get you the necessary information, so adjusting to new rules can go seamlessly.”

Her company works with clients in France, where authorities started requiring visitors to get the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate, which documents immunization. But converting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s paper documentation to the E.U.’s vaccine passport proved to be confusing. “It took me nine days to get my QR code,” she recalls.

Most of the same principles of planning a vacation during the early days of the pandemic still apply: Adhere to safety protocols, steer clear of crowded places, and if you’re at increased risk, consider postponing.

A critical area of concern is younger travelers, says Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “I hope that by the time winter break from school is upon us, the coronavirus vaccines for kids ages 5 to 12 will be approved for emergency use authorization,” she says.

Until then, Nachman advises parents to be extra cautious about their travel plans. Organize indoor activities with care, and be mindful of the adults and their vaccination status and medical conditions. Leave nothing to chance.

Because we can’t know what the future holds, it’s important to approach travel with the right attitude, says Christian Busch, a professor at New York University and author of “The Serendipity Mindset.”

“You don’t have to resort to doom and gloom, seeing canceled plans as the end of the journey,” he says. “Instead, you can find opportunity in the unexpected.”

Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at

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