From crowded airports to busy train stations to impacted highways, holiday travel can be challenging, even when it’s not in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. And this year with more than 100 million people expected to travel between Thanksgiving and the New Year, along with added concerns over the ongoing pandemic and civil disturbances, you might be asking, “Should I cancel my travel plans now?”

The answer is never a simple yes or no. Travel this holiday season has the potential to present very real and potentially significant health and security risks, however, if you are going to travel, here are a few tips to help safeguard your holidays. 

Stay healthy

When the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant became a variant of concern in November 2021, most countries around the world began to issue travel advisories and impose new travel restrictions to mitigate its spread. World leaders are vigilant but call for calm as researchers conduct studies to better understand the new variant, which has been detected in more than 60 countries. As information emerges, we could see further travel restrictions.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization states the most effective measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are still to keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others, wear a well-fitting mask, avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, keep hands clean, and get vaccinated.

Be prepared

Safety is the number 1 concern for all those who plan to travel this holiday season, and contracting COVID is not the only risk. In the changing global risk landscape, there are other factors at play.

“Be prepared and be flexible,” stated Jason Porter, Vice President, Pinkerton Deployable Assets, in reference to travel advisories and travel restrictions.

In March 2020 with fears mounting over onboard COVID-19 outbreaks, ports around the world closed and cruise lines suspended operations. More than 30 oceangoing cruise ships and thousands of travelers were stranded at sea, some of them with confirmed COVID-19 cases. On some ships, all guests, even those without flu-like symptoms, were asked to isolate in their staterooms.

“Nobody expected to be quarantined on a cruise ship for weeks,” Porter said.

While this particular scenario is unlikely to reoccur, there could still be unexpected closures.

“Travel bans can happen. If you are vacationing with your family in Bali, for example, and there’s an outbreak, you might not be able to get home,” Porter said. “You need to be willing to change plans at a moment’s notice.”

Buy travel medical evacuation insurance

Injuries and illnesses happen quite unexpectedly, and you never know if you will need to be medically evacuated while you are on a vacation.

“You need to have a plan for adequate medical treatment, especially if you are abroad,” Porter said. “A lot of places have less than ideal medical infrastructure.”

If you are not adequately prepared, you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for a medical evacuation, which can be costly depending on where you are located. Most medical rescue plans only cover evacuation to the nearest medical facility capable of treating your illness or injury without regard to the quality of care you might receive. If you do not have enough coverage to pay for your repatriation, you’ll likely stay at that facility until you are able to travel home on a commercial flight.

A good medical evacuation plan has enough coverage to pay for your medical repatriation if you are injured across international borders. Before embarking on your vacation, research your destination and its medical infrastructure, and make sure you have medical evacuation insurance.

Have an exit plan

“There has been an uptick of civil disturbances,” Porter said. “No matter where you are, you need to have an exit plan.”

Statistics show that civil unrest sharply increased in the last decade, and some 50% of countries have experienced both non-violent and violent protests since 2019. While most protest areas can be avoided because of advanced notice, some cannot.

“When you are sightseeing with your family, get to know the area and look for several routes that could get you and your family out of the area as quickly as possible if a protest breaks out,” Porter said adding, “Look for the safest routes.”

Situational awareness should not decrease while you are on vacation.

“No matter the situation, always have a plan to self-rescue,” Porter said. “Even have a plan upon a plan.”

There are very real health and security risks in the world today, but with some advanced planning, knowledge, and flexibility, you can mitigate your risks and enjoy your well-deserved R&R. Here at Pinkerton, we wish you all happy holidays.

Published December 16, 2021