Holiday Bookings: How To Plan A Trip Abroad After Lockdown

Covid travel rules and restrictions could change in 2021 in the UK and abroad.

The government has revealed its roadmap out of lockdown – and the question on everyone’s lips? When can we go on holiday?

Assuming the roadmap stays on track, May 17 is the date that allows for international travel from England. Boris Johnson said a government report looking to reboot travel abroad will be published by April 12, and it’ll hopefully provide clarity on specific destinations British travellers can visit this summer.

Hours after the announcement, airlines and travel firms experienced a surge in demand. EasyJet reported a 337% increase in flight bookings and a 630% spike in holiday bookings. Popular destinations including Malaga in Spain, Faro in Portugal, and the Greek island of Crete are already getting booked up, too.

“We have consistently seen there is pent-up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows this signal from the government has been what UK consumers have been waiting for,” said EasyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren.

Here’s everything you need to know and consider before booking your next holiday post-lockdown in the UK and abroad.

When can we go on holiday?

Self-catering holidays with members of your household in the UK will be allowed from April 12 in England. People can stay in holiday lets or campsites where facilities are not shared.

International travel is still up in the air, but there are hopes foreign holidays could be on the cards from as early as May 17. However, there are lots of hurdles to be overcome before holidays beyond the UK become possible again.

Even if travel were permitted right now, most destinations require British travellers to quarantine – and it’s hard to say when such restrictions will be lifted, especially given the British origin of several new variants. “The industry would like a return to service as soon as possible, but it has to be able to respond quickly to any changes,” said Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel.

Countries have closed borders at short notice and added requirements – it’s hard to shake off that memory where so many people got stuck abroad last year. For now, each country has its own guidelines that must be followed before planning a trip. There’s no guarantee whatever country you’re travelling to will let you in. Check the latest foreign travel advice here and the UK travel advice here.

Is it safe to go on holiday?

We can’t predict, with certainty, Covid-19 infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths for three months’ time – but it’s hoped these will all be reduced as the vaccine programme is rolled out.

The travel industry is constantly coming up with ways to keep people who travel safe, but there’s no guarantee it’s completely risk-free. Once travel is permitted, it’ll be important to socially distance, wash your hands, and wear a face mask.

Travelling to a holiday let with members of your household in the UK is relatively low risk, as you won’t be mixing with other people. The risk will increase when you stay in a place where facilities are shared, or travel on a plane.

A study in August 2020 found there are ways you can reduce your chance of catching Covid on a flight – such as, opting for shorter flights, wearing a face cover, and sitting at a distance from others.

A concern around travel is the number of Covid variants circulating in the UK. “We do have to protect against these new variants, and that is a big challenge,” Matt Hancock told Sky News. “We can be much more relaxed about international travel if vaccines work well against strains of the virus from South Africa and Brazil. If the vaccine doesn’t work against them, then that will be much, much more difficult.”

A sign points the way for a Covid-19 testing centre at Terminal 5 in at London Heathrow Airport in west London
BEN STANSALL / Contributor
A sign points the way for a Covid-19 testing centre at Terminal 5 in at London Heathrow Airport in west London

What about quarantine, testing, travel corridors and vaccine passports?

The current travel rules include: proof of a negative test 72-hours before travel, expensive £1,750 quarantine hotels per head for arrivals coming from the ‘red list’ countries, and a 10-day self-isolation at home for all other travellers. Plus, if you’re liable for any test costs, you have to foot the £200+ bill.

These restrictions will remain in place until at least the May 17 deadline. We don’t yet know what restrictions, if any, will be in place after this date. It’s likely, however, there will be a certain number of countries put on a “travel corridor” list once again, meaning you won’t have to quarantine on return.

Vaccine passports are still in talks, but this depends on how long immunity lasts and whether it’ll protect against every new variant – this is still under review. “There’s clearly an important role for certification for international travel, and we’re working with colleagues around the world on that,” said Matt Hancock.

What happens if my holidays gets cancelled?

It’s important to remember nothing is guaranteed – while many are hoping international travel will go ahead on May 17, it’s not set in stone. As the prime minister said, the easing of lockdown is reliant on “data, not dates”, which means if cases suddenly surge, the roadmap could be shifted.

It’s ultimately up to you whether you feel comfortable booking a holiday abroad or not. If you book now for a holiday post-May 17, and the roadmap changes, many insurers may not cover you for any claim (medical, cancellation or loss), and you may not get a refund from the airline if the flight is not cancelled.

Check your insurance policy carefully, and talk to your policy provider – or you could end up seriously out of pocket.

Flexible booking policies can mitigate some but not all of those issues. Book with a reputable travel agent and ensure you’re protected by a good package holiday provider. Or, make sure you’ll be offered flight vouchers or a refund if you do have to cancel.

Other options are to book last-minute when you know travel is allowed – or to look ahead to next year. “Our focus is on helping people book their dream holidays,” said Witt. “People have already started looking into booking their 2023 holidays. They are leaving their 2021 holidays to the last minute – and that adds to the excitement.”