By Scott Phillips
WASHINGTON, DC—(Pinkston News Service)—COVID-19 and the latest omicron variant has had a dramatic impact on travel during the winter season. As more countries begin to relax restrictions, we are still reminded daily that the pandemic is far from over, especially as omicron still has not reached its peak in some places. For students looking to travel abroad for study or simply to have fun, traveling internationally can be difficult, confusing and stressful-even in the best of times. But with the right approach, mindset, preparation and vigilance, students can have a safe and memorable international experience.
As an organizer of international travel trips for students headed to Israel as part of my work at Passages (passagesisrael.org), I’ve had to learn a few things the hard way through trial and error during the last year on how to avoid the pitfalls of pandemic travel, including navigating the myriad of wildly different COVID-19 health regulations. Through it all, however, there are a few tips that can go a long way to making your international travel easier.
Here are a few of the most important ones:
- Prepare yourself for COVID-19 restrictions.
First and foremost, you have to be ready for unique COVID-19 restrictions. You must realize that different countries handle COVID-19 very differently. You may have to wear masks in places that you’re not used to wearing them; you might even have to mask up when you’re outside. Think about these different scenarios before you book your flight.
- Get ready to adapt.
Because you’re visiting somewhere outside of the country, it’s going to be culturally different. That’s why you need to be adaptable. There could also be lots of bureaucratic regulations you don’t understand. You will still have to follow these new rules, and you should be prepared to do so. Unintentionally breaking restrictions could have negative consequences, for you and for the group you’re traveling with. Do your research on what the country you’re visiting requires, and be prepared to work with foreign officials as you enter and exit the country.
- Work out COVID-19 logistics in advance.
Before going, spend time working out the logistics. In particular, get clear on how you will answer the many questions you will be asked by officials along the way. This has always been part of travel, but it’s even more common in the midst of the pandemic. Make sure you take care of any vaccination or health requirements you will need for entry — like getting a negative PCR test within 72 hours of traveling, a very common requirement for international travel. Checking in on local testing availability before the last minute can spare you a lot of headaches. And keep your documents readily available, too. You’ll likely need things like proof of vaccination status or your test results at customs, hotels and restaurants.
- Buy travel insurance.
Invest in ticket change insurance because there will likely be unforeseeable travel troubles from COVID-19. Your plane might change holding capacity an hour before you board, or you might miss a connecting flight. And travel restrictions might be put in place at a moment’s notice. Plan ahead so this doesn’t ruin your trip.
- Be gracious and flexible.
When traveling internationally, you’re already outside your comfort zone. Since the beginning of the pandemic, international travel has become even more complex and, in some cases, more uncomfortable or confusing. Make things easier on yourself and your fellow travelers: Just go with it. Every time I take students to Israel through Passages, I remind my students of a common phrase in Hebrew: הכל יהיה בסדר, which means “Everything will be ok.” Following this mindset will get you far in an environment that’s different from what you’re used to.
International travel is an incredibly enriching experience, and I’m so grateful to be back to my work showing Israel to students through the eyes of those who live there. With restrictions slowly lifting, it’s more important than ever to be gracious, prudent and well-prepared. Communicate well with those involved — your peers, your parents, group leaders and the officials you’ll encounter along the way — and savor the opportunity you’ve been given to explore new places.
Scott Phillips is executive director of Passages, a
nonprofit organization offering Christian college
students a fresh and innovative approach to
experiencing the Holy Land.