Travel tips

Travel Tips for a New Week

To the relief of many travelers and travel groups, over the weekend the United States lifted the Covid-19 testing requirement for inbound international air travelers.

That means travelers no longer have to find a testing site a day before their flight to the U.S., wait anxiously for results and then, as happened to friends of ours, scramble to find a hotel in an already packed European city and make alternate flight and other arrangements if they get a positive test result.

Experts expect a surge in international travel now.

So look forward to packed flights and higher ticket prices. And consider keeping a mask on during those flights.

Flip sign at TWA Hotel Flips for Pride

If you’re flying out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), stop in the lobby of the TWA Hotel, across from JetBlue’s Terminal 5. In addition to a rooftop pool, a roller rink, and “The Connie” – a 1958 Constellation airplane turned cocktail lounge, this month the retro-style flip board in the oh-so-60s lobby is flipping in rainbow colors to celebrate Pride.

Amazing Race winners share travel tips

We’re just back from a great adventure on Hurtigruten Expeditions’ inaugural cruise in the Galapagos Islands, where we met iguanas and sea lions galore, and spotted albatross, blue and red-footed boobies, tortoises, and many other fantastic creatures.

Our ship, the upgraded MS Santa Cruz II, was perfectly-sized, with 50 cabins, a library and science corner, and a bar. And we were thrilled to learn that among the guests on our expedition were Will Jardell and James Wallington, the honeymooning winners of Season 32 of The Amazing Race reality TV show in which teams of two race around the world in hopes of winning the $1 million first prize.

We joined them for dinner one evening to chat about airports, of course, and to ask them to share some of their travel tips. You’ll find the full list in the story we put together for the Points Guy site. But here are some of their travel gear must-haves and some useful tips for gathering information about your destinations.

Fanny Packs

Trendy for now, Jardell and Wallington say they use Eagle Creek fanny packs to hold travel essentials such as passports, wallets, money, travel guides and documents, hand sanitizer, snacks, Chapstick, hand lotion, and extra masks.

Playing cards and games

Books and magazines are always good to have, but Jardell and Wallington always pack a deck of cards or a game they can play together or with people they meet along the way.

Smart ways to gather information

During the Amazing Race contest, Will and James couldn’t take along laptops or phones for researching a destination or plotting out routes before arriving in a city.

They said they could sometimes work around this by visiting electronics shops in airports selling phones and other gear that was on display with WiFi connections.

This is a great tip for those times we might find ourselves in an airport without a charged phone or good network access.

Flight attendants often have lots of helpful information about destinations, they told us, as do some of the short videos most of us skip over in the inflight entertainment line-up.

Eco-Friendly Tips

Meet the winning couple and pick up some eco-friendly and sustainable travel tips in this short video.

Iceland welcomes you to the Icelandverse

We’re a few days late on the Icelandverse bandwagon. But we want to do our part to make sure everyone takes a look at how Iceland is promoting tourism with a hysterical swipe at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the ‘metaverse’ concept.

In the video below, which comes to us courtesy of cheeky Visit Iceland, a “Chief Visionary Officer” Zack Mossbergsson -a character that looks and motions like Mark Zuckerberg, extols the many real things you can see, touch, and experience in Iceland in contrast to the virtual world of Zuckerberg’s metaverse.

“Today I want to talk about a revolutionary approach on how to connect our world without being super weird,” says Mossbergsson. “Some said it’s not possible. Some said it’s out of reach. To them we say, It’s already here. Seriously. Look it’s right here,” he says pointing out the window.

If you’ve been to Iceland before or are just packing to go to the “Icelandverse,” this video reinforces the fact that the country offers “enhanced actual reality without silly-looking headsets,” “water that’s wet” and “skies you can see with your eyeballs.” And whether you’re a fan of the company formerly known as Facebook, or not, you’ll get a kick out of this video.

Visit Iceland has a long history of quirky videos. Many are part of the Iceland Academy Series, including the one below about what to pack when visiting Iceland.

Free flights to Tennessee? That sounds good.

Travel is back in motion. And now cities, states, and countries are going to all out to get your attention – and your travel dollars.

Case in point: Tennessee.

Just 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But over the weekend Tennessee states officials and country superstar Brad Paisley kicked off “Tennesse on Me,” a campaign to promote tourism.

The campaign is alluring.

“On me” offers 10,000 free airline vouchers to four key Tennessee airports – Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. All travelers have to do is purchase a 2-night stay at TennesseeOnMe.com.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s budget puts aside $2.5 million to promote tourism through $250 digital gift cards from Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines for travel to Tennessee. The promotion aims to give away 10,000 digital gift cards to visitors who book a 2-night hotel stay in NashvilleMemphisKnoxville, or Chattanooga. More than 60 hotels are participating in the promotion.

Here are the details:

  • Visitors must book a 2-night minimum stay at participating hotels, including at least one night of the stay between Sunday-Wednesday.
  • Visitors can choose their destination city (Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga or Knoxville), their hotel of choice in the city, and which airline voucher they prefer (Delta, American or Southwest Airlines).
  • Book between now and July 5 – September 15, 2021. Travel between July 11 – December 30, 2021.
  • All promotion reservations can be booked through www.TennesseeOnMe.com, which details FAQs, restrictions and additional information.
  • All hotel package reservations are pre-paid at time of booking and are non-refundable.
  • One airline voucher is available per hotel package (not per person). Other terms and conditions apply.

Have fun. Let’s hope more states roll out campaigns like this. And let’s hope more people in Tennessee get vaccinated.

Ready for International travel? Check the “where” and “when.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris c. 1870, courtesy Ace Architects

[This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News]

International travel is back on the agenda this summer for millions of Americans who have completed their COVID-19 vaccination regime.

But with some countries fully open to U.S. travelers – and many still not – the challenge now is figuring out when and where it is possible to go. And what restrictions may be in place when you arrive and when you head back home.

“For the summer, the countries that have already posted their border openings are the most likely bets.” says Misty Belles, Managing Director at luxury travel network Virtuoso. “Many vacationers are already able to visit Mexico and many parts of the Caribbean,” as well as Greece, Iceland, Croatia, Turkey, and some other countries.

On May 16, Italy began welcoming passengers arriving on government-approved “COVID-tested” flights from several countries, including the United States. Travel requirements for these flights include a negative COVID-19 test before departure, at boarding, and on arrival in Italy.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines are already offering some COVID-tested flights to Rome and Milan from several U.S. cities. More flights and cities will be added to the schedule later this summer.

Other countries have announced various ‘opening dates’ for when travelers from the United States will be welcome as well.

Spain was going to open its borders to all vaccinated tourists – including Americans – on June 7. But that date has been pushed back to at least June 30th.

More countries will be joining that list. “But it’s going to be a hodgepodge this summer,” says Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights, “For most countries, you’ll need to either bring proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.”

Lending encouragement is the fact that this week seven of the 27 countries in the European Union –Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, and Poland – began using the EU Digital COVID certificate, known as the Digital Green Certificate, a month ahead of schedule. Other countries will adopt the program that securely verifies the COVID-19 status of EU citizens in the next few weeks and “these countries will be able to decide if they will allow U.S. travelers to participate,” says Keyes.

What about travel to Canada, Japan, the UK, and other countries?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says it is safe for vaccinated Americans to travel internationally, keeping in mind the COVID-19 travel destination advisories on this regularly updated list. 

Non-essential travel, which includes tourism, is still restricted between the United States and Canada. Ahead of the summer Olympics, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning against travel to Japan.

In mid-May, the United Kingdom rolled out a “traffic light system” for international travel. This puts countries on red, amber, and green lists. The lists are set to be reviewed next at the end of June, but for now, the United States is categorized as “amber.” That means anyone arriving from the United States must fill out a passenger locator form, provide notification of a negative test result prior to travel, quarantine for 10 days on arrival, and take a COVID test on day 2 and day 8 after arrival.  

Keeping track, making plans

While countries may be constantly changing their entry requirements in response to COVID-19 cases and conditions, “generally speaking, the one-way ratchet is towards more reopening,” says Keyes. He recommends checking the US State Department website for updates, as well as individual government and embassy websites before making any bookings. 

Flexibility and generous cancellation polities are still the mantras when booking hotel stays, airline tickets and cruises, or buying passes to theme parks, museums, and attractions.

But don’t worry if you are not ready to hit the ‘buy’ button right now.

“Demand is strong, causing availability to be limited in some places while also driving up rates,” says Virtuoso’s Belles. “While Europe is slowly opening this summer, fall is when people will likely feel more confident about setting their travel plans,” and when rates may settle down.