Booked Your First Big Trip In Forever? Here’s What Experts Recommend You Do Before Traveling

·5 min read

Summertime is always a busy time to travel — and that's especially true right now, with more and more people getting fully vaccinated and travel restrictions slowly lifting in different parts of the country and the rest of the world.

A masked airline passenger displaying her digital passport on her cellphone

More than a million people have passed through US airports each day since early March, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration.

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If you are itching for a change of scenery and just booked your first big trip somewhere, there are some things experts want you to know before you pack your bags.

A suitcase with a hat, sunglasses, passport, and small airplane next to it
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To get the full picture of exactly what's changed (and what hasn't) around air travel for summer 2021 and beyond, we spoke to 10 experts.

Inside of an airport as a plane is taking off outside

They are:

• Brett C.S. Roberts, author of the travel book From the Cubicle to the World and a blogger.

• Caroline Muller, a professional travel blogger.

• David Alwadish, the CEO and founder of ItsEasy Passports & Visas.

• Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper.

• Julie Loffredi, manager of media relations at InsureMyTrip.

• Craig Zapatka, cofounder of travel company Elsewhere.

• Sojourner White, a professional travel blogger.

• Randall Kaplan, founder of Sandee and Mr. Beach.

• Dr. Mark Parrish, regional medical director of Northern Europe for International SOS.

• Dr. Terika Haynes, owner of travel consultancy Dynamite Travel.

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Here are their air travel tips, tricks, and things to remember:

1.If your destination requires a negative COVID-19 test, pay close attention to the dates for when your test results come back.

A sample sheet of paper displaying COVID test results

"Some countries will not accept results older than 72 hours. So if you're at 96 hours, you may be out of luck and you'll have to get retested," advises Brett C.S. Roberts.

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2.Check your passport expiration date right away — and if you need a renewal, be aware of the extra hoops you may need to jump through just before your flight.

A traveler holding a passport

"The passport renewal process is a disaster right now," says David Alwadish. "In order to get a renewal, people have to make an appointment within 72 hours of their flight, and because there are so few appointments, many are forced to wait in hours of lines in the hopes they can get a walk-in appointment."

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3.Keep your important documents organized — and know that you may need more now than before the lockdown.

A traveler holding travel documents

Organizing is key because more documents, aside from a passport or driver's license, are required for travelers now. "Make a folder on your phone with all the relevant documents, such as COVID test results, and [digital copies of] paperwork needed to get into the specific countries you are visiting," suggests Caroline Muller.

If you're traveling to Europe, Muller also advises downloading the CovidSafe app, as it'll keep all of your required documents for overseas in one place.

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4.If you haven't booked your flight yet, be sure to do so at least three weeks before the departure date.

Booking flights in advance via Google Flights

"Buy flight tickets no later than three weeks in advance of your departure date," advises Adit Damodaran. "Prices typically spike 25% in the two weeks leading up to departure and another 30% in the final week."

Google Flights

5.Consider buying travel insurance — it may be more important now than ever before.

A travel insurance policy paper, a calculator, map, and phone spread out on a table

"Travel insurance can kick in if you need to visit a doctor or hospital while on a trip. And if things really go wrong, emergency medical evacuation coverage enables a sick traveler to be transported back home," says Julie Loffredi.

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6.Make a very detailed list of things to pack.

A small suitcase with packed clothes, a hat, sunglasses, and a mask

"Make a packing list — even if you didn't before," Sojourner White suggests. "Chances are, after a long time of not traveling, you are more prone to forgetting the little things."

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7.Find out your destination's COVID-19 details well in advance of your trip — and then again as your travel dates approach.

A person looking up information on a laptop

"Check the vaccination rates in the place you’re going to visit, including the number of COVID cases and the trend of infections in the places you are planning to visit," suggests Randall Kaplan.

And know that this info will change depending on how far out you've booked.

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8.Do your homework on your airline's expectations, too.

Multiple masks and a small airplane

"Check with your airline or transportation provider whether vaccination and/or testing is needed for travel," advises Dr. Mark Parrish. Policies and procedures can vary from airline to airline, so set aside a fair amount of time for this — and call if you're not sure.

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9.For the actual flight, pack or buy all your food ahead of time.

A packed sandwich for a flight

On the plane, don't expect order-ahead meals — or even, in some cases, snacks. "Many airlines aren't [back to] offering the full selection of culinary offerings just yet," says Roberts. "Pack your favorite snacks or grab a meal for the journey."

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10.Not ready for air travel just yet? Get your feet wet by going on a postpandemic-travel test drive.

A person holding a car steering wheel

"Do a vacation test drive first. Taking a short trip would be a great way to test-drive postpandemic travel before a major trip," Dr. Terika Haynes suggests. "Taking a shorter trip not only lets you dip your toe in; it also helps to bring perspective as to what to expect as it relates to postpandemic travel."

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11.Find out what the best time of day is to visit popular attractions.

The Eiffel Tower

Craig Zapatka advises speaking to a travel expert to find out when you can avoid crowds at popular tourist spots. In addition, check travel bloggers — especially via YouTube and Instagram — for the most recent 2021-specific experiences.

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For more information and current guidance on domestic and international travel, visit the CDC's website.

Have you flown lately — or traveled for the first time in a while? What, if anything, was different? Is there anything you wish you'd known in advance? Share your experience in the comments.