I visited 3 countries in 2 weeks during Covid-19. Here are some travelling tips.

You probably can't go full YOLO, if you want your trip to actually materialise.

Jason Fan | December 14, 2021, 05:51 PM

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Three weeks ago, I boarded a flight to Paris: the first flight I took since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

My two-week long trip felt almost surreal, as I'd been planning the trip for the past two months, spending hours ensuring that the trip could go off without any problems.

In total, I visited six cities in three countries. Travelling during Covid-19 certainly wasn't easy, and there were many things I didn't realise I had to account for.

If you're planning to go overseas anytime soon, here's what you need to know.

You need to plan. A lot.

If you're more of a spontaneous traveller (like I am), you may not particularly enjoy going on a trip during Covid-19.

During the pre-pandemic era, you could go on a spontaneous trip rather easily.

Simply book your flights, show up at the country you're visiting, and begin exploring. Easy, right?

This is no longer possible, however, given how many rules and restrictions there are with travelling these days.

You have to book a VTL flight

Firstly, if you do not want to serve Stay-Home Notice (SHN), you need to base your travel plans on countries that Singapore have Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreements with.

Of course, you will also need to ensure that you book a VTL flight specifically. Our national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) may operate multiple flights to a destination, but only some of these flights may be VTL flights.

Make the rookie mistake of booking a non-VTL flight, and you will still need to serve SHN upon returning to Singapore.

Having to limit your flight options means that you lose flexibility in terms of your travel plans, and may have to adjust your itinerary accordingly to make it work.

For example, while my final destination on my trip was originally Munich, I had to take a three-hour train ride to Frankfurt to catch a flight instead, given that Munich had no VTL flights operating on the days I wished to return to Singapore.

The trains were not as crowded as the last time I visited in 2018. Image via Jason Fan.

Make sure the country allows tourists to enter for quarantine-free travel

Another headache you may face is checking on all the various entry restrictions countries may have, to ensure that your trip goes off without a hitch.

Many people may not realise it, but just because Singapore has a VTL agreement with a nation, doesn't mean you can visit it freely.

Case in point: While Singapore has a VTL agreement with Indonesia, the country has yet to open its borders for quarantine-free travel from Singapore.

Some countries, like Indonesia, have not yet opened their borders for quarantine-free travel despite having a VTL agreement with Singapore. Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash.

This means that if you happily book a trip to Jakarta on SIA's designated VTL flight, you will get a rude shock upon landing, as foreign nationals who enter Indonesia still need to serve a 10-day quarantine before they may roam the country freely.

If you've been eyeing the new Europe VTLs, and have your sights on a multi-city trip across Europe, you need to be particularly careful.

While most European nations that have a VTL agreement with Singapore are currently open to tourists, they may not be open to tourists who recently travelled to other VTL nations.

For example, while I was planning my trip in October, I realised that while I could visit both Germany and the UK, I wouldn't be able to enter Germany after visiting the UK, given that travellers with a recent travel history to the UK were not allowed quarantine-free travel to Germany.

Check what kind of swab tests you need

Obviously, this wouldn't be an article about Covid-19 travel without mentioning swab tests.

Many countries require swab tests to be done prior to entry, and the onus is on you, the traveller, to figure out the exact rules.

Do you need to take a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, or would an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) suffice? How many hours prior to your flight must you do the test? Did you remember to book your 0n-arrival test?

At least the locations of testing sites are usually obvious. Image via Jason Fan.

To put it bluntly, nobody is going to babysit you here. You either make sure you have the required tests done by the time you check-in for your flight, or you risk missing your flight.

During my trip, I saw several people who appeared to have forgotten to take the necessary swab tests, or perhaps hoped that the rules were not going to be enforced.

Unfortunately, the rules are quite strict and there were many travellers whom I spotted pleading or arguing with the check-in agent before they rushed off in the direction of the airport swabbing centre.

Plan for things to change really frequently

Ok, let's say that spontaneous escapes aren't really your style.

After all, many of us prefer to plan our trips down to the last detail, and may not necessarily mind the extra planning that comes with travelling during Covid-19.

Here's one big problem: With how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic develops, rules and regulations are constantly changing, and you may need to make changes to your plans on a near-constant basis.

When I initially booked my trip in September, I needed to account for at least four PCR tests, which would cost me around S$600, give or take.

Swab tests are part and parcel of travelling during Covid-19. Image via Jason Fan.

Before I flew, the rules have changed in my favour, and Singapore only required two PCR tests, which was a welcome change.

However, on the trip itself, the rules changed multiple times, due to the Omicron variant.

On Nov. 30, it was announced that travellers who enter Singapore from Dec. 3 onwards via the VTL scheme will have to undergo supervised, self-administered ART swabs at designated Quick Test Centres on Days 3 and 7.

Later, it was announced that travellers who enter Singapore from Dec. 7 onwards need to do daily ARTs upon arriving in Singapore, up to day seven, as the Omicron situation developed.

You should also constantly monitor the situation in the country (or countries) you are visiting, given that any change in government policy may directly impact your trip.

For example, a few days before I flew into Germany, I spent more of my precious vacation time scanning the news than I would have wanted, given how there were rumours that Germany was planning a lockdown in response to its recent spike in cases.

Thankfully, a lockdown was not implemented (at least not yet), but regardless, I had to be ready to change my plans if necessary, given how spending my time in Germany ordering takeaway was not ideal.

No lockdown. Only Christmas markets. Image via Jason Fan.

In the worst-case scenario, border restrictions may change, and you might find yourself unable to enter a country quarantine-free halfway through your trip.

While many of us would rather tune out and focus on our holiday when overseas, you may easily find yourself in a sticky situation if you do not keep up with the latest news while you're away.

Travelling during Covid-19 is not all bad

However, it's not all gloom and doom, as travelling during Covid-19 does have its perks.

The obvious one is that you're dealing with much smaller crowds, given that global travel has not fully recovered yet.

A tour guide in Rome told me that I was lucky to be able to enter the Colosseum without needing to queue. Pre-pandemic, those who wanted to visit the Colosseum needed to queue for at least two to three hours, even after pre-ordering their tickets online.

This is likely the most empty the Colosseum has been in years. Image via Jason Fan.

With the absence of large tour groups, you may find getting that perfect picture of an iconic tourist attraction to be a much easier task since there are fewer people in the way.

Venice is a lot more pleasant without the crowds. Image via Jason Fan.

While many may assume that their vacation costs will skyrocket due to the mandatory tests required, I found that travelling during Covid-19 was actually slightly cheaper than it used to be.

For one, my round-trip flight tickets to Europe cost under S$1,000, a price you are unlikely to find on SIA without a global pandemic going on.

The accommodation was also cheaper than it used to be, and you can trust me on this, given how I spent my exchange semester fervently checking accommodation prices for virtually every major European destination a few years ago.

For example, I could regularly find four-star accommodation in big cities like Rome and Munich for around S$100 per night, which would be a rare find just a few years ago.

It was easier to find cheaper hotels during this trip. Image via Jason Fan.

I also found that my interactions with the locals were pleasant too. Many of the people I interacted with were friendly (the anti-Asian hate during the start of the pandemic may have died down already), and they seem glad to see more tourists again.

After all, many small business owners struggled during the pandemic and seeing more tourists is a breath of life for them.

Adopt a different mindset for Covid-19 travel

In general, if you wish to travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, you may need to adopt a different mindset.

If you're a spontaneous traveller, you need to be prepared to do more planning.

If you prefer to plan your trips down to the last detail, you need to be prepared for your plans to change at a moment's notice.

From my own experience, it didn't go too badly. I didn't incur any significant unplanned costs during the trip (save for a few extra ARTs, which aren't that expensive), and I didn't have to adjust my itinerary either.

However, I was mentally prepared for both to happen. In fact, I didn't book my hotels until a few weeks before my flight, given that I was wary that the VTL would not even materialise.

While the rise of the Omicron variant has certainly dampened my future travel plans, my experience has taught me that travelling is not impossible during Covid-19.

Just remember to do your homework, if you don't want to make a scene at the check-in counter.

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Top image via Jason Fan.