With news of two Covid vaccines approved for usage in the US and elsewhere, and healthcare workers and elderly already beginning to get vaccinated, lots of people have been asking us when normal travel will start to resume. Wondering how the Covid vaccine will affect the ways we travel this year (and beyond)?
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to predict the future. But we’re hopeful that we’ll be back to traveling more easily and safely sometime midway through 2021. Here’s what we know so far.
Will we be able to travel again once the Covid vaccine comes out?
Hopefully, but it’s not quite that simple. Ultimately, much will be up to individual countries, as it is now: some countries are welcoming travelers with testing or quarantine requirements, while others are welcoming travelers for certain countries only. Still others not welcoming travelers at all. In 2021, we’ll probably still see similar patterns: some countries may welcome travelers who can show proof of vaccination, while others may just keep their current testing requirements.
Places like Australia and New Zealand—who have had strict international travel restrictions—will likely continue to be cautious and may not open borders in 2021 at all. However, we can expect that other countries may very well open borders to vaccinated travelers again this summer.
Will I need to prove I’ve been vaccinated to travel again?
Individual countries—or even airlines—have the ability to require vaccinations from would-be travelers. However, no official word on Covid vaccine requirements have been announced yet. Some airlines are already testing technology to provide travelers with an easy app that would allow you to provide negative test results, vaccination records or other health data in a simple (and secure) way.
What’s a vaccination passport, and will I need one?
There’s been a lot of talk about the idea of a “vaccination passport.” In short, a vaccination passport would allow you to show you’d been vaccinated, and when. Countries could then require an up-to-date vaccination passport for travel.
The idea of requiring vaccinations to travel is not uncommon. Even pre-pandemic, many destinations require travelers to receive vaccinations against things like malaria, yellow fever, smallpox or other diseases. With the Covid vaccine, a small card—or, potentially, an app on your phone—would provide a record of your vaccination and relevant health or testing data for officials. The details of how this would be done—or if it will be done, or who would require it—are still being discussed and worked out.
If a vaccine does end up being required, I can travel as soon as I get it, right?
Here’s an example timeline. Let’s say that the Covid vaccine becomes available for the general public for your city in May. You’re able to get an appointment for a vaccine on May 10th. Currently, both vaccines available require two doses, spaced either 21 or 28 days (approximately) apart. You go in and get your first dose on May 10th, then schedule a follow up appointment for May 31st for your second dose.
In between those two doses, your body is learning what the coronavirus looks like and how to defeat it. You don’t have immunity yet! You immune system is just learning and practicing.
May 31st comes, and you head back in for dose #2. Now your vaccination is complete. So you’re good to go, right? Not so fast. It’ll take another week or two for your body to finish building up immunity against Covid. So—according to what we know so far—we can be fairly certain that you’d have some solid immunity against Covid by June 10th-15th or so.
Does that mean you’d be able to travel again in late June and beyond? That seems likely, but the details have yet to be worked out. As with current testing and quarantine requirements, countries have the ability to determine what precautions they’d like to take before they welcome back travelers.
The efficiency of the vaccine distribution, the speed with which people can get vaccinated and efficacy of the vaccine in the general public will determine a lot—for example, how soon we can all get back to traveling and when countries will feel safe opening borders to travelers again.
Will I be able to bypass testing/quarantines for travel once I get the vaccine?
That seems likely, but—as has been the case so far—individual countries will have the ability to decide what the requirements for entry are. Some countries may allow an exception to testing for vaccinated individuals. Others may keep their testing rules in place for the time being.
Will I be able to get a vaccine sooner if I need to travel for essential purposes?
Currently, no. There are some national requirements for Covid vaccines, like making sure that healthcare workers and elderly populations get vaccinated first. Other requirements are left up to individual states. In general, the consensus is that there will be enough supply of the vaccine to give it to the general public by late spring or early summer. That’s if everything goes mostly according to plan.
When will study abroad programs be available again?
There’s a lot of factors that will go into this decision: your school’s reopening plan, for one; but also the study abroad destination and their travel requirements; how many students will be in the program; how long the program is and other factors. We’re hopeful and cautiously optimistic that some study abroad programs may resume as early as Fall 2021.
When will travel go back to normal? 😭
Look, we’re with you—we can’t wait for to get back to exploring the world. That being said: the return to “normal” is going to be a slow process. As the vaccines roll out, we—along with many scientists, medical professionals and other experts—are optimistic that things will start returning to normal throughout spring and summer of this year.
However, getting everyone a Covid vaccine—and two doses, nonetheless—is going to be a BIG project with a lot of obstacles. Vaccinations may help countries feel good about opening borders again and may make travel in the latter half of 2021 a lot easier. However, some aspects of pandemic life—like masks, reduced capacity in indoor spaces, increased cleaning and testing—may all stay in place for longer.
Until a vaccine is widely available and the majority of the population has built up some immunity, testing (and masks, and potentially other measures) will likely continue to be a part of the travel experience. This doesn’t mean that travel won’t get easier (and safer), but “normal” will take some time to get back to.
Are flights—and travel in general—going to be more expensive once travel resumes?
At some point, we expect that flight prices will jump up. Jury’s still out on exactly when that point will be. However, it’s likely that once the Covid vaccine becomes available to the general public, demand for travel will increase as people realize they can get a vaccine soon and finally get a change of scenery with less risk for themselves and others. Prices will likely stay low (as they have been recently) as people decide whether or not they’re ready to travel. However, once everyone decides it’s time to hit the road again, you can expect that prices will increase with demand.
TL;DR: if you’re hoping to snag some cheap tickets—even if it’s for a trip next fall—you probably want to hop on that sometime around or before April. Prices may start to increase after that as more people get vaccinated and start to return to traveling.
What if I still end up needing to cancel? Will travel continue to be more flexible?
When the pandemic first hit, many people learned first-hand that most travel plans and flights are pretty inflexible. Unless you’d specifically paid for a flexible ticket, or had “Cancel for Any Reason” trip insurance, you were likely hit with change and cancellation fees that were hundreds of dollars.
Since then, many airlines have instituted flexible change policies. These allow passengers to more easily get future travel credit for canceled flights. Some airlines have done away with change fees indefinitely! This is a huge move toward more flexibility for the travel industry. For StudentUniverse, we’ll continue to honor any airline flexibility policies. We waive all change fees (including our own!) for any flights where the airline has agreed to waive fees. We also honor any credit policies in place by the airline. You can view a list of flexible airline policies here. Don’t forget to check the terms of your ticket during checkout by clicking “Rules and Restrictions” on the right-hand side of the page.
What can I do for now?
For now, start planning your trips for later this year—summer travel and next fall is a pretty good bet. You should still take into account your own health and comfort levels. However, it’s estimated that a good chunk of the US population should be able to begin receiving vaccinations by early summer. We’re also helping you stay updated with current travel restrictions and requirements with our list of destinations that American travelers can visit right now. You can also book tickets now for travel through November 2021 on most airlines. If you want to get a head-start (and lock in some rock-bottom prices), you can buy your tickets now. And then, when vaccines start making their way to the general public, make sure you get yours. Be sure to follow any instructions for follow-up doses carefully.