The end is in sight. The COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out and with the US government promising that there will be enough doses for every American by this May, it’s finally time that we can all start to think about travel to Britain again.
To be clear, you cannot travel there right now, and should not. Britain is still technically in a lock-down situation right now. Tourism is not allowed. But a few weeks ago Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the British government’s plan to re-open the country and allow leisure travel to resume. That will happen by the end of June (for Brits) as long as things continue on their current course. Policies on foreigners traveling to Britain are still not 100% clear. It’s changing every day (the rest of Europe is outside of the scope of this article, their vaccine rollout is not going as smoothly as the UK’s and some countries are entering new lockdowns).
So, don’t book a summer trip to Britain yet.
Write off this summer
Don’t plan on visiting Britain at all this summer – for many reasons. First, Brits cannot travel abroad for holidays so they’ve been taking the opportunity to explore their own island. This has led to most hotels, B&Bs and self-catering places to be booked already. Most places are full for the summer. Second, while leisure travel may resume WITHIN Britain at the end of June, there’s no guarantee it will resume to foreign travelers as it’s easier to just prevent them from coming. So, don’t book anything until the British government announces that foreigners can come back without restrictions (currently you have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or be quarantined in a hotel room for 14 days).
I suspect foreign tourists will start to trickle back to Britain this autumn and winter. As long as things are safe and travel becomes normal again, I think that in 2022 tourists will come roaring back to Britain. That is a LONG time from now when you’re living on this pandemic timeline where time seems to move about 10x slower than regular time.
Check Your Passport
Check all your travel documents. In 2020 both my passport, my wife’s passport and our daughter’s passport all expired. There was a point that we were technically trapped in the USA and couldn’t go anywhere while we waited for new passports to arrive. So, check those expiration dates. If they’re soon, then get the paperwork in a soon as possible to renew them. The US State Department has had huge backlogs for the last year as they adjusted to working remotely in a pandemic. It can take a few months to get your passport renewed right now. Don’t waste any time at all.
Get the COIVD-19 Vaccine!
To ensure maximum safety for international travel, plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible (if you’re medically able to get the vaccine). Not only will it be important to get it for your own health and the health of anyone you encounter, but it’s also looking increasingly likely that we all may have to prove we’ve had the vaccine just to be able to travel. There’s talk of ‘vaccine passports’ or apps to keep track of those who’ve had it. The UK government may require vaccine proof to let you in the country (this is speculation, however). Getting the vaccine will vary in your local state. Here in Indiana, anyone 16 years and older can book an appointment to get the vaccine. We are booked for our first shots later this month, so we should be fully vaccinated by the end of June.
Get a Wise.com Account and Fill it with Pounds
Wise.com (formerly Transferwise) lets you establish a bank account in British Pounds and provides a free debit card that you can use while traveling in Britain. It’s going to revolutionize the way a lot of us travel to Britain. You can now essentially save for your trip in British Pounds, and then access them on your trip and spend like you have a local British bank account. So, as the day we can all return gets close – setup a free account and start adding pounds to it. The exchange rate is favorable right now. And by the time you leave, you can have a nice little kitty of money for your trip (it’s also easier to pay for things in Pounds with a British style debit card).
Get some guidebooks. Do some Googling. Browse Anglotopia and Londontopia. We have all this time to plan the perfect trip to Britain, let’s go ahead and do it. Despite the pandemic, I’ve been looking at my guidebooks more than I usually do, just to find the things I want to do when we can go back. It’s a perfect time to get lost in Ordnance Survey maps and read a new guidebook cover to cover.
…Like our New Guidebooks!
To prepare for post-pandemic travel, we’ve rewritten our popular guidebooks – both are now out and available from bookstores everywhere. We have more guidebooks planned for later this year.
Change Your Expectations
Travel to Britain will be different in a lot of ways when it can resume. First, you will encounter more Brits in tourist hotspots than you normally would – as foreigners avoid Britain and as Brits explore their own country instead of going abroad. Not only that, but the attractions themselves will be different. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the British government and various crowdfunders, some small attractions that were struggling to survive before the pandemic, have not survived. Things will have closed. There will be lots of other lodging, tours, etc that simply could not stay afloat. But there were also be lots of NEW things to do as people decide to take risks and start new ventures. The landscape will be different. Be prepared for it.
Also, from a practical perspective, travel will be different. Expect to have to wear masks until mandates are lifted. Expect to socially distance. Expect capacity in restaurants to be lower (and waits longer). You will need to book tickets in advance to popular attractions like stately homes. Prepare to have to order your food directly to your hotel or Airbnb rather than go out. Prepare for the theatres to not be open or be more expensive because reduced capacity means tickets cost more. Everything, and I mean, everything, will be slightly different in some way and some things will never return to the way they were. 1 year of isolating has changed us and the way we all do things (I can’t remember the last time I went into my local grocery store).
Avoid Paying for Things Now
When you book things for a trip, oftentimes they will give you a discount if you pay in advance. I would not do this. As most trips booked now would be ‘on the bubble’ with the possibility of being cancelled, I would not part with any money until you have to. By all means, pay a small deposit, but it’s easier to claw back a deposit than it is to claw back an entire self-catering stay somewhere. And forgiving cancellation policies will almost certainly go away once the booking services can get away with it. Hold on to your money until the last possible moment.
Focus on what you really want to do, do those things
Make a Britain bucket list. Make a list of all the things you ever wanted to see and do in Britain. I recommend making it in Excel or something, so you can sort the list and order it by what you want to see and do the most. Then plan to do the things at the top of that list. Why? We now never know if we’re going to be able to go back. This last year has really made me think long and hard about life and everything. Whenever our trips to Britain over the last 20 years ended, we always reassured ourselves, that even if we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to – we would always get to return and do them.
This past year has shown that is not true. By the time we’re (hopefully) able to return to Britain, it will have been 3 years since we were able to travel there. A huge gap for us, the last time we had this big of a gap, it’s what inspired us to start this website in 2007. Not only that, mortality. A pandemic is an unpredictable and terrible thing – over 500,000 people are dead here in the USA that didn’t plan to be dead a year ago. Think of all the dreams not achieved, goals not achieved, hugs not given. The honest truth is that we never really know if we’re able to make a return trip to Britain, so if there are things important to you that you want to do – then do them as soon as you can.
To quote Jean-Luc Picard from my favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
“Seize the time…. Live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”
Prepare for Loss
As I said above, the travel landscape in Britain will be different. Things you loved will have closed forever. Places you have stayed may no longer be places you can stay. Airbnbs or self-catering places may have decided to sell on or no longer to accommodations. Tour guides may have died or gotten out of the business. Favorite stores are gone and will never return. Experiences in Britain that we took for granted before the pandemic will be gone and never return. It will be best to understand this now and be prepared for it. That way you can enjoy what’s left when you visit Britain again, and make new memories and have new experiences. That’s what travel is all about!
What are your travel plans? When will you make the leap to return to Britain?