The days (though outrageously rainy) are growing longer; exam session is unmistakably on its way. An unnerving hush hovers over the viaduct at night, as even the most laissez faire undergraduates are starting to squirrel away in an attempt to manically cram the contents some twenty weeks of lectures into their flabby unfit brains. The sweet taste of summer is just out of reach, but it’s smell lingers in the air. In the years BC (Before Covid) a final fit of student procrastination was embodied by the flurry of purchases to book up summer: festival tickets, interrail tickets, Airbnb’s in Azerbaijan, anything to distract from the immanent doom of deadlines and despair! But this year relative silence has descended on the topic of summer travel – perhaps an understandable consequence of the collective confusion that has become part and parcel with pandemic life.
Still, on Friday 7th May the government made its first fairly comprehensive announcement on the topic of international travel, and it’s not all bad news. So, in a bid to facilitate your daydreaming of better times ahead, what follows is an attempt to provide a straightforward demystified guide to what is within the realms of possibility for travel in the summer of 2021.
What are the current travel restrictions and when will they lift?
Currently, you are only allowed to travel internationally if you have a valid reason (sadly not just a creative excuse, there’s actually an exhaustive list including for work, medical treatment, to provide care etc.). If you do attempt to travel for an unofficial reason before the 17th May you will enjoy a fine of £5000 – essentially, it’s not a good idea.
Domestic travel (travel within the UK) is allowed. You can book an Airbnb, campsite or glampsite (boujee) to stay in alone or with your household and/or support bubble. However, unless you want to book a long weekend away next November (when it will (hopefully) no longer be your only option), you’ve probably missed the boat on this, as every even vaguely desirable location within the UK is pretty booked up.
But all is not lost! From the 17th May the £5000 fine will cease to be, and international travel of some description will once again be legal. Thank God!
But in what description, you ask? Well, that’s the all important question.
The government have devised a traffic light system with which to rate every country you may wish to flee to. Each colour corresponds to a set of hoops though which you must jump if you want a hope of making it to that location.
Explain the traffic light system to me?
Like a real traffic light, this system has three colours – red, amber and green. And like a real traffic light, green means go. However, after that things get a bit more complicated.
To travel to a green listed country, you must take a pre-departure PCR test, and a test within two days of your return to England (the type of return test required varies; British Airways allow proof of a negative lateral flow test that you buy and take with you via companies like Qured. Other airlines may differ).
The countries to obtain green status on the 17th May include: Portugal, Gibraltar, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the Falklands. Plus additional remote territories of Falklands.
Presuming both of the required tests are completed, and both are negative, you can visit these countries freely. That is, if these countries themselves agree to let you in.
Currently Australia and New Zealand want nothing whatsoever to do with the Brits, so they’re off the cards. As is Singapore.
So, as it stands, Portugal, Gibraltar and Iceland are your obvious green options.
A far larger number of countries are on the Amber list and here things get a little more complicated.
Like green you must do a pre-travel test, but in addition, on return you must quarantine at home for 10 days. During this time, you need to do a PCR test on day 2 and day 8, with an option to test to release on day 5.
Thirdly comes the red list. These countries are essentially no-go zones unless your student life is treating you extremely well as anyone returning from a red list country into the UK must stay in a government arranged hotel for 10 days at the cost of £1750 (eekk!). Even if your bank account is looking extremely healthy, I would strongly advise against this life choice, from the sounds of it this ‘hotel’ experience is unpleasant enough to dampen any post-holiday cheer.
Important side note: if you enjoy a more last-minute, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to travel, stay tuned. These lists are all subject to review and changes every three weeks. By July and August, the landscape might well look a lot greener. But no promises.
How red is amber?
As it stands, the green options are minimal, and reds are out of the question. But what about the Amber, I hear you asking yourselves. Ten-day lying low doesn’t seem too bad, we’ve done weeks on end cooped up in our homes over the last year and it’s been alright. Sort of. I mean not really, we’re all slightly losing the plot. But surely a holiday would be the perfect antidote to such plot losing…
My thoughts exactly. So for my own personal research this is the question I have been most interested in answering. But doing so has proven tricky.
Official government guidelines say that ‘you should not travel to amber list countries for leisure purposes’. Yet, from May 17th, there’ll be no one demanding documentation from you to prove your work-not-pleasure status, and there’ll be no fat fine to deter you.
So, what’s the catch?
Because the government is formally advising against travel to amber countries, many online articles are suggesting you travel to such places for leisure regardless, your travel insurance will be invalid.
So I did some digging, and got on the phone to Trailfinders, and they were singing a very different tune.
As a company, Trailfinders said they would provide travel insurance for travellers to any country apart from ones the government were advising against travel to, and to their minds this list is limited to red list countries and anywhere else travel is restricted to or reasons other than coronavirus.
Even if you have an insurance provider who is not quite so agreeable, all is not lost. Education and volunteering are both listed as valid, non-leisure reasons to travel. This may well include an array of part time language courses, Workaway schemes and other establishments of delightful people that will appease your providers. Another lesson in the fact that if you’re determined enough, there’s almost always a loophole. So, loop away.
Just one further thing to bear in mind…
Joy of Joys – those sneaky hidden covid costs.
Regardless of whether you’re braving the amber list, or whether you stick to green, travel this year involves a couple of hidden costs it is important to factor into your budget.
The tests you will require aren’t free. And while large travel providers like TUI are currently trying to get prices of PCR tests down to around £45 by the summer holidays, for the humble backpacker like you and I, tests won’t come cheap any time soon. There are various private providers, from what I’ve seen PCR tests range in price from £100-£250. My sister, while volunteering abroad, used Qured – on the pricier side but super reliable, and that appears to be the trade-off.
Fundamentally, is it worth it?
Now this is a question only you can answer. After almost eighteen months spent fully immersed in England’s green and pleasant land, I am inclined to say yes. So now you have all the current facts in place, examine your options. Get creative. Be bold.
But also, of course, stay safe 🙂