Make Your Dream Vacation Stress-Free

Know Before You Go
Two U.S. government sites rank foreign countries by risk: The State Department issues travel advisories ranging from Exercise Normal Precautions to Do Not Travel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues recommendations. Wherever you go, travel with proof of vaccination and COVID-19 test results (if necessary). Download any apps your destination country uses for uploading documents and contact tracing.

Get Expert Help
Even if you’ve been booking by yourself online, the complexity of pandemic travel can make a travel agent (aka travel adviser) invaluable, says Erika Richter, spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Advisors. For a price—that might start at under $100 and go up based on the specifics and complexity of the trip, according to Richter—your agent will do the planning and booking, and offer support during the entire trip.

These days, it’s smart to turn to “destination specialists,” agents who have deep knowledge of the location you’re heading to. They’ll know which hotels, restaurants, and tours previous clients loved (or hated) and set up bespoke experiences—a private tour of a French château, an after-hours museum visit, or an intimate dinner hosted by a local chef. Find a travel adviser using the locator provided by the ASTA. Travel expert Wendy Perrin offers a curated list of destination experts on her Wow List.

You can always book your own trip, but researching online can be a time suck. If it’s a simple point-to-point jaunt—say, a weekend in Vegas or a week at Disney—booking through a site like Expedia or directly with the airline or hotel should be perfectly fine. You could also use the budget-friendly services of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, or Sam’s Club if you’re a member.

Consider a Tour
The beauty of a prearranged tour is that once you’ve chosen and paid for the trip, all you have to do is show up and enjoy it. The tour operators handle all the arrangements: transportation, hotels, meals, sights, and more.

Your options can include group tours, such as the Adventures Abroad eight-day tour of Portugal in a group of up to 18 (from $2,242 per person, plus airfare) and private tours with personalized itineraries, like Kensington Tours’ eight-day trip through Norway and the fjords (starting at $5,880 per person, plus airfare). The extra cost of the latter gets you an experience tailored to your interests, and (at Kensington, at least) your choice of travel dates—plus, you won’t be grouped with strangers.

Most tours require prepayment in full, with cancellation penalties, so do your research before paying up. A travel agent can help with booking the tour and by vouching for the operator’s reputation. It’s a good idea to book with a tour company that is a member of the United States Tour Operators Association, says Diana Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel in Larchmont, N.Y. And ask these questions.

• Is the departure date guaranteed? Advertised departure dates can change. Some companies promise to honor a tour even if only a few people sign up; others may switch dates or consolidate departures.

• How active is it? There’s a tour for every fitness level and interest. Even sporty trips have a lot of variety: Backroads offers both a challenging four-day bike trip through Aspen’s glacial valleys and an “easygoing” e-bike tour of Washington’s Whidbey, Orcas, and San Juan islands, for example. You can use the activity level filter if you’re browsing tours on an operator’s website.

• Can you go solo? Almost all tours and cruises add a single surcharge, typically 20 percent or more, above the per-person, double-occupancy price. Some small group tours—Road Scholar’s Rejuvenation Retreat for Women in Soquel, Calif., is one—are designed for solo travelers.

Cruise Carefully
Most cruise lines require negative COVID-19 tests before boarding—and during the voyage. To see a color status dashboard that profiles ships by vaccination rates and reported cases, check the CDC’s cruise ship guidance.

Smaller ships, such as those used for the riverboat cruises offered through operators like Avalon Waterways and Viking, can be safer than those with 2,000-plus passengers, Hechler says. The trade-off for potentially reduced COVID-19 exposure is price: Large cruises can offer lower rates based on their economies of scale. A Viking eight-day Châteaux, Rivers & Wine float through France (from $2,499, plus airfare) may have at most 190 passengers—but you won’t find a swimming pool onboard; a six-day tour of the Eastern Caribbean from Miami aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit (from $905 for two, plus airfare), offers multiple eateries, pools, a spa, and even a mini-golf course.

Make the Trip Accessible
Just because you’re not able to climb the Alps doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love to marvel at their beauty in person, right? You can, with the know-how of a travel adviser or tour operator that caters to the needs of older adults or those with mobility issues or other special needs. The ASTA’s can help here, too. To find an adviser, click the button at the top right, then choose “Senior/Mature Adult” or “Accessible/Special Needs” under the “Choose Your Journey Type” drop-down menu. Many tour operators offer accessible packages, including Adventures Abroad, Easy Access Travel, ElderTreks, Road Scholar, Senior Cycling, Travel For All, and Wheel the World.

Pick the Right Flights
Given the uncertainty of pandemic travel, it may be worth paying more for fully refundable tickets. (Airlines might not allow changes on basic economy tickets at all.) And know that baggage and seat selection fees (around $30 one way) can also drive up the price of “bargain” economy tickets.

Reduce travel-day stress by booking early departures (delays tend to cascade as the day wears on) and nonstop flights—or allowing plenty of time between connections. And download the airline’s app, so you can check in early for your flight, receive change alerts, and track checked bags.

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