One more sleep…
… and I’m off on holiday. I didn’t expect to be saying that three months ago. Even last month I thought an overseas holiday would be unlikely this summer and yet here I am, stuffing a sarong into a suitcase while keeping everything crossed that it doesn’t get cancelled at the last minute.
I’ve booked a family holiday to a resort hotel in Dubrovnik. Why Croatia? Because it’s less than a three-hour flight away and it’s had relatively few cases of coronavirus. That means that it’s less likely than Spain to have travel restrictions reintroduced – and statistically we’re less likely to get sick there than in Spain or Italy.
That said, the number of cases in Croatia are on the rise and Travel Health Pro, set up by the Department for Health, advises holidaymakers ‘at increased risk of severe Covid-19’ to avoid the country. I don’t consider myself or anyone in my immediate family to be at increased risk so we’re going to chance it.
Another reason for choosing a holiday in Croatia is that, unlike in some other destinations, it seems that everything is pretty much normal over there. All the facilities are the hotel are open, including the restaurants, the pool and the spa. I’ve already booked a manicure.
However, not all hotels in Croatia have reopened (I read somewhere that 4 out of 10 were still closed) and a few I looked at in Dubrovnik hadn’t reopened their pools. That was 3 weeks ago, if you’re travelling soon it’s best to check directly with the hotel to see what’s open.
I’ve been assured by the tourist office that restaurants and cafés are open and sightseeing tours are going ahead. I’ve even booked a boat trip for the day.
Dubronik has been on my bucket list for a while and, ironically, this could be the best year to go. Cruise ships, which were a major blight on the city, have been banned for the time being so it should much, much quieter. We won’t have to compete with thousands and thousands of cruise passenger cramming into Dubrovnik at the same time, creating traffic jams along the city walls and clogging up the city’s famous cable car.
There was another reason I booked Croatia. It was cheap!
Well, relatively speaking. I found hotels were offering excellent deals, such as free nights and free breakfasts. And the flights, booked three weeks ago, were a snip.
I found the hotel on Booking.com – but I didn’t book with Booking.com. I booked on the hotel website for about £600 less (for 2 rooms for a week). The hotels offered free cancellation up to 3 days before departure, so reckoned it was a safe to go ahead and book direct. I’d always recommend booking direct with hotels that offer free cancellation. It’s often cheaper than booking through the likes of Booking.com (because these sites charge hotels up to 50% commission). I do use Booking.com, but only where the price is right.
My flights are with British Airways. I booked them 3 weeks ago and, due to the airline’s new, more flexible T&Cs, you can cancel any time up to departure and receive a voucher to be used any time up to April 2022. So if I get a call tonight to say I’ve been in close contact with a friend who’s been diagnosed with Covid-19, or the FCO suddenly says it won’t let Brits in, I can cancel my flights and book again for another time.
I prefer to book direct with an airline than via an agent because if something goes wrong, you can go straight to the airline to sort it out, you don’t have to go through the middle man. During the height of the Covid crisis, anecdotal evidence would suggest that customers who booked with airlines were refunded significantly faster than those who booked through agents, and although this isn’t always the case – and at least a (good) agent should help you sort out any problems.
I did consider booking a package holiday because it does give you more financial protection. If travel restrictions prevent you from going to a destination, tour operators have to refund you. I found exactly the same holiday with Jet2holidays, one of the few operators that has taken care of its customers during the coronavirus crisis, but I didn’t book it because it was £1000 more expensive. So you see, good customer care and financial protection sometimes come at a price!
Yes, there are risks to travelling right now
My biggest fear is the journey. With reports of over-crowding at Heathrow this week I’m not looking forward to T5 on Monday morning or the flight. I’ve tried to limit the risk by booking a flight at the hideously anti-social hour of 6.15 am in the hope that both the airport and the plane will be virtually empty.
I’m going to try to bag a window seat too because I’ve read that sitting here you’re at significantly less risk of catching a virus than if sitting in the middle or aisle seats. My husband and adult kids can fend for themselves, they’re all younger and fitter and less ‘vulnerable’ than me.
Of course we’ll all be wearing masks (you have to) and carrying 100 ml bottles of sanitiser, which I’ll be squirting liberally over anyone who comes near me. And I expect my kids will become incensed at me snapping at them not to touch their faces like a zillion times. We’ll probably have fallen out long before we land.
I’ve warned the kids that they’ll be no food and drink on the plane so not to moan that they’re hungry or thirsty, and I’ve banned them from taking big bags of crap on board so that we don’t have to store anything in the overhead bins. You can’t be too careful. Also, I’ll be frog-marching them to the loos before the flight, just like when they were toddlers, so NO-ONE has to go on the plane.
Travel insurance is essential. Belt and braces innit?
You should never ever travel without insurance, especially not now with the increased risk of your holiday being hit by coronavirus, but not all insurance policies are equal so it’s more important than ever to check that you’ve got the cover you need.
Unfortunately all but the most expensive policies have removed cover for travel disruption caused by coronavirus, so if you have to cancel your trip because the Foreign Office says it’s not safe to travel or your destination bans Brits from entering, it won’t help you. This is why it’s safest to book a package holiday with a tour operator which, under the terms of the Package Travel Regulations, would have to give you the option to cancel with a full refund.
Many – but not all – travel insurance policies will cover you for medical treatment due to coronavirus, including repatriation if you become sick while on holiday and accommodation if you need to stay longer while you recover. A few policies will also cover you if you can’t travel because you or your travelling companion get sick before your holiday, but you might need a doctor’s note or positive Covid-19 test as proof. One or two will also cover you if you’re told to self-isolate because you’ve been in contact with someone with the virus.
It’s really important to check the T&Cs of an insurance policy before you buy to make sure you’ve got the cover you need. I bought an annual policy with Coverwise for about £180, which seems pretty comprehensive. I don’t know how good they are, obviously I haven’t had to claim yet. I used to have a policy with Columbus, but I’ve stopped recommending them now because their coronavirus cover is more limited than over policies on the market.
One more sleep … and we’ll see if it all works out!