Education is Key: Traveling safer and smarter during the pandemic

By Laura Latzko

The prospect of traveling, especially to other countries, during the COVID-19 pandemic can be daunting.

But there are ways to travel smart with restrictions in mind, according to Gilbert-based Karen Coleman-Ostrov of Karen Coleman-Ostrov and Associates Dream Vacations.

“I just try to give my clients the facts about traveling to a certain destination that they are desiring, what the rules and regulations for entry are, what the risks are, just so that they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to travel or not,” she says.

“I don’t influence them one way or another. I feel that that’s a decision that’s up to each person to make for themselves.”

As a dream vacation specialist, Coleman-Ostrov works with clients traveling worldwide, but her company specializes in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico and parts of Europe. Hawaii and Mexico are popular pandemic destinations.

Coleman-Ostrov says Mexico doesn’t require prior testing or vaccinations to enter, but temperature screenings are conducted at the airport. Meanwhile, countries such as Australia and New Zealand aren’t allowing outside visitors.

In 2020, many of her clients canceled planned trips. Since the beginning of this year, Coleman-Ostrov has seen an uptick in her business. Many of her clients are aware of the risks but still want to travel safely.

“I think a lot of people are just stir crazy. They are just ready to get out. It’s been a year and a half since many of them have been able to travel,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

Coleman-Ostrov’s company is part of a franchise, and the parent company, Dream Vacations, uses a program that provides up-to-date information on COVID-19 requirements for various countries.

“That helps us help our clients to know what they can do, what they can’t do and what to expect when they are traveling during COVID,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

During the height of the pandemic, travelers were forced to quarantine when visiting other states or countries. Now, instead, they have instituted regulations for vaccinations and/or testing in recent months.

Hotels, resorts and cruises also have their own requirements for vaccinations and testing and for masks for employees and guests.

Coleman-Ostrov says she can steer her clients away from possible heartache by telling them, for example, a COVID-19 test from an approved company is required before traveling to Hawaii.

“Those are just little nuances that we keep on top of, so that we can make sure somebody’s trip goes really, really smoothly,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

She tends to other details as well, like scheduling transportation to and from airports.

“I always arrange private transportation. That way they will be the only ones in the car with the driver, and the driver is going to be wearing a mask and provide sanitizer,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

It’s important to note that airports and airlines do not allow certain face coverings like gaiters, handkerchiefs or ventilator masks.

“I recommend that people do have their masks handy and to have the right type of face coverings,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

Along with carrying masks, she also suggests that travelers have items such as hand sanitizer or wipes and snacks with them.

“Most of the airlines are not serving food anymore, so take snacks with you. They are serving drinks, but they are not usually serving food,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

“It’s good to wipe down surfaces and make sure everything is clean. Even before COVID, I would do little things like take sanitizer and wipes with me and wipe down the tray, the seatbelt, the armrest, everything, just to be safe.”

Coleman-Ostrov says education is the key to having a smooth trip.

“Definitely find out about the destination you are going to, not only the requirements to get in but if there are certain requirements at a resort or hotel,” Coleman-Ostrov says.

“Just know as much as you can about that destination so that you’re not surprised or get yourself in trouble because you are not complying with a rule.”