Preflight COVID-19 testing. Notes on trip-cancellation insurance. “Travelers' Intercom USA.”

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the January 2021 issue.
The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is found only in central-west Madagascar.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 538th issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine.

Normally, it is in our January issue that I ask ITN subscribers to each send us a list of the countries they visited in the previous year, but, for obvious reasons, I will not be asking “Where Were You in 2020?”

Since COVID-19 has squelched the travel plans of virtually everyone for the last nine months, there’s no point in trying to gather data about where travelers went or how often they traveled, particularly to compare results to the previous year’s.

We’ll pick it up again next January.

As for travel returning to normal, many travel and tourism pundits believe that, as the pandemic persists or slowly winds down, it will not be a vaccine that makes it possible to travel again but preflight COVID-19 testing.

At the moment, travelers can get tested at sites in their local areas or choose one of two easy options: an at-home test that will give results within 72 hours* or an in-airport test that can produce (less-reliable) results within 15 minutes.

Airport testing, which is the most practical option for travelers, since they won’t need to try to time their tests to their upcoming flights, is offered at a number of US international airports, both by airlines and by testing companies that have set up shop there. Passengers are responsible for the cost of testing, which can be up to $250.

Though the testing of passengers at the airport before they take international flights is in its very first stages, with only a few countries encouraging travelers to do so, proving it to be a viable option could open borders. As such, the International Air Transport Association is calling for testing to be made available at all airports in lieu of quarantines or border restrictions.

Until testing is universally available in airports, a good choice for travelers going to countries where test results are required is to test at home. At press time, there were at least 10 companies offering tests that were FDA-approved for at-home testing. Each involved either a nasal swab or a saliva sample, and the cost could be $109-$155.

Though there are some issues with at-home testing, companies take steps to minimize the chances of incorrect results. At-home tests typically require that a user takes the test and submits the sample to the lab by overnight delivery within a day of receiving the test. Some even require the test to be self-administered during a video consultation with a physician to ensure it is done properly.

Although the results of an at-home test can be emailed to the traveler by the lab, it can take up to 72 hours for results to be delivered from the time the sample is received at the lab.

*While some countries will accept the results from a test done 72 hours prior, this is not good enough for many destinations; there are countries that require tests to have been taken within 48 hours of a visitor’s arrival.

For a country’s COVID-19 testing requirements, check with its consulate or the US State Department (visit, then, at the top, click on “For COVID-19 Travel Information click here,” then, within the text, on “U.S. Embassy COVID pages”).

COVID-19 tests can be ordered online and obtained at various pharmacies, such as those at Costco, Kroger, CVS and Rite Aid.

Not all tests are FDA-approved. A list of FDA-approved COVID-19 tests can be found by going to and then clicking on “Q: What commercial manufacturers are distributing diagnostic test kits under the policy outlined in Section IV.C of the Policy for Coronavirus Disease-2019 Tests? (Updated [date]).”

Approved tests will include links to information regarding their approval.

Here are some cautionary words for ITN readers from travel insurance broker Dan Drennen, Director of Sales & Marketing at Travel Insurance Center (Omaha, NE; 866/979-6753,

“In 2020, as countless travel plans were canceled due to COVID-19, some travel insurance companies allowed travelers with standard policies to transfer one trip’s coverage to a later-scheduled trip. Many insurance companies already allowed moving travel dates out up to 12 months, but, in light of the pandemic, many have extended that allowable time frame. Just make sure you make your request for this date change prior to the current departure date.

“Of course, if you were to catch COVID-19 right before your trip and were put under quarantine by your doctor, that would be one of the covered reasons for filing a trip-cancellation claim under most standard travel protection plans.

“However, even during these extraordinary times, NO insurers have ever included ‘unforeseen pandemic’ — that is, fear of traveling out of a concern for getting sick — among the covered reasons within a standard travel insurance policy. Not for SARS, not for the H1N1 flu nor even swine flu.

“You would have to have purchased a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policy to be guaranteed some trip-cancellation protection (usually about 75% of the trip cost reimbursed) from a trip canceled by a provider [i.e., a tour operator — Ed.] due to COVID-19 or even for canceling a trip yourself out of fear of contracting the virus. Only a CFAR policy would include coverage for a travel shutdown related to a CDC warning or government travel restrictions.

“Be aware, however, that CFAR coverage is more expensive than a standard full-feature policy.

“Note that several travel insurance companies (including Travelex and RoamRight) stopped offering CFAR policies in mid-March 2020 as a stop-loss move.

“Here’s an important thing to know about a Cancel For Any Reason policy: if your trip gets canceled and you wish to file a claim, you have to show a loss, but if a travel company offers you a voucher for future travel and you accept it, then you cannot claim a loss.

“So, remember, if you want to exercise your CFAR option, refuse the trip providers’ vouchers or credits — and do that in writing — and make sure you file the claim 48 hours or more before the scheduled departure date (another little glitch to look out for).

“Once a policy is purchased, it cannot be rewritten. Know what you are getting before you sign.”

Bottom line — even with a Cancel For Any Reason policy (which sounds really great, doesn’t it?), read the fine print.

CORRECTIONS to note — Regarding a photo caption (Oct. ’20, pg. 18), a subscriber wrote, “ The Philippine tarsier is not the world’s smallest primate.”

I take credit for that error. The photo was a last-minute addition, and I did attempt to check that fact but, rushed, misread the info.

The title of “world’s smallest primate” actually goes to the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, with an average weight of 30.6g (1.08 oz.).

• Regarding the “London Mini Postal Train” (Nov. ’20, pg. 29), at London’s Postal Museum (, the underground railway is 100 years old, but the miniature trains, unlike what was stated, are replicas of the old ones.

Good news — The attraction reopened on Dec. 5 with new hours and lower costs: 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Thurs. and 10:30-5 Fri.-Sun. Adult, £16 (near $21.50), or child, £9.

Two months ago, I announced that, following a poll on whether ITN should also include coverage of the United States, our publisher decided that we would, though we would place restrictions on the subject matter and keep it to one page per issue.

Debuting in this issue on page 35 is “Travelers’ Intercom USA.” We thank Susan Harris of Kamuela, Hawaii, for suggesting that section title while responding to our poll.

I didn’t have room to include it in my November column, but, also in answer to our poll, here is an email I wanted to share.

Tom Bulloch of Woodland Park, Colorado, wrote, “My subscription to ITN can be measured in decades, not mere years, so I feel compelled to comment on the subject of possibly including US travel.

“The greatest appeal of ITN is in its authenticity. The editorial contributions are from real people who have taken real trips and who are not bashful to share the mediocre, or even downright bad, and even the embarrassing, along with the great.

“This is far more refreshing and useful than the glossy travel books based upon ‘fam trips’ — all-expenses-paid, loosely disguised bribes from destinations, each of whose modus operandi is to entertain a writer or travel agent in grand style in return for glowing reviews and gushing prose on the pages of national publications. In such stories, nothing ever goes wrong, every restaurant and hotel is fabulous, and each destination is paradise. This conflict of interest results in exaggerated and essentially useless information.

“No, give me the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly, warts and all — as found in ITN. Yours is the only truly helpful and accurate travel magazine on the market, and your dedicated and honest readers, with down-to-earth (and often affordable) experiences have helped my wife and me plan many great trips over the years while avoiding pitfalls and unrealistic expectations. The wide gamut of information and meaningful travel tips you provide are figuratively, if not literally, lifesavers.

“At the risk of sounding patronizing, your editing is tight and accurate and results in a magazine that is always grammatically correct and well written — a pleasure in this day and age when the English language suffers daily humiliations by ‘journalists’ who should know better.

“Point being, the ethical, informative editorial structure of ITN is what makes your publication shine and why we never miss an issue. Retain this focus on any destination you cover, and I will be happy. There are certainly some unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, highly interesting experiences to share in the US beyond the familiar and the mundane.

“I believe your ultimate decision might be made out of necessity, by needing to expand your advertising base and revenue while international travel remains virtually impossible for the foreseeable future. That would be perfectly understandable. Personally, I would prefer to see ITN continue to focus on international destinations only, but, given the financial realities of the moment and the many unknowns we all face, I would rather see a slightly revised ITN than no ITN at all!”

Wow! Thanks, Tom. While I can’t say that material in ITN is always grammatically correct or that mistakes don’t slip by (hello, lemurs), we do try our best, we print corrections of errors we become aware of, and your praise is gladly received.

Within the hundreds of emails our poll generated, many subscribers suggested topics of US coverage that they would be interested in reading about. These included cultural tours, educational trips about Indigenous Americans, historical river cruises, architectural tours/cruises, off-the-beaten-path road trips, special natural sites and out-of-doors experiences, historic battlefields, good places to get authentic traditional food, and cool things to do in an area.

With any submissions on US travel specifically, please keep them as short as possible — snippets, a paragraph or a short letter (a couple hundred words or fewer). No feature articles.

Do continue to send in reports, recollections and musings on your travels outside of the US, even if the trip was a few years ago. And point out any mistakes you see, please, so we can set the record straight! Email or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.