How do you know when it is safe to travel again? (Part 2)

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 24 of the December 2021 issue.

Below are some of the questions and issues we should individually consider when thinking of undertaking international group travel while COVID is still in our midst. Bear in mind that this column was written in late October 2021, and COVID realities can change quickly.

Personal health awareness

Are you are fully vaccinated? If so, does this include a booster shot?

Have you had a physical recently? How strong is your immune system? How is your stamina quotient? Do you have any health conditions or issues that can be affected by increased travel restrictions during COVID? For example, will you be able to breathe without any problems if it’s necessary to wear a mask for extended periods of time?

Are you prepared to be as mentally flexible as the conditions require if you travel during the pandemic?

Evaluating a specific tour operator and tour departure

What is the maximum group size for the tour you are considering?

Does the company require all tour members to be fully vaccinated?

What is the company’s current policy regarding wearing masks while on this tour?

Does the company employ any special COVID safety precautions for this tour?

How COVID-safe are the destinations being visited? Ask the tour company, but also investigate on your own.

Other than flights, are all group movements via designated private transport? If some amount of public transportation is utilized on tour, what, where and how much?

Are there any social distancing policies or other precautions in place to limit exposure at group meals?

OAT interview

I am on email and newsletter lists for many tour operators, including one of ITN’s current advertisers, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). I chose to interview OAT recently because they began offering a few trips to Europe and other destinations again as early as this summer.

I spoke with OAT in early October about a variety of issues and considerations regarding, specifically, tours and small-ship cruises they are operating before the end of 2021. The following is a summation of what I learned.

• OAT resumed travel on July 1, 2021 (with a tour to Iceland). Through September, more than 6,200 travelers had traveled with OAT to 34 destinations, with tours to another 10 ready to resume before the end of the year. For the October-November 2021 period, more than 5,200 travelers were booked on just over 300 tour departures. In all, more than 12,000 people were scheduled to travel with OAT before the end of 2021.

• On average, the recent OAT departures had been approximately 65% full.

• OAT works closely with their 36 regional offices around the world to understand on-the-ground conditions and adapt as needed. Company policy is to offer only trips that they feel sure can be operated safely.

• OAT maintains a constantly updated coronavirus update link on their website (

• When asked what pre-trip advisories are provided to travelers, OAT stated that, in addition to detailed health and safety precautions, they send travelers information tailored specifically to each departure. Additionally, their local Trip Experience Leaders contact each traveler before a tour to share information and answer any questions.

• On their small-ship adventures, OAT is providing all meals in two seatings to allow for social distancing. Meals on board are plated; there is no buffet service.

• Like many travel companies currently, OAT offers a Risk-Free Booking Policy. Travelers booking a new 2021 or 2022 OAT adventure by Dec. 31, 2021, can transfer to another departure date for any reason — up until 24 hours before their scheduled departure — and OAT will waive any change fees.

My advisory

My OAT interview provided answers on what that tour company is doing and has done to quickly restart their travel offerings. Perhaps of greatest value to readers, however, is that the dialogue provides an outline of questions and issues that readers can direct toward any tour company about any offering being considered.

The reality is that many companies are in the earlier stages of jumpstarting their tour offerings, not having the degree of personnel or resources available that some larger operators have. I advise probing as deeply as necessary to get the answers required to evaluate a company and a specific tour departure. Keep in mind that COVID protocols in foreign countries can range from a lot less to a lot more strict than those in the US.

Finally, I have no doubt our savvy readers will come up with additional criteria and ideas for evaluating the COVID-safety of tours.

Next month, I will share the experiences of two travelers who participated in small-group tours in the third quarter of 2021, during the pandemic, and will offer additional COVID travel updates.

Contact Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350,