Planning to travel soon? Deciding where to go right now goes way beyond just destination-specific Googling. In this pandemic world, every travel decision has to be thoroughly planned with intensive research on the destination and prevailing rules. From deciding on the place to the visa application process, to the rules about pre-departure COVID-testing, and packing the right kit to stay safe in public places–these aspects are on the minds of most travellers.
If you’re planning to travel now, or anytime in the near future, here's a checklist of FAQs (frequently asked questions), and their answers, which could serve as a good starting point.
How do I know if the country I am travelling to is safe?
Doing some intensive research and planning can take you a long way in the new normal. The best way to be informed about this is to check the latest advisories and news updates available from reliable sources that can help you evaluate entry and travel restrictions in the country you wish to visit.
Make sure you are checking regulations of not just your own government, but also that of the country you plan to visit. It is ideal to refer to the detailed descriptions on the embassy websites for a smoother understanding of all regulations pertaining to travel bookings, visa applications, requirements and on-travel rules.
Is COVID-testing mandatory to submit a visa application?
Medical reports are usually a part of required documentation in some visa applications, though they may or may not be related to COVID-19. However, as governments look to beef up health screening measures, make sure you’ve carefully been through the updated document requirement checklist for the country you are planning to visit, in case any medical and vaccination histories are required as part of your visa application.
Travellers must check with government or airline advisories to understand whether a COVID-19 test is required on arrival, and accordingly get a test done before departure.
You can visit a medical laboratory to get a test done, but for those apprehensive about stepping out, you can also avail the testing facility at your doorstep. In a recent effort by VFS Global, people can book an appointment online and get the test done from the comfort of their homes or at a medical laboratory. This is currently available in 11 cities across India, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Pune.
Can I apply for a visa without going to the centre?
For some countries, yes, you have an option to apply for a visa from the comfort of your home or office using the Visa At Your Doorstep service. These countries, in collaboration with VFS Global, offer an optional service where the customer can submit the application and enrol biometrics from a location of choice. This service is intuitively designed to offer customers an unmatched convenience when submitting visa applications, while maintaining necessary health precautions. In the light of precautionary measures, most customers are also advised to opt for courier services for passport returns, to avoid crowding at the centres.
How do I stay safe during my travel?
Travellers must pack a pandemic kit that includes sanitisers, masks, gloves, vitamins, generic medicines, personal pens, disposable bags, surface disinfectants, as essentials in their next travel plan. These will cover the basic health protocols necessary to stay safe while travelling. Another way to stay safe would be to equip yourself with technology and local apps that enable geo-targeted services around mapping high-prone areas, food delivery/ordering, booking of local personal transport, etc. Also, if you have given travel medical insurance a miss in the past, rethink it. This time around, both travel and health insurance can go a long way to ensure a stress-free travel experience, as a customised travel insurance package can help you in a tricky situation.
How can I travel sustainably?
Time away from travel, and its subsequent effects on the environment, has given pause to avid and aspirational travellers to rethink their footprint. Choosing low emission or carbon-offsetting modes of transportation, staying, shopping and eating at locally owned businesses, opting for second-city travel, and avoiding the use of plastic as much as possible are all small but critical choices that travellers are becoming increasingly aware of. Integrating these ideas into our regular travel habits can go a long way in helping travel sustainably in the new normal.
Travelling now certainly requires more planning. However, hope lies in the fact that when the world comes back to normalcy, the new habits and trends will shape itself as rituals, with safety considerations becoming second nature for many.
Vinay Malhotra is the Regional Group COO – South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Americas, VFS Global. He is a commerce graduate (with Honours) from Delhi University, and also holds an MBA degree, with merit, from Bradford University, UK.