This feels like travel’s darkest hour – but the dawn will come


As travellers we are used to vicissitude. Even the simplest journey can have its setbacks. The train which suddenly stops in the middle of nowhere, the motorway which grinds to a halt, the airport information board which flashes up “delay”. But we adopt a mindset which prepares us for the unexpected, and we cope by remaining patient and – if necessary – resigned. 

That mindset is now being tested to breaking point. We always expected the pandemic to give us a bumpy ride, but few of us thought it would go on quite so long, or for the setbacks to be quite so sudden and severe. 

The last countries were removed from the red list only four weeks ago. Now the list is back with a vengeance, destinations including France, Spain and Canada have introduced new testing, vaccination or quarantine requirements, and many Christmas holiday plans have been tossed up into the air. 

What is the best way to cope with this continuing uncertainty, this roller coaster of positive and negative news? Perhaps we need to re-set our minds. Depending on what our hopes and expectations were for travel over the next few months, all may still be well. There may even be unexpected opportunities. We just have to be sanguine and sensible. And – to keep ourselves as cheerful as possible in the meantime – remember that the darkest hour comes before dawn. 

Short term: stick or twist?

If you have an overseas holiday booked for Christmas or New Year – and it’s not to a destination that has been put on the red list or is restricting visitors from the UK – there is no way round the fact that you face a dilemma: stick with your booking and hope it goes ahead, or twist and postpone to a later date.

Anything could happen over the next few days. Sticking means you have to live with uncertainty, perhaps until the very last moment. Not just the uncertainty of a potential cancellation, but of further requirements being imposed by the UK – pre-departure tests, perhaps, or longer periods of self-isolation on your return – or new restrictions in your destination. You won’t have much of a holiday if the local bars and restaurants are closed, for example.

Twisting gives you certainty, but it also risks disappointment. Twist too soon and, if concerns about the omicron variant ease, then you might end up regretting it. One thing which I have learned about this pandemic is the value of travelling while the opportunity is there. And of course, if you do decide to stick, you can always change your mind and postpone your trip after all.

Skiers are facing the worst of the suspense. After the bad news of Switzerland imposing compulsory quarantine on British visitors, the good news is that it was confirmed this week that skiers landing in Geneva could continue straight on to the French Alps. But we will have to remain on tenterhooks in the hope that restrictions do not spread beyond Switzerland, and that Austrian resorts reopen after the national lockdown there ends on December 13 (or December 17 in Upper Austria).

Medium term: a waiting game

Thinking further ahead, those of us with overseas bookings at Easter or early spring are all condemned to a longer waiting game. There is really no point in worrying until we know more about omicron and how the world will continue to respond to it. Optimists who are still keen to travel and hoping to book, should be sure to follow our five-point plan (see below). Probably the wisest strategy is to wait until after Christmas and review the situation then. Those who are hoping to book an Easter break in the UK, need to get moving now, however – there will be lots of pressure on accommodation during the school vacation, especially if people start looking for alternatives to overseas holidays.

Long term: keep planning

A wait-and-see strategy obviously applies when you look ahead to foreign travel next summer and beyond. It’s obviously far too early to make a call on the state of the pandemic then. Any bookings you have already made, stick with. And if you want something to look forward to, I see no reason not to continue planning and even booking. As I said last week, we can’t put our lives on hold forever – we just need to realise that we now always have to plan around uncertainty.

If you are very risk averse and think you would be happier looking forward to the more certain prospect of a holiday in the UK rather than the potential risk of travelling overseas, you might – as with Easter – consider booking your accommodation now. If last summer is anything to go by, demand for peak-season accommodation on the coast and beauty spots inland will be high.

How to defend against uncertainty

1. Never cancel a holiday or travel arrangements unilaterally – you will almost certainly undermine your right to a refund. If a country is put on the red list or faces other restrictions and you think cancellation is the only way forward, contact your travel company to discuss what needs to be done. If they cancel, you are entitled to a full refund. Note that travel insurance won’t cover your costs in these situations either (see point five, below).

2. Check the terms for postponing or rearranging your holiday before booking – and/or also before you make a postponement. Some travel companies are more flexible than others. 

3. Book Atol-bonded package holidays ( – you have more rights and more financial protection than booking arrangements independently.

4. If you do decide to book your accommodation separately, double-check the booking conditions. Sites like often allow penalty-free cancellation, but this may not be the case if you book directly with the hotel. Conditions for villas may also impose penalties for a cancellation.

5. Choose your travel insurance carefully and buy it as soon as you book. Some policies have much better covid-related cover than others.


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