For many people, the hardest thing about the COVID-19 pandemic has been the long periods of separation from close family and friends. Especially if you have elderly parents, you might have gone months without being able to see them while they shielded from the virus.
Thankfully, official guidance on shielding and avoiding social contact has now been lifted. With vaccine and booster rollouts hitting high percentages amongst those most vulnerable to COVID-19, we’ve all been able to reconnect with our nearest and dearest again.
And after last year’s muted celebrations, everyone is looking forward to the kind of traditional Christmas where extended families come together, perhaps even for the first time since the pandemic started.
But what about family holidays with elderly relatives? Despite the vaccine and the lifting of official restrictions, a lot of people are still cautious about the risks to parents in the later stages of their life – and understandably so, given that infection rates remain high. Family gatherings are one thing, but is it safe yet to start planning holidays abroad with potentially vulnerable grandparents?
This is the time of year when a lot of people start to consider their plans for their next summer holiday. It’s hard to predict where we will be with COVID-19 six months-plus down the line. Will we (fingers crossed) be more or less back to normal, and feel safe and confident taking our elderly relatives abroad again? Or will further waves of infection across the globe still be a cause for concern?
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about COVID-19, it’s not to assume anything. Caution is the most sensible path forward. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be planning holidays that include elderly relatives just yet. It just means that you should do so with a full grasp of the precautions it is sensible to take.
Here’s what you really need to know.
Keep journeys as short as possible
There may be reasons why your planned trip with your elderly parents will have to involve a long-haul flight (if you’re visiting family abroad, for example). But if you are just looking to take your folks on a much-needed holiday, then it’s sensible to stick closer to home. Short-haul flights are not only less physically demanding, they also mean you’re spending less time locked up in a plane with other passengers, which presents obvious infection risks.
Research entry requirements fully
There’s also a case for arguing that popular European holiday destinations like Spain and Greece are a safer bet because they are less likely to impose restrictions on UK visitors again, largely because of how valuable the tourism trade is to them. While Spain, for example, has been welcoming British holidaymakers since May, the USA and Thailand have only just reopened their borders for visitors from the UK, and the likes of Australia and New Zealand are still completely closed to nationals from most countries.
Overall, there are currently few countries that have no entry restrictions at all for travellers from the UK, because infection rates here remain high. It’s a risk to assume that this won’t be the case when you plan to travel, so understanding exactly what is required for any given destination is an important part of planning ahead. Most countries ask for proof of vaccination as well as completion of an online health declaration form. You may have to arrange to get a digital copy of an NHS COVID pass on your parents’ behalf.
Consider villas and other standalone accommodation
Passing through crowded airports and sitting on a plane packed with other passengers are obvious risk factors for catching COVID when you travel. But there are similar risks if you choose to stay in a large, busy hotel. Anywhere large groups of people gather – the lobby, the restaurant, even the swimming pool – increase the chances of the virus being spread, no matter how good the precautions taken are.
A safer alternative if you have concerns about the well being of elderly parents is private rented accommodation, whether it be a villa, an apartment, a chalet or similar. If it is only your travelling party mixing in the place you are staying, you greatly reduce the chances of coming into contact with someone carrying the virus.
Hire a car
If you want to get out and about sightseeing with an elderly parent, the best way to get around is to hire a car. As with choosing private rented accommodation, travelling around by car is much safer than using public transport (or even organised guided coach trips) from the perspective of keeping a safe social distance from other people. Having a car to hand is also easier if your relative has mobility issues – just do your research well in advance to organise a suitable vehicle for access.
Search for specialist over 70s travel insurance
Once people hit the age of 70, travel insurance can become very expensive, especially for elderly people living with medical conditions. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is likely to push these prices up further, as travel insurance companies take on greater financial risks offering cover to people for catching COVID itself.
Travel insurance companies charge more to cover elderly travellers because of the heightened risk of them needing to make a claim for medical treatment if they fall ill or have an accident while abroad. The most expensive policies for over 70s come from big name mainstream providers. This is because they rarely assess actual risks on a case-by-case basis, and instead just apply blanket surcharges which go up incrementally as a person gets older.
A much fairer and more affordable option is to search for a specialist in over 70s travel insurance. They will look at your relatives’ medical history through a questionnaire and offer a bespoke policy for their needs, including cover for any potential medical treatment for specific conditions. Not only will you get a better price, you will also get the added reassurance of being covered for your parents’ personal medical needs, which are unlikely to be included in standard policies.