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Trying to figure out Covid consideration for our family's trip in June

Hi everyone,
I need a little help trying to figure out what I need to think about for deciding on our family of four's BOE-14 trip in June.

I think the deadline to cancel is early February and I'm starting to get nervous as ideas of what can go wrong pop up in my head.

I plan to call the office this week but I want to make sure I think about what to ask beforehand.

We have not bought airline tickets yet and we are confirmed on our June trip as of now. Our kids have never been out of the country so we want their first trip to be amazing which is why we booked with Rick Steves'. I have been on one tour with RS 30 years ago but my husband has barely heard of him.

Tonight, over dinner we mulled over the possibilities:
1. If one person (not a family member) on a bus in our tour group tests positive for Covid would we all have to quarantine then? Or do we all get tested and then press on if negative?.

2. If one in our family tests positive for Covid during the trip, does the whole family quarantine and miss out on the rest of the trip?
3. Because it is BOE tour with 4 countries does the group have to test with every entry into a country?
4. If we come a couple days early to Rome will we have to re-test before joining the tour since our pre-flight test would have been three or four days ago by the time tour starts?
5. How likely is it that a group of 25-27 together traveling all over would not have one person getting covid in the 14 days together? And what would that mean for the rest of the group if one or more does? What if half the group or more does?
6. If a family member tests positive for covid before starting the trip, would they have to quarantine for a certain amount of time before being able to leave for Europe? Would that delay the rest of the family since we've been living with that person? would it be possible to switch to a later tour? (Unlikely, I would think given waitlists.) And we probably wouldn't leave unless we could all leave the country together. Same question for leaving Paris... if one of us tests positive we'd all need to stay... but how long?

Tonight, for the first time I'm thinking maybe I want to switch to just going to one country with Rick Steves just to simplify things. Or, maybe just doing it on our own in one country so there's flexibility. Or postponing (ie. cancel) and saving the money for a trip in 2023 when it's hopefully less anxiety-inducing.

Any thoughts appreciated. I'll try to report back on what they say when I call them. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
292 posts

I don’t know about RS tours but overall, having traveled last summer and planning another trip for early this summer, I would limit your travel between countries as much as possible. One thing we learned last year is things can absolutely change overnight, especially from country to country. Especially since you have four people it’s far simpler to do one country, comply with their specific entry rules and then off you go. Trying to navigate paperwork and testing, forms, apps, etc. for several different countries is a pain and will add a layer of stress to the whole trip. We only did three countries this past year and even that was a lot and this before omicron and a lot of new hassles, but even then things were changing every single week. This year we are just doing one country and that’s enough. My two cents.

Posted by
3652 posts

I don’t think RS tours has published protocols about what their policies are regarding testing at this time. If I am wrong, I am sure someone will correct me. I do know that they will respect and follow the protocols put in place by any country the tour is visiting.

I think you are correct that you do reduce the number of requirements by reducing the number of countries, but the biggest concern I hear from yourself and other travelers is about how a positive test would impact not only the tour experience but your ability to return home in a timely manner.

My sister and I cancelled a March trip because of her worries. The stress made the thought of travel less than pleasant for her. I’m still planning on going on my RS tours this summer. I’m confident health and safety protocols will be in place and enforced, but I am only responsible for me and can deal with uncertainty.

I don’t know how I would feel in your place. I think you are asking some good questions.

Posted by
670 posts

There are a lot of questions and answers on the forum about managing testing and travel. Testing is an inconvenience, getting sick is a problem. The question you have not asked here is what to do with sickness in a family group on a 14-day tour when one (or more) don't feel well. Colds and Flu bugs also can be passed around on a bus tour, and commonly are. The unique thing about COVID for otherwise healthy vaccinated people is that it is not generally deadly, but governments (for obvious public health reasons since not everyone can be vaccinated yet) are testing and imposing limitations on further travel if a person tests positive. 5% of US deaths now are of vaccinated people, which in sum is a lot of people. I don't expect any of these things to change by June. Only RS tours can explain how they handle these situations.

Posted by
612 posts

This post addresses question # 4 for upcoming tours in the spring. As with all thing Covid, who knows what the requirements will be in the summer.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/fitting-in-the-pcr-test-tour-requirement-two-days-prior-to-the-b-of-turkey

I think anyone traveling during these times really needs to have a plan for what they will do if you or anyone in your group tests positive. That positive test could happen 1) Before you get on the plane from the US 2) During testing to enter a second country 3) Before flying home.

For example, let’s say one of your kids tests positive while you’re in country #2. Will one parent stay and the other 2 continue on? If so, you need to figure out lodging & food for the quarantine period, and transportation home. Get good travel insurance.

It will be interesting to see if the recommendations to avoid cruises will carry over to tours groups. I would think you are in closer proximity to others on a tour bus than on a cruise. Fewer people, yes. But close quarters all the same.

Posted by
5042 posts

Covid is usually less of an issue in warmer months.

You are raising valid concerns plus what happens if one or all of you test positive at the end of the tour - can you stay an additional time in Europe before heading home? This has happened to a poster recently, where one parent took one child home and the other stayed in Europe with the other child.

Minimising the number of countries visited makes keeping on top of ever changing protocols easier. I am sure that the RS tours will publish their policies.

Testing is the way forward, as Covid isn’t going away. If one person on the tour tests positive on say day 4, but you were tested and were negative, would you relax and enjoy the rest of the trip or would you be constantly worried?

Protocols for self isolation will change numerous times between now and June and each country is different. Who knows what variant will be predominant by then!

Everybody has different comfort levels. I haven’t used public transport for 2 years and have avoided crowds, so I wouldn’t take a bus tour or cruise this year. I have flown (but didn’t remove my mask, so arrived thirsty!). I should be away at present, but cancelled, as supposedly 1 in 15 people in England currently have Covid which means that around 10 + people on the flight would be positive, which we considered to be too much risk (testing not required for the flight).

Posted by
3652 posts

Regarding cruising as group travel given as an example above:

I am cruising currently and feel very safe. No other travel method has as stringent of protocols at this time. The positive rate for a cruise is far below the national average in spite of crew being tested every 2-3 days. The “outbreaks” reported in the media are usually less than 1% of the group.

Will any form of travel be completely Covid risk free? No. Can group travel happen in a responsible manner at this time? Yes

Posted by
45 posts

Oh my Goodness! Every single one of your concerns has circulated through my mind at least a dozen times and I’m not even traveling with children. All of these very realistic concerns make the idea of travel during Covid times overwhelming to say the least. My 8 year old granddaughter just tested positive for Covid, she was playing at our home the day before the test and fever. How could we have known that we were putting ourselves at risk? We are vaxed, masked and use clorox like moisturizer, lol. So far my husband and I feel fine, fingers crossed. Covid does seem to be everywhere and I agree with others that it is not going away anytime soon. I believe some of your concerns would be eliminated if you stayed in one country. If one of you were to get sick at least you’d all be in the same country. I would also try to push your tour dates out, thereby giving you a bit more decision time. Good luck!

Posted by
19488 posts

Smart questions to ask, and excellent suggestions so far. I'd just like to emphasize that good travel insurance would help with the financial implications of having someone in your group test positive. I realize that's just one aspect of the potential difficulties.

Posted by
1492 posts

We traveled to Switzerland Sept, 2021, had a great trip, but it was work covid-wise. You cannot totally unplug, as the rules continued to change, and change again. The rules were also new to the Swiss, and the hotel and restaurant employees were even confused , as they did their best to comply.

I support the above comments that one country is much easier. Also note that transferring through airports can impact your requirements, so a direct flight from a US city into your destination country is much easier . For us last year, our flight transferred thru Heathrow, and at the time Italy required quarantine if one had touched down in the UK. Therefore, we canceled the Italian part of our trip and stayed two weeks in Switzerland, which was a fantastic decision. Once on the ground, the trip was incredible, and the lack of crowds was wonderful!

I would also recommend a trip that focuses more on outdoor adventures, and not so much museums and crowded areas. [Switzerland???]

For our September, 2019 trip, I felt confident that with both vaccinations and religiously wearing masks, we would be fine. I felt our risk was the same at home as abroad . However, currently, with the increased contagiousness of this Omnicron variant, I am somewhat hesitant. I just know too many people that are currently sick with it- not dangerously sick, but sick nonetheless, and they had the boosters.

We have a late April trip planned, and I don't think any of us can make final decisions until winter is over, and hopefully the virus is burning itself out. I just don't think we have enough information right now.

Good luck, and pls keep us posted.

Posted by
98 posts

Your questions are excellent! I have had every single one related to my RS Tour in May (minus the kid piece). If you do receive concrete answers would you come back and post the information you received. I feel group travel increases the odds of exposure expotentially. Having not been anywhere since Oct. 2019 I am dying to go. After postponing twice, I am of the mindset to go with the understanding anything could happen. But I do feel traveling NOT in a group might make more sense.
Best of luck to you whatever you decide.

Kathleen

Posted by
171 posts

No one knows - including RS at this point. And they are unlikely to know up until much nearer the time. And then things can change with 24 hours notice.

You should at least get travel insurance for #6. How old are your kids? An 18yo will be treated differently from an 8yo.

We are planning 6 weeks in Europe in Sept/Oct - by planning I mean I have a bunch of countries/cities I want to see - nothing booked. I may start buying flights 6 weeks or so out.

I would say that if you are told the answer to #4 is NO then in the current siguation (omicron) - its highly likely that there would be positive cases on the tour.

That said WHO says 1/2 of Europe will be infected in the next 2 months https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/11/omicron-europe-tidal-wave-who its seems that by April there will be a much clearer picture of what the summer will look like.

The emerging evidence is that transmission occurs when you near other people - so being on a bus tour sounds like a bad idea. Being on a cycle tour or a walking tour would be a better idea as its open air.

I thought this was an interesting new study - https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/11/covid-loses-90-of-ability-to-infect-within-five-minutes-in-air-study - along with growing evidence that cloth masks don't really work for Omicron and you need to wear N95/KN95 masks . IF I was doing a bus tour in a country full of COVID in the next month or 2 - I'd be wearing a mask, probably not going with a company that didn't enforce mask usage, and preferably only associated with vaccinated people.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks everyone, your feedback was so incredibly supportive and informative, I really appreciate it.

I called the Rick Steves office today and they were very nice and positive the whole conversation.

I confirmed my deposit refund date was first week of February. I also learned that although non-refundable after that, I had until first week of April for the deposit to be creditable to another trip in 2022.

I was told I should be aware it's harder as we are a group of four to find space in another tour as that's a lot of spaces that has to open up but things are unknown and concern for omicron may change people's plans. Nothing was certain and they couldn't give definitive answers to my questions on what will happen in various scenarios as much depend on policies out of their control and things may change by June. I found that understandable.

I learned there's a 24/7 Emergency Hotline that tour members can access. They said that the guide will help best he or she can while still in that location should you test positive for Covid. They will not leave you high and dry. I took that to mean they will make sure you are hooked up to resources to help you before taking off with the rest of the tour group including making sure you were able to touch base with the hotline.

If the tour is still going then there is no refund if you catch Covid and have to abort the tour anytime during the trip. If the tour members all have to quarantine together, then the tour obviously can't go on and a refund would be given to tour members for the portion canceled. They seemed to agree with me that if one member of the family had Covid it makes the most sense that the whole family would leave the tour. And it would be unlikely that we could catch up with the tour group after that.

Travel Insurance was highly recommended since we have four tour members so potential hotel stay for quarantine and loss of tour would add up. One insurance mentioned was Travel Guard.

Discussing with my husband and teens, we are thinking of staying on the wait list to wait and see for a few more weeks. Also, we discussed keeping it to one country and going to Spain instead! (I worry about the heat during the summer though.) My son is studying Spanish in high school so that was his vote and the rest of us were flexible. My daughter nixed the idea of skipping school in September to go on a later tour. Another thought is that we stay in the U.S. this year and travel to Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Zion, etc with kids. I've never been so I like that option as well.

So we have lots swirling in our heads. I feel a little bit like I'm taking the path of least resistance by doing nothing right now but I think that's the best for us at the moment.

Starting mid February Rick Steves tours are slated to begin and then we will all know better how they go. The office said those early tours are more city tours and one country tours so there is more flexibility should things close or happen and they have to make change of plans. It's still not going to give us an idea of multi-country tours but it's some info. I'm looking forward to hearing how the tours go in February!

That's all for now. I'm sorry I don't have as much info to give back to you as you guys did for me. Thanks again for your thoughts and I appreciate the time you spent to respond.

Posted by
19 posts

Imorenus,
Wow!
Thank you for all of your valuable information! It really helps me as there are four of us in my family traveling on the 21 day BOE in June. This has given my family a lot to consider! Best of luck to you and your family!

Posted by
7 posts

MarieM.

Sorry, to you and all who read my followup post above... I have a typo. I meant first week of FEBRUARY as the deadline I have to get our deposits back. I don't know why I wrote first week of June. I apologize if that confused anyone. I went back and edited.

Good luck to your family as well. 21 BOE sounds sooo wonderful. I hope it all works out for us!!

Posted by
23 posts

You really made me think about our trip and it isn’t until August. You pointed out some excellent points. I find it interesting that they will quarantine a family but not the group. Is that because in group settings you are always wearing a mask and tour members do not dine with each other. Are they doing group meals on the tours?

Posted by
4 posts

Oh my, this is our identical situation.
My husband and I have traveled to Europe many times but we were planning on taking our 19-year-old niece and nephew on their first Europe trip in (Best of Europe) May/June... After considering all of the things that could go wrong for a family of four trying to navigate through so many countries during covid...we postponed our trip today until a later time. It certainly wasn't what we wanted to do, but like you, we are looking at Utah as an option.
Definitely a hard decision, but we will eventually be there and hopefully it will be more relaxed and safer for everyone.

Posted by
8669 posts

"Another thought is that we stay in the U.S. this year and travel to Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Zion, etc with kids. I've never been so I like that option as well."

The "Big 5" National Parks in Utah are very popular (Zion/Bryce/Arches/Canyonlands/Capitol Reef). While I agree with you that doing nothing now is probably the best, you'd do well to go ahead and get some lodging reservations in place for Springdale (Zion), Bryce (either in the park or Ruby's), Moab (Arches and Canyonlands) and Torrey (Capitol Reef). I'd only book cancellable hotels that way you've got options.

I'm not trying to make you worry....it's just that the Western National Parks have been overwhelmed the last 2 summers. I go to Yellowstone at least once a summer and I've been shocked at the numbers even early June when I normally go.

Trip Advisor forums for the above parks can be really helpful for knowing what you'll need timed entries for. The shuttle to get into the canyon at Zion needs timed entries and I am not sure about Arches. They were slammed last year and were limiting admissions so I am not sure if they've instituted timed entries there or not. The TA forum will know as well as the official NPS websites for those parks:

www.nps.gov/zion
www.nps.gov/brca
www.nps.gov/arch
www.nps.gov/cany
www.nps.gov/care

I'm so glad you have been able to "talk thru" your decision process on this and am very glad you came back with an update from the office.