As countries close their borders and airlines cancel flights, there’s one thing travelers can count on during the coronavirus pandemic: expecting the unexpected. While this ideology may be dogma for seasoned jet setters, navigating an unforeseen travel snafu can be difficult for even the most confident traveler when under the stress of rapidly evolving restrictions and newly implemented laws. 

If you're running into roadblocks while trying to get home from a trip, here are the top tips and resources to help you get back on track, or at least make the most of a tricky situation. 

A young woman in baggy grey pants, a grey and white striped shirt, a white athletic-style backpack, and a brightly colored plaid carry-on roller bag stands on the upper level of the Doha airport overlooking the terminal below as she holds a phone to her ear
Knowledge is power when it comes to getting home during the COVID-19 outbreak © lechatnoir via Getty Images

1. Remain up to date on travel changes

During international crises, travel rules and regulations can turn on a dime. Arm yourself with knowledge concerning possible alterations to your itinerary so you can plan accordingly and avoid getting stuck somewhere. The International Air Transport Association is an invaluable resource regarding international travel restrictions and immigration requirements. Check a regularly updated list of airline cancellation policies. For information about the status of a flight, train, or bus trip, always consult the service provider’s website or app – don’t wait to get to the point of departure to find out about a cancellation. 

To find pertinent information about border closures and quarantines that might upend travel plans, travelers should keep abreast of government websites, like usa.gov, for both their home country and the country they're visiting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes a risk assessment for travel to different countries, is another highly informative resource, as is the U.S. State Department's list of screening procedures for countries around the world trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Women stand by a departures and arrivals board in an Argentinian airport wearing medical masks during the COVID-19 pandemic
Even when cancellations are wide-spread, airlines are duty-bound to help you get home © Lalo Yasky / Stringer / Getty Images

2. Be proactive if your flight is canceled 

As airlines around the globe ground thousands of flights, many travelers find themselves stranded with no discernible path home. If this happens to you, don't be afraid to take matters into your own hands. 

First, contact your airline. Under their contract of carriage, most airlines have to get you to your desired destination; many will rebook you on the first available flight at no additional cost. If you're already at the airport, save time by using the company’s digital app or phone service to find a new flight before waiting in a long line to speak with someone from the company. 

If this gets you nowhere, or the airline has suspended service to or from a region, find out if another carrier has available seats to the destination and ask the original airline to cover the cost. Google Flights is an excellent resource for finding other outbound departures in a jiffy. 

Regardless of the outcome, it never hurts to politely ask your airline for meal and hotel vouchers when a flight is delayed for several hours or outright canceled. The worst thing that happens: you get nothing. The best thing that happens: you get some free food and lodging to offset the damage caused by the delay. If the airline is authorized to do so, chances are they’ll do their best to help. 

3. Explore alternative ways to get home

A little creativity goes a long way in a travel quandary. When flying home seems shaky, weigh your other transportation options. If you can reach your destination by car, consider hopping behind the wheel of a rental and going for a road trip. Even if it doesn't get you home, a car can potentially take you to an airport with flights to your hometown. Never underestimate the power of public transit, either. Trains, buses, taxis, and ferries are options worth investigating when all else fails. 

You may also like: The US has announced a ban on travellers from Europe - so what does that mean

The Spanish embassy in Rome, Italy
Diplomatic services are also available to citizens outside their home countries trying to navigate COVID-19 travel bans © Jerome_Correia / Getty Images

4. Contact your local embassy 

When you're unable to resolve a travel problem on your own, call your country's local consulate or embassy. On top of assisting travelers in finding transportation back home, many government agencies can help travelers get in touch with family or friends and may even provide monetary support for food and other basics if you’re in a pinch. If commercial travel is suspended, embassies also assist in safely evacuating their citizens. For American travelers, enrolling in STEP makes it easy for the U.S. Embassy to contact you in case of an emergency, and provides updated safety information about your destination country. 

5. Pack extra provisions

New areas around the world are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks almost daily, leading to countries, cities, and towns instituting quarantines that are taking travelers by surprise. A quarantine was recently imposed on hundreds of international guests at a Tenerife hotel amid coronavirus fears, and an American traveler in Egypt was sent into quarantine at a hospital after receiving a false-positive test result for the virus; thousands around the world are experiencing similar situations.

For those traveling away from home and are worried about the outbreak, remain prepared for possible travel restrictions by stocking up on everything you might need. A fourteen-day quarantine is mandatory for potential carriers of the virus, so consider packing enough toiletries, garments, and goodies to get yourself through that time comfortably. For those taking life-saving medications, have at least a month's supply on hand, if not more. 

You may also like: How Airbnb has updated its cancellation policy for the coronavirus

A white hotel bed in Cabo San Lucas sits by a glass partition with the stylized outline of a woman etched onto it in varying tones of grey
Don't be afraid to connect with hotel staff to find out what your options are if you truly can't get home due to travel restrictions © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet

6. Get creative about unforeseen costs

If you are stranded due to COVID-19, go over your travel insurance policy with a fine tooth comb if you have one. You may find that in addition to, say, emergency medical coverage your policy also covers related costs like emergency transportation. Don't be afraid to call to get the most specific information possible as it pertains to your situation. If you booked your trip on a credit card, especially one with rewards points or other perks for travelers, see if you can leverage your points or coverage policies to offset the cost of additional time in hotels, ride share to and from the airport, etc.

On the off-chance you'll be required to shelter in place due to travel restrictions or quarantine, work with staff at your hotel or short term vacation rental to find out what they can or can't do to alleviate costs for those who can't get home right away. Guests at the Kuredu Island Resort in the Maldives recently found themselves quarantined due to COVID-19 and had to ride out the isolation period in place, for example, but weren't charged for the extension to their stay. Many cruise ship passengers who have been transfered to hotels after possible coronavirus exposure are covered on lodging expenses by the cruise lines themselves. Your hotel may not cover your stay – but it can't hurt to ask.

7. Reach out to loved ones 

If leaving the area to which you're traveling is untenable, contact local friends and family (if available) for support. There's nothing worse than being stuck in a strange town without the creature comforts of home and no way to find the essentials. These folks might be able help you get a hold of proper food and lodging to provide some much-needed normalcy.  

Don't forget to contact your friends and family back home, either. Although separated physically, you're only a quick phone call away from receiving the love you need to get through a tough time. Traveling in light of the coronavirus can be uncertain and potentially isolating, but with modern technology, you don't have to do it alone. 

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