After several trips since lockdown, here are seven things our Travel Editor has found making outings easier in the 'new normal'...
Slowly but surely, we’re getting a feel for staycationing in a pandemic.
It’s brilliant being out and about, but it’s also bizarre — travelling through an Irish summer with yellow stickers and Perspex everywhere, without American accents, with day-trippers crowding beaches but most hotel rooms lying empty. After several short trips, here are seven things I’ve found making my outings easier.
1. Book ahead
Always a golden rule in travel, advance planning is especially important now. We love our freedom and spontaneity on hols, but that must now come within a framework of careful planning — not just for food and accommodation, but attractions, transport, pool slots, boats and so on that have reduced capacity for social distancing.
2. Cancel culture
These are uncertain times, so check how flexible the accommodation cancellation policy is — I’ve come across hotels offering cancellation right up to noon on the day of arrival, and self-catering charging 75pc of the full cost for cancellations up to 27 days out. With Covid-19 cases so uncertain, find a policy you are comfortable with.
3. Don’t be a no-show
If you can’t honour a booking, call to cancel it. Please. Irish restaurants in particular have their backs against the wall after months shuttered, and now removing tables for social distancing. A no-show can be the difference between breaking even or losing money. For sure, more of them should take credit card details and deposits. But can’t we be responsible customers, too?
4. Pack for a pandemic
Sunscreen, rain gear... face coverings. Yep, packing face masks feels strange, but a holiday shouldn’t mean a break from covering up where you can’t socially distance indoors. If anything, given how this virus moves, it should prompt extra care. Still, most people I’ve seen while travelling in Ireland this month — in shops, tourist attractions, hotel lobbies or ordering takeaways, were not wearing masks. The more of us that cover up indoors, the more normal it becomes.
5. Pick your moment
Crowded beaches on sunny holiday weekends are par for the course in a normal summer. But this is not a normal summer. Scenes like those witnessed in Kerry and Wexford last weekend highlighted the learning curve we’re all on when it comes to social distancing on day trips (Hook Lighthouse this week asked people not to show up without bookings after “confrontation from some visitors who fail to understand capacity issues”).
Encouraging bookings, off-peak travel, one-way systems and pedestrianisation can all make a difference with crowds, but we need to play our part, too. Where possible, go midweek, visit less popular spots and have a Plan B if you encounter crowds.
6. Call for clarification
What Covid-19 protocols are in place? Is the pool open or shut? What are the busy times? Are staff wearing face coverings? Has Fáilte Ireland's Covid-19 Safety Charter been completed?
Call ahead, or check websites, to see what safety and hygiene measures are in place, and make sure they chime with your own expectations and comfort levels.
There is some variation with how guidelines are being interpreted (for example, some hotel staff are wearing face coverings; some aren't; and I've been in hotels where room cleaning was by request, and where it was completed as normal, while we were out). It's important, especially for travellers at higher risk, to find the right fit.
7. Book direct to save money
As well as fewer people, you’ll find lower rates midweek and on Sundays, and better overall value in packages bundling food, activities, multi-night stays or ‘resort credit’ style vouchers. By all means search on sites like booking.com or hotels.com, but call the hotel before you commit. You’ll save them the booking site fee, and they’ll be more likely to cut the rate or throw in an upgrade, voucher, breakfast or other perk in return.
Some things never change, even in a pandemic.
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Its cliffs are Ireland’s cover star. The hero image that, no matter how ubiquitous, still leaves you reeling — from the raw power of nature to the surprising emotional connection. Like all cover stars, however, their brightness can blind you to the surrounding beauty.