Travel expert Simon Calder answers 22 questions about your next holiday

By Simon Calder
Simon Calder

The exact transport and dining arrangements of the travel correspondent of The Independent are, naturally, a closely guarded secret. But it can now be revealed that Simon Calder travelled incognito from his North Devon hideaway by Megabus via Taunton and Weston-Super-Mare to Bristol for this week’s Ask Me Anything.

Living the dream did not end there: he then installed himself in Pret a Manger in Queen’s Road to tackle your pressing questions for an hour. These are the greatest hits.

Bristol fashion

Q: I am also in Bristol but hoping to be in Rhodes by tomorrow night. Do you think we’ll be safe from the “red list” on the traffic light review next week? And I’m 100 per cent correct as well that Greece don’t require a negative test to get in? Just a PLF?

Mel G

A: How lovely to be heading for Rhodes. There is zero chance of red listing for mainland Greece and its islands. Fully vaccinated? No need to do anything other than complete that passenger locator form by midnight Athens time, 10pm UK tonight.

Cruise news

Q: My husband and I (both double vaccinated) are on a cruise in October from Barcelona to Trieste. All of the countries we call at are green or amber except Montenegro – just added to the red list.

The port of call is Kotor. We have been before and know that it’s a tender port. So if we stay on the ship does this affect our status when we return to the UK? In other words, do we have to quarantine just because we have been in Montenegrin waters? I know things may change before we are due to go, but what would your advice be at the moment?

Sue Mill

A: An intriguing and important question – thank you. Suppose you do stay on board. As you say, large cruise ships anchor in the deep bay and passengers are taken into town by tender.

Now, you might imagine that if you simply stay on board, as you have not set foot on Montenegrin soil that would mean you have not visited a red list nation. Therefore, you might conclude you escape hotel quarantine on return to the UK. But the transit rules set out by the UK government for stops made in red list nations indicate otherwise.

“Making a transit stop would not affect what you have to do on arrival in England if, during the stop: no new passengers, who are able to mix with you, get on; no-one on-board gets off and mixes with people outside; passengers get off but do not get back on.”

Sadly I think that the second criterion means you are scuppered. Undoubtedly other nationalities of passengers – as well as some of the crew – will go ashore and mix with the friendly locals.

But don’t at this stage feel obliged to book that 11-night stay in a quarantine hotel at the end of your trip, at a cost of £4,000.

There are three things that could happen.

1 Montenegro’s status might change, though evidence suggests once you are on the red list you tend to stay there for a good while.

2 More likely, the whole 62-country red list will be reappraised and shrink to a few really risky locations (not including Montenegro.

3 If neither of these things happen, then the cruise operator is likely to alter the itinerary if a significant number of passengers are British – which would be a great shame because Kotor is a spectacular, beautiful and fascinating port of call.

Red alerts

Q: Same question you get every time, but what do you think Turkey’s chances are for a move to the amber list?

Rachel H

A: That’s tricky – case numbers have been rising recently, which is unfortunate timing. But as above, I expect the red list to start shrinking pretty soon – it is unsustainable and some of the countries on it are by any measure less risky than some members of the amber list. So Turkey could be a beneficiary of this shrinkage.

Q: We are due to fly to the Maldives for our honeymoon on 19 September. What is the likelihood of Maldives moving from red to amber on this review? From what I’ve read the Maldives narrowly missed out on the last review. Also, I assume if it does change that this wouldn’t come into effect until the following Monday (20 September). Would we still have to follow red rules as we depart before the official change in status?

A Smith

A: The Maldives are my top choice for exiting the red list. While nothing can be taken for granted, I am 90 per cent confident the islands will be moved to the amber list. The fact that you will be there what are the remains on the red list is, perhaps surprisingly, irrelevant. All that counts is the status of the country at the moment you arrive in the UK. And that means the wheels touching the runway.

Q: With all the talk of scrapping the traffic light system, what do you expect to happen with the red list? I’ve booked a flight to South Africa for January 2022, as I haven’t seen my mother who is in her early 90s for almost three years. The flight has been rebooked at least twice.

Doc Bean

A: So sorry you have been separated for so long. It is increasingly untenable for the government to maintain that arrivals from South Africa present a significant public health threat to the UK. So I will be amazed if South African arrivals are still required to go into hotel quarantine by next year. If I am wrong, then I suggest you launder your red list status somewhere lovely such as Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece.

Q: We are due to go to the Dominican Republic on 10 October for our wedding. What are the chances of it going ahead – and what’s the criteria for the DR being on the red list? I have been following all the details online: cases, deaths, vaccination rates, etc.

It looks like the Dominican Republic should be on the green list by the details available to the public. Your comment?

Aurimas

A: I share your frustration: the beautiful Dominican Republic, which looks increasingly alluring with every day of dismal weather here, looks to be one of the more unfortunate members of the club nobody wants to belong to – the UK red list.

While case numbers and vaccination rates are relevant, the Joint Biosecurity Centre – on whose advice ministers say they act – may also have concern over the testing rates and the presence of any worrying variants.

Q: How is Jamaica looking in the next review??

Miss N D

A: Infection rates have been increasing in Jamaica, and a move to red list status cannot be ruled out. However I hope the government is fully aware of the severe impact that such a change would have. Besides being a wonderful holiday destination, of course there are very strong family links with Jamaica. So my view – which is pure speculation – is that it will remain on the amber list.

Proving trip

Q: I am double vaccinated and am due to travel to Switzerland in about ten days’ time. As I understand it, my Covid Pass to travel will suffice for me to enter the country. My issue is my NHS records are in my maiden name while my passport is in my married name.

The UK government advice is to ask your GP to change your name registered with them so they match the passport. I have a complicated medical history and don’t want to risk elements of my medical records going astray in a name change and also, it is perfectly legal to use both names in whatever contexts I choose (I checked with a solicitor).

I can carry my marriage certificate with me to prove I am the same person, but I have no way of knowing if this will work, and don’t want to risk it. I can’t be the only person encountering this issue. Can you offer any advice please?

Name supplied

A: The accounts I have seen of people who are in this unfortunate position indicate that carrying proof of marriage – and that means the original marriage certificate – should be sufficient.

You could also, for example, take an old passport in your maiden name to show that you are one and the same person.

Q: I’m looking to book a weekend in Marrakesh for 17-20 September. The entry requirements on the UK government website say Morocco accepts double vaccinated travellers with no test but that Morocco haven’t yet confirmed it will accept the UK solutions to demonstrate vaccine status. So they advise travellers to follow guidance for alternative entry requirements – ie a pre-departure PCR test.

I’m not keen to book with the hassle, risk and cost of a PCR test. Have you heard of what’s actually happening at the border?

Julia

A: As far as I can see, the UK is on Morocco’s “A List” and all you need is “a vaccination pass or certificate of vaccination to enter Morocco.”

The Health Ministry in Rabat says: “The vaccines authorised in Morocco are : AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Sputnik, Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen, Covishield, Moderna, Sinovac.”

I suggest you apply today for the NHS Covid Pass letter (link here) which, I believe, is available in French.

Q: I have two teenage boys, ages 13 and 15, who due to their age are unable to get vaccinated. As more and more countries are asking travellers over the age of 12 to be double vaccinated is anything being done to overcome this problem?

Frances1974

A: Frances, I believe we are moving towards a situation where key tourism destinations will actually be bending over backwards to make their testing and vaccination requirements easier, not tougher. Therefore even if country A demands proof of vaccination, nations B and C will not.

Testing times

Q: I’m double vaccinated but unfortunately just received a positive Covid test. We’re due to fly to Spain in 14 days time. Can I still travel and if I can, how do I negotiate re-entry to the UK?

Karen E

A: I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis. By the time you travel to Spain, you should be fully recovered, and then as you indicate the main issue is testing to fly back to the UK. Assuming you follow government advice for those who have recently recovered from Covid, and take a lateral flow test rather than a more sensitive (and possibly false-positive generating) PCR, you should be good to fly home. And then, if the mandatory post-arrival PCR is positive, you can demonstrate your recovered status for the satisfaction of NHS Test & Trace. Get well soon and have a great trip.

Q: I would like to go to France for the weekend to visit my mum but I don’t really want to have to pay out for expensive PCR tests on our return. Do you think PCR tests for short trips like this will still be necessary by the end of the month or in October. As far as I’m concerned we will be driving straight to her house not even getting out the car until we arrive at her house and then staying in her house and then back home again

Kerry A

A: The UK is in the absolutely bizarre position of having the highest Covid rates of any major European country, and at the same time the toughest arrival rules.

This makes no sense, and is simply sapping demand for travel, outbound and inbound.

I expect the government’s opposition to international travel to change quite quickly, not least because as soon as furlough ends the awful state of the travel industry will become evident. Ministers might at last show some interest in rescuing what is left of it.

Q: We travel to Greece next week for seven days. It’s tempting to get the (expensive) Welsh Day 2 PCR test ordered before going as it’s easier and probably more secure than doing it from Greece. But with rumours of change to the test requirements for vaccinated people, would you advise us to delay booking the tests until two or three days before we return to the UK?

“Fairly sanguine”

A: Please don’t book that test! You can book it from the airport in Greece before you fly home. Which is when I would be doing all the pre-departure nonsense. Things can only get better.

American adventures

Q: Do you think a trip to the US will be allowed by December this year?

STR 7

A: I give you odds of 80:20 that it will be possible. At present Joe Biden has no particular enthusiasm for opening up to Continental Europe, let alone the UK, as he battles with soaring coronavirus rates in the US and anti-vaxxers.

But by winter, when the travel industry in the US may be more vocal about the loss of European visitors, I expect the president to pay more attention and remove the bizarre presidential proclamation first imposed by Donald Trump.

Please bear in mind that I am often over optimistic.

Anyway, when the US finally accepts UK arrivals, I am optimistic that a reasonable regime will be in place for children. After all, families make up the vast majority of visitors to Florida.

Q: We have a package holiday to Las Vegas due to depart 23 October. The online travel agents have told us this week, the trip will go ahead, but should US borders be closed in October, approximately 10 days prior the airline will offer a refund in the way of a voucher. The hotel money would be refunded to us in cash.

Can we ask for a full cash refund for both parts of this trip?

Nikki Staffs

A: Under the Package Travel Regulations, if UK visitors are still banned from the US, then your trip cannot go ahead and you would ordinarily be entitled to a full cash refund within two weeks. However, it might prove a bit of a battle to secure your money back. So the short answer to your question is: yes, you can ask for a full cash refund – so long as it is legally impossible for you to make the trip. But if you know that you will be flying that way again soon, it might be just easier to accept the voucher.

Q: A lot of questions are being asked about the US opening up to travellers from the UK but what would be the chances of the UK government adding the US to the red travel list, given the high case numbers there at present?

Tom H

A: Almost zero. Short of an eruption of a new and extremely dangerous variant – in which case almost all international travel will be off – I cannot envisage any circumstances in which the US would be added to the red list. The same, by the way goes for all our most popular European destinations, including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

In fact, I expect the red list to start shrinking pretty soon – it is unsustainable and some of the countries on it are by any measure less risky than some members of the amber list.

Trans-European escapes

Q: Due to fly to Slovakia later this month, and they currently require a PCR test “no older than 72 hours” to enter from the UK? Could you advise whether this is 72 hours before departure time of the outbound flight, or 72 hours before arrival time in Slovakia?

Jonny O

A: The Foreign Office says, slightly unhelpfully: “You must also be able to show a negative PCR test result no older than 72 hours, regardless of your vaccination status.” It is not entirely clear whether that is before arrival or departure from the UK.

If it were feasible, I would urge you to organise a test at the airport before you depart – Heathrow has just got a facility with a three hour turnaround for PCR tests.

I appreciate there are zero flights from Heathrow to Bratislava or anywhere else in Slovakia, unfortunately. So I fear you must assume it is 72 hours before arrival in Slovakia – and time your test accordingly.

Q: We’re in Italy for a couple of weeks, we are driving. We want to go back through Switzerland, without stopping to get into France and then to the UK. We will not have been in the UK for over ten days, having been in France and Italy. My understanding is that as we are both fully vaccinated we don’t need to do anything else. Am I right?

Stevie C

A: I predict you will be able to be to drive straight through without a problem. But just in case, I suggest you pause at the Swiss border and, if you can see any officials there, just double check you are entitled to drive through (in the very unlikely event they say no, I’m afraid you will need to swerve west and cross from Italy into France).

I am hearing occasional reports of people with British number plates transiting miscellaneous European countries being stopped and questioned about their travel history – make sure you keep evidence of your absence from the UK, perhaps including hotel or restaurant receipts.

Q: Do you think that Germany will be moving back to the amber list in the next week’s review? Cases have risen since last review but the vaccination rate is quite high. Thanks!

LBR

A: No. Germany is managing things pretty well. Indeed, for a lot of last autumn it was the last major European nation standing.

Q: We are planning a multi centred trip in December from Hungary to Krakow. We will have unvaccinated members of our group and we specifically chose this as it seems we can get from UK to Hungary to Poland and back to UK all with just tests, no jabs necessary. Am I right in thinking that we will be able to pull this off?!

“Tudorfan”

A: Sorry I can’t predict what the rules will be three months from now. But I hope and expect they will be relaxed.

Q: Are we safe to book a trip to Crete?

Sarah Anne

A: The main risk I can see concerns the local transport in Crete – driving standards, unfortunately, are poor relative to the UK. Clearly, accidents in water are also a danger.

But if your question is more of “Will Greece or its islands be added to the red list?” the answer is no. Have a great trip.

Sunnier skies

Q: Myself and family are desperate for some Christmas sun and would love to go to Hurghada in Egypt. Do you think this will be possible, as we are itching to book? If not, where would be your best destination bet for us to go for some warm weather and a much-needed break?

Jo Carroll

A: I am absolutely with you in yearning for winter sun in Egypt – my absolute top choice between November and February. As you know it is on the red list.

Although the official case numbers are low, so too are testing rates. And so I am afraid that you and I may not be able to get there for Christmas. Next best choice, as always, is the ever reliable archipelago of the Canary Islands.

Q: We enjoy our “big” holiday at Christmas & New Year, Caribbean, SE Asia and such. Given the current situation, where would you predict this year is likely to be open and accessible to UK tourists?

Lenny G

A: As mentioned earlier, I am pretty sure that South Africa will be off the red list by the end of the year. Thailand, too. But my top choice is South America. Currently all arrivals from that wonderful continent to the UK must go into hotel quarantine. I think, though, there is a good chance that Chile and Peru will be off the red list very soon.


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