Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
With ever-changing rules and goalposts, international travel remains something of a mystery, even without the reams of misinformation that are currently doing the rounds. Here are some of the most common travel myths, busted.
Myth 1: Travel to “red” or “amber” countries is only for essential purposes
You would be forgiven for thinking so, because a month ago the prime minister said: “It’s very important for people to grasp what an amber list country is. It is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”
Yet two days earlier, Boris Johnson’s government had lifted the 19-week ban on international travel for all but essential reasons.
You can travel anywhere you wish, or at least anywhere that will welcome you. No one will ask you at the airport to justify your visit. But you must, of course, follow the quarantine rules when you return from a “red list” or “amber list” country.
Myth 2: You must show a negative test result in order to leave the UK
Some destinations, such as Portugal, insist you produce a negative recent test before you travel there. Others, such as Greece, ask for a test if you cannot provide proof of vaccination.
Airlines, ferry lines and train operators will check that you meet the requirements of your destination (and any other country you are travelling through along the way). But you need no certificate to leave the UK.
Myth 3: If a country “changes colour” while you are there, when coming home you follow the rules that prevailed when you arrived
No: what counts is the category when you return. Suppose you are in Malta. It has superb vaccine programme and very low Covid rates. But even though the average British traveller would be far less likely to contact coronavirus beneath the Maltese sun than anywhere in the UK, the government insists it belongs on the amber list, requiring 10 days of self-isolation (while the Labour Party demands it should be red, with 11 nights of hotel quarantine for returning holidaymakers).
One day the politicians will stop swimming against the Mediterranean tide and accept that Malta belongs on the green list. Arrive direct from Malta after that takes effect, without having visited anywhere “red” or “amber” in the past 10 days, and you need not self-isolate.
From that moment on, incidentally, the island nation will become a “red list laundry” for people travelling from Turkey to the UK. Spend 10 full days in Malta and there is no need to go into hotel quarantine.
Myth 4: If you are quarantining and the colour of the country you have returned from changes from amber to green, you can stop self-isolating
False: once you have started quarantine, you must complete it.
Myth 5: “We have the toughest border measures anywhere in the world”
Those were Boris Johnson’s exact words at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. The statement is plainly wrong: many countries, including Singapore and Australia, have far tougher border measures than the UK.
I can see only two possibilities: that Mr Johnson believes he is correct, in which case he has been woefully misinformed; or he knows the assertion is false but says it anyway.
Either way, it is lamentable that the remark went unchallenged. Lives, livelihoods and travel dreams depend on what politicians say and do.