We all have heard of it; we all can’t wait to get out of the house and go someplace new. No one can blame you after months of being quarantined and isolated inside your own home.
But the question remains: How to Safely Travel?
Is it really safe?
As the world begins to open up after months of shelter-in-place due to the novel coronavirus, many folks wonder if any vacation can be salvaged. It’s a filled question: Countries, states, and municipalities differ wildly in their approaches to coronavirus protocols, and as a result, some places are seeing such rapid upticks in their number of COVID-19 cases that the governors of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey recently announced new travel restrictions on those coming from hotspots like Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Overall the United States saw a 25 percent increase in cases ending June 21, Reuters reports.
Is it safe to travel? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has circulated a set of guidelines, but keep in mind; safety applies not only to you and your family but also to people in the community you’re considering visiting. And before you ask if it’s safe to go, research whether or not it’s even physically possible; the New York Times reports that the EU, for example, is still weighing whether or not it will allow any nationality in once it reopens its borders.
First things first
Just before you even think about going anywhere, remember that the basic guidelines for safety and hygiene remain the same no matter where you are:
- Maintain social distance—at least 6 feet apart from anyone not in your group, wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, and
- Wash your hands with soap and water often.
Now you’re set to research your intended destination: is it even open to travellers? Does it see a spike in coronavirus cases? If it is, don’t go there.
When ‘not to’ travel
In addition to common-sense reasons to stay away from a potential vacation spot, the CDC is clear that you should stay home if you are feeling unwell. Is someone else in your party sick? They should stay at home. Are you or a member of your group high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19? Stay home. Do you live with a high-risk person, even if they won’t be travelling with you? Stay home. Are there a lot of cases in your hometown, upping the risk of you infecting others? Stay home.
Staying close to home
There’s a beach nearby; you have to take public transportation to get there. How safe is this option? The risk for illness via train or bus is less due to the coronavirus being transmitted on surfaces like poles and seats, the New York Times reports. Instead, it has to do with crowding, poor ventilation, and riders not wearing masks.
To decrease risk, travel at a less-crowded time of day, wait for a less-crowded bus or train, wear a mask, attempt to keep distance, use hand sanitizer, and wash your hands you get to your destination. If you need to hold on to a pole for balance or safety, place a disinfectant wipe between it and your writing.
Sure, your car is something of a safety bubble: no outside interlopers, no need to touch poles or seats, or turnstiles. But here, the danger comes when you inevitably have to stop for gas, to use the restroom, or to pick up food. And the longer you’re on the road, the more those dangers compound. AARP recommends plotting your route well in advance to make sure essential services are open. Then, using gloves to pump gas (toss in the trash immediately after), packing your snacks, meals, and water; and, in restrooms, taking care not to touch faucets and doors with bare hands, instead use a paper towel or disinfecting wipe. Also, consider paying for things with credit cards rather than cash, to cut down on hand-to-hand interactions.
While you won’t likely have to stop as often for food or bathroom breaks on an RV trip, you’ll still need to get gas and stay overnight at an RV park. And of course, all that can put you and your travelling partners in contact with people who put you at risk for COVID-19, or who may be at risk from you. Just like you would when you’re travelling by car, you’ll want to plan your route ahead of time, including making a reservation at an RV park, bring as many supplies as possible, including food and cleaning supplies, so you can take fewer trips into town, wear gloves when you pump gas or hook up utility lines, and wash your hands—renting an RV? Ensure the one you pick has its shower and toilet, so you don’t have to use the campground’s communal ones.
This is the big question for people looking forward to traveling far from home—or even cutting travel time to closer locales. As the CDC points out, the trouble starts in the airport: in security lines and elsewhere in terminals, in multiple publicly-used bathrooms and other spaces. In close quarters on the plane itself, sometimes over a lengthy period. Let’s be clear: Non-essential travel is still advised against in the United States and in most countries around the world. But if you absolutely must fly, often avoid dirty tray tables, up to your hand sanitizer usage, keep your mask on and the in-seat air vent flowing, and book a window seat, which is farther away from the busy aisle, reports Business Insider.
Booking a hotel
Like airports, hotels are used by lots and lots of people and provide ample opportunities for infection. Again, keep your mask on in public areas. Business Insider recommends that you also consider cleaning your hotel room yourself—especially high-touch areas like sink faucets and remotes—if you see signs that it may not have been well-cleaned before your arrival. And consider ordering room service rather than chancing the in-hotel restaurant. Unlikely to be a risk: swimming in a chlorinated pool, although the chairs and other surfaces on the pool deck should be avoided—just a dip and you’re done.
Bed and Breakfast or Renting a Home for the Weekend
Lots of people have been renting vacation houses during the pandemic. Rentals offer a few advantages to hotels in that they often have contactless check-in and, if you’re staying in a house, you won’t have the same public spaces like the lobby, that you would at a hotel. Also, home rental sites, including Airbnb, have put cleaning protocols in place to ensure guests’ safety — you can always clean the home yourself when you arrive to be on the safe side. Rental houses that have been unoccupied for a while are also generally safer, USA Today reports. Find out more about the merits of a hotel vs. Airbnb.
Yes, it’s great to be outside in the open air, and experts agree that’s where we have the least risk of contracting or passing on the coronavirus. Again, it’s the common areas that pose the most significant risk: bathrooms and showers, campground stores, that patch of beach beside the lake, picnic areas. Do your best to stay away from people—isn’t that why you’re camping in the first place? Bring all your supplies. Remember, too, there’s risk in getting there, which is why you should pick a camping facility as close to home as possible—preferably within your county.
Can you even travel to another country right now? While many Caribbean countries are open to visitors, you’ll still want to check a country’s guidelines before entertaining the idea. Points to consider: Are they allowing your country of residence in? Are businesses operational? Would it even be worth the effort if you could get there? The world has changed with the novel coronavirus since most of us first heard of it months ago. But the World Health Organization’s recommendations for travel haven’t been updated since late February; it continues not to advise travel bans—the reasons are complicated—but all the suggestions we’ve cited above still stand.
Going out and about
We don’t take a vacation to lock ourselves away in a hotel room, a rental house, or a tent and stay there; we eat at restaurants, go sightseeing, and maybe do a little shopping. You should be limiting the amount of contact you have with other people as much as possible at home or away, says the Mayo Clinic.
When you’re on the road, you’ll want to bring your food (at least some of it); make sure you have enough medication, toiletries, sunblock, etc. to last your whole time away; and wear a face mask when you’re out in public.