One thing we know for sure: People love to travel. According to the US Travel Association, a total of 2.3 billion domestic in-person trips were tallied in 2019 alone, 80 percent of which were for leisure.
But with the global pandemic tightening borders and raising restrictions on both domestic and overseas travel, most of the globetrotting has slowed to a crawl.
In August, CNN reported that roughly 58 percent of Americans are no longer planning to travel for the winter holiday season, according to the research firm Zeta Global.
And, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising locals to stay at home as much as possible.
But don’t despair. Just because things are a little different doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to travel during the pandemic. You just need to do a little more research, take the necessary precautions, and definitely communicate.
A great way to keep yourself and others safe when traveling is to first be aware of the general COVID-19 safety protocols. These could include:
- frequently washing your hands with soapy water or sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol
- maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from those outside your household or close social bubble when possible
- wearing a cloth or surgical mask in public
- covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- avoiding contact with those who are sick
- regularly disinfecting frequently touched areas
There are also factors that may affect or make you reconsider your travel plans.
Dr. Clare Rock, an associate hospital epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins Hospital and a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Greatist that one of the most important factors to keep in mind is your health.
“Another important thing people may want to consider is, are they at increased risk of getting severe COVID-19 infections? [This includes] the elderly, those over 60, and those that are immunosuppressed,” she says.
The CDC provides a complete list of conditions that could put people at a higher risk for experiencing the serious complications of COVID-19.
These conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, obesity, sickle cell disease, smoking and diabetes.
On top of these general recommendations, not all destinations share the same rules and regulations. To ensure a smooth trip, Rock recommends that travelers research their destination and the areas they’ll be journeying through ahead of time to stay on top of local regulations.
The flight experience has changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic with a slew of new regulations to keep passengers safe. Rules like mandatory mask-wearing, COVID-19 screening questionnaires, and even temperature tests could affect your flight experience.
Meanwhile, the myriad of destination regulations and travel restrictions are more than enough to keep you on your toes. Destination-wise, you can freely fly into almost every state if you’re traveling within the U.S.
According to The New York Times, as of late October 2020, roughly half of all states have no state-wide travel restrictions in place.
Some of these states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, among others.
Traveling to certain states and territories may require travelers to submit an application, including a negative COVID-19 test and self-isolation plan within 72 hours before leaving. The CDC recommends checking your destination’s regulations to make sure you’re following the right rules.
International travel is trickier. The CDC has classified the vast majority of countries as being at high risk for COVID-19 and recommends that people avoid all non-essential travel to those areas. You can find an interactive map of these regions on their website.
On top of this, Forbes reported that at least 33 countries have banned any American travel across their borders. For now, excursions in Canada, Japan, the EU, and others are a no-no.
Airline safety regulations
Research is key before heading off. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations of your destination, and that you’re comfortable with the safety protocols of your chosen airline.
The following is a list of various major U.S. airlines that have published safety regulations, as well as what these rules may include:
|Alaska Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
|Allegiant Air||Mandatory mask-wearing, recommended distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
|American Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration, limited food and drinks during the flight.|
|Delta Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
|Frontier Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration, temperature screening.|
|Hawaiian Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration, COVID-19 pre-screening.|
|JetBlue||Mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
|Southwest Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory distanced seating, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration, limited food and drinks during the flight.|
|Spirit Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
|United Airlines||Mandatory mask-wearing, improved sanitation, cabin air filtration.|
Ground transportation includes public transit (buses or trains), for-hire vehicles (taxis, personal vehicles), and other methods like walking or bicycling.
“Walking or bicycling is obviously the safest mode of transport because essentially you’re in the open air… but for the other modes of travel, car travel [with your close social bubble] is the safest,” says Rock.
There are still factors you’ll need to keep in mind while road-tripping, such as using caution when making stops in areas with lots of people or frequently touched surfaces.
Essentials to pack:
- hand sanitizer
- disinfecting wipes
- face masks
- disposable gloves
- portable tissues
- plenty of snacks and water to minimize stopping for food
- cutlery, bowls, and cups
- enough medication to last your entire trip
- a credit or debit card to avoid paying in cash when possible
“Car travel with people that are not in our pandemic bubble is a higher risk,” says Rock. This includes taking a taxi or carpooling with distant friends or relatives.
“In that scenario, the things you can do to reduce that risk is make sure that everyone in the car is wearing a mask. And then, if you can, open the windows and make sure you’re getting a lot of air current through the car.”
Traveling via public transit is even riskier, as you may be within 6 feet of multiple passengers.
The CDC recommends that you avoid touching surfaces as much as possible, traveling during non-peak hours, cleaning your hands with soap or hand sanitizer before and after traveling, and staying up to date with the latest transit procedures. It’s also not a bad idea to throw on a mask.
It can be riskier traveling with a group because of the obvious reason that you can’t control what others bring to the table.
To stay safe, Rock urges travelers to be aware of their own risks regarding the pandemic, such as pre-existing medical conditions, and to communicate that to the group before heading out.
“Make sure that the people you’re traveling with are like-minded about wearing masks and trying to physically distance,” Rock says.
“Everybody in the group should be aware and assess for themselves their level of comfort and ideas in avoiding some of these higher-risk activities,” she says.
Throughout the journey, monitor and keep up communications about your health, noting any sickness symptoms that you have.
It also wouldn’t hurt to keep on top of public health advisories in the areas you visit and to scope out the rules and regulations of venues like hotels and restaurants before entering.
Whether you opt to stay at a hotel, a friend’s place, or Airbnb during your travels, you should do a little extra checking in before you check in. That means asking the right questions.
Lodging questions to ask:
- Are masks mandatory in shared spaces like hallways?
- Are customers being screened for COVID-19 symptoms before being allowed to enter?
- Are staff regularly disinfecting frequently touched areas?
- What is the occupancy like? Is it low enough that you’re able to distance yourself and minimize interactions with others?
- Is alcohol-based hand sanitizer available in the lobby and throughout the hotel?
Rock says receiving a “no” to any of these could be a red flag. The CDC says that large hotels typically have their pandemic regulations available on their websites.
For Airbnbs, ask the above questions while also adding the following:
- Will there be other people staying in your Airbnb?
- Will you be sharing living spaces with other people, such as the kitchen or washroom?
If the answer is “yes” to either of the above, you may want to reconsider your living arrangements.
Keep in mind that no matter the safety protocols of your lodgings, you’re free to bring anything that makes you feel safe.
The key to staying safe while traveling during the pandemic is making a schedule and following it through. By pre-planning your destination, route, stops, and return date as much as possible, you can cut down on unpleasant surprises.
This is especially important if you happen to be traveling with someone at greater health risk. Rock recommends that those at risk avoid travel if possible.
But if they do choose to travel and symptoms arise, make sure you have access to an area where members of your traveling group can isolate themselves, such as lodging with multiple bedrooms.
Once you’re all set, remember to have fun. While it might seem a little overwhelming at first, every safe and successful trip during the pandemic will give you more confidence for the next.