How to Travel in a Pandemic

Healthy Living

July 9, 2020

In a normal year, you might be counting down the days until your summer vacation. But this is no normal year. That said, you might still be trying to decide whether it’s worth it to head out of town for some much-needed R&R. And if you have to travel for work or other reasons, you might also be worried about doing it safely.

No matter your reasons for hitting the road or air this year, smart planning can help you make it there and back without picking up any viral souvenirs. Planning a getaway or work trip this summer? Here’s what you need to know about traveling during a pandemic.

Pay attention to conditions.

Once upon a time, you probably picked a vacation destination based on the attractions it offered and the things you wanted to do there. In this day and age, you also need to consider what’s going on with COVID-19 activity.

First, take a look at your local statistics. These should be available from your local health department. In smaller areas or counties without a health department, you may need to check your state’s health department website. 

If you’re currently living in a viral hotspot, hold off on traveling if you can. You don’t want to risk carrying illness to an area that’s seeing lower numbers.

The conditions at your destination matter, too. 

Traveling to an area with a lot of COVID-19 cases increases the chances that you’ll pick it up during your trip. The same goes for anywhere that you’ll need to stop along the way. When making plans, pick a route that takes you through safer areas. 

It’s never fun to have to seek medical care away from home.

Note that some states require travelers to take extra precautions. When entering from areas of high viral activity, you may need to self-quarantine for 14 days. If you don’t have that much vacation time to spare, you’ll need to rethink your travel plans.

Consider your transportation options, too.

Cross-country trips usually involve driving or flying, and you’ll need to weigh each option carefully in light of the pandemic. There are pros and cons to each:

  • Driving. On one hand, driving gives you control over your passengers and stops. You know who’s with you, whether anyone’s sick, where you’ve all been and the things you’ve done along the way. The downside is that driving means more stops: gas, food, bathroom breaks and more. Each stop could increase the risk of infection.
  • Flying. On the other hand, flying is quicker. Depending on where you’re flying, you may have few or no stops. A direct flight would be ideal. But the major downside to flying is that you have no control over who’s flying with you — and not everyone will be as cautious as you are.

You’ll also need to consider how to get around if you’re traveling to a place that uses subways, trains and other public transit options. Renting a car could pose less of a risk, for instance.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which type of transportation is better right now. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each to make a choice that works for you.

The safest place to stay may not be with family.

Staying with family or friends might seem like a great choice for out-of-town vacations, but hold that thought. Has your family been careful? Are they taking the same precautions that you are? If not, then you might face fewer risks at a hotel. Consider the risks when choosing where you’ll stay during your trip.

  • Hotels. Hotels typically follow stringent cleaning policies anyway. And those policies will likely be even tighter right now. Bigger chains and brands may offer touch-free features like smartphone keys and other options to mitigate risk. But even boutique or independent hotels will be taking extra precautions these days. The risks, of course, include interacting with other guests in common areas like the lobby or pool.
  • Rental homes. As with hotels, dedicated rental homes have probably amped up their cleaning and disinfecting strategies. If you can make sure ahead of time that your rented space will be following COVID-19 cleaning protocols, this can be a good option for larger families or groups. The downside is that you don’t know who stayed in the home before you or how stringent the owner is.
  • Campsites. Like driving in your own car, camping gives you control over your sleeping quarters. Plus, being outside poses less of a threat for viral transmission if you keep your distance. Just note that shared areas, like showers, restrooms and playgrounds, could still increase your risk of infection.

Wherever you stay, bring some extra disinfecting wipes to wipe down high-touch surfaces, like doorknobs and TV remotes. Experts don’t think there’s a big risk in getting COVID-19 from surfaces, but that doesn’t mean there’s no risk. (Better safe than sorry, as they say.) 

As for bedding, you shouldn’t need to bring your own sheets and linens. But if it makes you feel safer, go for it.

Cancellation policies are an important factor to consider, too. These days, viral activity in an area can change seemingly overnight, so book accommodations that offer the option for last-minute changes and refunds.

Plan ahead for what to do when you’re there.

Seeing the local sights is one of the highlights of travel. But right now, planning is more important than ever. Not all tourist attractions are open. And those that are may be operating with reduced hours or limited capacity.

Even if an attraction is open, you may not be comfortable with visiting. 

At facilities without clear social distancing markers, you may end up in haphazard lines or bunched-up crowds. High-touch attractions, such as children’s museums, may be stressful if you’re worried about picking up germs from shared surfaces.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t fun to be had, though. 

Outdoor activities are generally considered safer than indoor ones. Try following up breakfast at an outdoor cafe with a walk along an uncrowded beach, or take a picnic to a state park where there’s plenty of space to spread out. Other less-risky options include:

  • Fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation
  • A private biking or walking tour of the city with proper distancing
  • Public parks, arboretums, gardens and outdoor art exhibits
  • Individual activities, like parasailing or ziplining

If the outdoors aren’t your thing, try to schedule your visits to area landmarks when crowds are low. Choose open-air seating if you want to eat out, or consider ordering food for takeout from a local hotspot and sharing a meal with your family at the hotel.

Minimize exposure — for you and everyone else.

No matter how you travel or where you stay, think about ways you can mitigate risk and keep transmission low. To be a conscientious traveler, you have to keep away from others’ germs and protect other people from yours. That includes:

  • Sticking to your own group: Now’s not the time to cozy up to strangers. Stick with your own group and keep a distance of 6 feet from people you don’t live with. You can still be polite, of course, but physical distance is key.
  • Wearing masks: Pack multiple masks so you’ll have a clean one for each day of your trip. Make sure that your family is masked when entering buildings or visiting outdoor attractions where social distancing isn’t possible. Even if there’s not a mask mandate at your destination, it’s still the responsible thing to do. Your mask protects other people by keeping your germs to yourself. Other people’s masks protect you.
  • Keeping your hands clean: Wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible, for 20 seconds each time. Bring along pocket-size hand sanitizer to apply between washes (and if you can’t get to a sink). Normal soap and water work just fine, by the way.
  • Wiping down surfaces: Travel packages of sanitizing wipes are handy as well. Use them to wipe down high-touch surfaces in hotels, airplanes and other stops along your journey.

Of course, if you’re exhibiting any signs of illness, stay home. 

Don’t try to tough it out just because you’ve had this trip planned for a while. Those sniffles might or might not be a summer cold. Right now, it’s definitely better to err on the side of caution.

In reality? Staycations are the best option right now.

We hate to say it, but your best bet is to postpone your travel plans if you can. 

Summer vacation doesn’t always have to mean a big vacation, anyway. And staying home is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others this year.

If your local area has COVID-19 rates under control, think about taking several days to explore the sights and attractions of your region. This is an especially good time to check out your community’s parks and hiking trails.

If you’re not comfortable with community activities, brainstorm ways to turn your home into a vacation paradise. 

Set up a tent in the backyard, let your kids run through the sprinkler and make s’mores in the oven. Stay up late to look at the stars, and then watch virtual tours of famous attractions from around the world the next morning.

This summer may not include the getaway experience that you’ve been daydreaming about since winter. But with a little creativity, you can still make plenty of lifelong memories.