Parts of America are slowly starting to reopen. Many people are starting to incorporate travel of some sort back into their lives. While we all feel differently about the risks of this development and not all of us can personally take this risk, it is the reality. Some percentage of the country is traveling now. More will follow.
Travel was a major contributor to the spread of coronavirus in the first place. I know none of us want a repeat of the same scenario or a second wave of infections. We simply can’t return to the way we used to travel earlier this year and expect a different result.
For those who choose to travel and are privileged enough to do so (both because of good health and because they have the financial means in the middle of an economic crisis), we have to travel with modifications. It is important to reduce the risks, both to yourself as well as to the community around you.
If and when you are ready to travel in the weeks and months to come, here are important tips to be able to do it more safely and responsibly.
7 Tips for Safer Travel as the Country Reopens
1. Obey all local travel rules, restrictions & recommendations.
Before you travel anywhere right now, the threshold question to ask is whether it is allowed. The nation is currently a patchwork of different city, county, and state rules that affect movement and commerce.
While you may agree or disagree with any given rule or restriction, communities have the right to craft their own regulations in a public health crisis. It’s vital to the overall long term success of travel that all of us respect these local and regional differences, just as we would any time we travel some place with different laws or cultures.
So what restrictions should you look for before making travel plans? First make sure you are permitted to travel under your home shelter-in-place or stay at home orders. I’m not permitted, for example, to leave my county in the San Francisco Bay Area except for essential reasons at the moment I publish this article. So there will be no leisure travel for me for awhile.
Second, make sure that you are following all restrictions at your destination. Some destinations like Hawaii, for example, are requiring visitors from out of state to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Other places might not have quarantine rules but might have stricter rules about what activities you can engage in when you arrive. Some destinations require masks for entering an indoor business. If you don’t think you can abide by these differences, choose to travel somewhere else.
Finally, make sure that you aren’t violating the rules and regulations of any areas you might pass through in your travels in between. With many more of us choosing to take road trips rather than flying, consider your path to and from your destination too.
2. Do only what feels comfortable and safe for you.
As the very popular meme of the last few weeks stated, “we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” This pandemic is facing all of us together, but our risks, beliefs, fears, and reactions to it are different.
Without making any value judgments about any particular position, I want to acknowledge that we are all going to feel very differently – and likely pretty strongly – about travel. We all also have different abilities to travel and risks if we do. You have to do what is comfortable and feels safe for you and not for your friends, neighbors, or anyone else. The FOMO is going to be real, and it’s going to be very challenging to navigate.
With your family, consider what your risk tolerance is. What may feel okay for one family may be too aggressive for some and far too limited for others. Obviously if you have any health issues, consult your physician before you travel. If you are in close contact at home with other people who may be at greater risk, involve them in the discussion so they can make informed decisions for themselves too.
Consider risks both for yourself as well as for the communities you are visiting. I know, for example, that it would feel personally uncomfortable traveling to a remote area that has no cases from my busier urban area that has had a moderate number of infections. I couldn’t handle the guilt I’d feel if my family were the reason a smaller more isolated community that had dodged the virus thus far had an outbreak.
Of course, as someone who travels very publicly with my movements visible on social media, this feels even trickier to navigate for me. I can’t promise that I’ll handle this perfectly in the coming weeks and months, but it is certainly in the forefront of my mind in everything I plan and do. And it should be in yours too – even if you don’t have a huge social media following. We all influence a bigger circle than we realize.
3. Choose lower risk outdoor destinations to start.
Many weeks ago, I made some predictions about how travel was going to change in the wake of coronavirus. And one of those predictions was that outdoor vacations were going to rule the day for awhile.
The more we learn about this virus, the more it seems like close and extended indoor interactions are substantially higher risk. This post from an epidemiologist that has gone viral (pun intended) is packed full of lots of data supporting this theory.
So for those who want to travel more safely and cautiously for now, outdoor destinations are a great place to start. I can tell many of you are already considering this, as posts on this blog like what to pack for a day at the lake with kids and a beginner’s guide to the Florida Keys are some of my most popular of late. Personally, I’m hoping that my mid-July trip to Yosemite National Park is going to be possible, as we’d be hiking and biking in the enormous open air valley for most of it anyway.
4. Find lodging taking extra precautions (and require them to be transparent about all the details!)
One of the biggest risks of travel comes with staying in accommodations that may have been used, touched by, and breathed on by others. Whether you are planning to stay in a hotel, condo, or standalone home vacation rental, we all want to make sure that our lodging is as clean and low risk as possible. Each of these types of accommodations has their risks and benefits.
Do your due diligence before picking a place to stay. Lodging owners are being much more transparent about what they are doing to clean (and if they aren’t, then don’t give them your business).
Hotels on balance seem more likely to have rigorous and consistent cleaning standards, especially the ones that are part of larger chains that have adopted new transparent rules. But hotels also have more chances for exposure as you walk through a common lobby or have housekeeping enter your room daily. A vacation rental home where you have exclusive access for a week might ultimately mean less contact, especially if no one has checked out of it on your arrival day.
Whatever lodging you consider, ask the hard cleaning questions.
5. Still practice physical distancing and use masks when necessary.
Part of taking a vacation is forgetting your troubles and your woes back home and living a more carefree lifestyle. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be possible in the same way during an ongoing pandemic. You can’t simply let the rules go. The virus is in vacation destinations too! As we learned from the beginnings of the outbreak when ski towns were super-spreader locations, the virus may even be more prevalent in some vacation destinations.
That means it is important to continue to practice physical distancing when you travel. If you are already choosing destinations that have plenty of wide open spaces, this is probably very easy. In fact, choosing the right destination may be what ultimately allows you to be more carefree.
But when distancing is not always possible, please do bring and wear a mask. Yes, I know masks are apparently the hot button issue of the day. I have to admit I don’t get the resistance. For the vast majority of us without sensory issues or a respiratory disability, it’s pretty darn easy to don a mask for a few minutes to dash into a crowded grocery store or public bathroom. If you are going to travel to a new place, you have a responsibility to others who live in that community to be considerate and to protect them. Wearing a mask helps with that. And it ultimately puts us all on the path to controlling this virus more quickly so we can all travel sooner, more often, and more broadly.
6. Research and consider carefully the health care situation at your destination.
As someone with young kids who have accidents and get sick on vacation already, I’ve always scoped out health care at destinations when I travel. It never hurts to know where the closest urgent care clinic or pharmacy is for when an emergency does strike. But this is going to be even more vital when we all face a chance of falling ill in a new destination.
Consider carefully whether the destination you are traveling to has the quality of care you will need if you get sick. Can you get the treatment you need at the care level you’d expect? Can you get tested? Is the local hospital within your insurance network or might you risk real financial burdens if you have to, goodness forbid, use it?
Consider too whether the hospitals in that area have the capacity to treat you and other tourists. Would you be a burden to a smaller community already stretched to the limit? Could you get home or to a bigger hospital in a pinch?
A lot of this probably counsels in favor of many people traveling much closer to home for a bit. Road trips are also safer bets than flights if you do get sick at your destination because at least you would be able to drive home if you aren’t too ill. If you fly by plane, you’d be stuck for quite an extended period of time.
7. Plan practical strategies to minimize unnecessary exposures.
Last but certainly not least, planning is still key – as it often is with any kind of travel! But now we need to plan for new risks, like the cleanliness of a gas station restroom or how to safely buy food in a new place. There are easy ways to navigate these situations to make them lower risk if you do some thinking ahead.
A few practical considerations before your trip might include:
Can you buy groceries/supplies at your destination?: Shortages of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other essentials are still happening all over this country. You may not be able to count on picking up what you need along your route or at your destination. Your trip will involve fewer touch points and exposures if you pack up groceries and supplies from home.
What kinds of delivery services are available at your destination?: If you want order takeout or do grocery pickups, realize that the systems that are in place at home might not be available everywhere you travel. Instacart, DoorDash, and the like still aren’t in every destination. And if they are, they may have very different levels of availability. Do you research in advance so you aren’t depending on a service that isn’t accessible.
Do you need to stop for bathroom breaks while traveling?: Bathroom breaks in dirty highway gas stations make a lot of would-be travelers pretty concerned about travel. Maybe this means you road trip somewhere closer in the first place. Maybe it means you bring the disinfecting wipes and Lysol in with you! I know quite a few people pulling toddler travel potties out of their basements so they can avoid using public restrooms on a road trip altogether. Another hot tip I’ve heard – consider stopping for bathroom breaks at a store like Target that has larger, less used, and more cleaned bathrooms than the average highway gas station might at the moment.
Whatever the little practical challenges, if you think and plan ahead, you can minimize your risk and the risk to others.
The Bottom Line
I’m sure I’ve managed to hit a few nerves for almost everyone in this article by now, but I also feel like it’s essential to start these kinds of conversations. We all share the same goal – for life and travel to return! Wishing all of you health and increasingly clarity on these very tough decisions as we move forward together.
And… I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comments. (But please, keep it respectful!)