There is always risk associated with travel during a pandemic, but travelers can follow these tips (along with CDC guidelines) to better ensure safety in the face of the novel coronavirus when they’re on the go.
Since news of a possible pandemic broke in early 2020, it’s an understatement to say that travel plans have altered significantly. Thousands of flights have been canceled, countless trips were postponed, and there’s been a profound shift in how travelers think about moving from place to place.
But this hasn’t meant that travel has come to a complete halt. As the state of lockdowns and quarantine orders continually shift all over the world, and as airlines, transportation companies, and hotels make adjustments to meet the evolving health and safety measures required of operating during a pandemic, many travelers are left wondering what steps they should take if they decide to travel once again.
One thing is certain: information about COVID-19 is constantly changing, so be sure to always check with regularly updated Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and safety precautions and/or your local destination’s official governmental policies ahead of any trip. Below are just some of the tips we have found helpful.
Guidelines from the CDC are clear that the best way to prevent infection of yourself and others is by staying home. Deeply weigh the risk level against your reasons for traveling—is it really worth it? The Texas Medical Association made a helpful chart for assessing the risk of infection with common activities like going to a restaurant or staying in a hotel. The bottom line is this: Any activity that involves contact with other humans increases the risk of infection.
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Opt for the outdoors and uncrowded spaces
There’s evidence that people are more susceptible to infection in indoor environments, where viral particles circulate in enclosed spaces. Outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and fishing make it much easier to keep isolated from others and prevent airborne spread.
If you’re not the outdoor type, try to choose destinations that will be conducive to avoiding crowds. Though the virus is not transmittable by water, beaches and pools do tend to attract crowds, so be sure to check with your destination and follow CDC guidelines for traveling to water-centric destinations. If you plan to dine at a restaurant, make sure to opt for outdoor seating to maximize health and safety.
Research your destination’s COVID-19 containment measures
Unfortunately, there aren’t universal guidelines for how to approach containing the virus, and methods vary from city to city, state to state, and country to country. Be sure to research the guidelines to follow wherever you’re going—do they require a two week quarantine?—and avoid destinations that seem to have relaxed containment measures (e.g. no mask requirements or limits on group gatherings).
The New York Times is tracking COVID-19 infections worldwide, so before heading off to a new destination, make sure you aren’t going somewhere that is currently seeing a spike in cases. Depending on where the destination is in flattening the curve, hospital systems may or may not be equipped to care for you should you fall ill or get injured, even if you follow all safety measures and avoid people outside your party.
Choose transportation wisely
When it comes to how you get to where you’re going, you truly can’t be too careful. The rule of thumb is that the more isolated you and your party can remain, the better, but any mode of transportation will require you to pack your own travel-ready cleaning tools.
Driving involves the least amount of required contact with other people and can ensure you and your party remain more in control of the safety precautions taken, especially if you’re using your own car. That said, consider what would happen if your car breaks down or you get into an accident—these scenarios would involve outside human contact, so you’ll need to be prepared.
If you’re renting a vehicle, make sure the rental company is following health and safety guidelines, and be sure to pack your own cleaning tools to routinely sanitize the car as you come into contact with the outside.
Top Safety Resources for Drivers
Though there’s evidence that air filtration systems on airplanes can help prevent bacterial and viral particles from spreading throughout a flight, flying still poses a very high risk of infection, and some airlines are taking the pandemic more seriously than others.
When booking a flight, book with an airline that has been stringent in their health and safety regulations, requiring all passengers and staff to wear masks and filling the planes at reduced capacity. If you see a fellow passenger not wearing a mask, don’t be afraid to let a flight attendant know that they are putting the entire flight at risk and make sure they do something about it.
Top Airline Safety Resources
Train or Bus Travel
The safety of train or bus travel is largely dependent on how full the passenger cars are, which isn’t something you’ll have control over unless you have the option to book private cars. If possible, try to book your ticket at an off-peak time when there will be fewer passengers, very early in the morning or late at night. Health and safety measures such as mask-wearing and sanitation should also be followed by each and every passenger and worker.
Top Train and Bus Travel Safety Resources
Check with venues about their safety precautions
If you are going to stay at a hotel or eat at a restaurant, call the venue ahead of time and ask what they are doing to ensure the health and safety of customers—and their staff. Know that using these services requires staff to put their lives at risk on a daily basis in order to serve customers, and a business that doesn’t prioritize their staff’s safety is not one that should be patronized.
It’s tough to know what all is really happening behind the scenes at any business, but the hotel or restaurant’s response to your call should tell you a lot about how seriously they are taking the pandemic—and may even put the pressure on to hold themselves accountable.
Four questions to ask any business:
—Do they require staff to wear masks and wash their hands before and after interacting with customers?
—Does the staff have access to frequent COVID-19 testing?
—What’s their sick leave policy? (Businesses that don’t have sufficient sick leave policies are more likely to have staff come to work sick.)
—How often are they cleaning and sanitizing common areas?
Pack a COVID-19 health and safety kit
It should go without saying at this point but it bears repeating: WEAR A MASK. This along with washing/sanitizing your hands frequently and maintaining at least six feet of distance between yourself and those outside your party are the best ways to prevent infection. Be sure to follow these guidelines whenever possible while traveling.
Mask wearing tips:
—An effective mask fits tightly around the face.
—N95 respirators and KN95 masks are the most effective at blocking viral particles, but most experts say that these should be reserved for medical professionals and essential workers.
—There is still much we don’t know about what materials are best for preventing infection, so some experts recommend wearing multiple layers of masks if possible (e.g. a cloth mask over a surgical mask or a bandana over a cloth mask). Though if you don’t have multiple options, one mask is better than none.
—The CDC recommends washing reusable masks after each use and provides a handy formula for hand-washing your masks. Be sure to pack all materials needed.
—Don’t touch your mask without washing your hands first.
—Don’t pull your mask down to your chin or neck—this is an exposed area and could potentially host viral particles that otherwise wouldn’t go near your mouth or nose. If you need to remove your mask, wash your hands, and then remove it entirely from your face.
Keep these items handy to keep yourself and your environment clean and safe:
—Hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
—Anti-bacterial wet wipes for any surface you may have prolonged contact with (airplane armrests, steering wheels, public toilets).
—Portable soap leaves. Hand washing is much better at eradicating the virus from your hands than simply using hand sanitizer, so if you run into a situation where soap isn’t available, these little packets will really come in handy.
Be prepared for shifting laws and guidance:
Especially if you travel out of state or out of the country, there’s a possibility that your trip may be delayed due to the coronavirus or that you may not be allowed back home for a certain period of time. Should laws or guidance change such that you are delayed or can’t return home as scheduled, pack extra essentials like medications so you aren’t left in the lurch.
Top 5 Travel Safety Resources During COVID-19