After spending months sheltering in place, some of us are taking our first steps back out into the world and beginning to travel again. While travel during a pandemic is a personal choice and everyone should do what they feel is best for their families and their community, while people are starting to travel again we need to talk about what can be done to return to travel safely.
Travel during a pandemic; what can we do to return to travel safely?
Is it safe to travel?
The short answer is: sort of. Nothing in life ever comes without risk but of course travel in the past few months has been a very risky business. No one can deny that this virus spread because of travel in the first place, and keeping borders closed and people at home has been the number one priority as the world tries to contain the virus.
But the truth is, people are beginning to travel again – in fact, they have been for a while now. Not everyone feels like they’re ready to start traveling again and of course that’s fine, everyone should make the decision they feel is best for their family and those around them.
But if people are going to travel -and apparently, there are – then we need to have more of a conversation around how to do so as safely and responsibly as possible.
For right now, like it or not we are having to live with the virus and while that is the case, travel is going to happen for some people. I’m certainly not saying that travel is 100% safe right now, but I am saying that if you are going to travel, there are absolutely things you can do to keep yourself, your family, and those in the community as safe as possible.
Certain things to consider before traveling to a destination:
– does the place you’re visiting have restrictions in place such as mandatory quarantine?
– does your home state have any restrictions in place for when you return?
– how many cases does your destination currently have and what is their health case system like? If you caught the virus there, would you be comfortable being treated if needed?
– if you were to catch the virus there and had to quarantine in place, would you be able to do so? Could you stay for an extended amount of time if you had to?
– does your travel insurance cover you traveling to that destination?
Why is it important to promote responsible travel?
This is a big one for me: if you’re going to be traveling in the near future and sharing your experience then that’s great, but please do so responsibly!
There are two main factors here. The first is that if you share photos or experiences that aren’t responsible (such as being in a crowded space with no social distancing, or not wearing a mask when there is a mask mandate in place) then you’re encouraging others to do the same.
You might not be actively saying “ignore the rules, this is what I’m doing and I’m getting away with it” but that’s the message that you’re sending.
Equally important is to actually research the restrictions before travel. I’ve seen more than a few people post a picture saying something like, “I’m not sure if this was allowed but we did it anyway” when a quick internet search will show the regulations.
Don’t plead ignorance after the fact when the information is readily available; almost everywhere posts their rules online right now so it’s easy to see in advance what is and isn’t allowed.
The second factor revolves around the travel industry returning. Understandably, many people are very wary about travel right now and why shouldn’t they be? Travel is what caused the virus to spread in the first place.
But while people have been staying home and sheltering in place, the travel industry – worth nearly $3 trillion in 2019 – has been suffering. This doesn’t just affect large corporations like airlines and hotel chains; it affects countless small businesses and individuals who rely on travel and tourism. This industry needs to recover, but it won’t if people are afraid to travel.
If you post a picture online where you are not traveling responsibly, this could cause someone who was perhaps considering a trip to rethink their plans and cancel.
If somewhere like Walt Disney World announces rules that make someone feel safe visiting and then you post a picture breaking those rules, it will make potential visitors think the rules aren’t being enforced and maybe they won’t come.
Sharing pictures and experiences online that might not seem like a big deal in the moment can have a huge ripple affect on the travel industry.
How can you safely return to travel?
The best advice that can be given is to follow guidelines and use your common sense. Certain things are in place to protect you and the community, and those regulations need to be followed – even if you don’t really agree with them.
With that in mind, these are some of the things we have done to return to travel as safely as we possibly can:
Wear a mask
If at the beginning of 2020 you’d have told me that I would spend most of the year wearing a mask, I would have thought you were crazy! But masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future and I think most of us are getting used to them.
We’ve been wearing masks for months now; my county has a mandatory mask mandate in place for all indoor areas and outdoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. Almost everywhere we have traveled to so far has had similar mask mandates in place but where they haven’t, we’ve worn our masks anyway.
While not every state has a mask mandate in place, many local counties do and it’s important to double check the rules for where you’re traveling to see if that’s the case or not.
All US airlines currently require face coverings for those ages 2 and older while on board the plane, so if you’re planning a flight then a mask will be required there too, as well as most public transport and even ride share cars.
The bottom line is that a mask will almost always be necessary at some point on your journey or at your destination, so make sure you have a good supply of them.
If you’re traveling with kids, take a look at my kids face mask tips. My youngest son had a hard time wearing his mask to begin with so we had to increase use slowly, and he’s now managing a good few hours without too much complaint.
Practice social distancing
Even while wearing a mask, social distancing is still a good thing. As someone who hates crowds, I feel like I’ve been practicing for this my whole life!
Being in crowded places isn’t a great idea right now, but luckily most destinations are doing what they can to manage visitor numbers and disperse any crowds that may form.
With this in mind, double check the place that you’re visiting to see if any reservations are required, even if this wasn’t the case in the past. Places like certain National Parks and theme parks like Walt Disney World now need reservations in advance and they do hit capacity, so make sure you’re prepared before you go (read through my post on the reopening of Walt Disney World if you have a trip planned there!)
If you’re concerned about crowded places, then look for alternatives. There are plenty of National Parks that attract much smaller crowds and now is a great time to visit those instead. State Parks make fantastic alternatives as well.
If you do go somewhere more popular, look for other things to do outside of the most popular tourist attractions (see my post on socially distant activities in Florida).
Follow local rules and regulations
Not surprisingly for a global pandemic, rules and regulations vary greatly at the moment when it comes to travel. It’s not just outside of the US that you’ll find huge variations on what is and isn’t allowed; every state has their own rules and even within the states, each county might have different regulations in place.
It might seem overwhelming to try to find the rules for the place you’re traveling to, but it’s not as hard as it seems.
For international travel, the US embassies and consulates website allows you to search by destination to see what restrictions there are for those from the US entering a foreign country and you can find the CDC’s travel recommendations by destination here.
For US travel, every state will have their most up to date information on their official website. Those websites should also show any county or city wide restrictions as well, but it’s worth searching for that information separately as well just to be sure you know exactly what the rules are going in.
For example, Florida has no statewide restrictions or quarantine requirements, but many counties do have mask mandates in place.
Once you’ve found out what the regulations are, they should be followed. Even if they seem ridiculous, they’re there for a reason; to keep the people who live in that community safe. You might feel perfectly safe traveling to a destination and not quarantining on return, but you might be risking those around you if you don’t.
If people don’t follow the rules, eventually places might end up closing back up and that ends up causing way more harm in the long run.
Keep things clean
I’ve only stayed in one hotel since the pandemic began, and I was honestly quite nervous. I chose my hotel carefully and packed way more cleaning supplies than I would normally travel with, but it ended up being fine.
If you’re looking for accommodation during travel, then research the big hotel chains to see what they’re doing to keep guests safe.
We’re Hilton Honors Members so we usually stick with that brand, and they’ve been very open about their new cleaning policies. I was really happy with everything I found in the hotel we stayed at; the room was spotless and sealed with a special tag on the door to let me know no one had entered the room since it had been cleaned. They even wrapped the TV remote in plastic!
Outside of the room, masks had to be worn in all common areas, even the hallways, and elevators were limited in capacity. There was additional hand sanitizer everywhere and the usual breakfast offerings had been replaced with more sanitary prepackaged items.
There was an online check in process and a digital key that allowed me to open my door with my phone -I had zero contact with anyone for the whole stay!
Of course all hotels will vary, but this gives you an idea as to some of the policies to look out for when booking a hotel. I was completely comfortable with how hard everyone was working to keep myself and the other guests safe, and ended up feeling perfectly safe.
If you do want to be extra cautious however, then bring some basic supplies with you. I traveled with extra hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes to sanitize the room. I ended up only really using them to wipe down things like the door handles, light switches, and the bathroom counter tops since I didn’t touch anything else, but it still made me feel a bit better.
I also brought with me a sanitizing room spray that can be sprayed in the air to kill off anything that might be airborne.
If you’re flying, things like hand sanitizer and wipes are a good idea too. Planes are probably actually a lot cleaner right now than they have been in the past, but it’s still nice to be able to wipe down things like your tray table, armrests, remotes, etc. Travel packs of wipes are readily available and take up less space than large containers.
Obviously hand washing is still important. I carry hand sanitizer in case hand washing sinks aren’t available, but I wash my hands whenever they are. I also try to keep my mask on, even when I don’t necessarily need to, until I can wash my hands so I don’t accidentally touch my face.
Use common sense
Honestly the best thing you can do is follow safety guidelines and use common sense. There’s no point taking certain measures to keep yourself safe if you’re going to do other things that are unsafe; don’t drive to a destination to avoid flying if you’re then going to go to a crowded place without a mask, for example.
The tips in this post are all common sense and things most of us have been doing for a few months now, it’s just a case of putting them into practice. If we can follow these guidelines, travel during a pandemic is possible and we can all return to travel as safely and responsibly as possibly.