Travel in the Time of Coronavirus: Is it Safe?
In January 2020, the first case of COVID-19, also known as the novel Coronavirus, was documented in the United States. Fast forward to June and we’ve endured enough hand washing, social distancing, and quarantining for a lifetime. Which is appropriate, since this IS the pandemic of our lifetimes, they say. Bottom line: We’re all ready for a vacation. But how do you know if it’s even safe to travel? Is it better to drive or fly? Travel planning can be challenging. Add in a global pandemic and things can get tricky.
Should I Even Travel at All?
Deciding whether to travel is a personal decision that you should undertake with the advice of your physician. Plus, unless you’re traveling alone, you’ll need to consider the health status of those who’ll be traveling with you. For example, the CDC has determined that some groups are at higher risk of getting sick with COVID-19. These include people:
- Age 65 and over
- With asthma
- With liver disease
- With HIV or AIDS
- Who are otherwise immunocompromised (via smoking, organ transplant, cancer treatments, etc.)
- Who are at risk for another severe illness
You’ll also want to consider whether you live with or have to be in close contact with anyone in those groups. You wouldn’t want to bring them home a deadly “souvenir” from your time away. Also, before booking that trip, make sure everyone traveling with you is on the same page. For instance, are you all ok with flying? How and when will you wash hands after a rest stop? Will you share a hotel room? Do you all feel comfortable eating in a restaurant together? If you agree, that’s great. If not, figure out how to keep everyone happy and feeling safe ahead of time. Planning is key.
Where Should I Go?
Johns Hopkins maintains an updated Coronavirus map that includes very detailed information of each U.S. state and county, as well as a COVID-19 world map. We suggest you check this out before deciding where to travel during Coronavirus. Because travel increases your chances of getting infected with and spreading COVID-19, many people have decided to remain in their local communities and nearby areas for now; making do with a staycation. And who doesn’t love those? However, if you do decide to travel, the CDC has listed some considerations for travelers in the U.S. Things to think about include:
- Is COVID-19 spreading in your planned destination? If you’re considering traveling to an area where the virus is running rampant, you’ll run a higher risk of infection than in lower-risk areas.
- Is the virus spreading in your local community? If so, and you’re traveling to a lower-risk area, you increase the chances of making others sick. This is especially true if you choose not to self-quarantine when arriving at your destination.
- Will you or anyone in your party be within 6 feet (~2 meters) of others during or after your trip? Close contact increases the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
- Will you have to quarantine for 14 days after you arrive at your destination? Some state and local governments require visitors to self-quarantine in order to keep their local population safe. In the U.S., be sure to check out the local Department of Public Health or other official body ahead of time in your destination state.
- And remember, even if someone feels fine and is symptom free they can still spread the virus
Consider modes of travel, too. Aside from the usual time, distance, and comfort level, we now have to think about how to protect ourselves while traveling during Coronavirus. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help mitigate your risk, no matter how you’ll get from point A to point B.
- Wash your hands frequently and properly. If that’s not possible use hand sanitizer.
- Don’t touch your face–especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Wear a mask.
- Cover coughs and sneezes, preferably with a disposable tissue.
- Opt for grab-and-go dining options as opposed to eating in a restaurant.
- Social distance with about 6 ft between you and another person (about 2 arms’ lengths).
Is it Safe to Fly?
If you’re old enough to remember when flying was fun, you know those days are long gone. That said, flying during the Coronavirus pandemic has its own set of considerations. First, many airlines are implementing temperature checks, which can make abysmally slow lines even longer. This means more prolonged contact with other travelers and high-touch surfaces. Of course, it’s difficult to social distance on a plane and you may have to sit within 6 feet of others for hours. So if your seatmate is sick, that ups your chances of contracting the virus. On a positive note, airplane air is circulated and filtered very well, so most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily via airplane air. But do wipe down your personal areas (armrests, tray table) with antibacterial wipes and avoid touching anything unnecessary.
Is it Safe to Drive?
Obviously, the longer the road trip and the more people in the car, the higher your chances of contracting the virus. Additionally, consider how many times you’ll have to stop for gas, food, bathroom breaks, and hotel stays before reaching your destination. Each stop increases your risk. On the other hand, you do have more control over who you come into contact with and for how long, unlike on an airplane. Social distancing is easier in, say, a gas station, than in an airplane aisle.
Are Buses and Trains Safe?
Basically, many of the same considerations for airlines apply to buses and trains. Obviously, long-haul bus rides versus train rides can vary A LOT in their guest experiences, so look at your individual transportation provider. Brutally honest side note here: Some (some) bus stations are places we’d never encourage our readers to visit… so, there’s that! You may want to contact the company ahead of time and ask what types of enhanced cleaning procedures are in place to ensure passenger safety. As with a plane, wipe down your personal area and avoid high-touch surfaces if possible.
Are Rental Cars Safe?
Some people who took public transportation prior to the pandemic now rely on a rental car for necessary travel. So it makes sense that many might feel safer in a rental car as opposed to a multiple-passenger rideshare situation. Whether you’re heading to the airport or on a cross-country road trip, consider the following:
- As of this writing, some rental companies are operating on a limited schedule.
- Others have consolidated offices and temporarily closed others.
- Some companies offer flexible booking times to accommodate changing plans.
- Ask about new cleaning and disinfecting protocols if you have concerns.
- Of course, you can always clean and disinfect the vehicle yourself if that’s an option.
Are Rideshare Options Like Uber, Lyft, or Taxis Safe?
Safety standards can vary greatly between companies and drivers. Again, you may want to contact the company ahead of time to ask about enhanced cleaning procedures. The CDC has outlined safety procedures for ride share companies so you’ll know exactly what questions to ask. Here’s a good start:
- Will your driver be limiting the number of passengers in the vehicle?
- Will the driver wear a mask?
- Are passengers required to wear a mask?
- How and when is the vehicle being cleaned?
- What are their company policies for sick drivers?
Is it Safe to Stay at a Hotel?
As lovers of boutique hotels, we’d love nothing more than to shout from the rooftops that hotel stays are now completely risk free. However, as with most things in life, there are some risks. It’s up to you to consider your risk factors and research your hotel before booking. What we can confirm is that nearly all the hotels we’ve looked at closely are proudly touting their enhanced cleaning procedures. Plus, many now offer traditional services and amenities in new ways for better guest safety. For instance, we’ve seen some hotels close their fitness center but will leave easily-cleanable weights and resistance bands outside your door upon request. It seems that safety is the hottest amenity on offer now. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has outlined new cleaning processes and procedures as a roadmap for a safe and healthy environment for guests and staff alike. You may want to contact your hotel ahead of time to ask the following questions:
- What is the hotel’s policy if a staff member or guest is diagnosed with COVID-19? At a minimum, they should follow the CDC guidelines for handling COVID-19 infections at a business
- Are they cleaning and disinfecting high-traffic areas, such as the lobby and public restrooms, more frequently?
- If there is an in-house restaurant and/or bar, is social distancing possible when dining in? If dining in isn’t an option, are grab-and-go options available?
- Are guest rooms being booked back-to-back? If so, what precautions is the property taking with room sanitization?
- Will housekeeping be entering your room during your stay? If you’d prefer they not do so, make this request ahead of time.
- Does staff have ample and proper personal protective equipment? Are they using it at all times?
An important point: The overwhelming majority of good hotels had stellar cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place well before the pandemic. With so many people passing through, hotels simply cannot be lax in cleaning. First of all, there’s the obvious poor review, which no hotel wants. But there are industry-wide high standards for cleanliness that hotels must meet (and overwhelmingly exceed) just to stay in business. So keep this in mind when inquiring about enhanced cleaning standards. “Enhanced” means “even more than” the already strict standards.
It’s Wait and See Season
The bottom line is that no one knows when traveling will be 100% safe again. One thing is certain, however: we should all be prepared for a new normal in travel, as the industry is adapting and changing as quickly and efficiently as possible. The travel industry needs you and they need to keep you safe and healthy, so rest assured that the majority of travel providers are doing their best.
The hotel you remember may work a little differently now. Maybe the lobby has been rearranged. The fitness center might be closed or nonexistent. That incredible breakfast buffet is gone. Or maybe the city you remember so fondly has lost that quaint little restaurant on the corner.
Things are different now. And that’s just where we are. What remains unchanged is the power of travel to enlighten us and expand our horizons. Let’s start there when we plan our next getaway, shall we?
Please note: This article was published in July 2020. The information and links herein may have changed since then. Please confirm the most up-to-date information available.