By Kristen Seymour on February 24, 2021 in travel
While staying home is the best way to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19, many Americans would love to get out of the house and have an adventure beyond a socially-distanced day trip to a nearby beach or hiking trail. In some cases, this may still be unwise. If you’re particularly high risk or believe you’ve been exposed to the virus, for instance, it’s your responsibility to keep yourself and others safe to the best of your ability.
However, if you’re in a position where you believe you can safely and responsibly get out of town for a while, we have a few smart ways to travel while keeping your COVID-19 risk low.
Choose Your Destination Wisely
When you’re picking a place to visit, be sure to do your research, including using the CDC COVID Data Tracker to check the state’s COVID cases over the last seven days. When perusing that data, look at cases and hospitalizations; ideally, your chosen destination will show a steady decline over the last two weeks.
You’ll also want to look into state, territorial, tribal, and local public health websites for requirements or restrictions for travelers visiting any given destination. Some areas require negative test results or have a mandatory quarantine for visitors from higher-risk areas, which may not be feasible depending on your timeline. Having a full understanding of COVID-related restrictions and requirements in the area (such as mandatory masks or limited seating in restaurants) will help you plan accordingly so you can adhere to any rules and regulations. It’ll also help you choose a destination that prioritizes safety in a way that makes you comfortable. Keep in mind that no national guideline mandates masks or requires bars and restaurants to limit capacity; those decisions generally fall on the state, county, or city level, and even then, enforcement may be largely left up to the establishments themselves. However, opting for an area with those restrictions in place means you’re more likely to encounter people who take their safety seriously.
Finally, remember it’s not just the destination that matters — the journey counts, too. If you plan to drive, do your best to eliminate unnecessary stops in highly trafficked areas by packing hand sanitizer, snacks, and drinks. Road trippers should still get out to stretch their legs every two to three hours, but you can plan ahead and stop in less populated areas rather than crowded restaurants. Every time you get out of the car in public, be sure to mask up.
While riskier than driving, flying may be safer than you think, especially if you’re able to book a direct flight. Airports fall under the high-risk category due to the large number of people from different areas congregating and traveling through the same enclosed space. However, because of the way planes circulate and filter air and the cleaning protocols in place, your risk is likely considerably reduced as long as passengers and staff wear masks at all times. Keep in mind that many airlines have done away with blocked middle seats, so if you don’t travel with enough people to fill your row, you may spend the flight in close proximity with a stranger. In this case, you may want to consider a face shield in addition to your mask, which will allow you to eat and drink more safely with others nearby.
Whether you drive or fly, it’s always a smart idea to keep cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer at the ready so you can disinfect surfaces you need to touch and keep your hands germ free.
Ask the Right Questions About Your Accommodations
Lodging with a private entrance such as a cabin, cottage, condo, or home rental will make it easier for you to avoid shared surfaces and minimize potential interactions with strangers. Whether you go that route or stay in a hotel, asking a few questions before your arrival can help you chose where to stay.
- Do the hosts use enhanced cleaning procedures?
See if the accommodation adheres to CDC cleaning guidelines and consider whether bringing some cleaning supplies to do a deep clean on commonly touched surfaces might give you peace of mind. Be aware that some properties have increased cleaning fees for updated cleaning practices.
- Can they guarantee a booking buffer?
Some rentals offer a buffer to guarantee the room or home you book has been vacant for a certain amount of time. In some cases, you can choose a room that nobody’s been in for 72 hours.
- Can you check in, check out, and pay with contactless options?
While you probably wouldn’t expect to check in with a person when renting a home or cabin, you may be surprised to learn that many hotel chains offer remote options, which allow guests to use their smartphones for everything from checking in and accessing their rooms to ordering room service.
- What is the cancellation policy?
Many properties — even some that previously had strict cancellation policies — now offer refundable reservation options due to the fluidity of current travel advisories. Read the fine print to make sure you understand how close to the check in date you can cancel and whether you’d be refunded the full amount in the event of a cancellation.
- How many delivery, drive-through, take-out, and curbside dining options are available on property or nearby?
The fewer times you need to go into a restaurant or supermarket, the more you reduce your exposure.
- Is there an off-season?
If so, the property will likely be less busy, making it easier for you to avoid crowded areas. Of course, there’s a reason why some areas have an off-season (often relating to the weather), so make sure you pack accordingly for the expected weather and available activities when you plan to go.
Be Aware of the Area — and What’s Available
Opting for a destination with lots of outdoor activities is a wise choice, so keep an eye out for mentions of forests, beaches, lakes, trails, and picnic spots as well as activities including hiking, biking, boating, kayaking, and swimming. While being outside does not guarantee you won’t encounter crowds, we now know the virus is less likely to spread when there’s plenty of air circulation. As long as you have your mask at the ready in case you end up in close proximity with other people, hiking, biking, and similar activities remain relatively safe options. Still, doing some homework before you go will help you determine whether or not you can participate in the outdoor activities you want to — and may help you decide the best day of the week or time of day to avoid a crowd. Apps like AllTrails will give you the scoop on hiking and biking trails, and many popular beaches have a beach cam so you can keep an eye on the crowds.
If you choose to stay in a hotel, aim for a property with lots of wide open spaces so you won’t feel just as cooped up as you did at home. And still, be prepared to don a mask whenever you leave your room.
Perhaps just as important as understanding what will be available is being clear on what’s not, especially if you pay full price to stay at a resort or luxury property that features activities and amenities as a main draw. For example, even if a property keeps restaurants open, they may only offer food and drinks to go, which will fill you up but may not offer quite the experience you had in mind. Resorts that typically offer group activities such as yoga classes or horseback riding may limit the number of participants or remove those offerings altogether. Many properties have eliminated housekeeping during your stay to reduce the number of people going in and out of an occupied room; robes or other special, luxurious touches may also be removed due to COVID-19.
If you’re someone who enjoys meeting fellow travelers on your journeys, keep in mind that it may be more challenging to strike up a conversation with people from a distance.
Overall, keep in mind that interacting with other people poses the biggest risk during this time. Keeping your hands — and shared surfaces — clean still matters, of course, but your best bet for a safe stay is to avoid crowds and close proximity with strangers. When that’s not possible, wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and don’t be stingy with the hand sanitizer. Travel may not be quite what we’re used to, but plenty of adventure still awaits. Explore responsibly!