With the holidays fast approaching and the coronavirus still looming large, many of us are uncertain of our travel plans or may prefer to stay close to home this season. Others are looking for opportunities to get away, but aren’t yet ready to get on a plane or visit a destination where there’s a high likelihood of coming into direct contact with large groups of people. On the other hand, travel booking sites tell us that plenty of people in the U.S. are starting to venture out, despite CDC cautions that travel does, in fact, increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. For tips on how to stay safer when traveling this holiday season, we turned to travel and health experts who offered these pointers:
Consider booking a vacation rental through a hospitality marketplace: Peer-to-peer home sharing sites and vacation rental marketplaces like Airbnb and Vrbo provide a wide selection of options for lodging, whether you’re looking for a luxury villa in the country or a budget-friendly condo near the beach. During a public health crisis like COVID-19, these online hospitality marketplaces can be an especially great option because they provide an affordable way to rent out an entire private vacation home where you can unwind without crowds, other guests and direct contact with staff. And if you’re seeking adventure and unique accommodations, they contain no shortage of diverse offerings, from houseboats and treehouses to castles and Airstream trailers, and much more.
According MillionMileSecrets.com, Airbnb is now working closely with hosts to create and implement enhanced cleaning protocols and safety guidelines. And as Hedy Phillips, author of “Guide to booking an Airbnb during the pandemic,” points out, many of the most intriguing dwellings can be found in secluded rural areas. For those who would prefer to stay away from densely populated cities as virus rates surge, an option like a cabin in the woods or a houseboat on a lake (in a warm climate) might be a more comfortable way to go.
As Phillips cautions, be sure to check the refund policy on your individual rental (some will allow you to cancel the day before your stay) and search for online reviews from those who have visited an Airbnb during the pandemic. For more pointers, check out MSN’s “Tips and Rules for Booking Safe Vacation Rental Stays During Coronavirus.”
Check testing mandates, quarantine rules and infection rates at your destination: While gearing up for your trip, don’t forget to find out whether a COVID-19 test might be required, and look into quarantine rules. States and municipalities remain at various stages of reopening, and will vary greatly in terms of what is mandated. Forbes cites the New England states, Hawaii and Alaska as the most restrictive as of November 3, 2020. However, the publication also notes that New York is requiring all out-of-state arrivals to have negative COVID-19 tests as of November 4. Stay on top of infection rates wherever you may be traveling, because they often change. And as multimedia journalist Kris Reyes points out, this can directly affect what activities are available, and which are off limits, during your visit.
Important considerations for travel by plane: Health experts generally tell us that if you have the option during the pandemic, it’s preferable to travel by car with your household, rather than on a commercial flight. With that said, airplanes are the cleanest they have ever been right now, and have effective filtration and good ventilation. According to Kris Reyes, a study by the Department of Defense and United Airlines has demonstrated that the chance of catching COVID-19 on an aircraft is almost zero when a mask is worn. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you will likely come into close contact with many others at the airport, and in your transit to and from it. In “Traveling for the Holidays? Here are 7 tips to get you there safely,” Reyes gives an overview of her own travels, noting that many of the destinations she visited were still crowd-free. However, certain airports were busier than others, and areas like the baggage drop made physical distancing impossible. For added safety, Reyes wore a mask, shield and goggles at the airport, and took them off when necessary at checkpoints.
Research the airline: Check an airline’s policies before booking your flights, because they will vary according to the carrier. For instance, some airlines will leave the middle seat in a row unoccupied for better physical distance, and others won’t make this guarantee. Real Simple magazine also suggests picking late-night flights to avoid a packed plane, and checking recent news stories for complaints about their adherence to health guidelines. One downside to flying during the pandemic? As Kris Reyes points out, you probably won’t be served meals on the flight. To keep yourself a bit more comfortable behind your mask, she suggests a tic tac or chewing gum.
Don’t let your guard down because you’re around family: As we assess our level of risk when it comes to social situations, we’re continually told it’s best to limit our contacts to a very small group of people. While we may actively avoid the company of those we don’t know or with whom we are not well acquainted, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the virus is commonly spread from extended family gatherings.
If you’re going to visit those who are in a high-risk category, it’s advisable to reduce your contact with others about two weeks before you travel. If you do get exposed and develop symptoms, they will usually occur within 14 days. Taking a COVID-19 test the day before you leave can also be a good idea. When celebrating, keep gatherings small and try to hold them outdoors, if possible, and if not, ensure healthy ventilation by opening windows or doors. It’s also wise to limit the time of your gathering, and carefully consider where any guests may have traveled. As the CDC asserts, get-togethers with people who are traveling from different areas pose a higher risk than gatherings among those who live in the same area. For more recommendations on holding safe celebrations during the pandemic, Yahoo offers a quick read of CDC guidelines here.
Keep up health and safety practices
As with all situations, the general guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19 apply when you’re traveling. You’ve heard them all before, but we’d be remiss not to remind everyone of the best ways to fight COVID-19:
- Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered in public places, including on public transportation and in transportation hubs
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet apart from anyone outside of your travel group
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently
- Avoid those who are showing signs of illness
- Avoid touching your face.
Trying to make decisions about holiday plans and not sure you’re comfortable with what other members of your family consider to be a safe get together? Direct them over to the Holiday Risk Calculator from ABC 7 News. Using a panel of three medical experts, this interactive quiz provides insight into the risks involved in twelve common holiday traditions, from pumpkin patch visits to gift giving. Even if you can’t get everyone on the same page, you can take comfort in gaining the knowledge you need to make the right decisions for you when it comes to how you will spend the holidays.