After spending months daydreaming about travelling again Comly and I finally booked, and have now returned from, our first pandemic era trip. We learned a lot and have gotten a ton of questions from friends, family, and even strangers about what the experience was like and wanted to share:
This is by no way a recommendation to travel during the pandemic, but merely a recount of our experience and the things we found helpful along the way. You should decide about travel based on what is best for you and your family, consider the local population you’ll be visiting, and the policies in place to travel an return. Absolutely take the advice of public health officials.
1. Weigh the risks
Traveling during a pandemic is risky. That is a fact. You are automatically exposing yourself to people and situations that you cannot control in places where the mask-wearing culture or rules may not be what you are used to. Of course, this also means potentially exposing others if you happen to contract the virus, and therefore the need to remain extra diligent while traveling.
If you or someone you live with is immunocompromised, elderly, or high-risk in some other way then traveling in any sort of densely populated or uncontrollable setting (airports, rest stops, mask-lax or indoor settings) should be avoided.
Even if this is not the case, you should weigh the risk of increasing potential COVID-19 exposures. For us, we were able to make this decision because we don’t have kids and we live together with no one else, allowing us the space to safely self-quarantine upon our return. We were also prepared to practice distancing and engage in social activities while away in the same way we do at home (only eating outdoors, if necessary to dine out at all, skipping anything with crowds, paying more to rent vehicles or for private cabs than ride shares, etc).
We also knew that there would be unknowns about the trip, but we could minimize our risk and the risk to others by taking some of the steps below. Ultimately, the pros outweighed the cons because we knew we were limiting risk and abiding by public health best practices.
2. Remain flexible
COVID-19 has interrupted travel schedules across the globe and changed the way the hospitality industry accommodates guests, tours, and diners. Knowing this, plan for unexpected changes in travel. This may include changes in flight itineraries or the availability of specific activities – for example, the trail you’ve been dying to visit might be closed (such as the Angel’s Landing Chained Section), or the restaurant you want to visit may have reduced their hours. Plan ahead as much as you can by doing research on the COVID-19 implications to the businesses you plan to visit during your travels but remain flexible in these ever-changing times. Often, there’s an equally impressive trail or a way to taste the food you desire but if not, it’s not the end of the world – just a pandemic.
3. Choose your destination wisely
Originally, we were going to go to Portugal on our next trip. However, given lingering international travel bans, and the fear that another could pop up at any moment, we opted to stay domestic. Also, we chose destinations based on outdoor activities (hiking in a National Park versus touring museums across a city). This is typical for us anyway, but especially during COVID-19 we wanted to avoid indoor situations as much as possible, and opted to camp in our own tent rather than stay in a resort or hotel. For part of the trip we did need to stay in an AirBnB and were pleased by their extensive cleaning protocol. Either way, do what you can to ensure your trip involves fresh air and fewer humans. Of course – leave no trace when enjoying the great outdoors (take trash with you, don’t disturb wildlife, etc.).
4. Take all the precautions you can
Public Health officials have provided many recommended precautions to lower the risk of transmitting COVID-19, both personally and passing it along to others. These should all be factored in to traveling.
One of the most obvious is wearing a face mask at all times. For us, we opt for KN95’s while traveling, which provide protection for both those around us and filters the incoming air we breathe. Since KN95’s should be disposed of after a few uses, when we have run out of those we double mask (surgical mask on the inside and fabric mask on the outside) for extra risk mitigation. While many restaurants allow you to remove your mask once you are seated, we try to stand by the best practice to put our mask on whenever interacting with anyone other than each other, this includes servers. It’s a courtesy that we think should be extended to servers to increase their protection and reduce transmission.
Next, wash your hands as much as possible (with soap and for 20 seconds). When that’s not available carry hand sanitizer – I had about 7 different bottles on us during our trip and we honestly went through most of it.
Also, consider information on social distancing protocol when selecting airlines and accommodations. For example, we flew on JetBlue and Delta (in July of 2020), both of which were not selling middle seats, allowing us to have the aisle to ourselves. Check on the current protocol for the airlines as these are rapidly changing.
5. Opt for Al Fresco
Opt for the outdoors not just in selecting your destinations overall but also in how you spend your time. Inevitably you will need to eat while you’re traveling and the restrictions on indoor dining vary across the country. Even when indoor dining is available we always opt to eat outside during COVID. Outdoor transmission is much lower than indoors and is the safest bet for everyone.
6. Listen to your gut
There will always be places that don’t feel quite right. Maybe you see someone handling food without a mask, or feel the tables are too close together even if they are outside. It is never silly to listen to the gut feeling that is telling you “try somewhere else” even if that means going a little more out of your way.
7. Thank people for going the extra mile for safety and tip generously
Remember that while you are enjoying your vacation those working in the hospitality industry are putting themselves at higher risk just by doing their jobs. This means many business owners are rapidly innovating to introduce safety precautions that are sometimes costly or create more work just to serve fewer customers. Thank them for their work and show your appreciation that they are going above and beyond for safety and of course show your gratuity by tipping more.
8. Be prepared to quarantine upon return
New York State has now mandated a self-quarantine when returning from many states, but even if you don’t call NY home, if you are traveling to COVID-19 hotspots or partaking in a high risk activity (flying on an airplane even to a non-hotspot state, doing anything in a crowd), then you should consider self-quarantining for 2 weeks when you return home. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility and a self-quarantine seems like a good alternative to causing an outbreak in your hometown or killing someone you love by passing them the virus. We prepared for our quarantine by stocking up on frozen veggies and meat from the farmers market and buying nonperishables before we left