travel during covid

Not surprisingly, many of us are tiring of staying at home, especially as we look towards the holiday season and consider we may not be able to spend those days with family and friends, as we’ve traditionally done.  Travel brochures are making their way back into our mailboxes, and you may or may not be enticed.

Many of us are also wondering if we can possibly travel while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Data from the TSA indicates that air travel is hitting some of the highest numbers in months. On Friday, October 30, 2021, close to 900,000 passengers in the U.S. took to the air (compared to 2.3 million on the same day, prior year). Compare that to about 94,000 people flying in early April.

Needless to say, traveling at this time is a very personal decision. If you do so, take precautions and understand the risk.

(Please note that at the time of this posting, the U.S. is experiencing new Covid cases at their highest level since July so carefully consider all risk factors and proceed with caution should you decide to travel now.) 

Here’s some guidance on how to manage the risks and stress of traveling, while still allowing for plenty of room for fun.

Keeping it simple, your safest choice may be to opt for a nature trip, within driving distance, before the very cold weather sets in. National and state parks, beaches, waterfalls, trails and greenways can be safe and enjoyable. Check the location’s website to make sure it’s open and to find out about any capacity restrictions. Consider packing a picnic lunch to avoid unexpected situations at restaurants, particularly if you’re planning to eat outside.

If you’re willing and able to take a longer drive and spend a night or two at a hotel, call ahead to confirm the exact safety and sanitary protocols they have in place. Make sure all your questions are answered satisfactorily. And if you’re booking more than one night, find out if you can get your money back if you’re not satisfied with the protocols once you arrive. Did they say they were conducting temperature readings at check-in and then didn’t? Is everyone on the premises wearing masks?

If you’re concerned about eating at the hotel’s restaurant (even with safety protocols), plan your meal logistics ahead of time.  Bring snacks and beverages (maybe a special bottle of wine or even Mimosa ingredients for a Sunday morning with the newspaper!), along with plates and utensils.  Use room service or local takeout for meals in your room or other amenable seating areas. Ask the hotel about local restaurants with (heated, if necessary) outdoor dining, and call them to get any other information you may want.

At the hotel, use sanitizer before and after pressing elevator buttons or touching door handles. If you feel most comfortable wearing disposable gloves, bring them along as well. If you’re staying more than one night, decline housekeeping services and ask for extra towels. No need for anyone to come into your room until you check out.

If you’re traveling to another city or state, you may be tempted to save money by staying at an Airbnb. Unfortunately, you cannot be sure the owner(s) is always maintaining high cleaning standards – even if they are a “superhost” (Airbnb does have an “enhanced clean” tag on its listings, indicating whether the host is committed to a five-step cleaning process.)

Travel advisor Frank Bastone of Pinnacle Trips suggests the risk may be too high. “The owners of some Airbnb units may not be consistently adhering to the required protocols,” he says, suggesting that there are other vetted and very reliable rental services including Rental Escapes and Boutique Homes and Villas of Distinction. However, Bastone is already booking clients on cruises for 2021 since these plans are often made well in advance.

Back to day trip options, a few local cruise companies were running in September and October, while the weather was mild. Essex Steam Train and Riverboat is operating a Holiday Dinner Train on November 28 and 29, and on Fridays through Sundays, December 4 – 20. They also offer a Rail Bike Adventure (sounds fun!) on November 7, 8, 14 and 15. It’s always a good idea to call and ask about their latest health and safety protocols. USA Guided Tours New York  “may” be reopening their downtown (Manhattan) tour and boat ride in November; in normal years, they would offer this tour to the Oculus, Trinity Church, a ferry ride, and more destinations through December 30. Call them and check.

Since we’re still in a period of uncertainty, factor in cancellation fees for any trip involving hotels or flights. “We recommend using travel advisors who are well versed in the Covid guidelines and cancellation policies for trip refunds or travel credits,” says Bastone. “Also, travel protection insurance that includes medical coverage is highly recommended to protect your family’s health and travel investment. Currently, many of the airlines, cruises, resorts, and tour companies are being more flexible with their change fees and cancellation policies, but you need to read the fine print.”

Whether it’s a fall vacation down south, a road trip for the weekend, or a day trip to a nearby picturesque town, travel is possible for the willing, and can be a welcome reprieve from staying put!

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